‘THERE IS NO ALTERNATIVE TO TRUE FEDERALISM’
By Sola Ebiseni
In this piece, former Ondo State Commissioner for Environment and Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) chieftain Chief Sola Ebiseni contends that there is no alternative to restructuring and true federalism, if Nigeria is to survive.
The Nigerian federation and her component nationalities are locked up economically and politically, in the prism and prison of a unitary federation. It can not be over emphasised that the basis of federalism is that governments, both of the central and the federating units, have coordinate jurisdictions, in their respective spheres of influence, as allotted by the constitution.
Yet, so acquiescent with the present administrative centralization are we that even governors appear so afraid to exploit the few concessions, even in the warped 1999 constitution. The modicum principle of federalism in the 1999 constitution is so intolerable to the central government, which prefers states as its mere administrative appendages. Unfortunately, some of the states, especially Lagos, which, at the early years of our current democratic outing, took the lead in ensuring the enforcement of the federal principles, ar now bitten by the partisan bug of political correctness.
Security of life and property is the primary and bonden duty of government and afortiori, there is no government, properly so called, which has no capacity to enforce its laws. It is therefore shocking that the Nigerian Governors Forum, not too long ago, announced that its members could not agree on the need for State Police, as if there was any need for such consensus in a federation, which basic feature is plurality of choice. For instance, faced with war of evident annihilation, Borno State needed no consensus of other governors nor federal assent, before it put over fifty thousand men under arms in the name of Civilian Joint Task Force constituted by native Kanuri youths and local hunters in the defence of of the State against Boko Haram and associated criminality.
Igbokoda, the headquarters of my Ilaje Local Government of Ondo State, has, for some years, been taken over by brigands and cultists, mostly teenagers, who openly puff at marijuana, rape, steal and kill with reckless abandon.The police, overwhelmed by the fake notion of the invincibility of these Niger Delta boys, would prefer to stay in their station while heinous crimes are being committed. Nothing is ever done, except in rare cases when the Commissioner of Police, in a Fire Brigade approach, deploys some men from the State Command. Because of the strange operational tactics of the Nigerian Security system, which will announce their operations days or weeks ahead, the bad boys momentarily leave the headquarters for the creeks while the stranger Commissioner’s men only resort to arresting some innocent citizens for Report purposes. How on earth the Nigerian government expects a contingent of less than 50 men and women, in one station, constituted by non-natives and strangers to the environment, to effectively police a local government of over half a million people, mostly riverine and coastal territory, stretching from part of the Lekki Peninsula in the West to Delta State in the East, is most confounding.
As agreed at the 2014 Confab, states so desiring, shall have the power to establish their own police in addition to Nigerian Police. Even the police for the federation, its members, from the rank of a superintendent and below, shall be indigenes of the states of their deployment. These much were also re-echoed by the El-Rufai Committee of the All Progressives Alliance (APC) on True Federalism.
It is instructive, that the federal arrangement bequeathed to Nigerians by our founding fathers, before the military inspired present practices, recognized pluralism and freedom of choice among the component groups and governments of the federation in many ways, depending on their peculiarities. Each region had its own constitution patterned along its existential realities. Thus, while the Northern and Western regions operated bicameral legislatures, an arm of which was the House of Chiefs, giving vent to their cultural monarchical political arrangements, the more Republican Eastern Region saw no need for such chamber.
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The much talked about RUGA programme ran into early storms, when it appeared such land based venture was made a Central government programme, in a federation which legal framework vests all the land in a state in their respective governors, in trust for the people. When the 2014 Confab recommended ranching for advanced livestock business and as panacea for farmers/herders clash, even when the problem hadn’t reached these genocidal proportions, there was a caveat that, in line with federal principles, such ranches should be state based and voluntary.
The National Assembly, rather than being seen as the bastion of our Federal democracy, appears in competition with the Executive in seeking to undermine the states as co-ordinate and autonomous governments. One of such current instances was the order to the Governor of Edo state to reissue a new proclamation of the State House of Assembly. Stretched to its logical conclusion, the NASS was precipitating a constitutional crisis which, happily, was aborted by His Lordship, Justice Omotosho of the Federal High Court, holding inter alia thus:
“The National Assembly has no power to direct the governor to issue a fresh proclamation. The governor is the Chief Executive of the state and cannot be controlled by the National Assembly. Nigeria is a federal state and state governments are autonomous. Our political actors must see it like that and treat as such . ”
Like Obaseki in Edo, some of our governors, either of their own accord or compelled by circumstances or by ideological conviction, appear to have risen to the occasion. Such are Ortom of Benue State and his Taraba comrade and Borno Governor as earlier discussed. Seyi Makinde of Oyo State, in addition to programmatic displays of State autonomy, even symbolically demonstrated this when, in a meeting with the South West PDP leaders, which I attended in Ibadan, recently, he stood tall, in patriotic attention, to the Asiwaju ni wa (we are Pace Setters) anthem of Oyo State, rendered in Yoruba, immediately after the National Anthem. The governor, thereafter, declared to the admiration of his distinguished audience, that “Nigeria is a federation and we shall stretch its federal principle to its logical limits”. His actions, since assumption of office, attest to the fact he intends to live by that principle, in accordance with his Afenifere background.
The fiscal policy of our federation is only practicable in an alaaru (carrier) economy. According to a Yoruba Economics maxim, a hired alaaru, whether at Oyingbo or Oja Oba markets, or freighters on high seas or cargo carrier planes, must earn his wages, notwithstanding the market fortunes of his hirers. In this Ogo ta, Ogo o ta, owo alaaru a pe economy, assurance of allocation and bailout from the federation account is the opium of the states.