Nation-building is hard, but it need not be as difficult as we make it in Nigeria. Nation-building is also intentional. It doesn’t happen by accident. The real test is in the leadership and the actions that create a real spirit of nationhood, and the willingness of every stakeholder to build a united, stable and cohesive nation. Fifty-eight years after independence, we are confronted today with the imperative of defining a future for Nigeria that escapes our country’s past.
The problem in our country is that we avoid honest dialogue, which sometimes involves telling ourselves uncomfortable truths. The cries of marginalization, restructuring and secessionist tendencies are, at their core, a cry for justice in our country. Some compatriots will go beyond their disagreement with secessionist rhetoric in the Southeast, Southwest and South-South today, to treat their fellow Nigerians with unjustified suspicion because of their beliefs about how Nigeria can be repaired or indeed if our country should remain one country.
But such compatriots hurry to gloss over the underlying fundamentals or, even worse, pretend that they don’t exist. Just as the horrendous massacres in communities across the country by armed herdsmen, with the killings in Benue State as just one example, is inconvenient for them to confront or call it by its name: terrorism. All of this is about leadership that is based on a worldview of “us versus them”. It is therefore guaranteed to fail, and worse, deliver nothing other than conflicts across the land. No one will win. We all will be losers.
Our country is currently anchored on injustice in many ways, and that arrangement won’t last forever. We can take that to the bank, for, as Martin Luther King so elegantly put it, “the moral arm of the universe bends towards justice”. The Federal Government of Nigeria and all our countrymen and women should therefore take the increasingly potent agitations by various groups in Nigeria with the seriousness the matter deserves.
The Nigerian state must engage the agitations and address, and redress, their root causes that lie in decades of self-evident marginalization that several groups have experienced in post-civil war Nigeria. These hurt feelings and the suspicions they breed have not just hampered the progress of nation-building in Nigeria. They are creating the foundations of certain state failure if further mishandled, as the bonds that hold our country together in an imperfect union continue to fray.
Which brings us to the question: where do we go from here? There really is no alternative to the constitutional re-arrangement of the Nigerian federation if we are to remain one country. Call it “restructuring”, “reconfiguration”, “redesign” or what you will.
Several rational arguments make a strong case for taking the bull by the horns and re-engineering Nigeria. All Nigerians should reflect and act on these arguments in our collective self-interest. Our country is not working. Many groups feel marginalized today or have felt marginalized at different stages of our national history. We can’t achieve greatness as a country without national unity, stability and cohesion. Many nations have achieved nationhood and prosperity in diversity, which is the default composition of most nations on earth. Only a few nations, like Japan and Korea, are truly homogenous.
All that is required is that we bury the winner-take-all mentality driven by ethnic and religious irredentism and design a structure that works for us all. This is doable with real leadership, political will and commitment.
Restructuring, if well done, will have a proactive effect of positioning Nigeria for real development. That’s a far better scenario than the episodic, reactive fire-brigade responses to the Yoruba after the June 12, 1993 presidential election won by M.K.O. Abiola was cancelled, the Niger Delta militancy over crude oil “resource control”, the Boko Haram rebellion, and the recent neo-Biafra uprising. In other words, 58 years after independence, we remain stuck at the level of fundamentals. We can’t take off unless we sort them out.
Before we go into the discussion on restructuring, it is important to achieve a clear understanding of some concepts including federalism, fiscal federalism, and devolution of power. These are terms that have been frequently used in our national political discourse but have sometimes been misunderstood or misapplied.
Federalism: This is a system of government in which constitutional powers are shared in one national political entity between a central government and sub-national units, such as regions or states in such a manner that one tier of government is not superior to the other. Examples of federations include the United States of America, Canada, Australia, Canada, India and Brazil. Such countries usually have two tiers of constitutionally recognized federating units, but India is a notable exception with its Panchayats and Municipalities that are a third tier of the federation. This Indian distinction has important implications for a constitutionally restructured Nigeria.
There are also variations in the strength of federal powers in relation to sub-national units in many countries. The United States, for example, went through conceptual battles between its Founding Fathers in the country’s early years, with the “federalists” favoring a strong centre that nevertheless left the states with enough space and powers to grow without suffocation, and the “anti-federalists” that wanted stronger states and a weak center. The federalists won. In the European tradition of federalism, the sub-national units or regions have tended to be more powerful than central governments.
Fiscal Federalism: This is an aspect of public finance. According to W.E. Oates, an authority on the subject, Fiscal federalism is concerned with “understanding which functions and instruments are best centralized and which are best placed in the sphere of decentralized levels of government”. In other words, it is the study of how expenditure and revenue side are allocated across different (vertical) layers of the administration. An important part of this subject matter is how a central government deals with transfer payments or grants from its revenues that it shares with lower levels of government.
Understanding this conceptual nuance is important because in much of Nigerian public discourse we assume that fiscal federalism necessarily or exclusively means a federal system of government. In reality, however, it could mean the exercise of these transfer functions in a system of government that may not necessarily be a federal one.
Devolution of Powers: This concept means the surrender of powers from a central government to sub-national units, but this in itself is not necessarily federalism because it can as well occur in a unitary system of government, as is the case in the United Kingdom. The implication for us in Nigeria is that we must not conflate devolution of powers with the federalism that I and many others argue is necessary for Nigeria. The two are not necessarily the same.
Nigeria is not yet a nation. It is a country created by our erstwhile colonial master the United Kingdom, made up of many ethnic nationalities, but a nation waiting to be born. In this paper I will argue that, given the diversity inherent in our national make-up, the only form of government that can create national unity and cohesion, and enable Nigeria achieve the promise of its dynamic peoples, is true federalism. Such a form of government requires a fundamental overhaul of the 1999 Constitution presently in force to achieve national unity and cohesion as well as the development of the component parts of the federal state at their own pace. Nigeria today is called a “federal republic” but in reality is a unitary state. This reality is the result of military intervention in our polity through the first coup of 1966.
The case for restructuring, then, is clearly four-fold. The first is the case for justice and equity. Anyone can make disingenuous arguments, but the current constitutional structure of Nigeria and concentration of power at the center in Abuja favors some parts of the country and disenfranchises others, in particular those parts of the country from which the natural resources rents support the current structure. It disenfranchises them because they have no control over these resources (which should not be the case in a truly federal state), and also because the arrangement places excessive political power in the hands of whichever groups control power at the center.
The essence of a federation, such as we had under the 1960 and 1963 constitutions, is an agreement to form it by its constituent units, and an appropriate balance of powers between the constituent units and the center. A perversion of this cardinal principle has created injustice, which has created disunity. It has led to a retreat from Nigerian-ness, egged on by these valid resentments at inequity and injustice, back to primordial identities that make a mockery of our nationhood. You really do want a nation in which everyone is essentially a happy camper on the basis of collective interest, not one in which some groups feel they are held “captive”.
Second, restructuring is necessary because of the destabilization that the current conditions have bred. We can either stabilize Nigeria by restructuring it, or continue to play the ostrich by insisting that our “processes”, not the structure, are the problem. Low intensity conflicts will continue in various parts of the country, with the theatres of conflict shifting to different regions at different times (South-South, Southeast, Middle Belt in the North-Central, Northeast, and so on).
This would be a dereliction of the federal government’s responsibility to protect the lives and property of the citizens of Nigeria). A derelict, vastly overstretched and over-centralized police force will not accomplish this task, nor will siege-style security governance in which our armed forces are constantly deployed to check-mate internal dissenters.
Third, restructuring is imperative in order to take care of what I call the “fundamentals”. We need a peoples’ Constitution. A constitution that was made by military dictators should not guide a democracy, if such a democracy truly is a government of the people, for the people, and by the people. We need to address the National Question, that of what makes Nigeria’s nationhood and the relationship between the nearly 400 ethnic nationalities and the Nigerian state. Here I would recommend that, if we are to achieve real progress, we resolve this conundrum decisively in favor of Nigerian statehood rather than ethnic nationality, but at least it must be agreed by the Nigerian people.
Fourth, restructuring also is the best path to economic transformation. A six-zone federal structure will offer economies of scale in terms of the ability of a regional government to mobilize adequate tax revenues and utilize these resources for development. It will do the same in the areas of manufacturing as well as intra-regional, inter-regional and international trade. A restructuring based on the current 36-state structure will not work. Thirty out of 36 states in Nigeria today are fiscally unviable. Only six states outpace with internally generated revenue what they get in hand-outs (Federal Allocation Account Committee allocations) from Abuja derived from oil rents. Paying salaries to state civil servants as and when due, or in arrears, has become a governance “achievement” in our country! With the reign of crude oil regressing into historical memory, the future is bleak and unsustainable, under our current fiscal structure, without a fat federal government oil purse to be distributed to dependent states.
Restructuring also is essential because it will help our democracy achieve better governance. The periodic rituals of elections have not necessarily improved governance. There are two ways this will happen. One, restructuring will bring greater accountability and transparency to governance because power and responsibility will devolve closer to the people. This will help evolve a better culture and quality of leadership, and will also foster competitive development between the regions. Nigeria today is far more physically integrated than it was in the 1960s, and the six zones structure will prevent the extreme ethnic chauvinism that afflicted the First Republic. Restructuring ought as well to accomplish a reduction in the costs of governance at both the center and the regions.
THE SHAPE OF THINGS TO COME
To work well, a restructuring exercise must make informed choices. We must choose between maintaining a unitary state (which is Nigeria today despite officially being a federation) in which the central government is very powerful, with devolution of powers as is increasingly the case in the UK, a true federation in which regions could be the federating units and the central government and the federating units are roughly equal in status as in the United States, Canada, Germany, India, Australia and Brazil, or a confederation in which the federating units are superior to the central government, with Switzerland as a prime example.
The best arrangement for Nigeria is neither the “unitary federalism” the military leaders imposed on us, nor a confederation, but a real federation with a finely calibrated balance of powers and responsibilities between the central and federating units. In this scenario, the federating units can look after themselves more effectively without the “feeding bottle” of the central government. The center becomes less powerful, but not weak, because it will retain core sovereign responsibilities such as the armed forces and security services, citizenship and immigration, foreign affairs, and the central bank.
Based on this vision, a constitutionally restructured, truly federal Nigeria should have the following core characteristics:
The first is that the federating units in Nigeria should be the six geopolitical zones and not the present structure of states. Not less than 30 states in our present 36-state structure are economically unviable if left on their own without federal allocations and a recent bail-out of these states by the Central Bank of Nigeria. This is partly because economic viability through fiscal sustainability was not seriously considered as a factor in state creation exercises in Nigeria, and partly because excessive reliance of natural resources (mainly crude oil) for fiscal revenues that are distributed by the central government has made states lazy for far too long. Many states in Nigeria still struggle to pay salaries of public servants.
A restructured Nigeria with the six geo-political zones as federating units will work much better because these zones each have economies of scale. Trade and manufacturing can happen inside each zone with a market large enough to meet demand, as well as to trade effectively with other zones in the federation.
Second, in my vision of a restructured Nigeria, each region, not the central government, will control natural resources found therein, but pay 40 per cent of the income from those resources to the central government for the functioning of the federation. This will spur development because the regions will now take on responsibility for how they use their natural resource income, and indeed whether they choose to depend mainly on such income or build a more complex and productive economy. In a true federation the central government should have no business owning the country’s natural resources and “allocating” revenues to sub-national units.
With the importance of hydrocarbons in global strategic decline in the face of renewable energy and electric cars, the solid minerals prevalent in the northern states of Nigeria will give that region some advantage in a restructured Nigeria. But that is only if the mistakes of raw natural resource dependency are avoided from the beginning. There is no better way to assure that outcome than an insistence, as a core condition for any foreign investment, that value-addition industries are cited near the source of these natural resources, and that only value-added products will be permitted for export. Regions like the Southeast that are not rich in natural resources will likely develop industrial and innovation economies in a restructured Nigeria.
Third, there will be regional police, but with a constitutional provision for overriding security powers for the center, through the armed forces (on a national sovereignty basis) should there be conflict between regional and federal forces of law and order.
Fourth, the balance of powers between the regions and the center will be deliberately designed to give component regions developmental and policy space, but not to create an overly weak center. The central government must nevertheless be lean in personnel and not bloated. Arguably, excessively powerful regions may have contributed to national crises of the 1960s and eventually to the civil war 50 years ago.
Fifth, there must be a real separation of religion and the state and public policy in a restructured Nigeria. While Nigeria is supposed to be a secular state (or, as some would argue, a multi-religious one), in practice religion plays a large role in politics and public policy. Political power is often sought on the basis of religious allegiances, and is often utilized to assure the dominance of specific religions in public policy. This breeds conflict, as adherents of religious faiths that consider themselves politically marginalized resist the “hegemony” of politically empowered other faiths. An example of this situation is the practice of sponsoring religious pilgrimages from public funds. This is economically wasteful and is not essential for social security!
Sixth, the restructuring of Nigeria requires a completely new constitution that is truly a peoples constitution. Tinkering with the 1999 Constitution through amendments such as the devolution of powers (e.g. state police) could result in a “dodge” that does not address the fundamental issue of the structure of the federation or even the National Question. As I have noted earlier, devolution of powers is not necessarily the same thing as federalism and can indeed happen in a unitary system.
Seventh, a constitutional restructuring will require a revamp of the exclusive, concurrent and residual legislative lists in the constitution to accomplish the characteristics above. There are, for example, 68 items on the Exclusive Legislative List in the 1999 Constitution, and a residual list that is far too small – the latter made up of a few items such as cemeteries and burial grounds, births and death registration, healthcare, traditional and chieftaincy titles.
Mines and minerals should be moved from the Exclusive List to the Residual List as an exclusive preserve of regions. Insurance, police and security agencies, prisons, taxation, trade and commerce, and water should be moved from the exclusive to the concurrent list.
Of fundamental importance, local governments should not be a constitutional tier of government in the new constitution. Rather, it should be the responsibility of regional governments to create and administer local governments. There should only be two tiers of government under the new constitution — the central government which will have exclusive responsibility for common services such as the central bank and monetary policy, foreign affairs, defence and the armed forces, and immigration, and regional governments which will now have direct supervision over provinces (the present 36 states renamed).
There should be regional constitutions (which cannot be in conflict with the national constitution but can address the peculiarities of various regions), regional premiers or executive governors, and regional parliaments. State Houses of Assembly will be constitutionally abolished, and may be combined to become new regional legislatures. The previous states will be run as administrative provinces under the regional governments. The heads of the provinces (former states) should be appointed by the regional premier or governor rather than be elected officials, as the sub-national legislature will now be regional and no longer at the state level. Local government councils should nevertheless remain elective positions in the regional government structures in order to foster democratic accountability at levels closest to the people.
The Office of the President (together with the Vice-President) of a constitutionally restructured Nigeria should be for a single term of six years.
Other proposed hall marks of a new Peoples Constitution include the constitutional recognition and protection of intellectual property rights in order to drive an innovation-led economy, as well as the abolition of the Land Use Act.
HOW AND WHEN TO RESTRUCTURE NIGERIA
The constitutional restructuring of Nigeria to return our country to true federalism will best be achieved through an executive bill presented to the National Assembly by the President. If elected President of Nigeria in 2019, this is what I will do.
First, I will meet with the leadership of the National Assembly to come to a broad agreement on the National Assembly’s critical role in constitutional restructuring.
Second, as President I will appoint a high-level Presidential Commission on Constitutional Restructuring. The Commission will be made up of seven members who will be distinguished personalities with unimpeachable records, including a member from each of the six geopolitical zones. Its task will be to review previous reports and recommendations on constitutional restructuring and to distill the various positions, arguments and recommendations. On that basis the Commission can make further recommendations of its own. This exercise will not take more than three months.
Third, the report of the Presidential Commission will be followed by a widespread sensitization and consultation by my Government with citizens and stakeholders in all parts of the country.
The aim will be to “manufacture consent” from our citizens for a constitutionally restructured Nigeria that paves the way for buy-in to an executive bill on restructuring.
The next step will be the submission of an Executive Bill to the National Assembly. Overall, the process of constitutional restructuring of the Nigerian state will take a realistic period of 18 months from 2019 to 2021. There should be a transitional period of two years that enables the new constitution to take effect from 2023.
Restructuring is opposed by two main kinds of people: those who are ignorant of what it really means, and therefore are susceptible to arguments that cast the idea falsely as a “breakup” of the country, and those who know the truth but are wedded to vested interests and self-serving agendas that have nothing to do with Nigeria’s real progress.
There also is a third group that I can call the genuine skeptics. These are persons who validly wonder if restructuring will be the cure-all for all that ails Nigeria, and believe that the exercise may create more problems than it will solve. Among them we can count some compatriots that believe that individual leadership failures, not a structural one, is the real problem with our country. The case for this argument is that structural changes in a redesigned federation will be inadequate without a “restructuring” of the Nigerian mindset which has become increasingly warped.
To be sure, had Nigeria developed the kind of competent leadership it needed decades ago, the argument for restructuring would have been less compelling. The reality, however, is that our country is far too gone in the wrong directions – such as an exclusive reliance on oil that fundamentally militated against economic development and transformation. A majority of Nigerians now want the country restructured. There is no alternative to it now. The path to national unity and development lies in recognizing this truth and acting on it with the necessary political will. We must ignore the misguided, military-command-and-control notion of national cohesion that pretends that there can be unity and stability without equity and justice.
I believe that restructuring is necessary and inevitable. Some stakeholders may dismiss the prospect because of a fear of the loss of perceived political advantage. But no one has anything to fear in an intelligently restructured Nigeria. There can no peace without justice. The question is not whether Nigeria will be redesigned but when, and who will lead the process of achieving that outcome in which every Nigerian, regardless of tribe, tongue and creed, could be a winner.
Finally, let me warn that there is nothing inevitable about the idea of an indissoluble Nigeria. We know of other countries, such as the former Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, that broke up into several nations. I recall my personal experience during a long career in the United Nations, in which one of my assignments was as the Political Advisor to the UN Transitional Administration for Croatia’s Eastern Slavonia region after the wars on the Balkan wars in the mid-1990s, in which role I wrote and helped implement the legal and political roadmap for the reintegration of the Serb-held parts of Croatia with the rest of the country.
Nigeria is the last official federation bequeathed by the UK as an imperial power which is still one country. Others, such as India (which split to become India and Pakistan, with Bangladesh later breaking off from Pakistan) and Sudan which today is Sudan and South Sudan, are examples. There is no question in my mind that Nigeria will not survive a rejection of constitutional restructuring to cure its inherent ills. And the most likely scenario is one in which this occurs with violence that may not be successfully repressed by military operations such as “Python Dance”, “Lafia Dole”, “Crocodile Smile” (it is really difficult to imagine a smiling crocodile!).
In this lecture I have set out a clear roadmap for restructuring Nigeria. There are too many details in such a historic exercise, should it happen, to be included in one speech. But what I have attempted to do, as I always have with issues facing our dear country, is to bring conceptual and execution clarity and timelines to this matter. I have the political will to lead the restructuring of our country in the manner in which it must be done if we are truly serious about this existential need. It is easy for politicians to make promises in order to get votes. We know, though, that our experience has been that they don’t keep those promises, or at best in the case of restructuring might be tempted to pull off a surface exercise to fulfill all righteousness while the real issues remain.
I am not just a politician. I am a leader. My vision for restructuring Nigeria is not a promise. It is a plan. And I have a plan to execute that plan.
Thank you for your attention.
Being a keynote address delivered by Moghalu, presidential candidate of the Young Progressives Party (YPP), at the 6th annual conference of the Nigerian Political Science Association (South-east) at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka on October 29, 2018.