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June 12, true federalism and the threat of Balkanization

Twenty four years after Nigerians rose in unison to defy ethnic sentiments to vote for Muslim/Muslim ticket (late Chief M.K.O. Abiola and Amb. Babagana Kingibe)in the famed June 12, 1993 presidential election, the threat of balkanization propelled by ethnic nationalism has become more real than imagined under President Muhammadu Buhari administration. Abuja Bureau Chief, OBIORA IFOH takes a look at the development particularly the calls by sections of Nigeria for a restructuring of the federation.

A federation can be loosely defined as an amalgam of quasi political units into a whole political unit; and while the federating units retain and manage their resources and develop at their own pace, the central government plays the unifying and supervisory roles while also not wresting powers from the federating units. At independence in 1960, Nigeria was patterned politically on a structure where the regions were practically stronger than the centre and the regions developed at their various pace.

However, after the intervention of the military in 1966 and subsequent regimes, particularly, during the General Yakubu Gowon’s government, federalism was redefined to mean a stronger centre and weaker component units. In practice, it was more unitary than federal. Most of the residual influences of the units including agriculture, education, natural resources, road amongst others were transferred to the exclusive list of the central government or at best concurrently managed by the units and the centre. The civilian government between 1979 and 1983, sandwiched by the military governments toed the same pattern of administration up till the present.

Agitation for proper interpretation of federation, otherwise referred as ‘true federalism’ took centre stage soon after the military misinterpreted it. However, it reached its crescendo during the military regime of President Ibrahim Babangida when Nigerians in their determined efforts to oust the military defied all ethnic and religious biases to elect a civilian government which offered hope for a restoration of federalism.

That election held on June 12, 1993 which saw late Chief Abiola coasting to victory was unfortunately aborted and declared inconclusive. This Monday marks the 24th anniversary of the watershed. Today, the clamor for a return to true federalism has even widened. While virtually every segment or region in Nigeria thinks that the federation is not working as it should be, Nigerian governments have not made any genuine efforts to pander to the yearning of the citizens.

The closest effort towards true federalism was the 2014 constitutional conference powered by the Goodluck Jonathan government but the document which largely addressed the contending issues in the federation found itself in the trash bin after that government was voted out in 2015. The President Buhari government has since ignored that genuine efforts at resolving the endemic crisis. His government has rather preferred to go with the status-quo; a stronger centre and very weak states.

In the present dispensation, record has shown that only about four – Lagos, Ogun, Rivers and Delta states out of thirty six states of the federation are viable as indicated by their internally generated revenue. The rest states survive out of the handout from the centre. But the argument for regional integration became germane with a huge Regional IGR put at; Southwest – N404 billion, South South – N198 billion, North West – N69 billion, North Central – N54 billion, South East – N49 billion and North East – N29 billion. The argument is that development would be faster under regional integration but the government is not unmindful of the full import of a return to regionalism.

One practical instance of the fear of the federal government played out at the National Assembly where the South East legislators are demanding for the establishment of South East Development Commission, SEDC after their counterpart from the North East had a similar scaled through. This demand which is generating heated debate presently has been misinterpreted to mean covert support for agitation of dismemberment of the South East region from the present Nigeria.

But the spirit of June 12 is yearning for true federalism; it is standing with the clamour for restructuring of the polity. Virtually every Nigerian except the Buhari government thinks that there is something wrong with the present structure. According to Otunba Gani Adams, national coordinator of the OPC, while advocating for the restructuring of the country said that different ethnic groups in the country were forced to come together by the effort of British government without realising peculiar nature of different each region.

He said, “There is no need to remind Nigerian leaders that the time to restructure Nigeria is now, those who want the system to remain the way it is are beneficiaries of the decadence. They want a system that is bogus and not accountable to the people, a system that is opague and moribund, they want to build a strong individual without strong institutions. I say categorically that restructuring was one of the propelling factors that led to the formation of the OPC. It is amazing when people talk as if they do not understand the form and content of restructuring. Nigeria came into existence without the free and informed consent of the ethnic groups that make up the country.”

At a June 12 forum last year, Admiral Ndubusi Kanu (rtd), former military governor of Lagos State did not mince words when he stated that postponing restructuring is like extending the doomsday. He advised that the earlier the government accepts the reality the better for the country. He picked hole in the government policy on power, security and other areas, insisting that as long as the country remains the way it is, it would amount to effort in futility any policy adopted to transform it.

He further stated that the implementation of the 2014 National Conference would be a further step toward realising true federalism in the country. The report of the National Conference should be a further step towards realisation of true federalism in the country.”

Kanu believes the ongoing agitation by Independent People of Biafra (IPOB), militants in Niger-Delta, kidnapping and other social crimes in the country are products of wrong structure in her political system while also emphasizing that they would abate if the country accepts the reality of restructuring.

The fear of possible secession of the South East geo-political zone would have not arisen had the present federal government more alive to its responsibility to her citizenry. Nigeria has lived with this scenario since 1967 and in fact the secessionist group-Biafra recently marked its golden jubilee locking down the entire region. The recent renewed agitation was due to neglect by the system.

Constitutional lawyer and former President of the Nigerian Bar Association, NBA, Olisa Agbakoba , SAN recently dragged the government to court over alleged acts of negligence, discrimination and underdevelopment of the South East region.

The suit is praying the court to “declare that the structural composition of the states in Nigeria, in this distribution: North-West, Seven States; North-Central, Six States; North-East, Six States; South-West, Six States; South-South, Six States; and South-East, Five States; creates a structural imbalance against the applicant and the Group/Class he represents to their political and economic disadvantage in federal legislative representation, ministerial/political and judicial appointments, and revenue allocation contrary to Section 14(3) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999, which requires reflection of federal character in conduct of public affairs, and accordingly a violation of Section 42 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999, which prohibits discrimination against the applicant and the Group/Class represented based on Ethnic Grouping and place of origin.”

In an originating summons supported by an affidavit of 99 paragraphs and a statement of claim, the applicants rooted their action on the ground of alleged total neglect of the applicant’s geo-political zone by the Federal Government in terms of infrastructure and general federal presence making the region feel not part of the Federal Government (1st Respondent).

It is equally demanding the creation of two more states in the South-East geopolitical zone to balance with the seven states in the North-West. The suit is also asking the Federal High Court for an order directing the Federal Government to forthwith, “prepare and send to the National Assembly for enactment, a bill to establish the South-East Development Commission (SEDC) and for ancillary matters, which body shall be charged with the execution of the said master plan and the general development of the South-East geo-political zone.”

Other areas of neglect according to the suit are the abandonment of the Niger Bridge to collapse and failure to build the ‘Second Niger Bridge’; abandonment of federal roads and failure to develop strategic new roads; failure to check erosion menace; and failure to exploit the Oil/Gas Reserves in Anambra Basin and stalling the legitimate expectation from employment and derivation funds for development of the South-East Zone amongst others.

Similarly, the Region of the Niger Delta (Rondel), comprising of the six states in the zone recently came up with a resolution demanding independence from Nigeria from 2018. According to them, “our motivation for decision to leave Nigeria are first President Buhari’s treatment of our people as 5 percent, northerner’s nearly exclusive illegal and immoral occupation of our oil wells destroying our ecosystems and the eviction notice by Arewa youths with tacit support of government and Arewa leaders.”

The South West zone has never hidden their agenda for Oduduwa Republic while the North Central are still battling with their second rated or derogatory northern status. Recently youth leadership of middle belt in a statement said, “but in event one part of the country decides to go away as a separate entity, the Middle Belt is also ready to make an independent statement.”

Even the northern youths in the eviction order to Igbos recently, insisted that the region can stand on its own. This is more so now that there is prospect of oil exploitation in the region. The northern region had done well prior military incursion, developed fledging economy, built word class infrastructure and the northern hegemony worked perfectly.

But the spirit of June 12 did not support the balkanization of the country, it only prayed for greater autonomy to the regions and so do most Nigerians who are favoring restructuring. June 12 marked a watershed in the history of democratic evolution in the country. It was a day Nigerians resolved to remain united under a federation called Nigeria in spite of our differences.

As some states in the South West including Lagos and Oyo observed the day as work free, the spirit of June 12 can only rest in peace when Nigeria is properly restructured, balanced political appointments and the wealth of the nation redistributed that ‘Moses will not be robbed to pay Musa’ and not on the basis of ‘5 percent voting for me and 95 not voting for me’.

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