Deputy President of the Senate Ike Ekweremadu has stirred the hornet’s nest with his sermon of Nigeria practicing ‘Feeding Bottle Federalism’. As chairman of the National Assembly Constitution Review Committee, he has subtly discarded the extant state system and is advocating return to six regional structures. UCHENNA AWOM examines the position against the background of strident agitation for creation of more states in the country.
Perhaps, the most sobering position on the waxing agitation for the creation of more states in Nigeria is the fresh perspective on federalism being championed by the Deputy President of Senate, Senator Ike Ekweremadu. His position, which he anchored on what he termed as deformities in fiscal federalism as the major hindrances to national development has cast serious doubt on the possibilities of creating new states in Nigeria under a civilian democracy.
Not because Ekweremadu has the final say on this issue, but because he is driving the ‘possibility’, in his capacity as the Chairman of the National Assembly Constitutional Review Committee.
Senator Ekweremadu espoused this position while delivering the Sixth Annual Oputa Lecture at the Osgoode Hall Law School, York University in Toronto, Canada. So with such articulation he succeeded in expanding the raging national discussion on the flawed brand of federalism being practiced in Nigeria.
He is not the first that has raised issue on Nigeria’s federalism principle, especially on the aspect that relates to lack of fiscal autonomy of the federating units and moreso of the cramming of the centre with overwhelming fiscal power.
Speaking on the topic “Nigerian Federalism: A Case for a Review”, the Deputy President of Senate who identified the period between 1954 and January 1966 as the golden era of Nigerian federalism said the socio-economic prosperity recorded in the First Republic was possible because the regions were neither subservient to nor dependent on the centre.
He regretted that “the brand of fiscal federalism in place today looks every inch that of master and servant relationship and is therefore killing industry, initiative, and creativity, while promoting indolence and bad governance.”
Senator Ekweremadu said the resurgence of debate on Nigeria’s fiscal federalism underlines the fact the nation needed to “move away from the current military-imposed ‘feeding bottle’ federalism to enthrone one predicated on self-reliance, hard work, enterprise, resourcefulness, and ingenuity to catalyse development”.
The import of the treatise was that Nigeria is gradually getting to the point where it would confront the compelling truth after years of pretension by the political class. Ekweremadu, as the second highest chief lawmaker of the federation has surreptitiously upped the ante thus sending a signal that agitators for state creation could as well rest awhile because of the new thinking that may also see to the holistic restructuring of the current state arrangement.
In that lecture, he also faulted the current power sharing formula, which according to him laid the foundation for the nation’s distorted federalism as the centre appears to have amassed more powers that it actually needed or could manage.
The expansion of federal powers he added is illustrated by the fact that between the Independence Constitution and the 1999 Nigerian Constitution, 16 out of the 28 items on the Concurrent List, which translates to about 57 per cent, had been lost to the Exclusive List. In the same period also, the federating units have lost at least 7 items on the Residual List to the Exclusive List.
He listed such powers which the federating units have been stripped off to include the power of the former regions to control resources within their territories, have diplomatic representations in London, appoint judges without reference to a central body (the National Judicial Council), own constitutions and coat of arms, and right of the local governments to have their own police forces.
“One major step, therefore to returning Nigeria’s federalism on a strong and prosperous footing is to reengineer politically viable federating units by devolving more powers to the States”, he said.
That being the case, the indications are that regionalism may become the issue, if it is not the agitation for an extreme form of regional arrangement may ensue. Ekweremadu gave such inkling also when in the paper he urging Nigerians to consider a return to regionalism against the present 36 state structure.
He premised his position on the unhealthy and unviable state of the component states of the federation adding that it had become imperative for the nation to take a second look at the continual proliferation of states and the dispersal of resources.
Nonetheless he commended states in several geopolitical zones who were already coming together to streamline their development policies and agenda as well as aggregate their resources and areas of comparative advantages to develop their regions.
“A return to the regions in the long term seems a major plausible thing to do if we are to nurse any hopes of reversing the dwindling fortunes of our federalism by engendering viability and self-reliance of the component units, massive development, healthy competition, reduce cost of governance and enthrone acceptable level of equity”, he added.
Echoes of State Police
A controversial dimension to the demand for true federalism is perhaps the call for the establishment of state police or at best to restructure the Nigeria Police Force such that they will be subservient to the state authorities. The call which keeps re-echoing has variously met a brick wall on the argument that such an arrangement would perpetuate government terrorism or so to say create a modern day leviathan.
But the chicken is coming home to roost as Ekweremadu and by extension, a handful of his ilk in the political class seems to have thrown their weight behind the issue.
He regretted in the lecture paper that Nigeria remained about the only federal state with a centralized police system, noting that such military legacy had not augured well for the security of lives and property in the nation.
“Prevalent global trend in crime-fighting and the realities of security challenges in Nigeria makes the decentralisation of policing pertinent as it makes it easier to track and burst crimes, gives the police the advantage of knowing the environment- geographically, culturally, socially, politically, and even economically”, he said.
Other key suggestions made by the Deputy President of the Senate towards strengthening the nation’s federalism include striking structural balance, a possible return to regionalism in the long term and the need to address the nation’s integration deficits.
Ekweremadu observed that irrespective of how much constitutional reform the nation carried out, little progress would be made unless Nigerians rise quickly enough to build structures for the proper management of the nation’s diversities and to secure the optimal right to settlement, establishment, and happiness for all citizens in every part.
“All constitutional provisions that tend to or are liable to manipulations to aggravate the nation’s fault lines must be revisited, while we need to replace State of Origin (indigene) in Section 147 with State of Residence”, he reiterated.
The Deputy President of Senate who noted that demand for states had risen to 46, urged Nigerians to spare a thought on a possible return to regionalism where the 6 geopolitical zones would become the federating units.
Ekweremadu’s lecture echoes an increasing discourse on the future of a viable Nigerian state. The good thing is that he would no doubt have ready supporters. Before him, the call for pure and untainted, true federalism have reached a crescendo. It takes several hues but means the same thing.
Some call it fiscal federalism, true federalism, confederacy and of course the latest in the lexicon was resource control.
Resource control which was the propelling force in the call for the review of the Land Use Act also amplified the agitation in the Niger Delta.
One of such commentators was Mr. Olisa Agbakoba, SAN, who had in conjunction with other civil rights agitators made suggestions on redefining the nature of the country’s federalism. He had in his submission to the National Assembly suggested among others that the 36 states of the federation should be knocked down into their respective geopolitical zones which should be recognized as the basis of the nation’s federation.
He had recently backed his suggestions with a bill which he routed through Senator Enyinnaya Abaribe (PDP, Abia). With such power arrangements in six geopolitical zones the country would be peppered by six regional Governors with powers to administer the six geopolitical zones. In that case the current states could be collapsed as administrative units in the mould of local governments in the real sense.
Expectedly, Agbakoba’s submission was bolstered by supports from familiar grounds, but yet there are some sections that are uncomfortable. The fear has always been the chase for power and a seeming quest to maintain the fiefdom-like arrangement where a few would continue to wield power. Again there are feelings that the current lopsidedness in the number of states must be corrected before any form of political restructuring could take place.
For instance, the Conference of Nigeria Political Parties (CNPP) had in support of the restructuring stance condemned the present arrangement. In a release signed by Osita Okechukwu, its National Publicity Secretary, the group said: “Public commentators have queried the inelegant manner in which a Constitution with the tag Federal Republic is structured and chartered along Unitary System of government.
“It is our considered view that the inherent capacity for true federalism to accommodate multi-ethnic nationalities and their diversities without undermining national unity; was what made our founding fathers to adopt federalism in the London Constitutional Conference of 1953.
“We accordingly endorse the Bill submitted to the National Assembly by Mr Olisa Agbakoba, (SAN), the position of the Nigerian Governors’ Forum for review of the Revenue Allocation Formula and the agitation of many patriots for true federalism.”
The essence is that Senator Ekweremadu by amplifying the debate, albeit in a subtle manner, was only giving credence to the time tested agitation.
He had recalled the period between 1954 and 1966 which he described as the golden era of the country’s federalism on account of the prosperity and the attendant competition which propelled development among the three regions of the country.
For example in the Western region, Chief Obafemi Awolowo, the visionary premier of the region effortlessly and without debt established some of the institutions that continue to abide today including the Liberty Stadium, Western Nigeria Television among others, using revenue derived from cocoa.
It was the same case in the East, the Eastern Regional government was also able to build for itself many legacies including the two Presidential Hotels in Enugu and Port-Harcourt, the University of Nigeria, Nsukka, among other legacies using revenue from palm kernel among others.
In the North, the Ahmadu Bello administration established the Ahmadu Bello University, the School of Agriculture Kabba, the many investments of the Northern Nigeria Development Company, NNDC, among many other legacies.
It is however, most unfortunate that these three regions have remained the golden example of how true federalism should look like. That is to say that the states have failed woefully to beat the record of that era, instead what is prevalent is the creation of kingdoms for the few who glory in unbridled looting of the collective patrimony of the people.
Besides, the current arrangement succeeded only in creating atmosphere of political anxiety and deadly power struggle laced with recriminations, stolen mandates, electoral manipulations of the worst order and of course the ever frightening suspicion among the ethnic nationalities.
Ekweremadu’s clarion call may not receive entirely safe landing, but yet he thus regretted that “the brand of fiscal federalism in place today looks every inch that of master and servant relationship and is therefore killing industry, initiative, and creativity, while promoting indolence, bad governance.”
Characteristic of the indolence Ekweremadu referred to is the monthly meeting of the Federation Account Allocation Committee, FAAC when the 36 states come to share what is described as federal revenue.
Will the National Assembly particularly the Constitution Review Committee muster the needed political will to go the whole hog and effect the structural changes that could put the country on the path of true development? Big question!