Events of the past few months in Nigeria appears to have driven the nation into some crossroads. To some, it is akin to taking the country to the brink of precipice and to others driving the nation between the devil and the deep blue sea. Nigeria is on the match again. But whichever way we want to look at it, it is obvious that all is not well with the country.
Prior to Nigeria’s independence, the country was under the rule of the colonial masters and the influence of the colonial masters on the nation dovetailed into the Post-independence Nigeria. Having been amalgamated for over 100 years now, there is nothing wrong if there is complete review of the Northern and Southern protectorates agreement to establish Nigeria vide a sovereign conference as demanded by Nigerians for several years. Moreover, the constitution being amended by the National Assembly is an imposition by the military which was dominated by a section of the country.
The ruling elite have been forcing unity on the people, but the reality on ground is that Nigerians are not united. There is anger everywhere. There are hate speeches. There is threat of secession by the people of Eastern Nigeria. There is even quit notice issued them by Northern youths with the backing of some of the Northern Elders. There is the campaign for implementation of true fiscal federalism and resource control by people of the South-South represented by the Niger Delta. Much more, there is massive demand for the restructuring of the country away from the current unviable 36 states structure imposed on it by the military-imposed constitution. There is an overwhelming call for the devolution of powers from the federal government to the federating units.
But the National Assembly has so far carried out 33 amendments. They voted in support of financial autonomy to local government areas, independent candidacy, restriction of executive offices to one term, amongst others.
Regrettably, the area of devolution of powers, which has become a subject of passionate debate across the country in recent years, was roundly rejected by the lawmakers. It is obvious that Nigerians are bad copiers. America that Nigeria copied the presidential system of government from operates true fiscal federalism. The Nigerian Constitution concentrates too much powers at the centre, at the expense of state authorities that are more closer to the citizens.
Senators approved an amendment that will see state legislators superintend over their own budget, rather than the existing practice that gives governors powers to appropriate expenses of lawmakers. The Federal lawmakers at the National Assembly already enjoy financial autonomy. What again seems to be playing out is that the current exercise appears to be self-serving or serving some sectional interest and not really the interest of generality of Nigerians.
The current amendment proposes that local government administrators should be allowed to manage their own accounts as against the existing policy in which governors exert powers over allocations to local government areas. The amendment also seeks to prohibit constitution of caretaker leadership for LGAs, a tool that critics said governors have exploited to trample on the independence of local government areas. This is good but must be underpinned by the adoption of the principle of true fiscal federalism.
The National Assembly also seeks to ban anyone who succeeds a president or a governor and completes the tenure of such president or governor from contesting for that same office more than once. This is to prevent the situation in which former President Goodluck Jonathan completed the tenure of late President Umar Yar’Adua between 2010-2011, participated in the 2011 election and won a four-year term and still ran for election again in the 2015 election. What the senators now propose essentially means that when someone succeeds a president or a governor, the person is considered to be spending the first of the two-term privilege the Constitution gives to an individual to run for office.
All of these issues that the National Assembly has considered will be wasted effort if the call for restructuring and devolution of powers are swept under the carpet. The question to ask is where will the resources or revenue to sustain this so-called amendment come from? Given that most countries in Europe and America will in 20 years be dependent on solar and electrical powered cars and would abolish the use of cars that use fossil fuels, it means that a nation like Nigeria that depends majorly on crude oil for its system of government would be in big trouble. This is the time to discuss and agree on which way to go and not 20 years time when we would be face-to-face with the reality.
People would be walking the streets and dropping dead as a result of hunger, disease and poverty. Infrastructure will be in terrible state, roads will be worse than what they are today. Electricity supply would be worse and crime rate will increase. So, this is the time to address this impending danger. Our law makers must wear their thinking caps now if they want Nigerians to take them seriously. If the National Assembly can address all these issues and take steps to restructure Nigeria into may be six regions and abolish the present 36-state structure and devolve powers to the federating units and ensure the implementation of true fiscal federalism then we would be back to the early 60s pattern of development guided by healthy competition of some sorts.
Rather than strive to construct a proper federal state based on social justice, equity and merit, as envisioned by the founding fathers of Nigeria , the new crop of leaders have stubbornly and wickedly stuck to this sort of unitary arrangement imposed by the military since 1966 . This is why Nigeria has remained in the doldrums of underdevelopment, massive poverty and unemployment in spite of the huge and abundant resources. Nigerians play ethnicity and religion cards at every given opportunity. Government is about who know man. Employment is about who know man and even constitution amendment is about who can do the bidding of one section of the country. This is unacceptable.
As we continue to grope, those at the National Assembly should know that they have the opportunity to get it right. The North must know that Nigeria is not their property. All ethnic nationality have a right to self-determination. They have the right to remain in one united country or chose to quit. If they must remain in one Nigeria, this has to be discussed and agreed. Forcing people to stay together as it seems since independence may be counterproductive.
There is a lot to benefit if Nigeria remains as one nation. But we must get out acts together. We must get the constitution right. It must be a peoples constitution prepared by Nigerians of diverse groups. We must be prepared to make the needed sacrifices and above all be a God-fearing nation that is ready to be a producing nation more than a consuming nation. A technologically driven society which takes care of its citizens irrespective of their location, race or creed.
Mr. Dan Owegie is a chieftain of the All Progressives Congress (APC), Edo State.