Dysfunctional Federalism And The Centre Called Abuja—In the words of James Tar Tsaaior, Professor of Media and Cultural Communication, School of Media and Communication, Pan Atlantic University, Lagos, the circle looks harmless and innocuous’ but it is not. It is guilty of a certain politics, inclusionary and exclusionary politics.
Every circle has its centre and margin, its core and periphery. The centre is the point of attraction because of its strategic position. Anything outside of the centre does not validly belong to the circle. It exists as a tangent, beyond its orbit or circumference. It is interesting how the mathematical sign of the circle has become an idea for instituting cartographic domains, political hierarchies, economic zones and cultural categories in today’s global neighborhood. These include the global North and South, the First and Third Worlds, the metropolis and the province, the center and margin and the core and the periphery, among other binary oppositions.
Likewise, here, Abuja represents the centre. It is the capital city of Nigeria. It is in the middle of the political circle called Nigeria. The skyline of the city, which was built largely in the 1980s, is dominated by Aso Rock, an enormous monolith. It rises up behind the Presidential Complex, which houses the residence and offices of the Nigerian president in the Three Arms Zone on the eastern edge of the city. Nearby are the National Assembly and the Supreme Court of Nigeria.
The city overtly and covertly shares the above attributes of a centre.
In the spirit of the true Federal system, Abuja and the Federal (Central) Government, was originally meant to operate as a Coordinating Government and not as a Controlling Government, and has the exclusive Responsibility for the mutually agreed Common National Services.
But contrary to expectation, Abuja is guilty of certain politics as it presently ‘enjoys’ political obesity- welding much power to the detriment of the federating states. Laced with the spirit of command and control, and has asymmetrically cornered to itself responsibilities such as, namely; Armed Forces, Nigerian Police, Citizenship, Customs, Central Bank of Nigeria, / National Currency, Immigration , Foreign Affairs including Foreign Trade, National Education Standards, but not Educational Institutions (Primary, Secondary and Tertiary Levels, National Scientific, Technological and Industrial Goods Standards including Agricultural / Mineral Commodity Export Standards, Trunk A Roads or Interconnecting High ways of Nigerian Federation, among others.
Evidently, for the reason that the ‘constitution we inherited (1999 constitution as amended), from the military is as faulty as it is now outdated; and did not originate from “the people” but rather a product of imposition’, it made slanted provisions that mirrors government at the centre as both ‘captain and coach’ of other federating states thereby characterizing Abuja as a General surrounded by many lieutenants. This set the stage for the nation’s dysfunctional Federalism.
Today, Abuja means different things to different people.
To some lazy state Governors who are clueless about increasing their state’s internally generated revenue (IGR), and depend solely on Federal Allocation (FAAC), Abuja, means a ‘dispenser of goodness’. For politicians outsmarted in their states, Abuja is the ‘wilderness of consolation and a desert of hope’. For those that lost elective positions in their states/constituencies, Abuja is the centre where the sweet phrase; ‘weep not child’ can only be heard via political appointments and contracts.
This inglorious disparity in power sharing arrangement has rendered as unabated the need for restructuring the relationship between the center and the states to reflect true economic and political federalism that will allow for resource control by the varying states, while paying the constitutionally stipulated taxes to the centre.
Compounding this present national challenge is the posture of President Muhammadu Buhari, who presently sees nothing to restructure in the political edifice called Nigeria.
To add context to the discourse, represented by the Executive Secretary, Revenue Mobilization, Allocation and Fiscal Commission, Alhaji Mohammed Bello Shehu, at the launch of Kudirat Abiola Sabon Gari, Zaria Peace Foundation which took place at Ahmadu Bello University Hotels, Zaria, Mr President said as follows; Again those who are discussing restructuring, my question is, what are you going to restructure? If you ask many Nigerians what they are going to restructure, you will find out that they have nothing to talk about.”Some of them have not even studied the 1999 Constitution. The 1999 Constitution is almost 70 to 80 per cent the same with that of the 1979 Constitution,” Buhari said
Unmistakably, there exist two reasons that qualify Mr President’s latest position on the state of the nation as a crisis and deeply troubling.
First, it is coming a few years after the same Mr, President noted while delivering a nationwide broadcast on Monday 1st, January 2018, that ‘no human law or edifice is perfect. Whatever structure we develop must periodically be perfected according to the changing circumstances and the country’s socio-economic developments’. Identifying those imperfections and catalyzing the process of reforming this changing circumstance as muted by the president should be the preoccupation of all at the present circumstance.
The second concern is that Mr. President is not alone in this deformed argument.
Recently, some Nigerians argued that President Buhari was elected by Nigerians and he is the symbol of the sovereign many talked about. Therefore, asking him to convoc a Sovereign National Conference for the purpose of restructuring Nigeria is to ask him to abdicate the high office of the presidency of Nigeria, that is, to surrender his powers, office to a group of elected or selected persons who now determine the tenor of the federation.
While this piece accepts the above reasoning as true, the argument is however, plagued/deformed by its decision to remain silent, or failure to remember that Mr. President is also constitutionally empowered to demand from the national assembly via executive Bill, amendments of the constitution according to the changing circumstances.
In simple language, this is what Nigerians want/demands and will appreciate if Mr. President performs this function at the most fundamental level.
Supporting this claim is a statement credited to the President-General of Ohanaeze Ndigbo, Prof. George Obiozor as it lays bare what Igbos and generality of Nigerians demands.
He said in parts; fundamentally, what Ndigbo really want is some form of internal autonomy based on a restructured Nigeria. Categorically stated, we are of the view that the federation of Nigeria must be a union of equals and the composite units must have the ability to stand without begging the centre for survival. That is a federal system of government with its characteristics of decentralization and devolution of power among the federating units”.
From the above reason flows yet another concern which has to do with justice. Globally, there exists a veiled agreement that justice has two different faces, one conservative of existing norms and practices, the other demanding reform of these norms and practices. Thus, on the one hand, it is a matter of justice to respect people’s rights under existing law or moral rules, or more generally to fulfill the legitimate expectations they have acquired as a result of past practice, social conventions, and so forth. On the other hand, justice gives us reason to change laws, practices and conventions quite fundamentally, thereby creating new entitlements and expectations.
While those of us who belief in the unity of Nigeria may not agree with campaign of any group or ethnic nationality to dismember Nigeria, the truth must be told to the effect that the whole gamut of restiveness and resurgence demand for the dissolution of Nigeria stems from mindless exclusion, injustice and economic deprivation.
The best way to reverse this trend is to first acknowledge that the constitution we inherited from the military is as faulty as it is now outdated. And most importantly, we must make Abuja/the government at the centre shed some weight via power devolution. Call it restructuring, you may not be far from the truth!
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