The nature of the state is essentially about power relations. Federalism as a state structure implies the presence of power distribution between the union authority and the units. The distribution is such that the units are independent and co-ordinate. The internal dynamics are such that guarantee fiscal autonomy. The units are not troublesome except in cases where the centre becomes overbearing and eroding the federal contract. The balanced distribution of power is such that the peoples and elite at the unit level are somewhat contented and covet the liberty of the unit in the running of its affairs more than the values that the centre can allocate. In unitary states, the centre, the locus of power, is overbearing and centralising. Unlike the unitary formations, the Nigerian federal state, skewed as it were, has an irredentist central authority that seeks always, in policy and practice, to atomise the units of the federation. This, perhaps, is the reason for the central prize in the power equation in Nigeria.
Clinching Nigeria’s presidency is the ultimate prize in politics. Some have enthused in moments of discernment that the Nigerian presidency is the most powerful in the world. The executive always emasculates other organs of government, namely, the legislature and the judiciary, which ought to be subject of mutual horizontal accountability. The exclusive legislative list provides for about 68 legislative items for the central government complemented with the doctrine of covering the field. It is this power element at the centre that has led to hegemonic control of the country by a section of the population in the country that has come to perceive such lopsidedness as a right of sorts.
While the country has been badly governed by the current administration such that it has been unable to provide adequate security for lives and property of the citizenry, the commonplace politicians and other governing elite are already justly for the presidency when the incumbent is yet to complete its second term in office. It has accentuated the well-known binary in Nigeria’s politics, north versus the south.
In the Lagos meeting of the Southern Governors’ Forum held in July, the governors let it be known that the South must produce the next president of Nigeria. While reaffirming the unity of the country on the basis of equity, fairness, justice, progress and peaceful co-existence amongst the people, it stressed “its commitment to the politics of equity, fairness and unanimously agrees that the presidency of Nigeria be rotated between Southern and Northern Nigeria” and further affirmed that “the next president of Nigeria should emerge from the Southern Region.” This position expectedly elicited responses from the northern elite, who stated that North would not succumb to threats or blackmail. According to the spokesman of the Northern Elders Forum (NEF), Dr Hakeem Baba-Ahmed, the Southern governors’ position was, “an expression of sentiment that could be best discussed within a political process…We are running a democratic government and decisions over where the next president comes from are basically decisions that will be made by voters exercising their rights to choose which candidate best serves their interest.” The same spokesman was to abandon constructive response to hubris when he noted at the maiden Maitama Sule Lecture Series held at Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria that the North would continue to lead Nigeria head or tail. In his words, “We will lead Nigeria the way we have led Nigeria before whether we are President or Vice President, we will lead Nigeria. We have the majority of the votes. Democracy says vote whom you want…”
Obviously, Nigeria has had a checkered history. It has managed to pull itself from the precipice each time it was thrown headlong. The act was brinkmanship dictated by reason and rationality. At the bottom of it all is the refusal to respect the diversity of the country and the federal scaffolding, which underpinned the state by those who held the reins of power at different times of its history. Today, the country is divided as never before with the mainstreaming of ethnic bigotry and nepotism at the highest level of governance. Doubtless, this is not a time to display arrogance of power. The times call for humility, consociational measures of inclusivity, and distributive justice, which inheres in the application of merit as well as brinksmanship.
While destination 2023 is not longer quite a distance, the time is still auspicious enough to restructure the country and restore its federal essentials. To paper over the mounting contradictions so glaring in the polity, meant postponing the doomsday. When that eventuality dawns no one can predict the scope of its consequences. Rotimi Suberu and Adigun Agbaje once noted the existence of “a broad consensus in the country in favour of a reformed, revitalised and truly decentralised and democratised federal system.” The consensus still abides, and let us not fritter it away. It is time to return the country to path of genuine federalism, which is the answer to the current darkness in the land.
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