Who will fix this contraption?
I haven’t lived that long, relatively. But all my sentient life, Nigerians have lamented the quality of people that get to be our leaders. The first half of this period (my existence), admittedly, was under the leadership of the military, but they can be excused as having had no real chance at succeeding at politics and governance. From the historical accounts of how very quickly after independence the bar was lowered for admission into the officer cadre (in the name of regional balance), to the coup and counter-coup of 1966 to the civil war that followed shortly afterwards, it is clear that the primary focus of any military leader was unlikely to be national progress and prosperity.
I suppose the counter to this would be that it was the regional in-fighting of post-independence politics that re-engineered the army’s psyche. After all, if the ‘founding fathers’ had been less primordial in their leaning, the jostling for regional supremacy that began the series of unfortunate events that led to the failure of the First Republic would not have happened. Many will argue that one region was by far guiltier than the other in its inward-looking and that may indeed be so, but by the time the first coup happened, there wasn’t really any innocent party left standing.
The extent of that jostling, however, is wholly the fault of the British, who left a federal structure in which one region was larger than the other two combined and would always have its way and its say. For a country with a few hundred years’ experience of the parliamentary system of government, it is unclear how such a huge oversight happened. Unless, of course, it was no oversight, in which case, things have gone according to plan. Britain is a country that has been tweaking its parliamentary constituency boundaries since 1958 (!) to keep them relatively similar by size and population and whose coming changes will put Labour Leader Jeremy Corbyn out of a seat at the next adjustment. To be fair though, if it only started in 1958, maybe we were the inspiration.
Perhaps the biggest legacy of the coup and the civil war was the de facto de-regionalisation of the country, (paradoxically, with the creation of more regions) and the funnelling of all the power to the centre. The regions were stripped of most of their powers to prevent future thoughts of recession. It has led to the winless situation in which people who cannot help but think regionally having to pursue regional interests at the federal level. Of course, this assumes that the politicians we have are actually pursuing the interests of their constituents and that’s a very debatable point.
This regional-central anomaly is the big argument for federal character and quotas, which place an emphasis on regional balance, rather than competence. In fact, the evidence suggests that it has promoted mediocrity. The centre is so powerful that being there, or connected to it, takes priority over regional advancement. The anomaly means that the federal government has negotiated a uniform minimum wage to apply across all states, in spite of the difference in their earning power and cost of living. The anomaly also means a state can build a Tinapa but see all its investment go to waste because ports fall under the purview of a federal agency (headed by someone from a different region) and he refuses to issue the required permit.
We are the product of our history. And here we are, diverse people with conflicting interests, bound by colonialist design and military force, generally not trusting of each other, mostly subject to the whims and caprices of a central government that’s now broke because its major source of income (from a small part of the country) is not worth what it once was. The states, addicted to the easy money, atrophied over the years, with many producing nothing and virtually none capable of remaining viable without federal support. Where do our history and our present predicament suggest we are headed?
It seems fairly evident that the current arrangement is not sustainable and is unlikely to last much longer. Our geopolitical structure and common sense suggest that the states should be self-sufficient and contribute to the maintenance of the federal government, and not vice-versa. However, this will mean that they must have full control of the resources within their domain. Reverting to this arrangement has always been fiercely resisted but given the crisis at hand, it may well be the federal government pushing this agenda shortly.
It will also mean that the federal government relinquishes control of quite a few more things, in addition to natural resources. Fishing and inland waterways, labour/industrial matters, electricity, policing, the establishment and regulation of companies, railways, income taxes; to name a few, should not be matters under the exclusive preserve of the federal government. States need to be able to give real incentives for businesses to be drawn to them.
How much of this is feasible? Very little, I suspect. Our big-man political system will probably need to self-implode before it contemplates the reversion of that heady power from the Federal Government to the states. I suspect as well that there are several states whose leaders are happy to be mere conduits for the federal largesse to their states, who have no interest in the intellectual rigour the change of the status quo would require. More than that, given how stuck our ruling elite are in ideas that have mostly been discredited both locally and internationally, it’s scary, thinking about what could happen in some states. We need a brave, new, enlightened cadre to step forward to fix this contraption.