Open society and its visceral enemies

Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari. Photo: Reuters

President Muhammadu Buhari’s 2018 New Year broadcast to the nation has exposed the ruling elite particularly those who presently occupy the seat of power as the only people who fail to understand the import of the debate on the future of Nigeria.

For, all over the country, there are frank discussions on the inevitability of the restructuring of a warped federation. There are also cerebral debates respecting the failure of governance strategy and tactics or the embarrassing lack thereof.

Those in power have either been indifferent to the yearnings of the people regarding the requirement to make Nigeria a truly functional federation or they simply amuse themselves by conjuring up some convenient sophistry just to side-track the serious issues at play. But the people are not amused.

In many strenuous efforts to defeat the un-assailable narrative of the proponents of restructuring, power wielders have, for instance, made hair-splitting or petty distinctions between restructuring and “process”, restructuring and “fiscal autonomy,” restructuring and “devolution of power,” restructuring and “diversification,” among others. They sum up their inanity by concluding that “Nigeria’s unity or sovereignty is not negotiable,” after all. This hollow mantra is however, not only untrue, it is patently dishonest or immoral.

The sovereignty of Nigeria is undoubtedly negotiable and a resort to the practice of true federalism by, for instance, a decentralisation of the country will ensure healthy rivalry among the constituent units. The country has failed to make progress simply because the current centralised set-up does not conduce to or encourage hard work or a proper application of the intellect.

For example, a centralised revenue collection and an allocation thereof by some egregious formula whereby the centre collects all resources and doles out some pittance to the constituent units make the latter un-resourceful, un-viable and beggarly.

The idea of state police, another example, is inherently implicit in the practice of a true federal system. But the Nigerian “federation” practices a central police system which has palpably failed the nation even as the police force has exhibited demonstrable incapacity to deal with the country’s many security challenges. Regarding the propriety of a decentralised police force, there are many eminent examples to copy.

In federations such as Canada, Germany, the United States, Austraila, etc, a decentralised police system is the effective apparatus for meeting security and other socio-political challenges. In the United Kingdom, a well-known unitary system, there are 43 police forces, apart from bodies similar to our beleaguered local vigilantes. It is noteworthy that even Nigeria’s First Republic was an epitome of the attributes of a true federal system as regional and local government police forces were a veritable part of the security machinery of the respective constituent units.

For a party that canvassed for votes on the ground, among others, of effecting the political restructuring of the country as a truely federal state in consonance with the country’s appellation and expressed purpose, it is unfortunate that leaders of the ruling APC will treat the issue of the restructuring of the polity cavalierly or tactlessly. Vice President Yemi Osinbajo’s concurrent adherence to two opposite or conflicting views on the matter is baffling.

On one hand, he reasoned that restructuring was not more expedient than diversification (of the economy) and in another, he is an inflexible supporter of the idea of state police in the light, according to him, of the massive insecurity challenges that beset the country. But there can be no middle course.

Given Nigeria’s plurality, diversity and the respective identity of the people, the only socio-political administrative model that befits the country or that ensures development is federalism wherein the respective individuality of its component units will be acknowledged or respected.

There are many extant examples of nations that have dissolved into disparate entities as their leaders rebuffed the idea of the peaceful negotiation of their sovereignty. Before our very eyes, the awesome Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) collapsed, disintegrating into fractious, warring entities. Sudan was forced to allow Southern Sudan to become a county of its own after years of bitter internecine warfare.

The UK – the country over which the sun once never set – is threatened with dismemberment as Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland are reconsidering their continuing membership of the United Kingdom following the Brexit vote. India, the world’s reputed largest democracy, has evolved from one country to three countries (India, Pakistan and Bangladesh) all within 25 years.

Germany, once forcibly divided, has happily metamorphosed into one country. The official opposition to the peaceful negotiation of Nigeria’s sovereignty or to the restructuring of its mode, is intellectually lazy, un-intelligible, ignorant and unpatriotic.

The inefficiencies and opportunities for corruption that Nigeria’s skewed federal system has fostered have made the call for the practice of true federalism not only imperative but unassailable in the circumstances of our present perilous situation.

Since 1966, the Nigerian centralised state has, for instance, been built not around an impersonal merit-based bureaucracy on the basis of functional specialisation or education. It has gradually grown into something akin to the French State beginning from the Bourbon line up until the Revolution.

Government offices from military commands to positions in the Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs) are offered on basis that demands the loyalty of the protégé to his appointor, not to the state. Further, government is privatised down to its core functions and public offices turned into heritable private property. The Nigerian governmental system has virtually legitimized rent seeking and corruption by allowing agents to run public offices even for private benefit.

Indeed the word “rente” which originated in the French government’s practice of selling off a public asset (like the right to collect a certain type of tax that would produce a continuing stream of revenues) properly depicts the Nigerian dilemma.

During the oil boom years, the pomp and grandeur of the Nigerian state masked the enormous weaknesses of the political system. A palpable or vivid sense of angst or anger, injustice and insuperable neglect or, even, of the violation of rights has now found its way inexorable to the front burner in the lean years following after the bazaar.

Rotimi-John, a lawyer and public affairs commentator, wrote from Abuja.

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