Critical Issues on Restructuring & Devolution of Powers

After 23 years of bad leadership since the return to democratic rule in 1999, Nigerians yearn for a selfless and patriotic leader who would be committed to nation-building.

At the recent launch of General Olusegun Obasanjo’s secret letters compiled in the book, The Letter Man, authored by Premium Times’ Editor-in-Chief, Musikilu Mojeed, the former president regretted the goings-on in Nigeria since the country attained independence in 1960.


‘God loves us so much that we have done so many stupid things and gotten away with it. I hope that his patience has no limit of elasticity,’ he said. But he quickly added, ‘God is not to blame for not doing what we should be doing.’ As usual, the ever-frank and forthright Obasanjo hit the nail hard on the head.


Given that Nigeria is in a parlous and dislocated state; a point where some sections of the country, especially the south-south, the southwest, the Middle Belt and even parts of the core North are rife with separatist agitations, calling for Nigeria’s dismemberment.


The question now is: What are we as Nigerians, especially the leaders, doing that we should not be doing? Why have we not been able to sincerely cement the expectations of our founding fathers as expressed in the last stanza of Nigeria’s first republic anthem:


‘O God of all creation…Grant this our one request…Help us to build a nation…Where no man is oppressed…And so with peace and plenty…Nigeria may be blessed?’ Are we blessed as a 62-year-old independent state? Are we living in unity, peace, and plenty?


The answers to these probing questions are self-evident. If the truth must be told, Nigeria needs a political surgeon with the finesse of surgeons like America’s Ben Carson to open up and dissect the troubled womb of the Nigerian state; and, afterwards, bind these troubled parts efficiently to present it worthy before God and man.

Only then would Nigeria thrive as a nation and regain its rightful place not only as the giant of Africa but also ‘to live up to the expectations from the global community’, as the thought-provoking Obasanjo pointed out.


With the 2023 general elections around the corner which have gotten our political gladiators, especially the presidential candidates busy wooing the electorates and canvassing for their support and votes, identifying the political surgeon Nigeria needs at this critical time can be difficult.


However, it is my opinion that the presidential candidate poised for that arduous task is Alhaji Atiku Abubakar of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). This is not to say that the likes of Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu of the All Progressives Congress, Peter Obi of the Labour Party, and Rabiu Kwankwanso of the New Nigeria People’s Party are not interested in the ‘national question’.


Indeed, they all agree that Nigeria’s problem of stunted socio-political and economic growth and development, disunity, and biting insecurity is traceable to the unitary system of government fashion, under the guise of a federal system, in which the nation is run.


Also, though the aforementioned presidential candidates and others in the peripheral political parties also agree that the Nigerian state badly needs restructuring, their restructuring plans are only in their mind’s eye – their mental faculty – as Nigerians are yet to see through their promises.


Unlike his opponents in the race who pay lip service to the burning issue of the ‘national question’, that is, the need to enthrone the practice of true federalism in Nigeria’s body polity, PDP’s Atiku Abubakar, by blowing his trumpet on restructuring and devolution of powers since 2018, has proven his commitment to the restructuring project.


At his recent political rallies in Lagos and Osun States, Atiku categorically stated that he would fight insecurity and other challenges facing Nigeria with his restructuring agenda.


At the rally in Osogbo, the Osun State capital on 7 December 2022, he stated that he would implement his restructuring plans for the development of the country immediately after he is sworn in as president. He was quoted as saying:


Our only objective is to make sure that [the] current challenges of insecurity, disunity, economic deprivation, lack of jobs to our youths and the future of this country through restructuring can be achieved. I promise you. I am going to start doing them from day one in office.


In Enugu on Tuesday, 28 September 2022, Atiku noted that Nigeria had operated a faulty federal structure since the late 1960s, which concentrated too much power and resources at the centre, thereby turning the federating states into appendages or parastatals of the federal government.


He, therefore, said that a PDP government, if elected into office in 2023, ‘would work with the legislature to restructure the federating system and devolve more powers to the states with corresponding resources.’ ‘That way’, he said, ‘States will be better able to set their own development priorities while the federal government focuses on setting and maintaining standards.’


Atiku added that ‘A federal system that does not encourage the federating units to compete among themselves in order to be better is a faulty one.’

Nigeria with its cultural, political, ethnic, and religious diversity cannot be effectively run under a unitary system of government.

However, while he held that the country badly needs restructuring to survive and thrive, he cautioned that ‘restructuring the country requires proper preparations and attention to details, not just in terms of general issues specific to each zone and the states therein’, but a general overview of the challenges confronting the country.


Furthermore, Atiku once again stressed the utmost need for restructuring for the federating units and the federal government to develop at their own pace on Sunday, 11 December 2022 at a town hall meeting organised by Channels Television.


Notwithstanding that Atiku’s passion for a restructured Nigerian state is laudable, there are a few questions to be asked: will a piecemeal restructuring effort suffice in Nigeria’s present parlous and dislocated state?


Can these unsystematic, partial, and ad-hoc measures being advocated by Atiku Abubakar adequately address the clamour for the practice of true federalism? Can Atiku’s plans be a panacea to squarely address the ‘national question’?


I am afraid not. Apart from what I see as a peripheral approach to restructuring and the fact that Atiku and other presidential candidates are shy of dismantling the ‘fraudulent’ 1999 Nigerian constitution, even as amended, none of the candidates has published the full details of their blueprints for a restructured Nigerian state.


It is instructive to note that before the Forum of Federations, the fourth international conference on federalism held in New Delhi between 5 and 7 November 2007, the Political Affairs Office of the Secretary to the Government of the Federation had advised that Nigeria should hold a national conference on federalism after the international conference to disseminate the lessons learnt as well as discuss emerging trends in Nigeria’s federalism.


But this was not done even with the spate of agitations and clamour across the country and in the diaspora for Nigeria to be restructured alongside the drafting and adoption of a new constitution.


Instead, a feeble national conference was organised on 17 March 2014 by the government of Goodluck Jonathan, which was attended by government-appointed participants from the six geo-political zones and select independent technocrats and nationalists, to address the question of restructuring and devolution of powers among other compelling issues.


The conference, however, turned out to be a jamboree and a waste of funds as the report of the panel headed by retired Chief Justice Idris Legbo Kutigi is in the cooler, dead and buried.


At this juncture, let me mention that the November 2007 New Delhi conference was aimed at providing a forum where practitioners, academics, and NGOs interact, share best practices on federalism and learn from one other, thereby facilitating the realisation of the values of federalism as a system of government and deepening the process of good governance in participants’ countries.


According to a report by the advisory team of the Nigerian government’s representatives at the conference, the theme of the conference applied to Nigeria in the area of building and accommodating diversity in a country bedevilled with separatist agitations arising from non-inclusivity and clear lack of equity and justice in the sharing of political power, and an unacceptable horizontal revenue sharing template based on derivation, population, and land mass etc.


The report also highlighted the meagre thirteen per cent first charge on the federation account to the oil-producing states of the Niger Delta as stipulated in the constitution, and the discretionary grants/selected interventions in special areas such as Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC), and lately, the Presidential Amnesty Programme (PAP), the Ministry of Niger Delta Affairs, and surprisingly, the North East Commission (NEC) as palliatives or interventionist agencies to mitigate the separatist agitations.


In conclusion, the report drew the attention of the federal government to the general outcry on marginalisation and the clamour for resource control which had continued unabated in the country, erroneously stating that Nigeria has, however, been able to manage its fiscal policies with the creation of the Fiscal Responsibility Council.


The panel had hoped that with the creation and existence of the council, the country’s fiscal system would be stable. But the reverse is the case. Nigeria has had worse times in the demonstration of fiscal irresponsibility in recent times, nay from 2007 till date.


It would be pertinent at this point to reflect on the reason the United States adopted federalism as its system of government. In Democracy Papers (4): Federalism and Democracy, David J. Bodenhamer stated thus: ‘As colonists, the founding fathers had chafed under the authority imposed by the distant British imperial government and had come to view centralized power as a threat to their rights and liberties.’


As a result, Bodenhamer said the major problem facing the 1787 constitutional convention in Philadelphia was how to restrict power to the central government, yet provide it with sufficient power to protect the national interest.


He stressed: ‘Dividing power between two levels of government – national and state – was one of the solutions to this problem. This system of divided power, federalism, is widely acknowledged not only to be a uniquely American contribution to the theory of government but part of the genius of the American constitutional system itself.’


He, therefore, defined federalism as a system of shared power between two or more governments with authority over the same people and geographical area. Bodenhamer further bemoaned the active practice of the unitary system of government – the most common form of government around the world – which he said has only one source of power, the central or national government.


Against this background, Nigeria with its cultural, political, ethnic, and religious diversity cannot be effectively run under a unitary system of government. Nigeria needs to give adequate powers to the federating units (states and local governments) with corresponding duties for their effective and smooth administration within a central constitution – the source of authority for both national, state and local councils.


This is the basis of the clamour by patriotic and selfless Nigerians for a restructured Nigerian state and a constitution that will truly reflect the ‘will’ of the people.


From the foregoing, it is evident that true restructuring entails addressing both the faulty 1999 constitution and the present unitary form of government in practice masked as federalism.


It is my opinion that the redrafting or abolition of the ‘fraudulent’ 1999 constitution is the greater challenge facing Nigeria and not a tinkering of the constitution, which the National Assembly has been doing since 1999 to date with no amendments that the majority of Nigerians approve of.


A viable restructuring plan should also put into consideration the present state of distrust between the core North and the south-south, southeast and the oil and gas-producing Niger Delta due to the political and economic imbalance caused by lopsided political appointments, and unjustifiable skewed resource allocation, which tends to favour one region over the others, particularly regions that add little or nothing to the nation’s coffers.


There is, indeed, so much to talk or write about on the need for a holistic restructuring of the Nigerian state. I dare say that the legislative hurdles for any move in this direction would be daunting.


However, this is the right time for patriots and stakeholders at every wing of our political landscape to champion the advocacy of true federalism and devolution of powers.


More importantly, the arms of government – the executive, the legislature and the judiciary – should work in synergy to draft a new constitution, which Nigerians can affirm as the legal document that forms the underlying basis of their legal union as a nation.


In addition, a buoyant restructuring plan should address the obnoxious laws that constitute the legal framework of land and petroleum imperialism in Nigeria. One such law is Section 44 (3) of the 1999 constitution which states:


Notwithstanding the foregoing provisions of this section, the entire property in and control of all minerals, mineral oils and natural gas in, under or upon any land in Nigeria or in, under or upon territorial waters and the Exclusive Economic Zone of Nigeria shall vest in the Government of the Federation and shall be managed in such manner as may be prescribed by the National Assembly.


This law has continued to elicit reactions from constitutional lawyers, legal luminaries and critical stakeholders. Barrister Alex Moro in his book, Ownership of Petroleum in Nigeria, stated that the ownership of petroleum in Nigeria which is constitutionally vested in the federal government is a violation of the principle of federalism.


Another offensive law is the Petroleum Industry Act (PIA) of 2021 which violates the ownership right of petroleum resources of oil-producing states. It is an archaic and coercive colonial law lifted and dubbed as ‘PIA’.


Hence, I expect that Nigeria’s next president come 2023 realise that reinforcing such laws is tantamount to strangling the nation rather than resuscitating it. After 23 years of bad leadership since the return to democratic rule in 1999, Nigerians yearn for a selfless and patriotic leader who would be committed to nation-building.

Braeyi Collins Ekiye has been a fixture in the communication and creative arts for about fifty years now. He is a prolific writer, broadcaster, dramatist and journalist. A one-time Editor of the Sunday Tide newspaper, and presently the Editor-in-Chief of EnvironmentWatch, Braeyi Ekiye has also had a distinguished public service career spanning over thirty years, during which he served as Speech Writer to both civilian and military administrations, and lately as Principal Private Secretary to the Vice President of Nigeria, and also as Special Adviser to the President on Parastatals, Statutory Bodies and Inter- Governmental Affairs.

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