Violence has become a regular dispiriting occurrence in Nigeria. Rampaging ethnic Fulani herdsmen, insurrection by the sectarian Islamic fundamentalists, Boko Haram, gory armed robberies, gruesome banditry, insufferable kidnappings, heart-rending assassinations [some of them politically motivated and stark evidence of the viciousness of Nigerian politics], all have combined to charge the atmosphere so fatally that the omens of war or the portents of the dismemberment of the polis appear real or imminent. Only a few people adjudge the situation an aberration in the light of a pervasive objective tension and unease.
Many are discerning enough to plot the graph of a conflictive relationship between the claims of a giddy political structure and the popular clamour for or desirability of a restructured state. The authorities are reluctant to heed plaintive calls for the adoption of some of the recommendations contained in the report of the all-society 2014 National Conference. Strangely, the party in power had ridden on the crest of a campaign promise to restructure the country if voted into office.
It has since demurred, employing cheap demagoguery. A federal constitution bequeathed to the country by a retiring military junta but lacking in some of the basic tenets of classical federalism has sparked cerebral debates in favour of the establishment of the basis for the practice of true federalism. A true and sustained federal structure has been vigorously canvassed for or plaintively advocated. Many of the recommendations of the constitutional conference properly situate the incident of classical federalism and the popular yearnings for a true federal constitution.
Searing denunciation or rebuke of some of the precepts of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 has been wide-spread. Some have even dubbed its principles and practice as those resembling “unitary federalism” – a malapropism of some sort – even as many of its features are more akin to the ethos and praxis of a unitary political set up.
The Nigeria constitution is “federal” only in name and not in essence. For example, subjects on its Exclusive Legislative List regarding the functions only of the central government curiously include items like local government establishment and control, policing, mining, minerals, oil fields, electric power generation and distribution, resource control, etc. Experts believe there should be a direct relationship between a constitution and the political spirit of the nation state for which it is fashioned.
A good or acceptable constitution should be a reflection of the country’s historical development; its provisions should mirror the challenging circumstances and purposes of the people’s social and political life. The constitution ought to suit the citizenry’s needs, values, interests and capabilities. It is the standard for authorising the work of the ruler and for gauging or evaluating that work. The formal stipulation that a constitution should derive from the shared values, aspirations and common consent of the people has not been the case with regard to the Nigerian constitution. In a free society, unless the basic provisions of the constitution are compatible with the fundamental beliefs of the people about government and about their aspirations, such constitution is unlikely to work or be used or employed as a basis for abjuring, ignoring or denying incompatible or mutually intolerant options.
Even though there is universally-acknowledged incongruence between feudalism and federal values, the two seem to have a curious symbiotic [albeit impractical] relationship in Nigeria. There is an inherent feudal, irredentist tendency to establish hegemony and disregard or fail to recognise diversity and allodial freedom or independence. But the composite Nigerian estate is not subject to a feudal superior. The ethos of federalism need to be recognised as ideologically conflictive with or manifestly in oppositional relationship to feudal principles. The two cannot mix. Nigeria’s diversity in culture, language and religion suggests the requirement of the practice of true federalism.
The fiscal crises experienced by Nigeria since the return to democratic rule in 1999 have paved the way for a revised philosophy of a strange federal system that impoverishes the constituent units at the expense of an overly-bloated centre. Prior to 1966, Nigeria’s federal arrangement guaranteed semi-autonomous status including fiscal independence to her federating units.
Nigeria had seemed, in the eyes of the world, to be on the path of objective growth and development. If the truth be told, the main cause of today’s respective agitations or restiveness all over the country can be located in the unfair official abandonment of the ethos, values and practice of true federalism. Military interference in the affairs of state and a sworn regime of hegemonic power play have self-gratifyingly versioned an unworkable unitary form of government.
The pervading sense of unease particularly regarding a lax security architecture conducing to gory killings, bizzare abductions, mindless kidnappings, etc. is symptomatic of the consequences of the gridlock which an invidious constitution has foisted on the people. During the oil boom years, the pomp and grandeur of the Nigerian state masked enormous weaknesses of the political system.
A palpable or vivid sense of angst or anger, of injustice and insuperable neglect or, even, of violation of rights has now found its way inexorably to the front burner in the lean years following after the bazaar. The Nigerian state has been built not around an impersonal merit-based bureaucracy on the basis of functional specialisation or education. Government offices from military commands to positions in the ministries, departments and agencies are offered on basis that demands the loyalty of the protégé to his appoint or and not to the state as exemplified in the reluctance of President Buhari to change the service chiefs whose tenures have expired and under whose charge the country has come to grief respecting a nation-wide security irresponsibility.
Further, government is privatised down to its core functions and public offices have been turned into heritable private property. The Nigerian government system has virtually legitimised or institutionalised rent seeking and corruption by allowing agents to run public offices even for private benefit.
One big area of social concern is the fear or possibility of a civil war which devastating consequences will include a refugee crisis of a monumental dimension. With the benefit of hindsight, occasioned by the experiences of the gruesome 30-month long Nigerian civil war [1967-1970], the reality of war and its consequent social dislocations have become an integral part of the Nigerian psyche or consciousness. Another war looms as an objective sense of exclusion from the political-food sharing or ladling table is shared by varied sections of the Nigerian community. Anxiety or concerns regarding marginalisation have, for instance, pitted the ordinarily conservative but hegemonic Northern leaders against their vigorous, effervescent and somewhat progressive Middle Belt, South-South and Igbo compatriots. These extremes are somewhat difficult or impossible to bridge without a flexing of muscles typified in the rolling out of tanks, of the booming of guns, of bombings, shelling, ricocheting bullets, deep, dark trenches and their gory manifestations of dehumanisation, oppression, agonies, rape, severed limbs and deaths.The most urgent need now is to help relax or make loose taut nerves through policies and programmes that are positioned to restore hope and confidence particularly with respect to the requirement to steady or repair the country’s wobbly political architecture.
By Alade Rotimi-John