Nigeria and the tragedy of a flawed federalism
By James Ojo Adakole
“The Nigeria Project: Is it Working? My answer is clear. It is not working,” -Prof. Itse Sagay, SAN.
It was once our major strength as a nation. During those days of true federalism, we witnessed unprecedented developments across the different regions of the federation. We had our distinctive identities, peculiarities and value systems but still work harmoniously as an entity. The summative impact was massive, which, then, positioned Nigeria as a would-be world-economic powerhouse.
Sadly, things didn’t go according to plan. The military truncated what seemed a nation’s seamless transition to prosperity and since then, we are yet to get it right. Fifty-eight years of existence, twenty years of interrupted democracy and still counting; no Nigerian is his/her rightful sense would be impressed with the present state of things in the country when our resources and progress are analyzed comparatively. Poverty is going through the roof, unemployment rate is deafening, our system still reeks of corruption and our resources, regrettably and for too long, are still being shared among pockets of the country’s population.
Painting such a gloomy picture of Nigeria, a path the western media have toed for long, may attract flurry of criticisms. But that, this writer reckons, would amount to masking our shortcomings and deceiving ourselves, if we claim to be okay as a nation. That our challenges still trump our successes is symptomatic of a retrogressive nation. Regrettably, we are hardly making any concerted effort to break away from those things that have kept us in the woods for long.
During the recently held Presidential and National Assembly elections across the country, we witnessed, in full glare, one of the many things that have stagnated us as a nation for long: politics of regionalism.
Some Igbo traders-resident in Lagos were reportedly at logger-heads with a section of the Yorubas in the state over differences in political leanings. According to information making the rounds in the media across the country, the face-off was allegedly caused by clash of interests between supporters of the the two major parties in Nigeria- the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and the All Progressives Congress (APC). It was gathered that some hoodlums, allegedly loyal to APC had attacked some Igbo traders, perceived to be loyal to the PDP.
The awful event, is, in its entirety, not only undemocratic and but also unbecoming of a country which prides itself as one. If not for anything, ‘our unity in diversity’ has overtly and covertly come under attacks severally, a development which calls for critical reflections, given much of the crisis of we have had in the history of this nation are those caused majorly by clashes of regional and interests- ethnicity, religious and cultural values.
By constantly reminding ourselves of our regional identities during key moments such as election periods as evidence in the Lagos scenario, we are only strengthening claims that we presently operate a flawed federal system. And on this basis, proponents of restructuring of Nigeria are championing a noble course.
The strength of true federal system rests on a spirited and team work among the various component regions and the central government. A true federal system thrives where there is a staunch loyalty of the component regions to the centre..
Unfortunately, the Nigerian federation cannot talk of a team spirit among the various component regions talk less of achieving maximum loyalty to the centre. For how long then shall we continue to deceive ourselves in the name of federalism, when, in reality, what we have in place is regional politicking?
Among the various regional bodies, it is obvious that the pursuit of regional interests trumps that national interests as a nation. At this stage of nationhood, we need to dissipate attention to rejigging our system from one that stifles growth to one that promotes development at all levels.
Our present acclaimed federalism has hardly brought about the patriotism we craved for as a nation. Instead, it has further polarized us along regional lines. The agitations in the Niger-Delta regions, the clamour for Biafra in the South-East, demands for restructuring and hankerings for good governance are all indicative of our structural and systemic deficiencies as a nation.
For how long then shall we continue to deceive ourselves in the name of federalism, when, in reality, what we have in place is regional politicking?
“The Nigeria Project: Is it Working? My answer is clear. It is not working,” says Prof. Itse Sagay, Nigeria’s Chairman of the Presidential Advisory Committee on Anti-corruption, PACAC, while delivering a paper at the 2011 Law Week of Delta State University Oleh, titled: “The Imperative for True Federalism.”
We need a system that truly fosters equal representation of the different ethnic groups in Nigeria. The present system, unarguably, is unlikely to bring out the needed change in the country. We can’t claim to be a country practicing federalism, when, in reality, what we have is a system that place regional interests above national interests.