‘Nigeria copied its constitution from United States, but politicians removed federalism to suit their personal interest’

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NIGERIA has been facing crises over the issue of what constitutes federalism; can you help shed light on the real meaning of this word?

Federalism means a system of democratic government that allows the federating units significant autonomy in managing their affairs. Each federating unit is given control over its resources, education, policing, etc., while the central government oversees security against external aggression, diplomacy and external affairs etc.

Federalism as a compound mode of government usually combines various units together or regional government into a single political system. Bearing this definition in mind, federalism remains the system of government where the individual political entities making up the country are privileged to carry out autonomous responsibilities that concern their welfare or bothers on their own advancement. This system therefore provides the avenue for each entity to maximize its natural and human potentials for competitive advantage, inspiring it to undertake innovative ideas for the common good. Federalism does not concentrate excess of power in the center as this will inescapably create weak units where people will waste their natural potentials, because of the disturbing political climate that does not encourage creativity. Federalism therefore allows the two levels of the government, that is the federal and the state, to enjoy mutual respect and healthy political relationships, while working together for the common good of the country.

One of the most interesting things about the Nigerian system is the ability of some elements among the people to drag and distract others on important issues that dwell on the well-being of the nation, especially when it does not serve their immediate purpose. So, on the issue of federalism, you get something like: there are no typical features, principles or basis for its construction and adoption in a state. Following this logic, the question to ask is if concepts and theories are dice that could roll unpredictably. Certainly, the idea of federalism stems from the need for a decentralized state; a state in which component parts are autonomously governed in concert with the generally agreed ideals of the country. When you call these component parts federating units, by implication, you are invariably referring to them as autonomous entities coming together to relinquish parts of their sovereignty to a central authority for the purpose of uniformity, coherence, and interest projection. This central authority then becomes the larger platform, as in a window, through which the interests of these federating units are protected in what is called national interests, vis-à-vis the rest of the world. Considering this, the foreign and national policies of the state aggregates, on a common ground, the interests of these component units. This system, like every other, is often the offshoot of history and circumstance of the birth of a state. As such, it is common in a geographical entity where the regions which form the component units share different sociocultural values but are bounded by the expediency of political and economic survival. Adding to these necessities is the need for security, particularly against external aggression. It is for this reason that the United States is often cited as a typical case of a federal state.

To understand this better, I will add that a federal state is not just a pronunciation, but the realization of the fact that the culture of a people is the harbinger of the pattern and pace of their development. Therefore, while they are required to donate parts of the sovereignty accorded them by virtue of that culture and historically established common fate, they are expected to be the anchors of the progression of their society to the extent at which the common national interest is protected and enhanced. That is why some states in the United States could legitimize some practices not yet accepted by Washington D.C. and reject some made by Washington D.C. But when you look closely, in both cases, these federating units are only exercising the rights accorded them by the law of the land with interpretations that seek to maintain an equilibrium between the national interest and the interest of the people of the unit. Striking such a balance then becomes the fundamental priority of a federal system. Accordingly, you have a weak center and strong component units, as against the reverse in a unitary state.

Even though Nigeria borrowed its constitution from the United States, ours is different in spirit and practice because the framers of our constitution who were military men and their civilian collaboratorschose to give us the constitution that suited their plans for the country and not what would be of benefit to the average Nigerian.

Nigeria borrowed its constitution from that of the United States of America, so why is ours different in spirit and practice?

Even though Nigeria borrowed its constitution from the United States, ours is different in spirit and practice because the framers of our constitution who were military men and their civilian collaboratorschose to give us the constitution that suited their plans for the country and not what would be of benefit to the average Nigerian. Remember the framers even lied by stating that we, Nigerians, had agreed to the words of the constitution when, in fact, we were left out of it.

The Nigerian constitution, borrowed from the United States of America, differs in practice and spirit because of the ethnic undercurrents of the country which have always been placed above the national interest. The very reason why there is hardly a Nigerian politician (and the people as well) with national ideology in the same way you can find an American is because the constitution of the country is designed not to address the genuine quest for nationhood. For us to understand what I mean by this, one may be conditioned to ask, are there ideological structures that can easily give out a Nigerian as one in the diaspora? Rather than this, what we usually have is a Yoruba, an Igbo, a Hausa, among others. This is rooted in the country’s failure to design what constitutes the identity of the Nigerian people. Achieving a fair constitution which will address important issues remain difficult because of the unethical ethnic coloration of events in the country. If power is devolved to the states where they would have their autonomy in deciding for things that primarily affect them, the Nigerian people would therefore have been on their road to good federalism. Attitudinal changes to things will practically give birth to a more people-oriented constitution which would help to forge a common ground.

Of course, the case of Nigeria will be different because ideas are borrowed and cultivated on the principles governing a society. The principles there refer to what is called a national philosophy. This helps the state to manage, properly, an ingenious idea, the same way it will manage a borrowed one. But in a situation where there is no guiding philosophy directing the pattern of national consciousness in a state, what you have is the cacophony of ideas and contradictions between ideas and reality. In other words, ideas and actions run at a parallel without a common national consciousness which could be referred to as a state philosophy. The United States you are referring to has a national philosophy that is known to all across the world, and you don’t need to take a class on American history to be acquainted to this. It is taught in their schools, as it is the basis of their educational system at all levels; it is branded in their policies; it reflects in their foreign relations, and for every other steps they take, either as a nation or individual, you can easily spot this principle, so it becomes palpable. This is so much so that it has been termed “American jingoism” as these ideals are pursued aggressively around the world, although for ulterior motives that come down to their national interest.

You can keep searching for what the guiding philosophy of Nigeria is in which its peoples are immersed and ready to take to the rest of the world at any cost. In the absence of them, then you will agree with me that unlike the American system, Nigeria is not yet on the process of nation building, and consequently, its adoption of ideas from the outside is just one of those things to make it seem to be making progress. To constitute a process of nation building is to cultivate a national guiding principle, a philosophy that identifies what you stand for and how to achieve them. You don’t build a house without a solid foundation, when you do, the quality of the materials you use no longer matter: it is the same thing when the foundation is weak, the best of the building materials cannot save you from impending doom. So, the point is, we have an idea, but we lack the culture to cultivate it because the cacophony that results from that suits the purpose of some people in the country.

In view of the security challenges that have bedeviled the Southwest of recent, governors of the region launched Amotekun, a quasi-security outfit. This has been declared illegal by the Attorney General of the Federation, what is your thought on this?

The Amotekun operation outfit is a welcome decision by the Southwest governors as a response to the security challenges in the region in recent times. The governors have done what is expected of them in seeing to the security of their people. That the Attorney General has declared it illegal is, to say the least, unexpected and illegal. To start with, as Prof. Itse Sagay has argued, the AG has no right to declare the action of the governors illegal; he can only go to court to challenge such an action and ask the court to declare it illegal. If care is not taken this action of the AG may trigger crisis in the country. He even lacks the power to pronounce the Amotekun as illegal.

The governors are electorally chosen to address security challenges of their people. When the need arises, they have the statutory mandate to address issues bothering on their security safety. In recent times, the incessant occasions of kidnap, thefts and other dangerous activities are all constituting threats to the people’s survival. For a very long period, these people are starved of necessary federal attention for untold reasons. This therefore demand that the chief security officers of the region, that is the governors, who routinely get security vote from the federation account, rise to the occasion and provide succor for the people who are continuously confronting psychological challenges in dealing with the ceaseless threat. Although state governors have often misappropriated security votes for other untold activities, the question for the Federal Attorney General is, what does he expect state governors to use security vote for if not to provide services as Amotekun? Even though the Attorney General of the Federation has chosen to label the group as illegal, this does not take away the reality that the people who are under attack continuously deserve the attention that their governors have collectively decided to give it, after failed attempts to garner federal support. In a very plain language, the Amotekun group’s emergence is long overdue. People must be certain of their leaders’ ability to count their safety and well-being as primary to their own pursuit, otherwise, they would lose trust and respect for the government and that will signal the beginning of anarchy.

Are you saying that the Southwest is justified to launch Amotekun, as a security outfit?

Yes. The establishment of a regional security outfit in the Southwestern part of the country has been a long time coming. I doubt if the insecurity in this part of the country, like other regions, were to be the sole problem of the common man on the street, the authorities in that region would have taken this remarkable initiative, putting aside their political differences. But no one is secured, not even the authorities, their loved ones and others in the elite class. So, insecurity became an issue that knocks on everyone’s door and there was no basis to pretend or look the other way. Operation Amotekun is not only expedient for its security implication, but it has become an essential lifeline for the political survival of major political actors in the region. Therefore, what you have is a situation where the sellouts among these political elites, in lieu of making their position known, are muted in indifference, but will only talk when the political coasts are clear with the assurance that their position would not cost them their cynical ambition. The AGF has thrown a challenge to them all and it is interesting to see how the ball has been rolling. It is a shame and a sign of the decay in the system in which we practice that a public officer does not even know the responsibilities of his office or its limitations. Either laws are made in the AGF’s office or the Governors owe him the obligation of seeking his advice and approval on state matters. No one should be in doubt of the fact that the AGF’s disposition is typical of our public office holders, at least the majority of them. This misconception of roles goes into the failure of every idea conceived for the progression of the state, including the borrowed American presidential and federal system.

Since he had been named the Attorney General of the Federation, his ill-informed ego whispers to him that he is now equal to Ogun, who must be worshipped before engaging anything metal. It is the same disposition that lets other political office holders to assume the role of demi-gods after winning a fraudulent election or getting appointed by a system that rewards their mediocrity and sycophancy. Going by this attitude, they have no concern for their constitutionally described responsibilities, but they do as it pleases their myopic ego. In his own case, the AGF can go-on to rant as he pleases regarding the Amotekun set-up. At the end, only the court could decide on its legality.

Why is Nigeria always unstable?

When you look at any country that is unstable, at the root of this is usually the absence of justice or a weak justice system: the rich eat fat on the poor, the might of the strong is right and the right of the weak is wrong and at the end; the system is skewed in favor of a minority few in the society. The instability of nations is not always an instantaneous occurrence, but a time-bomb ticking to the trigger. Sudan delved into crisis the other day, not just because of bread, but a long-time system of injustice that pervades the state. Similarly, the same ambience that led to the civil war and other crises in Nigeria has not been abated but gaining more air as time goes by. Crises occur in societies when the people take laws into their own hands believing that the state justice system has no room for them; and states become perpetually unstable when some elements in the society feed on the consequence of the inequality/injustice in the land.

Will this instability be permanent?

The insensate instability resident in the country is a product of an unclear definition of collective purpose. It is regrettable to say that more than five decades of the country’s independence has not witnessed a unique blueprint by which the nation can be developed and this is the byproduct of political instability, and also the declaration of war against philosophy that characterize the nation from the beginning. Unlike the ways that America, the United Kingdom, Russia and other developed countries have exactitude of purpose, Nigeria has not been able to structure a very convincing roadmap to their promised land. The political actors are pest to the resources of the country. Most of them are drawn to the political corridor because of the things they could extract from the country rather than what they can productively offer. Is it any strange therefore that when the country is reported to be financially incapable to maintain certain routine projects, their political representatives are only interested in how their allowances would suddenly skyrocket? Austerity measures are not usually demonstrated by the politicians on whose shoulders rest the development and advancement of the country. Deceit, greed, lack of love for the country all culminate into the form of relationship the actors keep with the country.

When the public resources are mismanaged by the minority few, the economic stature of the country is thrown off-balance and the people at the lower rung of power are sacrificed to bear the brunt. This unavoidably leads to hunger, and hunger usually forces people to undertake different types of immoral actions in their quest to survive. The surge in unemployment in the country means there would be an increased hunger, capable to push them into unwholesome indulgence. The engine room of every developing nation is their youth, whose zeal to engineer a change bubbles with uncommon motivation. If the country is surviving and making notable steps to achieve collective success, one must investigate into how they value their youth and engage them in useful activities. Nigerian youths, who have demonstrated across the world the level at which they can contribute to the upliftment of the society, are unfortunately relegated to naught in their home country. They have been disrespected through the deliberate disinvestment in their ability, they are ridiculed by the conscious efforts to discourage their involvement in politics, they have seen extreme treatments that would sink the ship of other civilizations if such treatment is permitted. When we look at the demographic that throws the country into disarray, we would then understand why the solution should not be difficult.

Can there be a Nigerian Identity?

That is not impossible, but it takes a concentrated attention of all, particularly the political actors. I singled the political actors out because they are the drivers of the society; if they wield state power, then they own the identity of the state. You don’t just build a house. You recruit different experts with some tasked with drawing a plan and others following the plan accordingly. To draw up the plan and then execute it properly, it takes a lot of attention to every detail. I am saying this not because Nigeria doesn’t have an identity yet, it does and we all know what it is, but my hunch is that your question is aimed at knowing if this identity could be sharpened to one that we can be proud of and earn us respect in the comity of nations. Aside from being the Giant of Africa which we named ourselves and which events have shown is only in the number of our population, Nigeria does not have an identity it consciously builds. Thus what we have as identity is, in the real sense of the word, a reputation. National identity and patriotism are products of citizenry’s sense of belonging, rather than accident of birth into a beloved ethnic group or religion.

When can this identity emerge and how?

It really can be difficult to have a collective identity in a place that the views of the minority are not respected. Identity formation requires that various interests are catered for, their voices are not repressed, and their differences not criticized. In the absence of all these, there cannot be a genuine identity as such a forged identity remains a mockery of the true sense. Nigeria’s inability to allow some people they have already concluded as insignificant makes their progress to face a very slow process. From 1960 till date, there has been no assurance that anyone from these minority groups could ascend the highest political office, even if they have the intellectual capacity to take the people to the deserved position. Placed side by side with a dimwit from a popular or influential ethnic group, someone from the minority group will lose unfairly, not because of the content of their character, or their intellectual capacity, but because they are drawn from two opposing ethnic groups where one is popular and the other is not. For the teeming numbers of people who are victims of this arrangement, there would be a level of difficulty for them to forge a common identity with other Nigerians.

Why are some nations strong and others weak?

Determination! There is no other explanation to how countries become strong and others become weak than the determination of the leaders to ensure that their nation is not relegated, ignored, and trampled upon in the comity of nations. The strong ones know that by building a nation, which is their people, this would be achieved; so, they invest heavily on human capital. Every project and investment are monitored to the extent that they align with this national goal of human capital development. It is not as if these countries are totally free from corruption, but they ensure that it doesn’t affect the national project, rather, it enhances it.

You will agree with me that politics is all about interest, and when you look at the propelling factor for the execution of projects and programs in this clime, what you see is the myopic interest of a few. In pursuing their selfish interest, they become what has been aptly described as gatekeepers or lords of a rentier estate. They are beggars, and in some cases, you even find them creating situations for them to beg in terms of aids and other interventions which they again use to line their pockets and return back to the lenders in the form of illicit financial flow.

Will Nigeria become a strong nation?

Some nations are strong because they understand the agonizing requirements of a great nation and they are committed to bear the sacrifice to achieve the lofty dream. No nation has ever been developed through mere wishful thinking. Every developed nation has had their share of pains, sacrifices and toils all in their efforts to achieve greatness. We are all aware of the great famine that engulfed China and its people in their process of progress. They surmounted this notorious challenge because they were dedicated to ensuring a turnaround. Some nations are experiencing a fast decline because there is no collective discipline. From the highest office to the least, there are no or little instances of self-sacrifice to prevent the country from getting into trouble, going off-road or avoid consuming melancholy; these are indications that a country will unavoidably become weak. In a country where the dedication to renovate an infrastructure that houses a paltry one percent of the population because of their political offices, transient as it seems, is greater than the urge to erect more hospitals where provision of quality medical services would be then guaranteed, or strong educational standards through research grants, there is a very slim chance for such a country to compete healthily with others.

How can Nigeria overcome poverty?

Nigeria can overcome poverty only when conscious decisions are taken to ensure that. All over the world today, there is a large enough signal that oil would soon become a not-too-important thing or commodity to rely on for economic progress. The Nigerian government does not seem to be interested in diversifying the economy to reduce the efficacy of the downtrend provided it come suddenly. Moving away from poverty demands that there is a bankable relationship between the government and the people. The people should have enough confidence in their government to trust the process. As logical as this sounds, citizen’s confidence in their government is not given, it is earned by the latter. What are the poverty alleviation schemes available in the country? Does most of the people in the country rely on their government to provide solutions to their emerging economic challenges, or do they automatically depend on a stroke of luck? Either way, whatever the position of the people is, it is the product of the philosophy employed in the country. People who believe in a stroke of luck only do so because all their hopes seem to have been exhausted. Investment in agriculture will never be a wrong step in the quest for an economically sound society. Harnessing the human resources through quality programs organized for them and investing in their struggles will inspire a new thinking about themselves and the society and that will become the very foundation of their improved status.

This is the summary of all we have been talking about so far. To overcome poverty, Nigeria needs to overcome the culture of poverty which is a cacophony of plans and ideas. No nation gets rich by chance, it takes consistent action and determination. Rich countries on their way to where they are today unleashed every potential and resource available to them and channeled them towards a designed goal, i.e., a national project. But in all the different paths they took to greatness, the common feature available to them all is the consistent development of human capital. As I earlier mentioned, poverty is a culture. You can build a mansion for a man, but unless you are ready to keep maintaining it for the man or you retool his mind on how to manage the mansion, with the culture of poverty, the mansion would be debilitated in no distant time. So, invest in human capital by focusing on education, health, the environment and job creation.

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Godwin Okafor is a Financial Journalist, Internet Social Entrepreneur and Founder of Naija247news Media Limited. He has over 16 years experience in financial journalism. His experience cuts across traditional and digital media. He started his journalism career at Business Day, Nigeria and founded Naija247news Media in 2010. Godwin holds a Bachelors degree in Industrial Relations and Personnel Management from the Lagos State University, Ojo, Lagos. He is an alumni of Lagos Business School and a Fellow of the University of Pennsylvania (Wharton Seminar for Business Journalists). Over the years, he has won a number of journalism awards. Godwin is the chairman of Emmerich Resources Limited, the publisher of Naija247news.

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