Under one of the country’s military dictators surfaced a folk political theory that has endured even till today. The facile theory is that Nigerians have an uncanny ability to forget whatever bad policies made against them by their government. The theorist went further to add that all the political leader needs to do is to be patient to wait for angry and dissatisfied Nigerians to forget the bad policy that had irked citizens, after which the same political leader could add new bad policies.
And despite many years of digital culture that supports infinite memory for everything on any of the devices from a mobile phone to clouds for the internet, Nigerians are still believed by many politicians to still be at the risk of collective amnesia vis-à-vis matters about which they need to insist on actions from their political leaders to save them from talking, living, and moving in circles.
Today’s column is to wonder and worry if Nigerians have not done sufficient analysis on federalist governance, without needing mere repetitions of the same motifs and themes that have been in circulation for about twenty years—be they broad ones like restructuring or small ones like recognizing the imperative of a multiple police system in a federation. Many of the issues on national political discourse had been in circulation long before the end of military rule when the call for Sovereign National Conference (SNC) was made by Alao Aka-Bashorun to enable the peoples of Nigeria establish a new Union Charter that can move the country away from the stasis that decades of military rule had established.
Even two decades after the exit of military rule, the 1999 Constitution designed to sustain military ruler’s replacement of federalism with centralism has remained intact. In the meantime, the same constitution has continued to fuel demands from sections of the country for a new and more federal constitution. On the other hand, the same document has attracted praise from others. It is thus clear that unlike the 1963 Constitution, not all parts of the country are happy with the 1999 Constitution, thus indicating a conflict which requires critical response from the president.
Today’s question is whether we have not talked long and loud enough to definitively address the two opposing positions on how to make Nigeria profitably governable for all. As things are, it is self-delusion to say that the country is currently enjoying the amount of peace it needs to make progress. What is now known nation-wide as security deficit is already being felt in every part of the country. At first, it was the southern section that used to complain about terrorism from herdsmen or kidnappers. But now, it is the ruling class in the south and the north that draw the attention of the federal government to the ubiquity of terrorists, bandits, kidnappers, cattle rustlers, etc.
Just a few days ago, the Sultan of Sokoto spoke up about insecurity in the land—north and south. Hear him: “People think North is safe but that assumption is not true. In fact, it’s the worst place to be in this country because bandits go around in the villages, households, and markets with their AK 47 and nobody is challenging them…They stop at the market, buy things, pay and collect change, with their weapons openly displayed. These are facts, I know because I am at the centre of it…We have to sincerely and seriously find solutions to the problem, otherwise, we will find ourselves soon, in a situation where we would lose sleep because of insecurity.”
One week later over the mourning of the killing of over 40 people by Boko Haram terrorists in Bornu, the Sultan also observed as follows: “Nigerians have become so much terrified, as nowhere is safe; the home, the farms and the roads. Bandits now rule in many communities, they set rules that must be obeyed…For how long would we continue to live a life in fear? For how long can we continue to wait in vain? For how long can we continue to condemn acts of terrorism without any concerted efforts in ending it?”
Even governors, who are otherwise addressed as chief security officers without authority over security officers in their states, also spoke up recently about the precariousness of security across the country: “We cannot bring back the people we have lost in the last few days but if we do not take the necessary steps, the entire nation will be consumed by this insurgency.”
More recently, the two wings of the National Assembly, who until recently have jointly received from many citizens the nickname of ’uncritical supporters’ of the president on his federalist governance, are also itching to speak with the him about insecurity in the entire country.
Even colleagues of traditional rulers in Ondo State, who had been killed or kidnapped, have also complained about rising insecurity in the country. Ordinary citizens too have complained ad nauseam about the effeteness of the existing police system and the need to reform it and make law enforcement more user friendly for citizens by yielding the space of each state to the government in the state to police, in addition to a reformed version of a central police to address intelligence about crime.
With rise in citizens’ complaints about poor security and ineffective law enforcement system and torrents of demands for new national attention for reform in the security sector, now reinforced by traditional rulers and elected governors, what forces could be holding President Buhari back from setting to work on governance and security system reform? Whatever could have prevented the president from returning to his 2015 manifesto line of “ devolving power to the states and entrenching federalist spirit in the constitution,” there doesn’t seem to be anything serious enough to take precedence over security and harmony, which are required to sustain peaceful development here and elsewhere.
How additional evidence of strong divisions in the country over the structure of governance including security of life and property should we wait for, before organizing a national referendum and state referendum on what citizens desire in respect of how best to govern Nigeria as a multicultural society?
It is important for political leaders to note that values and visions of people across the globe have changed noticeably in the last three decades. Identity politics on the part of political leaders as well as on the part of ordinary citizens who are expected to live by rules created by politicians has been on the rise recently. The challenge before leaders of multiethnic federations is enthusiastic management of conflict whenever they arise. For example, states that have the most radical federal constitution in Africa are now embroiled in a war of words and deeds in Ethiopia over matters of self-determination. A favorite habitat for warlords is a state with noticeable security failure or countries where leaders and citizens fight over constitutions instead of dialoguing and reaching mature compromises on thorny constitutional matters.
One way to know how divided the Nigeria is over important matters of state—governance architecture, police systems, soft and hard security matters—is for the president in collaboration with each of the 36 governors to authorize through their legislatures nation-wide referendum or state-by-state referendum to find out what citizens in each region feels about restructuring the country’s governance and re-making its constitution.
Friends of our country who observe that Nigeria is too big to fail or break are real friends. There are too many Nigerians to be driven out of the country by terrorists, bandits, kidnappers, etc. On the contrary, a well-managed Nigeria as Africa’s largest multiethnic state and one of the largest multicultural democracies in the world will also have a lot to teach the world. Democracy is not only a game of numbers; it is also a culture that thrives on negotiation and compromise among diverse perspectives. As philosophers are wont to say, enough analysis has been done about the problems of unitary rule in Nigeria, the challenge now is how to change the problems thrown up by de-federalization of the polity by military rule over many decades.