Home HOME Restructuring on the basis of federalism and the emergence of a new...

Restructuring on the basis of federalism and the emergence of a new Ngeria, by Prof.  Sunny Awhefeada

Prof.  Sunny Awhefeada

(Text of Lecture Delivered at the Justice Development and Peace Commission (JDPC) Catholic Diocese of Warri Good Governance Lecture on Saturday 30th November 2019)


I express my profound gratitude to the organizers of today’s event for finding me worthy to deliver this lecture. I salute the Justice Development and Peace Commission (JDPC) of the Catholic Diocese of Warri for the onerous task of advancing the concept of good governance in Nigeria. I thank the Director, Rev. Fr. Emmanuel Obadjere for his vision and dynamism in ensuring that the JDPC contributes to the dialogue of nation building in Nigeria.

At this point I wish to dedicate this lecture to Mrs. Philomena Opha Darah who passed on to the great beyond exactly two weeks today. Mrs. Darah, until her painful passage, was the wife of my teacher and mentor, the inimitably erudite Professor G. G. Darah, Nigerian patriot, federalist and public intellectual per excellent. Professor Darah was the guest speaker at the maiden edition of this lecture series last year. May the pleasant soul of “Mama Erere” as we fondly called her rest in peace as the rest of us sojourn and labour to evolve a new Nigeria.

In the Beginning

The amalgamation of 1914 proposed by Bruce Harcourt and enacted by Lord Lugard saw to the emergence of what became Nigeria so named after the River Niger by Flora Shaw who later became Lugard’s wife. As an entity, Nigeria is a conglomeration of over four hundred ethnic nationalities with different languages and cultures. It was these peoples of different destinies that Lugard brought under one roof in 1914.

The struggle for independence and what came to be known as Nigerian nationalism received impetus after the Second World War in 1945, although its earliest echoes date back to 1922 when the wizard of Kirsten Hall, Herbert Macaulay founded the Nigerian National Democratic Party (NNDP) and in 1936 when the Nigerian Youth Movement (NYM) was founded by Ernest Ikoli and H. O. Davies. By 1946 when the National Council of Nigeria and Cameroun (NCNC) was inaugurated by Macaulay and Nnamdi Azikiwe, many jumped into the bandwagon of Nigerian nationalism. The thoughts and talks regarding the future of Nigeria had started. That same 1946, a constitution known as the Richard’s Constitution came into being and it adopted for Nigeria a quasi-federal system with three regions namely; the Eastern Region, the Northern Region and the Western Region.

The next fourteen years climaxing in Nigeria getting her independence in 1960 were moments of working out the destiny of the emergent country. As a result, there were constitutional developments which birthed different constitutions and finally the independence constitution of 1960. So many factors were considered in framing Nigeria’s political destiny. The country was multi-ethnic, multi-lingual, multi-religious, multi-cultural, populous, large and diverse in so many ways. The question then was how to have these diverse groups under one entity without centrifugal forces tearing them apart. The three founding fathers, Obafemi Awolowo, Nnamdi Azikiwe and Ahmadu Bello representing the three regions, had their different designs in mind. However, Awolowo did reason that only a federal system which recognizes the essence and significance of diversity and what gains can be made out of it argued in favour of federalism for Nigeria. It was for that reason that the emergent country adopted federalism instead of the unitary or con-federal system.

The Justification for Federalism

Federalism is a system that supports the sharing or distribution of powers and functions between a government at the centre and other constituent units. Federalism takes into cognizance the diversity in ethnicity, culture, language, religion, and other social factors among the constituent units and allows them to grow at their own pace through healthy competition. This ultimately unlocks the development potential among the constituent units. Federalism ensures the devolution of power stating the rights and prerogatives accruing to the centre and the federating units. Federalism in sharing powers and functions between the centre and the units helps in easing the burden of the central government as the constituent units will function and deliver on the common good for their people. Thus, a well- coordinated federal system is bound to accelerate development at all levels. Federalism has so far remained the most convenient political arrangement for multi-ethnic nations to cope with the complexities arising from their diversity.

Yet, I must submit that there is no one size fits all federalism globally. It must take into consideration the peculiar reality of each nation. The culture, historical trajectory, political challenges, and sensitive ethnic bonds among other factors must be taken into consideration in evolving a federal system. The examples of the federal systems easily cited, the United States of America, India, Canada, Switzerland, Malaysia, Australia, all depict the success story of how federalism can convert diversity into unity, strength and prosperity founded on the ideals of fairness and justice.

Nigerian Federalism

Nigeria opted for federalism at independence and it was so up till 1966 when the first military coup ruptured that arrangement. The nation experienced phenomenal development as the initial three regions, later four after the creation of the Midwest region in 1963, had healthy competition, unlocked their economic potentials and experienced rapid development that made Nigeria rank as one of the fastest developing nations immediately after independence. Some of the development landmarks in Nigeria today, whether defunct or still existing, can be traced to the development strides which received impetus from federalism, yet these giant strides were achieved without crude oil.

The Western Region was a model of modern development boasting of free universal primary education, a world class university at Ile-Ife, the first television station in Africa and even ahead of many countries in Europe, Africa’s first skyscraper, Africa’s first Olympic sized stadium, and the region paid the highest wage in Nigeria then. The Northern Region also recorded phenomenal achievements in education at all levels with the Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria, competing with the best in the world, the groundnut pyramids swelled the coffers of the North, just as the region had Africa’s biggest textile company with so many other development strides. The Eastern Region was also a hub of modern development. The University of Nigeria, Nnsuka, the coal mines, the magical cities of Enugu, Port Harcourt, Calabar, among other development markers made the region to excel. The youngest of the regions the Midwest Region also caught up with the development strides. Within two years of coming into being the region established a glass factory at Ughelli, a cement factory at Okpella, and a textile factory at Asaba, all of them of global standards and the most ambitious then in Africa.

The human resources of the four regions were also world class and Nigeria was rated as a future world power. Between 1960 and 1966 when things fell apart, Nigeria carried the same promise as Japan, Brazil, China, India, and much more promising than Singapore, Malaysia and Indonesia. Nigeria was then the face of Africa. It made giant strides in diplomacy and registered its presence as a significant peace keeping force in Africa. In fact it was an African super power. Nigeria achieved that much because it practiced federalism. The fact that the federating units took off many responsibilities from the centre enabled the federal government to pursue other germane issues incidental to our national development. The federating units knowing that they had to fend for themselves had to be innovative in the competition that followed and they did well. Oil was out of the question. The West had cocoa and timber; the East had oil palm and coal; the North had groundnut, cotton and tin, and the Midwest had oil palm, rubber and timber, all cash crops that earned foreign exchange that made the nation’s economy robust. The regions earned their revenues independently and paid taxes to the central government. They didn’t collect or need money from Lagos which was the then capital of Nigeria. Unlike now that the federating states produce nothing, have no revenues and depend on monthly allocations from Abuja, a phenomenon which Senator Ike Ekweremadu described as “feeding bottle” federalism.

In spite of the foregoing roller coaster depiction of federalism in the First Republic, why did the Republic collapse? The answer is simple. The collapse of the First Republic was an epochal index of nation building and national evolution. The Republic failed, not because federalism was defective, but because of the frailty and imperfectability of the human mind. First, the Nigerian federalism in the First Republic was manipulated by the departing British colonizers into an imperfect and unbalanced federation. The Northern Region was far too big for the other two so that some described Nigeria as a tripod that could lose its balance if one of the legs got off. This phenomenon negated a cardinal feature of federalism which is that no federating unit should be so strong or big to be a threat to the union. The creation of the Midwest in 1963 did not redress that imbalance. Other anti-development indices, especially corruption, which have now become too familiar and endemic also contributed to the fall of the First Republic. It is my submission that the failure was not an indictment of federalism rather it was a necessary, but painful occurrence in the journey to nationhood. Every nation of the world had its share of such bitter episode.


The End of Federalism?

A military coup terminated the First Republic on 15th January 1966. The military regime headed by Major-General J. T. U. Aguiyi-Ironsi disbanded federalism and in sync with the military’s single command structure decreed a unitary system of government for Nigeria through the Decree No. 34 of July 1966. The nation went on a spiral and that decree instigated a countercoup on 29th July 1966 in which Aguiyi-Ironsi was killed. A civil war that lasted for thirty months followed and the tenets of federalism were undermined.

The war ended in 1970 and the first leg of military rule ended in 1979, thus making Nigeria reel under the jack boot of soldiers for thirteen years in the first instance during which the practice of federalism was a major casualty. Although, Nigeria was addressed and it is still being addressed as Federal Republic of Nigeria, it was anything, but federal in practice. The soldiers who ruled the nation for that period imposed on the nation a centralized system of government that was unitary in practice and antithetical to federalism, but was in tune with their training as soldiers. It was ironical that what Aguiyi-Ironsi killed for became the leit motif of military rule.

The return to civil rule in 1979 did not bring to full manifestation the ideals of federalism. The military interregnum that lasted for all of thirteen years had conditioned the type of federalism that Nigeria practiced in the Second Republic from 1979 to 1983. The center was domineering and too powerful to the extent that the component units were left with little or no initiatives. The states were weak and couldn’t survive on their own unlike the case in the First Republic. The centre that was then overburdened couldn’t achieve much and the innovation that grew the economy of the different regions in the First Republic was lacking. Soon the centre could no longer hold. Things began to fall apart and the soldiers came calling again. Nigeria went through another round of military rule from 1983 to 1999. Although, the soldiers ran Nigeria with the design of a unitary state, the name of our country remained the Federal Republic of Nigeria.


Post-1999 Federalism and the Status Quo

The year 1999 was phenomenal for Nigeria in a number of ways. It ended military dictatorship and inaugurated another dispensation of civil rule. It ended a century and paved the way for a new century. It was therefore, a moment to look forward to the dawn of a new era. The anticipation of the millennium and magical year 2000 imbued Nigerians with hope. Having experienced two epochs of civil rule, a civil war, tragic coups, and bloody resistance to military dictatorship, Nigerians bade farewell to 1999 and welcomed the year 2000, the new century as a moment of hope.

Our dear country remains the Federal Republic of Nigeria. But there is mounting agitation which indicates that we are not practicing federalism as it should. Since the year 2001, as a result of the ambience created by civil rule, there has been agitation for what some called “true federalism”. Yet, some people do not believe that there is any such concept as “true federalism”. To them, federalism is federalism. However, my take on this argument is that there is true and fake federalism. That genie called the Nigerian factor is at play here. Everything in Nigeria has an original and a fake version. Enter a store in Nigeria and an item will cost two different prices. The sales boy or sales girl will confidently tell you “Oga, buy this one, naim be original. That one na fake”. Nigeria seems to have bought fake federalism. Hence, the unending agitation for “true federalism”.

Right now, as it was in the Second Republic and unlike in the First Republic, the centre is over-powerful and too domineering with so much money yet unable to deliver on the purpose of government. On the other hand, the states are impoverished, unable to generate revenue and relying on the central government for monthly allocation. Thus the development a state attains is attributed to the benevolent of the central government. The states were so impoverished to the extent that the Federal Government had to occasionally grant bailout for them to pay salaries. Were Nigeria to abide by the tenets of federalism and allow healthy competition among the states, the innovativeness that generated revenue for the regions in the First Republic would have come to play so that every state in Nigeria would have become a buoyant entity. Every state in Nigeria has what it takes to prosper without getting a Naira from Abuja. Some of the states considered poor have untapped mineral and agricultural resources that can make them richer than the oil producing states. For example, while Ondo State has over ten unexploited mineral resources including the second largest deposit of bitumen in the world, Plateau State has about twenty five waiting to be exploited, while Nassarawa has twenty one. Yet, the anti-federal stance of the Nigerian system has prevented the states from taking possession of these mineral resources and exploiting them for the good of their people.

A major setback in the present quasi-federal system in Nigeria is that the centre is overburdened. A look at the exclusive and concurrent legislative lists will buttress this point. In the 1963 constitution the exclusive list contained just forty-five items, but in the 1999 constitution the same list has sixty-eight items. The result is the over-centralization of powers and responsibilities at the centre leading to inefficiency, bad governance, corruption and the collapse of public infrastructure nationwide. In a federal system the centre exclusively runs foreign affairs, military, international trade and the national currency while every other sector features on the concurrent or residual list for effective engagement and result delivery.

Many of the bloody crises that have also plagued the country since 1999 could have been avoided if we had practiced federalism as it should. The Niger Delta crisis which took a toll on the region and by extension on the Nigerian nation could have been averted if we were practicing federalism. It is now common knowledge that the region’s youths took to arms to protest plunder of their economic resources. The Boko Haram insurgency can also be read as a consequence of jettisoning the ideals of federalism. The insurgency first began as violent movement against social exploitation which could have been avoided if states in the North-East had the powers to explore and exploit their mineral resources and used the revenue to develop the human capital of that zone as did the Sardauna Ahmadu Bello in the old Northern region. The herdsmen and farmers clash are also inextricably linked to the rupture in the federal ideal. If the states had the freedom to fully handle their affairs economically they would have been creative enough to create opportunities that would have absorbed the age group involved in the crime of cattle rustling and banditry and thus channel their energy and innovative minds to some other gainful engagements. The increase in armed robbery and kidnapping cannot be divorced from our anti-federal disposition. Again, if the states were productive and able to create an enabling environment for opportunities to thrive and gainfully engage our teeming population there would have been a drastic reduction in these crimes. But what we have now are states that can hardly guarantee anything not even basic employment. There are states that cannot pay salaries, build schools, build hospitals or build roads. This is so because they rely solely on the monthly allocation from Abuja which is determined by the quantity or value of crude oil sold in the international oil market. Another aspect where non adherence to the federal ideal afflicts Nigeria is our centralized police system. A federal state should have multiple layers of policing namely; the federal, state and local. This will enable the security network span a wide gamut and make it more effective and reduce crime. These factors made us to miss the MDGs and the signs are ominous that we are again missing the SGDs.

Our inability to enact federalism has put our economy in foreign hands. We now run a mono-economy based on crude oil the value of which is determined by international market forces while the cash crops of the First Republic simply vanished from our export list. If only the states were allowed to develop as advocated by federalism there would have been states in Nigeria that would be richer than many states in the United States of America and the cumulative effect of this would have put Nigeria ahead as a world economic power thus realizing the promise it bore in the First Republic. Right now oil export accounts for about 90% of the nation’s revenue, yet the agriculture sector could have earned us twice that amount. Economic diversification is a must if we are to redeem ourselves.

To sincere observers of the Nigerian story, our inability to implement the tenets of federalism constitute a major cog in our wheel. There are obnoxious legislations that constitute anathema to federalism that must be repealed in order for Nigeria to leapfrog and take her rightful place in the comity of nations. Some of such obnoxious laws include; the Petroleum Decree of 1969 which was later validated by Section 274 of the 1979 Constitution, the Territorial Waters Act, the Exclusive Economic Zone Act, the Land Use Act, and many other laws which crippled the enterprising capacity of the states. Many of these laws were made under military regimes for fear of the states getting economically independent an idea that was not in sync with military norm. That these laws are still in force even under civilian dispensation is a reflection of military hangover in our national life.

There is no doubt that federalism remains the best administrative system for Nigeria. Even its fiercest antagonists recognize this fact. What I am sure is at the core of the reluctance of the group opposing federal restructuring is the unpreparedness of many states that are likely going to suffer economically and administratively were we to plunge into federalism at one go. To avert this and allay this fear I propose a gradual reversion to the practice of federalism, including its fiscal manifestation, in phases so that the states even the most unprepared would not be caught off guard. We can set machinery in motion and set a takeoff date of five years to be followed by two phases of five years each before we attain full implementation. Again, I make bold to say that every state in Nigeria has more than what it takes to survive economically when the right atmosphere is created.

The indices of federalism being Nigeria’s best option are many. Since 1999, Nigeria has held two political reforms conferences, in 2005 and 2014, with both of them emphasizing the ideals of federalism as best suited for the Nigerian condition. The agitations for federalism has also reached a climax with four out of the country’s six geo-political zones, South-West, South-East, South-South and North-Central with representatives from Adamawa in the North-East and  Southern Kaduna in the North-West, coming together to affirm it through the Yenagoa Accord in Bayelsa State in March 2018. Earlier in that year, the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) set up a committee chaired by Mallam Nasiru El Rufai, the Governor of Kaduna State to look into the restructuring palaver and the committee recommended the restructuring of Nigeria. Governor Kayode Fayemi of Ekiti State made a case for restructuring just a week ago in the United State of America. These are gains in the journey towards restructuring our beloved country into a truly federal system. The net benefit of which will be fairness, social justice, equity, and the unlocking of Nigeria’s unparalleled capacity to develop.

However, I must sound a warning that the recourse to federalism alone will not resolve Nigeria’s logjam. We, the followers and the leaders, need to circumcise our hearts, reexamine our ways, learn from our history of failure and reaffirm our commitment to the Nigerian project.

The Emergence of a New Nigeria

It is trite to say that Nigeria has not lived up to expectation. This is not the country many of us romanticized in our childhood. Nigeria has failed us and we have also failed Nigeria. The ills bedeviling Nigeria are legion. From corruption to being the poverty capital of the world, one of the most unsafe places on earth, electoral violence, compromised security system, failed infrastructure, failed education and health systems, insurgency, kidnapping, banditry, ethnic tension, unemployment, over-population, and more which make Nigeria a place where nothing works, are pointers to the painful truth that Nigeria needs a rebirth. The rate at which our youths flee to other countries in search of a new way of life merely confirms that they have given up on Nigeria. But this is not the way to go. Nigeria is our country. This is where Providence has placed us in spite of the many other places in the world. Let us look inward, let us identify what went wrong with the country of our dreams.

Our first task towards the emergence of a new Nigeria is to truly reaffirm our commitment to the idea of “one nation bound in freedom, peace and unity”. Let us live the ideals of our national anthem and pledge “to be faithful, loyal and honest; To serve Nigeria with all “our” strength”. Great nations are founded on idealism. Nigeria is not short on idealism. The idealism embedded in our national anthem and pledge will make our country the most important country in the world if we were enact the ideals. No other anthem or pledge anywhere in the world is as inspiring and soul lifting as that of Nigeria. But we got it wrong by thinking first of ourselves and not even thinking of Nigeria at all. That basic but very significant element called patriotism is lacking in us all. Let us think and put Nigeria first.

We do not at the moment have a national aspiration. There is no consensus on what constitutes a national goal. We must critically think and invent a national aspiration to which we should all be committed. We are now a painfully fractured country divided along ethnic, religious and political gulfs to the extent that we can hardly articulate a national aspiration. That is why we need to reimagine and reinvent our beloved country. We cannot give up on her.

The task for a new Nigeria is a clarion call to leaders and followers. We have for too long left the making and unmaking of Nigeria in the hands of a few that we call leaders. The people must rethink their priorities and take charge of Nigeria. I have come to realize that Nigeria’s problems were not created by only the leaders. We the followers are also culpable and collaborated to shortchange Nigeria. The first reason for my point of view is that the leaders we hold responsible for our woes have always come from among us. Thus today’s leaders were followers yesterday. If they have failed then we have not been good followers. All of us as followers have contributed to Nigeria’s problems in one way or the other by our many acts of omission or commission. The university lecturer who collects money or sex for marks will produce graduates that are unemployable, the doctor who extorts patients is impoverishing them and negating the essence of good governance, the engineer who builds substandard roads is killing fellow citizens, the civil servants who collect bribes doing their work are destroying the moral fabric of the nation, the teacher who extorts his pupils is destroying education which is the foundation of the nation, the policeman who extorts is breaching law and order, the customs officer who receives bribes is sabotaging our economy, the judges who collect bribes are subverting justice. The list of infractions we commit as a people individually and collectively are legion. There are many people who get paid yet do little or no work. We are all involved in the destruction of Nigeria. So the task of reinventing the Nigerian project is upon us all. Followers must embrace a creed that will engender leadership with moral rectitude and the exhibition of personal example.

We must build a coalition to commence the task of nation building. There are no challenges that cannot be overcome. We can do it. We must rework our education system and give our youth functional education. We must prioritize the education of the girl-child because educated women create a healthy home and by extension a healthy society and nation. Allied to this is the evolution of a functional health system.

We need practical solutions to insecurity, infrastructural decay, decline in agricultural production, inadequate electricity, stunted industrialization, unemployment, poverty and rural decay. We need to revisit the public and institutional reforms of the recent past and implement aspects that are still relevant to our contemporary situation. The 7-Point Agenda, privatization, the civil service reforms, NEEDS, SEEDS and the recent ERGP should all be subjected to critical review and be made sufficient to tackle our peculiar problems. There is need for the adoption of economic development plans with measureable timelines of ten years. Nigeria has had four national development plans (1960-1966, 1970-1974, 1978-1980 and 1981-1985). We need to reinvent that tradition of deliberate planning and monitoring and also begin to configure Nigeria beyond oil.

The world is moving fast and we must deepen our commitment to technology even if it is homegrown. Our human capital will drive the new Nigeria that will thrive on innovation as we now talk about knowledge and digital economies. The fourth industrial revolution is here. So we must invest in literacy and technological education.

Economically, we have a lot of thinking and work to do. We need to diversify our economy, promote agriculture and harness all our potentials so that we can enjoy the wealth of nations. Our export profile is low and disturbing. This is the reason we suffer economic recession whenever the price of crude oil deepens. Our currency needs to be strengthened. The idea of denominating all our local economic transactions in dollars must be stopped. We need to come to terms with the international ill will against Africa with Nigeria as a target. We must therefore look beyond Europe and America in working out our economic salvation. We must be ready to take tough decisions and make sacrifices in order to evolve an economically stable Nigeria.

It is not enough to close our borders to rice importation. Let us also close the borders to foreign medical attention and foreign education. Let us build our hospitals and schools and save the nation capital flight running into hundreds of billions annually. Our borders should also be closed to foreign fabrics, foreign cars, foreign food and other items manufactured overseas that we can manufacture here. We need to be serious as a people. Nigeria is where we have the economic illogicality of exporting crude oil and importing refined petroleum products. There is nothing in the world that Nigerians cannot manufacture. We only need the enabling support. The Nigerian civil war unlocked the Nigerian genius which for now is in bondage at home, but free and thriving in the diaspora. Many inventors celebrated all over the world today are Nigerians. Let them come home.

China, Japan and India, countries that were less endowed and less promising than Nigeria in 1966, took the hard decision to look inward, be productive and self-sufficient. They have come out to be in contention as leading economies. We are often deluded as Africa’s biggest economy, but the reality is that we are the poverty capital of the world. We must change this narrative.

A frightening phenomena is our foreign loans and the tendency for China to recolonize us economically. The rush for foreign loans and aids have taken on a dangerous dimension as we are being plunged into acute insolvency. China, a country that had a more harrowing experience than Nigeria, has become our new creditor. China’s bilateral loans to Nigeria are a staggering US$2.6 billion and we hear that Niger Delta oil is the collateral. Nigeria is also heavily indebted to France, Germany and Japan. Nigeria’s national debt is US$88 billion!

Yet this same Nigeria championed the liberation of Angola, Zimbabwe, Namibia, South Africa; led and funded ECOMOG to restore peace to Liberia and Sierra Leone; paid salaries of workers in faraway Trinidad and Tobago, and Gowon boasted that money was not our problem, but how to spend it? Nigeria fought a thirty-month civil war without borrowing a dime.

The task ahead is daunting and onerous, but my faith is strong that we can do it. Let us mobilize our people and give the right political and civic education. Thankfully, ICT is making social and political education easily accessible. Our educational institutions, religious bodies, trade unions and civil societies should wake up to the task of giving Nigerians a new orientation about the Nigerian project. We should insist on the rule of law, infractions must attract commensurate punishment, we must clamour for an independent judiciary and the press must be truly free and live up to its task of a watchdog. We need genuine electoral reforms. We must all subscribe to a code of ethics to reborn Nigeria.

Finally, I restate my optimism in Nigeria. I envision a new Nigeria. I envision a new Nigeria where we shall live in peace and happiness. A new Nigeria where social justice, prosperity and security are guaranteed.  A new Nigeria where no one is oppressed. A new Nigeria where ethnic and religious distrust would be confined to the past. A new Nigeria where there is law and order, and our votes would count and elections become harbingers of a new order. I envision a new Nigeria that shall be the leader and pride of Africa and Black people all over the world. Yes, that Nigeria is possible. We can do it.

I say to you all here today and Nigerians everywhere “Arise O Compatriots, Nigeria’s call obey”

Thank you!











Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here