Akin Osuntokun: Nigeria’s shift from Awo to federalism

by Akin Osuntokun

sd_akin_osuntokun_on_subsidy_removal_protest_pt1_1101121-300x223The lesson to learn from the return of Al Mustapha is that Nigerians are spiteful of one another and care less for each other’s sensibilities. This behaviour is by no means peculiar to the fans of Al Mustapha; it is a generalised syndrome of been alienated from a country under which we feel oppressed and persecuted.

You will recall that we raised a question last week-‘From Awo to What?’ The above title and the following is the response to that question. Why would Chief Obafemi Awolowo, more than any political desire, want to rule Nigeria? Animated by this desire he abdicated the Premiership of the largely homogenise Western region in pursuit of the presidential seat of Nigeria. I ask this question because he was also the foremost proponent, among Nigeria’s political luminaries, of decentralised Federalism.

The logical interpretation of this twin aspiration is that he saw no contradiction between the two and reasoned that they are mutually inclusive. I reiterate this point because there is a growing assumption in Nigeria today that anybody proposing a structural review of Nigeria towards decentralisation is hostile to Nigeria and lacking in charity towards fellow citizens who believe otherwise. As President Barack Obama rightly noted, we can disagree without being disagreeable; and we can argue without calling our belief in Nigeria and goodwill for fellow citizens to question

Anybody familiar with Awolowo knows that next to his ambition to govern Nigeria was the higher aspiration to be remembered as the all-time Best Nigeria President; and would have figured that decentralisation is the optimal arrangement for the realisation of such ambition within the context of Nigeria.

In truth, the theory of Federalism today is as open ended and confused as its applicability. And this kind of theoretical confusion and exhaustion has recorded its own fair share of tragedies. The French Marxist theoretician, Louise Althusser, committed suicide, on the cusp of theorising himself into a cull de sac. Afflicted with a similar riot in the head, Doctor Amy Bishop, more recently, brought out her gun and cut short the life of fellow lecturers at the University of Pennyslvania. If you see a Nigerian academic who starts arguing with himself; looks unshaven, bedraggle and sporting an unkempt bushy overgrown hair, you may do well asking his fellow academics to find out how their colleague is faring in terms of the consistency of his theoretical propositions and postulations.

And if it is the word and not its meaning we quibble about, we may follow the example of United Kingdom and write Federation or Confederation into our Constitution and call ourselves the United Republic of Nigeria. But permit me to make a projection here-all Nigerians who presently feel that their love for status-quo Nigeria is being spurned by those advocating decentralisation would, in the short to medium term, begin to behold the beauty in decentralisation; when they feel sufficiently suffocated by the military misbegotten political misanthropy.

Incidentally this is an experience that the comprising regions of Nigeria have had. As a matter of fact it started with the Northern region in 1966 when they were going to proclaim secession after exacting maximum revenge on the return match of the counter coup. Here is what Ahmadu Kurfi had to say on the matter “The original intention of the July 29, 1966 counter coup leaders was to seize the rein of government and then announce the secession of the Northern Region from the rest of the country…. In fact, the coup leaders instructed Northern elements in Lagos to leave the metropolis for the North, giving a deadline within which to comply… A portion of the speech of the new Supreme Commander, Lt Colonel Yakubu Gowon, on August 1st, 1966 implied that the intentions to secede or to resort to confederal arrangement were not abandoned altogether.”

The consequences of the sequence of events from the July 1966 counter coup climaxed in the proclamation of the republic of Biafra by the defunct Eastern region. This marks an escalation of the disintegrative potential of Nigeria and the 30 months fratricidal bloodletting ensued in quick order. The annulment of the June 12th 1993 presidential election won by Chief Moshood Abiola precipitated a similar ethno regional casus belli (of the Yoruba) and feeds to the rather inflexible position of the Yoruba on the convocation of a national conference with full constituent powers. And don’t let us forget Adake Boro and his quixotic declaration of the Niger Delta Republic and the Ogoni nationalist irredentism of the late Ken Saro Wiwa.

Let us proceed with one proposition on which we are all agreed. Nigeria is not working. Why is it not working? Some people would contend that it is because we have not being lucky enough to have good leadership. If we don’t have good leadership then what do we do about it? Throw out the incumbent and if the successor and the successor to the successor are not good-keep throwing them out. The futility of this kind of formula and prescription is self-evident. If after 53 years of post-independent Nigeria, we are not agreed that we have had satisfactory leadership or that this is a rare exception, then on what basis rests the optimism that once we get rid of the incumbent, we will get a better replacement and continue to do so.

At the end of the day, knotty political questions especially the end stage of election, are resolved through a medium called realpolitik-the hard headed compromises,; subjective aspirations; and the appreciation of the relative positions of strength and weakness of contending players. It is the aspect of politics that otherwise morally upright politicians ordinarily deem offensive and repugnant. Given the make-up of Nigeria and the stunted growth of the political elite, it is futile to ever hope this process will routinely work to produce the elusive top class political leadership we crave.

Now I have nothing personal against Governor Rabiu Kwankwaso of Kano State and Speaker Aminu Tanbuwal but I have heard it said again and again that these are potential presidential candidates from the North. If we want to act on the submission that inability to get good leadership is the overriding political problem, then what is in the profile and bio data of these gentlemen that stands them out? Cheer leading a rapturous welcome party for Major Hamza Al Mustapha in Kano? And it is probably the same logic that would work against the proposition of idealistic candidates like Dangiwa Umar, Nuhu Ribadu and Audu Ogbe.

The lesson to learn from the return of Al Mustapha is that Nigerians are spiteful of one another and care less for each other’s sensibilities. This behaviour is by no means peculiar to the fans of Al Mustapha; it is a generalised syndrome of been alienated from a country under which we feel oppressed and persecuted. The sense of persecution has to do first and foremost with whosoever sits on the throne in Abuja. We feel persecuted because he has too much power to influence our standard of living for good or bad; we also feel persecuted because of a sense of dispossession-less the inside group in power.

It is in this regard that crude oil poses a unique danger to the corporate existence of Nigeria. It would sooner wreaked irrevocable damage to the political viability of Nigeria. It is what triggers desperate struggles to seize control of Abuja; It is at the root of the rationale for the preservation of the status quo and reduce its dysfunction to leadership problem. Yes leadership is our problem, and remains potentially the case for every society. That is why structures and institutions are formulated with the assumption that all societies are inherently prone to leadership failure and political dysfunction. Constitutions are then made with this assumption and anticipation in mind by designing built in checks and balances structurally and institutionally. No society, since the age of Hellenic antiquity, predicates good governance on the notion of an existing and available pool of philosopher kings.

Nigerians are given to exclaim that the president of Nigeria is the most powerful president in the world-but it seems we never pause to reflect on the implications of this wry observation. First it is an observation that says something has gone fundamentally wrong with our system-to have a president whose powers are coextensive with that of a middle-age sovereign. Second the capture of such a trophy becomes a do-or-die affair-as it is manifestly the case now and before. Third is the assumption and reality that the constituent units or the supposed constituent units, the states, are relegated to the status of vassal states. All the governors routinely queue to see the president almost on a weekly basis-for one patronage or another. Having the most powerful president is a self-evident reason to devolve this destructive power away from the centre to newly consolidated constituent units.

It is true that Nigeria is a product of its history but the expectation is that we learn the right lessons from that history and not mindlessly reify a self-abnegating legacy. We fought a civil war but it was not a war between good and bad and the outcome was not a victory of good over evil. In the situation in which the Eastern region found itself in the second half of 1966, can it be said that there was no justification for demanding confederation failing which secession became the alternate option? Equally, how were the officers of Northern origin expected to react to the clearly lopsided bloody coup of January 1966?

The notoriety of the first military coup was to upset the political equilibrium of Nigeria and unleash a momentum that acquired the logic of its own. It provoked and legitimised a zero sum; winner-takes-all attitude to the politics of Nigeria which eventually resolved in the culture of the military tail wagging the Nigeria dog; of military might is right. Thus was born the interminable era of military-led regional hegemony. Talks of Federalism or not then became secondary to the sustenance of this new power construct. In my thinking federalism was systematically subverted by the long tenure of military intervention and it took the return to civil democratic rule to expose just how extensive the foundational Nigeria federalism had been compromised.

A perennial feature of Nigeria’s politics is the trans-regional nature of alliances that are constructed to contest presidential elections. The calculation of the All Progressive Congress (APC) for winning the presidential election is, for instance, predicated on General Mohammadu Buhari and Senator Ahmed Bola Tinubu winning the far North and the South-west respectively. Is this not a manifestation of decentralised federalism in practice?- where supposedly national election battles are waged on regional basis.

In the final analysis, we should all realise that the clock is ticking and we can make the choice that stares us in the face or bury our heads in the sand-in imitation of the ostriches in the farm of my big brother, Dangiwa Umar.


Read this article in the Thisday Newspapers


Op-ed pieces and contributions are the opinions of the writers only and do not represent the opinions of Y!/YNaija

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