Opinion: THE BIG DEBATE AROUND DEVOLUTION OF POWER – By SUNDAY EZE
The big debate around devolution of power will continue until the north sees sufficient and justifiable reasons to do so. And if for some reasons other regions believe in power devolving, of what benefit will such accrue to the north? With the highest number of members of the National and State Assemblies, the truth remains that the north holds the ace to any attempt to devolution of power and even the amendment of the entire constitution. The region whether one likes it or not has the capacity to employ its numerical strength in the National and State Assemblies to frustrate any move at cross purpose with the interest of the north. It is also to the advantage of the north that land mass forms the basis for revenue sharing formula. Kano has Forty-four Local Government Areas while Jigawa created out of Kano has Twenty Three. It therefore, will be fool hardy to risk losing a fundamental financial lifeline of the region in the name of devolution of power or restructuring. Moreover, had the alteration of the Land Use Act scaled through the amendment process, the north would have been in a tight spot considering the fact that the owner of the land has the right to what is beneath, on and above it.
While the South-South, South East and recently South West are custodians of oil deposits, the north remained out of the oil producing states. Now that the grand children of Edwin Clark have shown aggressive cause to take ownership of the natural gift buried beneath their land without recourse to constitutional provisions, the north has become increasingly apprehensive of losing a major lifeline. That is why the current prospect for oil deposit in the Lake Chad basin should succeed to strike the desired balance. Every land including the vast stretch in the north is endowed with precious deposit beneath. The will to identify those deposits and harness them to the benefit of all especially to the north as an alternative to oil revenue has been one regrettable tragedy. It is on record that the north has the highest number of out of school children in the country. While Boko Haram insurgency has dealt a debilitating blow on the economy of the north thereby compounding the already existing cycle of poverty; infrastructural development deficit has become a source of worry too. Essentially, the only thing working in favour of the north at the moment is the large chunk of revenue it secures from the federation account.
Democracy is a game of numbers. The minority will have their say but majority their way. Senators of Northern extraction understood the game ipso facto. One could assume that it is an ethical failure for the National Assembly to pay deaf ears to popular views of the people. However, what seems to be a popular view in Yenagoa may have no import in Damaturu. Every member of the National Assembly is accountable to his constituency and his constituency only. The North is always united when it comes to protecting a common interest and warding off a common enemy. We all must learn to live with the democratic reality of our time. And it will be a perverse disincentive to take away the responsibility of the National Assembly on account of not satisfying the interest of some regions. Has anyone thought of how Kano state could cater for the wages of forty-four local government councils in the event that when funding of LGAs is transferred to the concurrent list? Now that both the nation and the National Assembly have outsourced their responsibility to non-state actors like the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB), Arewa Youths and others who understandably enjoy the tacit support of their regions to speak on burning national issues, the nation is gradually on a journey to self-destruction.
The present political interests and structure makes it impossible to restructure Nigeria through constitutional means only. The military constitution bequeathed to Nigerians at the wee hours of their exit in 1999 is a flawed legal document which has raised a lot of question on its credibility. It is a legal framework imposed on Nigerians by the military already dethroned by the legitimacy of the people in 1999. We can have the Nigeria of our dream and envy of comity of nations when all the regions see good reasons to build bridges of trust and bury their age long suspicions. In fact, some degree of mutual dialogue is imperative in deciding the fate of Nigeria. We need to adopt a comprehensive assessment of political interest of various regions in the course of devolution of power. There are lead debates which touch on justice, equity and fairness. It is against natural justice for other regions to have six to seven states while the South East has only five. There is no doubt that we need to cure a lot of constitutional incoherence in the polity.
To a reasonable extent, Nigeria’s foremost leaders had laid solid foundations for development in the then three regions of the pre and post independence era. This led to the creation of robust regional political structures, foundation for growth and raising standard for development of that golden era. Nigeria was riding on the path to greatness. The nation excelled in agriculture which formed major part of our gross domestic product (GDP). The groundnut pyramid was the pride of northern Nigeria, Cocoa production and palm oil were the main economic stay of the west and eastern regions respectively. Developmental strides in education, infrastructure and commerce sprang up depending on peculiar regional policies and programmes. There was stability and healthy economic rivalry among the three regions. The long haul of military dictatorship which culminated into vandalism of the existing democratic ethos and structures of the first and second republics left the nation in a cul-de-sac of some sort. It produced instability and disrupted seamless growth and development. The stability and healthy economic rivalry enjoyed with regionalism of that proud era were erased with time as the juntas lasted. Shortly after the handover of power to a “militarily chosen” democratically elected president in 1999, the nation was engrossed in several ethnic and religious crises in different parts of the country. The crises were majorly the aftermaths of deprivation, exclusion, resentment and anger, frustration, displeasure in leadership style and distorted unitary-federalism practiced in Nigeria which has raised questions on equity, fairness, devolution of power, resource control, state creation and revenue sharing formula but brutally suppressed by the then military juntas.
Modern democracy is argumentative and a conversation among citizens. Nigeria as a nation has been bugged by various unresolved, complex and contending national issues. Consequently, the 1999 constitutional amendment had offered the nation a robust political platform for resolving such vexing concerns. A global model for democracy is where justice, equity and fairness, freedom of expression, right to human existence and happiness are guaranteed. When it is obvious that the pleasure of preserving primordial ethnic or regional interests take precedence over natural justice, and inalienable rights of individuals; dissenting voices will grow disturbingly louder and louder. It defies the rule and refuses to be intimidated until due attention is paid. The implication is that when peoples’ views and needs in a federation are suppressed, their right to dissention cannot be taking away from them as well. In a dissatisfied socio-political arrangement, the tendency of people aligning to tribal sentiments as alternative to protect their interest becomes the order of the day. The nation is on the fast lane to anarchy and the uncommon wisdom of Solomon should prevail.
Sunday Onyemaechi Eze, a media and communication specialist is the publisher of thenewinsightng.blogspot.com. He wrote via [email protected] and can be reached on 08060901201