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Ibiyinka Solarin



February 20, 2005



There comes a time in the life of many a great nation when it reaches the cross-road, when it has to look in the mirror and face the unvarnished truth, when it faces fundamental and most critical decision about its future. I believe the Federal Republic of Nigeria has reached  that road. Many potentially a  great nation have done this, some have frittered away that golden opportunity, others have looked fear in the eye, and embraced fundamental change crucial to its existence. The old Soviet Union faced that moment in 1990. It was unable to overcome the old paradigm of centralized political economy, its decrepit and dysfunctional totalitarianism, adopt genuine democracy and economic restructuring. It remained frozen in fear of change. Its soft underbelly had rotted and its internal organs diseased. It ceased to exist as one corporate entity, disintegrating into fifteen sovereign republics. The United States of America faced that dilemma thrice in its existence, 1865, 1933 and 1954. Indeed, it amends its constitution with due regard to the exigencies of the times, no constitution is written in stone and it is a dynamic document. Many who wrote the moving words of the preamble to the constitution were themselves slave owners and did not see the contradiction of writing ‘all men are created equal’ by men whose deeds contradict their words. And for good measure only white men with property were covered by the constitution as there were white men who were indentured servants and no better than slaves. But after its civil war of 1861-5, this nation boldly reversed course and  came up with the 13th , 14th and 15th amendments. The 13th abolished slavery, the 14th gave American citizenship to the hitherto enslaved Africans and the 15th related to due process and the right to vote. Shortly thereafter, African-Americans won elections as members of  the US house of representatives, the US senate as well as lieutenant governors [deputy governors] secretary of state in Louisiana, Mississippi  and South Carolina. Unfortunately these gains were virtually erased by the segregationist laws and edicts that came  during the post-reconstruction era .


The crash of 1928 bode ill for the republic with 25% unemployment; to counter the baleful effect of thorough market economy, the country introduced the New Deal which brought regulation into the economy and effectively redefined the relationship between the citizenry and the government. Public policy initiatives such as social security, minimum wage became the law of the land. Much  later,  general assistance , unemployment assistance, Medicare [for the old] and Medicaid [for children] followed as the country came to accept that the welfare of  citizens cannot be left solely to the vagaries of the market.


In 1954, the US supreme court boldly in a unanimous decision ruled that racial segregation is not reconcilable with the ideals of constitutional democracy and invalidated the 1896 supreme case of  Plessy Vs .Ferguson which had ruled separate but equal was constitutional. The regime of racial supremacy  which consigned African-Americans to lowly and inferior status and facilities in their own society has to be abandoned.. Even Ike Eisenhower who as General in the army had testified in Congress against desegregation of the US Armed Forces had no choice as president but to send federal troops to desegregate in Little Rock, Ark, in 1957. The country came up with civil rights acts of  1964, 1965, and 1968., sweeping away all vestiges of  racial discrimination in voting, public accommodation and employment. Was it easy? No, there was tension and worse in the land but America had to claim the ideals on which the republic was founded. When a society makes up its mind to save itself from itself, its peoples’ faith are renewed and the society is the better for it. The United States may not be  an interracial paradise but it will never be what it used to be because of  the courage and commitment of good men and women to make their society live up to its creed.

It is my submission that the Federal Republic of Nigeria faces that choice today, whether it will face up to its promise as a potentially great nation. Whatever the  type of government the delegates at the National Political Reform Conference come up with, there are  TWO central questions to be posed. The first is political and the second is economic, taken together, they are both to address the political economy of Nigeria. First, the political,  ‘CAN THE NIGERIAN SOCIETY AFFORD A SYSTEM OF GOVERNMENT WHERE 87% OF THE REVENUE IS EXPENDED ON SALARIES AND EMOLUMENTS OF GOVERNMENT OFFICIALS’?

The economic, ‘CAN THE NIGERIA SOCIETY AFFORD THE LONG-TERM CONSEQUENCES OF A SOCIETY IN WHICH ACCORDING TO THE FIGURES PROVIDED BY ITS FEDERAL GOVERNMENT [the  NEEDS office]  IN WHICH 70% OF THE POPULATION LIVE ON $1 A DAY’?    Beyond the theoretical hair-splitting of what constitutes federalism, fiscal federalism, a clear practical choice must be made. There are two schools of thoughts on Nigerian federalism today, the centralists and the decentralists.

The centralists argument can be summarized as follows;

The Federal constitution is the supreme law of the land.

The federal government is an agent of the Nigerian people who ‘created’ it and ‘gave ‘ it the constitution and government.

The federal government is an agent of the ‘Nigerian people’ not of the component states.

The federal government must be given sufficient and liberal powers to accomplish the great objectives in the constitution.

The federal government should  be denied authority only in the areas the constitution specifically prohibits it from acting.

The supremacy of the federal government restricts the states.


A government representing some of the people [the state government] should not be permitted to interfere with a government representing all the people.

The decentralist argument can be distilled thus;

The federal government is a pact between the federating units which created and give it limited authority.

The federal government is no more than an agent of the federating units and its powers should be narrowly defined.

The federal government should not be allowed to exercise its delegated powers in any way that intrudes on or interferes with the powers reserved for the federating units.

Powers not expressly delegated in the constitution should be reserved for the states.

The federating states are closer to the people and more accurately reflect their wishes than the federal government which is far away.


That in order to promote a more perfect union, the powers of the federal government must be curtailed.

Most of the states [with perhaps two exceptions] are economically unviable,  no than begging-bowls that rely almost exclusively on federal allocations to pay even the salaries of their bureaucrats.

The arbitrary creation of states in Nigeria has created indolence and sloth in the Nigerian society where many questionable public agencies and bureaucracies have been created serving only as conduit pipes for waste and corruption.

That many of the states should either be abolished or merged to save administrative cost; and economically viable much bigger regions should be created as unit of administration below a federal government whose schedule should be no more than defense, currency and foreign affairs


The federal government  is over-bearing, heavy-handed, wasteful, bureaucratic with multiple and overlapping schedules that drain the treasury and render the states unable to meet the basic needs of its people.

The powers of the federal government should thus be kept under control.


It is not the purpose of this essay to debate the relative merits and demerits of these positions. It is sufficient to delineate them and bring their differences into bold relief .

However one thing seems to be quite clear, there is a broad consensus within the political social, linguistic and cultural groups of Nigeria that the current system is grossly deficient and inadequate for the needs of the society. Those who used to be hostile to lukewarm about the idea of the national conference have become persuaded of its desirability. As the conferees commence their deliberations, they should bear in mind that they are being called upon to reinvent Nigeria for posterity. The question is what will be the judgment of  history  on their efforts.?



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