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Regionalism: Tales From The Good Old Days



Alabi Williams



culled from GUARDIAN, March 14, 2005



Beginning tomorrow, the National Conference on Political Reforms should go beyond the preliminaries, to confront the fundamentals. Going by the presentations by individuals and groups, the present system of government has failed to make Nigeria what the founding leaders expected of it.


Speaker after speaker, the delegates have lamented the stagnation of the national economy and the cost of this on the people. Chief Emeka Anyaoku, former Commonwealth Secretary-General, reminded Nigerians of how far behind the country is from development and growth. All the countries, which attained political independence together with Nigeria, are now major players in global economy.


Nigeria does not produce, yet it cannot even translate its huge oil earnings into a better life for the people. Roads are poorly maintained; new ones are difficult to come by. The energy situation is deplorable. To make matters worse, security of life and property is at the benevolence of men in power and the criminally minded in the society. The country is bogged down by ethnic and religious sentiments, which, time without number, had cost the nation in human and material resources.


Devolution of power

It is, therefore, very clear that Nigeria cannot continue like this. To make a clean departure from the past is to make fundamental and radical changes in the political sector. One of the options canvassed along that line by groups in the South is for the country to revert to regionalism.


In reaching that conclusion, a critical review of the presidential system had been done. It was discovered that Nigeria's version of federalism is a central system whereby the federating units surrender nearly all authority to the federal. The lifeline is at the centre, to which the states and councils are plugged. It was discovered that the system is run at a very huge cost. Substantial part of the resources goes into oiling the machinery of state - paying salaries and maintaining obsolete bureaucracy. It is also from this purse that leaders pilfer and loot. Very little is left for growth and development.


It was ascertained, too, that the federal system has become the major source of political acrimony in the country. The regions and units have abandoned self-help in search of "free" allocation at the centre. The states have lost the initiative for economic enterprise and development. This has created a system of inequity and economic injustices, because those who fold their arms are the ones eating the most.


It was the military that fully exploited the situation. Immediately the First Republic collapsed, the regions were collapsed into a federal structure. States were created (not that they evolved of their own as units) to make governance through command control easy. All the regional economies were displaced and a bogus federal purse emerged.


Over the years, it has become a profitable venture for Nigerians to abandon their states to access the federal. It became keen competition among soldiers to scheme for control of federal power and its resources. The North, since the second coup of the July 1966, has gained the upper hand in Nigeria's Armed Forces. The result is that, from the initial 12 states in 1966, there are now 36 states whose creation is the arbitrary handiwork of the military.


The implication of this sub-division of the country into states and local governments is the major source of economic injustice and inequity in the distribution of resources. The allocation of resources is shared among the three tiers of government. This being the case, every new council or state that is created automatically joins in the sharing. To put their favoured ethnic groups and clans on the sharing formula, the military and the political class seriously exploited the exact method.


Lopsided creation of councils

A systematic gap was then created over the years, to impoverish certain groups and favour others. There are two glaring examples here; one major political combat in this dispensation has been the control of local councils between the federal and the states. Lagos State is the most populous state in the country. It does not have the landmass such as Kano has. But in terms of significance to national growth, Lagos has no rival. Yet, Lagos has 20 constitutionally recognised councils, which receive allocation from Abuja.


When such arithmetic no longer made political sense, Lagos, like some other states, decided to create additional councils, to even up. That has been the source of acrimony between Lagos State and the Federal Government.


Another sad case is that of Akoko-Edo local council in Edo State. The council was created as a division in the former Mid West in 1963. Today, while other divisions have been balkanised into three or more councils, Akoko-Edo has remained the way it was in 1963. Except that during one of the military regimes, the people of Imeri, who were once in Edo State, left Akoko-Edo to join their kith and kin in Ondo State. It was Chief Bode Olajumoke, who made a case for his people and he got the listening ears of the then Armed Forces Ruling Council (AFRC).


In other words, any community that is unable to access the authorities should not expect justice. So many ethnic groups and communities have found themselves in this situation of neglect and impoverishment.


Having controlled the resources of Nigeria for a considerable period of time, the military found it difficult to relinquish power. Apart from the military, it became a thug of war for other sections to have access. The North became synonymous with power. The climax was the June 12, 1993 presidential election, which Chief MKO Abiola was set to win. That election was scuttled. It grieved the Southwest, to the extent that it provided opportunity for a re-think of the Nigerian project.


Properly managed economic power

Apart from the political power that was denied other sections, those who exercised it poorly administered economic power. The economic blunders, which made Nigeria a beggar-nation, were administered by people who did not have the required skill to properly manage an economy. But that was the cross that was forced on the people. Over the years, national utilities such as the Nigeria Airways, National Electric Power Authority (NEPA), Nigerian National Shipping Line, and the Nigeria Railway Corporation, were plundered. The Refineries, the automobile assembly plants, aluminum smelter company, Ajaokuta Steel Company, Delta Steel, Oshogbo Steel Rolling Mill, Katsina Steel Rolling Mill and other public institutions were plundered.


The social sector was not spared. Education was neglected and the infrastructure began to decay. Brain-drain became an option for academics, who did not want to decay. Hospitals became consulting clinics and Nigerians began to die of preventable diseases.


Those Nigerians, who witnessed regional governments in the early sixties and during the colonial government, began to reminisce those good old days when people who had focus ran the regions. The regions were self-sustaining, basically dependent on agricultural economy. They developed blueprints for socio-economic growth. Primary education was free and compulsory for some. Higher education was subsidised. The health system was functional and the infrastructure for growth was in place. Indeed, growth was steady. Nigerians were, therefore, forced to make comparison between the good old days and what has become a steady decline into disintegration.



Short of calling for a dismemberment of the entire project, some groups have been cautious to demand for a return to regional government. The Southwest, as far back as 1994, has been calling for a review of the entire political situation. The fulcrum of the position of the geopolitical zone is hinged on the realisation that, "in spite of our natural endowments, high intellect, resourcefulness, and enormous potential, our progress has been severely retarded."
Unless the country is run in a way that some will not suffer vicariously from the laziness of others, federalism in Nigeria is, consequently, a burden from which those, like the Southwest, who want to grow, must disengage.



The case of the Southeast is pathetic. Before the Nigerian civil war, Ndigbo held many aces and was on the path of real growth within Nigeria. Individual and collective skill was available to the Igboman. In the military, academics, economic enterprise and civil service, Ndigbo rated very high. However, all that was lost to the civil war. Full integration back into the mainstream has been a difficult task. Systematic marginalisation and deliberate obstacles have been erected to retard Ndigbo.


The position of Ndigbo at the 1995 Constitutional Conference was that Nigeria should evolve six geopolitical zones, which should be the federating units; and that a presidency with only one term of four years with six vice-presidents to reflect the zones be agreed upon.


This position reflects the anxiety, which the zone has lived with over the years - an overbearing centre and a system that makes it difficult for a president of Igbo extraction to emerge.


The Southeast may not be too comfortable with a return to regionalism. A federation in which the Igboman can rise to the highest office and be free to do business anywhere without let or hindrance would have been preferable.



The South-South has one clear message for the Confab. Resource control has been the theme since soldiers took all the oil resources of the Niger Delta and put it into the Federation Account to share among the states. The sharing formula until recently did not give any preference for the goose that lay the golden egg.


Until the 13 per cent derivation, which is an attempt to assuage feelings of abandonment, the South-South has developed an attitude to take over its resources. Regionalism will allow the South-South to control at least 50 per cent of its earning from crude sales. That will distort the present fiscal allocation formula and some states will not like this.



The argument from the North is that regionalism will work well in the Southwest and the Southeast because the two zones are homogenous in terms of ethnic and linguistic composition. The Kaduna State governor, Alhaji Ahmed Makarfi said this much. And the delegates from the North are threatening to go back home if regionalism is canvassed.


There are questions to raise here. The 19 governors of the North called a Unity Conference last year to show solidarity with one another. At that time, the North was not heterogeneous. Even in the First Republic, the North ran a regional government and it survived. How come regionalism has now become an anathema?


Over-dependence on centre allocation

Very central to Nigeria's political problem is the refusal by the units to develop their economies. The over-dependence of states on the centre for allocation does not allow Nigeria to move forward. Take the debate about the appropriateness of a census exercise, for instance. If states are to generate the resources for their economic survival, nobody will preach to them about the relevance of census. They will be forced to know the number of people they are catering for. And any state that then adds the number of cows and trees to its census figures will do well to cater for such extraneous figures. But because they are dependent on federal allocation, some states are raising untenable objections to an exercise, which ought to be major tool for development.


Regionalism will, therefore, be a hot debate as the weeks go by. But the challenge for the delegates is to grab the bull by the horns, and discuss fundamental restructuring of the polity. There is no better time than now.



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