Nigeria map
Nigeria map

On 24 May 1966, a foundation of what would become a major problem to today’s Nigeria was naively and innocently laid by Major General Thomas Johnson Umunnakwe Aguiyi Ironsi through decree 34. Decree 34 was also known as unification decree by the Aguiyi Ironsi’s regime.

According to the provisions of decree 34, “Nigeria shall on 24th May 1966 (in this decree referred to as ‘the appointed day’) cease to be a Federation and shall accordingly as from that day be a Republic, by the name of the Republic of Nigeria, consisting of the whole of the territory which immediately before that day was comprised in the Federation”. This decree made Nigeria a unitary state and removed its federal structures believing that would bring unity but uniformity is no guarantee for unity.

For the benefit of expanded understanding, a unitary system is one level centralized government without any semi-autonomous component units. This means that there is no state or regional government under unitary system. Any branch of government below the government at the center is an extension of government at the center without any form of freedom to act without central government approvals. This denotes that every aspect of government including political and fiscal structures of governance are under one centralized government. Some of the countries using this systems are but not limited to Ghana, United Kingdom, France, Japan, etc.

After Ironsi was removed and killed through highly bloody coup led by Gen. Yakubu Gowon, Nigeria was reversed to federal system only politically without its fiscal structures. Even the political stricture was a limited version of what it used to be. Prior to Ironsi’s regime, every region was run like a semi-autonomous component of a greater Nigeria. Regions controlled their resources and some percentage due to the government at the center was appropriately remitted. Development was faster because every region understood that their destiny lies within. We had the era Pyramid was built with groundnut, we were world largest exporter of cocoa and palm oil, coal was equally exported and so many other minerals. That was how Awolowo’s government could grant and sustain free education for western region but today even with our so called petro dollar, no state can grant and sustain free education. Governor Okorocha of Imo state tried it and failed woefully and Imo state is yet to recover from that venture.

Few weeks ago, our vice president prof. Yemi Osinbajo cannily and subtly withdrew his previous stance on Nigeria going back to true fiscal federation. He gave his reason to be that regionalism will promote ethnic bigotry and division. This action alone can be titled or captioned “the legendary ideology turn coat of the century”. The major discussion is not the type of federating structure or component units that will come with the restructuring but the fiscal ambiance of the federation which many call “resource control”. If Mr. Vice president is afraid of Lagos political gang losing control of Lagos state to greater western region, the states structures can remain but resource control must be reintroduced. Mr. Vice president favours the introduction of state police and my question is, if 29 states can’t pay current civil servants’ salaries with our present system, how can they accommodate policemen and women in their payroll?

Everybody knows Mr. Vice President’s standing today on restructuring (which could change tomorrow as it fluctuates) is more popular in the north than south. That he is a Vice president does not mean he must agree with Mr. President in all things. His resignation is not expected before his disagreement as we do not have Parliamentary system of government which demands that. He is also an elected political officer of the government and not appointed. He has a lot in his favour to speak his mind and stand by it. So why sudden change of coat? It will be very bad to start playing man Friday to President Buhari in a matter of repositioning Nigeria for greater success.

Gowon regime was responsible to reverting Nigeria back to federal system but kept Nigeria centralized fiscally. Anyways, Gowon has no power or authority to change many mistakes of his regime but he could lend his voice as influence for restructuring which he did recently. The six geopolitical zones we have can be activated and be called regions, states, parishes, cantons, districts or provinces whatever name we care but let the main content of restructuring reflect fiscally. The issue of concurrent list should be eliminated and a sharp demarcation of duties and powers between federal government and the component units be clearly spelt out. Monetary, defense, foreign policies should be kept exclusively for federal government. Dr. Goodluck Jonathan’s administration built and completed 50 Almajiri schools which falls under primary education and people are comfortable that federal government is involving itself in what states should handle.

Bosnia and Herzegovina are able to remain one country and develop according to their power because they are federating. Argentina, Brazil, Canada, Russia, India, USA, to name just a few successful federal states. Nigeria is the only country practicing what I call “unitary federalism”. Lack of speedy development, high rate of nepotism, lack of creativity and over dependence on mono-product like Nigeria and petroleum are just the very few appalling features of “unitary federalism.”

Since Aguyi Ironsi’s mistake of unification decree and Gowon mistake of introducing unitary federation, Nigeria has never really progressed. Over concentration of governmental power and resources at the center is tearing Nigeria apart and taking its toll on this great nation potential. This is why elections in Nigeria are too feverish because there is an untaught notion that whoever becomes the president controls everything and this belief has over time trickle down the lower levels of government. Restructuring will accommodate regional differences, speedy and capacity development, decentralization of federal powers, eliminate marginalization (whether real or spooky), healthy development contribution among federating units and so much more benefits.

State of California in the USA was able to overtake France as the world’s 6th richest economy simply because of this – true federalism. They control their resources, make real planning and budgeting and actually move at the speed and pace their ability can carry them. This is just one out of 50 states that make up the United States of America. United States is where you never hear any state complain of being marginalized because it is not in the federal government power to do so.

Buhari’s APC led government can start by implementing national conference report or call for another one. Ya’Aduah’s administration brought amnesty as a temporary solution to one of Nigeria’s multitude of problems, Goodluck’s government sustained it but went ahead to initiate steps to more permanent solutions by convening national conference which APC government is playing politics with. The earlier those standing in opposition to restructuring realize that there is no going back on it, the better for Nigeria. Restructuring can actually save Nigeria from breaking into pieces and Nigeria’s break up is possible, do not say it is not.

Obi Ebuka Onochie can be reached via [email protected]

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