Saturday, January 16, 2010

Restructuring the (Nigerian) Federation (2)

Written by Edwin Madunagu

IN the first part of this piece, I posed four related questions: One: What type of federation is currently being operated in Nigeria? Two: What type of federation is prescribed by the 1999 Constitution? Three: What type of federation is desirable in Nigeria? Four: What social-political forces currently exist, or can be created, to fight for the realisation of a desirable federal system? Having looked at aspects of the first two questions we may now turn to the last two.

In lieu of preface, let us briefly review relevant experiences in five countries - three of which no longer exist: the Soviet Union, Yugoslavia, Czechoslovakia, Somalia and Rwanda. In 1922, the Soviet Union was constituted as a Union of 15 constituent republics. The Constitution granted each republic the right to self-determination up to, and including, the right to secede from the Union. The ruling Bolshevik Party was serious about the secession clause and, to demonstrate this, the Union was constituted in such a way that each Union republic shared borders with at least one foreign country. This made secession, if decided upon, practicable. A "land-locked" republic, completely surrounded by some other Union republics, would find it impossible to secede. The same principle and practical approach informed the constitution of Czechoslovakia and Yugoslavia.

The first two of these three countries - the Soviet Union and Czechoslovakia - disintegrated peacefully in the early 1990s partly because none of their constituent, or federating, republics was "land-locked'. Yugoslavia, with six constituent republics, could have gone the same way but for a factor which we in Nigeria must ponder seriously: Serb nationalists within and outside Serbia - the largest constituent republic - did not want the break-up of the country. But when disintegration became inevitable, Serb nationalists responded with two alternative strategies: to create a Greater Serbia by incorporating, into Serbia, ethnic Serbs outside Serbia, or to create independent Serb enclaves in constituent republics dominated by non-Serbs. We know the result.

Somalia has no "ethnic problem" as such. Beyond that the country is a Muslim majority nation. What happened in 1991 was that an attempted coup d'etat led to a break-up of the country into armed clans that descended into parallel civil wars and anarchy. Somalia has had no central government since then. And the country is today a model of "failed state". The tragedy of ethnic-divided Rwanda is still fresh in our collective memory: An armed struggle to remove a government in 1994 led to the assassination of a president and triggered the slaughter of almost a million people. Nigeria has profound lessons to learn from the experiences of these five countries - that is, if the lessons of our (1967-1970) Civil War are not sufficient.

Now to Nigeria. I subscribe to a geopolitical restructuring of the country as an immediate task. As basis for this particular discussion we may turn to the Draft Constitution proposed in August 2006 by Peoples' National Conference (PNC). In place of the present 36-state structure, the draft Constitution proposed a federation of 18 ethnically-based regions. Twelve of the regions are mono-ethnic and six are multi-ethnic. A map of Nigeria's ethnic nationalities sharing the 18 regions is shown on the cover of the document.

The proposed mono-ethnic nationality regions, each of which is proposed as a federation, are, in alphabetical order: Ibibio, Ijaw, Igbo, Urhobo, Edo, Yoruba, Tiv, Nupe, Fulah, Gbagyi, Kanuri, and Hausa. The six multi-ethnic nationality regions, each of which is also proposed as a federation, are: South East, East Delta, West Delta, West Middle Belt, Central Middle Belt, and East Middle Belt. According to the draft Constitution under review, the federating entities in the Federal Republic of Nigeria will be the regions. State creation will be the responsibility of the regions and the states will be responsible for the creation of local government areas.

My first observation here is that the People's National Conference actually took pains to list Nigeria's ethnic nationalities in the Draft Constitution. This should be commended. This level of thoroughness and seriousness has set a standard for what has to be done to produce a new Constitution for Nigeria. It also reminds me of what Chief Tayo Akpata said recently in an interview, namely, that the task of reviewing or re-writing the Constitution is too serious to be left entirely in the hands of the National Assembly. Chief Akpata, the Ima of Benin, is a veteran progressive politician and administrator and - before then - an activist nationalist. Yes, a new Constitution which is as inevitable as it is desirable - if the country must survive and remain one - cannot be, and must not be, the exclusive task of the National Assembly.

The second observation is that going by the proposed restructuring based on the Ethnic Nationalities Map of Nigeria on the cover and last page of the document before me, some of the 18 proposed federating regions are actually "land-locked" in the sense the term has been used in this piece. The "land-locked" regions, as I can see, include: Edo, Igbo, Central Middle-Belt, Nupe and Gbagyi. Maybe there are more; but that is what I can see. The point is that the Draft Constitution includes the secession clause - which I endorse completely. But it does not provide for the practicability of secession by ensuring that no federating region is "land-locked". To this I object - also completely.

The third observation strengthens the main fear I have concerning restructuring along ethnic nationality lines, or rather, along strictly ethnic nationality lines. Drawing the boundaries in some areas will be almost impossible through conferences - whether national or not, whether sovereign or not. It can be done only through war or other forms of armed imposition. Let me say here - with all responsibility and humility - that I was one of the first to propose the (regional) restructuring of Nigeria and I was also one of the first to introduce the term Sovereign National Conference (SNC). This was as early as 1992. But I knew, and still know, the limits of conferences in dealing with the question of power - especially when rapacious, selfish, oppressive, anti-people, capitalist-oriented and utterly unpatriotic classes and blocs, as in Nigeria, are in power.

We may summarise the three points so far made: the listing of ethnic nationalities is a commendable undertaking; some proposed regions are "land-locked", and this is problematic, to say the least; and there are limits to what conferences can achieve in drawing up boundaries between ethnic nationalities in Nigeria. But having said this, I have to re-state my belief that Nigeria has to be restructured and reconstituted, through appropriate constitutional arrangements, along lines that eliminate ethnic domination, enhance self-determination at the grassroots, promote popular political participation, radically raise the quality of life across the whole country and radically reduce regional disparities. This is a big agenda.

Adopting current political language, I support resource control, fiscal federalism and true federalism. In particular, I see no difference between Regions collecting revenues and paying taxes or making contributions to the Federal Government and Federal Government collecting revenues and sharing with the Regions. All provided, of course, that the principles are clear and just and, more importantly, provided, that popular-democratic and pan-Nigerian forces are in power.

Yes. The social forces that can fight for a just and democratic restructuring must be popular-democratic (and in the present historical context, also radical and revolutionary) and pan-Nigerian. Any social forces that already believe that Nigeria must either break up or be restructured strictly along ethnic nationality lines cannot fight for the type of restructuring that I believe is desirable and realisable. I am not afraid of disintegration. I am only afraid of the inevitable bloody process - given the history and experiences of Nigeria and the level of national integration. Why should one be afraid? If the ruling classes and blocks continue to behave as if Nigeria is their property and Nigerians are their slaves - to exploit as they wish - and if popular-democratic and pan-Nigerian forces cannot remove them from power, then a fate worse than disintegration will befall us.

We now come to the question of governmental structure at the centre. I shall be sketchy and will draw from the interview, earlier mentioned, that was recently granted by Chief Tayo Akpata to The Guardian and published in the paper's edition of Sunday, July 5, 2009. Modifying Chief Akpata's suggestion, we may proposed two possible systems - each of which is a mixture of presidential and parliamentary systems of government. In the first system, a newly elected National Assembly meets to elect members of the Presidential Council - one member for each federating region. The Council is chaired, in rotation, by its members.

The Collective and Rotational Presidency described above may either be an executive one or share executive power with a cabinet headed by a Prime Minister. Each alternative produces a different system. Finally, for any new system, the measure of its desirability, in the final analysis, is the degree to which the working and toiling people, together with all other oppressed segments of the population, including women, liberate themselves and assume control of their lives and the means of reproducing their lives and, by so doing, liberate the society as a whole. In other words, without a promise of popular liberation neither the present Nigeria nor a restructured one is desirable.

* Concluded.

(culled from