Too late in the campaign to ‘talk federalism’? By Ropo Sekoni

yoruba exhibitsWhat is wrong is for Yoruba groups to confuse the demand of the Yoruba for restoration of federalism with the recommendations of the 2014 national conference convened by President Jonathan.

With apology to my other readers, this column today will focus on persistent questions in the last few days from my politically-charged readers about the place of federalism in a presidential campaign that is supposed to be about good governance, anti-corruption, national security, employment, etc.

On ‘why it is the Yoruba people that are shouting loudest about federalism this close to the presidential election,’ there is nothing wrong with any nationality or region choosing to introduce an issue or agenda that is of significance to it at any time during the campaign. The Yoruba have been in the forefront of the demand for restoration of federalism since Alao Aka-Bashorun popularised the phrase ‘Political Restructuring’ of Nigeria and Chief Enahoro’s Movement for National Reformation, NADECO, and PRONACO included the matter of sovereign national conference in the list of demands during and after the struggle against the last phase of military dictatorship. In another sense, it is conceivable that the absence of federalism has thrown up such problems as corruption, unemployment, lack of security, etc.

There is also nothing wrong with Yoruba political or socio-cultural groups choosing to bring the issue of federalism into the campaign at this point. In fact, to not do so now is not to be sufficiently honest with the next administration, regardless of who wins the election. What is wrong is for Yoruba groups to confuse the demand of the Yoruba for restoration of federalism with the recommendations of the 2014 national conference convened by President Jonathan. Even President Jonathan himself said several times that he did not convene the conference to gain any political advantage but to provide a platform for a national dialogue. This may be why President Jonathan had not campaigned on the strength of his involvement in the campaign in regions other than the Southwest until his supporters in the Yoruba region sponsored special campaign events on the conference.

That other concerned citizens and groups (such as the Yoruba Assembly) have joined the fray of discussing federalism almost on the eve of the presidential election is also in order. It is important for the two presidential candidates to be made aware of minimalist and maximalist positions on the matter of federalism and to know the difference between those who are clamouring for devolution of a few administrative functions and those who seek fundamental changes in the sharing of power and responsibilities among federating units and the central government. It is proper for each of the presidential candidates to know the specific demands of each of the constituent units of the country, ahead of voting and assumption of power. Electoral democracy is not only about those seeking power to present a programme of action to the electorate, it also allows citizens to bring their own programmes to the attention of those seeking to govern them. Thus, bringing the issue of federalism back to the table at this time is in order.

What is out of order is for any group to claim that the recommendations of the 2014 national conference represents what the Yoruba want in 2015 and beyond. That two Yoruba groups plan to meet on the same day (one in Lagos and another in Ibadan) to push the matter of federalism into the campaign rhetoric is not unusual. The Afenifere and its supporters have a right to sell the Jonathan conference to voters, but they are wrong to say that the recommendations from the conference represent what the Yoruba want from the next political dispensation. Nothing is also amiss about the Yoruba Assembly, an organisation that has championed in the last few years the call for genuine federalism, to remind Yoruba people about which programmes to push to the table of the next president and the next legislature, as no president can unilaterally restore federalism.

The Yoruba Assembly must let voters know the views of Yoruba self-determination groups on recommendations of the 2014 national dialogue, as stated by its promoters below:

“States can now create employment and develop their own states. Each state can have its own constitution, its own police force, can have its own prison service, can create its own local governments and in addition, in the economic domain, solid minerals that had been the exclusive preserve of the federal government since independence, have now been brought to the concurrent list; creation ofself-funding regional institutions” in order to encourage developmental efforts among cooperating states”

a.           Creation of  Self-funding Regional Institutions among Cooperating States

Recommending a self-funding economic agency without fiscal federalism that gives the power to raise revenue for development at the sub-national level is nothing more than self-deception. A country in which the states or federating units depend on allocation from the centre cannot call itself a federal system. None of the federations in the world: Australia, Belgium, Brazil, Canada, Germany, Spain, Switzerland, United Arab Emirate, and the U.S.A., operates on the model of state dependency on allocations from the centre recommended by the 2014 national conference. A self-funding regional institution is another bureaucracy to occlude the removal of the power of sub-national governments to generate revenue for its own development and pass some of such revenue to the central government for national projects.

b.           States as “federating Units” that can have their own Constitutions

Insisting that existing states are federating units without giving any consideration to economic viability of such units is to deliberately endorse the erosion by military dictators over the years of the political structure and government system upon which the peoples of Nigeria obtained independence as one country in 1960. It should be left to a plebiscite in each state to determine if it wants to join other contiguous states to form a region or remain as discrete units with constitutions. What is the use of the power of writing a constitution given to a state that has to go the central government for monthly allocation? What is significance of a suffocating federal presence in each state for citizens’ human and civil rights and good governance?  For example is Ekiti State today, where we now have 6 legislators in control of the State Assembly as the majority while the remaining 17 are considered minority because the centre is supporting that abnormality, a federating unit or a subjugated one? It will be an insult to the memory of Chief Obafemi Awolowo for any group to say that the recommendations from the conference have complied with the federal system that Chief Awolowo practiced in Western Region and upon which he struggled to demand improvement in his writings.

c.            Each State can create its own Local government.

If the central government will retain and disburse all the funds for local governments, it is dishonest to say that the power to create local governments at the state level is a gain in the direction of federalism. The reluctance to move away from the structure imposed by military dictators instead of returning to the autonomy of each state to fund its local governments is what makes the 2014 national conference a distraction that must not be passed to the next administration by Jonathan or Buhari. This represents further distortion of the federal system.

d.           State Police

State police is a consequence and not the cause of federalism as supporters of the Jonathan Conference want people in the Yoruba region to believe. Right now, states depend almost entirely on federal allocations to pay their workers’ salaries. State police is to be funded from received allocations at the same time that the number of states is to move to 54. We have also been told that the allocation accruing to the centre is reduced by 10%. But the increase in the number of states would have already made nonsense of the increase to states, as 54 states (rather than 36) would still share the new percentage of allocation to states. Reducing or increasing the amount of allocations is not fiscal federalism by any stretch of imagination. Such determinations are precisely what is wrong with the unitary system the Jonathan conference has ‘panel beaten’. Fiscal federalism proceeds from the shared control of economic and fiscal policies by national and sub-national governments.

Nigeria before and after elections needs contestation of ideas to improve governance of the country. The Yoruba Assembly should have no apology for challenging exaggerations about the significance of the 2014 national dialogue.