Federalism: A Call for National Dialgoue? By Idris Evuti
Like many countries, Nigeria is also practicing a representative democracy; where citizens, elect those who will represent them at the different levels of government. They (our elected leaders) have the mandated to run the business of government on our behalf. Since, we cannot all be Chairmen, Legislatures, Governors and Presidents at the same time – this is the indirect system of representation. However, democracy as a system of government is not a means to an end, without having a particular operating formula. And, Nigeria is adopting federalism as its formula.
Federalism is a system that suggests the sharing of governmental powers between the central and the composites units (in the case of Nigeria, the federal, state and local governments). The upshot of this arrangement gave birth to what is known as the exclusive, residual and concurrent lists. (Explanations on these lists will come in my subsequent piece)
Consequently, negotiations and consultations are important aspect of a federal system of government. These negotiations can either be between the different tiers of government, arms of government or between the ethnic, religious and cultural groups that make up the federation. These negotiations can be inform of a plebiscite, referendum, dialogue or conference.
Oftentimes, am bewildered to hear or see people talk about ‘true federalism’. But, as a student of social science, and political Science in particular, permit me the audacity to correct this erroneous notion thus: there is nothing like a true federalism! What scholars have postulated is the forms and degree of federalism. That is, federalism moves between the centripetal end and the centrifugal end on the continuum. When it moves towards the centripetal end, the central government is vested with more powers. But, if it moves towards the centrifugal end, the federating states have more powers.
Every society has got its own peculiarities, and as such, it is sheer ignorance to assume Nigeria is not practicing a ‘true federalism’; or is a ‘false federalism’. Although, am not refuting the fact that there are striking shortcomings with Nigeria’s federalism. Of course, the over dependent on the federal allocation by the states, resource control and structural imbalance etc need to be addressed.
In 1963, when Nigeria became a federal republic, the then leaders promoted sectionalism, and identify more with their various regions, than the central government. National interest was obviously relegated and accorded little importance. They were blind of the fact that an expedition to federalism ought to begin with Nation building, unity of purpose, clearly defined ways of revenue generation and allocation and other necessary fiscal arrangements.
Now to the crux of the matter; National dialogue to be or not to be?
This issue has being on the front burner of our National discourse, for sometimes now. The proposed National dialogue is not a shocker, and as well, not alien to the democratic culture. Yes, we should dialogue. Because, to ensure the peaceful coexistence of the various federating entities and groups we should; especially at times of exigency, sit on negotiation tables.
Human societies are like the mechanical systems. They comprise of various sub-systems (units), and like the mechanical system (machine), the society also; especially under a democratic arrangement, needs constant maintenance to keep the system functional. To ensure proper maintenance of a society practicing federalism as a system; the federating entities have to strike a fair balance in terms of devolution of power and fiscal matters. On this note, thus far a justification for a National conference.
However, first and foremost, the responsibility of government under any kind of system – federalism, unitary or confederation et cetera is to bring development to its citizens. As a people, Nigerians are set to celebrate 100 years of living together next year. Yet, living a decent life, where the basic development indices are guaranteed remains our greatest mirage.
Credible elections, purposeful leadership and accountability are more paramount in a democracy than a National dialogue. Corruption and insecurity remains the major challenges facing Nigeria as a Nation today; and they are not caused by the absence of a National conference. To larger extents, the masses tie their fate and confidence; on the ability of the government to conduct free and fair elections – or at least a widely accepted election. It is sad to note that the Prof. Jega led Independent National Electoral Commission recently discovered more than a hundred thousand “ghost voters”. This implies that this figure was manipulated into the actual number of those who voted in the 2011 general elections.
Our leaders, and likewise a vast majority of the populace lack the wisdom of – first things first! It is more rational and civil to demand accountability from those we’ve entrusted with managing of our scarce resource; than supporting a National conference that might end up being a tea party. Or, a dialogue that is likely not to have fair representation across the different social strata of our society. But, the most unfortunate circumstance will be when the recommendations of the National dialogue; are left at the mercies of library shelves, office cabinets and document vendors around government establishments.
Still arguing from the development premise, instead of embarking on a National dialogue; completely engineered by the power that be. Nigerians should ask their leaders these three fundamental questions, as posited by Dudley Seers, a development studies scholar:
i) What is happening to unemployment?
ii) What has been happening to poverty?
iii) What is happening to inequality?
For being a just God, the lord has made poverty, unemployment and injustice to know no boundary; but to speak and understand all tribes, and subscribe to all religions. Nigerians have lived together for ten decades, and have shared the happy and sad, productive and most trial moments, in the spirit of togetherness. As such, things won’t fall apart, neither will this house fall, if Nigerians don’t deliberate on the basis of their existence at this time when there are more pressing issues craving for government intervention.
Idris Evuti can be reached on 080-36912840 or @idrisevuti on twitter.
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