My view and that of International Society for Civil Liberties & the Rule of Law were recently sought by some media establishments in Nigeria including the authorities of the Guardian Newspaper concerning the unfolding social happenings in the country and their spiralling negative effects on the polity; leading to some highly placed citizens of Nigeria calling for the return to Regionalism. Though our said view lent to the Newspaper under reference meant to be reflected in its latest edition (Sunday, 15th of May 2016) on the topic was omitted, but we are compelled by compelling circumstances to expand the pie and articulate the following position as our contribution to the raging debate for the purposes of “escalating and democratizing” well thought out views associated with the debate and taking same beyond the boundaries of Nigerian “paper media newsroom gamesmanship”..
Prominent among those that called for the return of Nigeria to Regionalism is Barrister Ike Ekweremadu, who is also the deputy president of the Senate of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. Those Regionalism advocates are further divided into three schools of establishment, scholarship and activist groups. While the calls from the establishment and scholarship schools are narrower in scope (i.e. hinged on economic melt-down being experienced by sub-national entities or states), that espoused by activist school is larger or broader in scope (i.e. inevitability of a National Question & its timeliness) and it is heightened by violent approaches to the issues of democratic governance and its fundamental elements; adopted by General Muhammadu Buhari, the current president of Nigeria.
We make bold to say that the centrality of the above argument for or against Regionalism in Nigeria lies within the confines of a National Question. The question as whether the states will continue to be retained or be replaced with Regionalism or change or retention of present fiscal or revenue formulae, alone, is incapable of arresting and addressing holistically the age-long disunity and socio-economic backwardness of Nigeria.
Therefore, the arguments of the two schools under reference are out-rightly dismissive and fire-brigade approach because economic status, alone, being cited by the two schools as sole reason necessitating clamour for return to Regionalism or otherwise; is grossly an insignificant ground to alter the existence of “statism” in Nigeria or creation of new regionalism in the country. That is to say that clamours for abolition of states and creation of Regionalism for sole purpose of addressing the economic melt-down of the states, are too parochial, narrow-minded and lazily premised.
If “economic buoyancy” is a fundamental reason for the existence of sub-national entities or states, or even national entities or countries; then poor countries like Benin Republic, Macedonia, Albania, Comoros Island, Djibouti, Laos, Nepal, Haiti, Fiji Island, etc would have fizzled out long ago and got permanently disbanded out of existence.
The stark realities behind the present economic crises in most, if not all the states in Nigeria are extensively self-inflicted and self-invited. There is gross corporate laziness on the part of most, if not all the chief executives of the affected states. Flamboyancy, over-sized government or cabinet composition, wasteful spending, parochialism, primitive lust for property acquisition and lifestyles, greed and graft are also responsible at large scale. To these states chief executives and their conspiratorial state lawmakers and their principal leaderships, governance is no longer a call to serve but an opportunity to loot, plunder and run governance as business enterprises or private companies.
Take the issue of borrowing, for instance, why must Nigeria’s rich and middle rich states go borrowing and for what reasons or purposes? Is borrowing a must? Typical example is Lagos State, which is the richest state or sub-national entity in Nigeria in terms of non-federal allocations or IGR and annual cumulative accruals; yet the state is the most indebted in Nigeria. Lagos is one of the smallest land-massed states in Nigeria, measuring about 4,211 square kilometres; yet the most infrastructurally developed in Nigeria. The state is also the most urbanized in the country having witnessed infrastructural development as far back as over 155 years ago or 1861. The state is presently heavily indebted despite being a N300 billion – N350 billion or $1.5 billion-$1.75 billion annual economy. Its internally generated revenue alone for 2015 was put at N288 billion.
Lagos currently has over N500 billion internal and external debts. The question is: Is Lagos State supposed to borrow? Will the state crash if it does not borrow? Did Anambra State under Peter Obi crash for refusing to borrow? How come Anambra State under Obi left tens of billions of naira in cash and investments without borrowing and with appreciable infrastructural turn-around in the State? What is the size of Lagos State’s monthly wage bills? What is supposed to be its monthly wage bills? What is the percentage of infrastructural challenge in Lagos State particularly virgin or new infrastructures considering its highly urbanized and infrastructural development level? What will it take Lagos State to run its supposedly maintenance governance without getting sunk in serial indebtedness?
The same problems above are also found in other buoyant States like FCT, Ogun, Kano, Delta, Bayelsa, Akwa Ibom and Rivers States, and to an extent, Edo, Abia and Imo States; a situation whereby richer States are more heavily indebted locally and internationally than the poorer States of the Northeast, Northwest and North-central zones and their counterparts in Southeast and Southwest zones. Their States’ chief executives in conspiracy with their States assemblies have not only milked their States dry, but also mortgaged them in serial indebtedness with virtually no innovative ideas of how to turn their States positively around beyond the teething shores of indebtedness and by cutting their coats according to their sizes.
What do you make of a State Executive Council, composed of 600 to over 1000 cabinet size with billions of naira spent monthly in allowances and media image laundering? How on earth will a democratic governor elected to serve his people and improve their socio-economic lives turns himself into a reigning king or queen. A civilian governor that brandishes a traditional elephant tusk or horse tail with agbada and is entertained by drummers in all his official governance outings, locally, nationally and internationally; is nothing but “Festus Okotie Eboh of our time”; and such a governor is not taken seriously in the scale of real democratic governance particularly before the international development institutions.
Also, owing to loopholes and deformities in Sections 7 (parasitism of LGA system in the hands of States Executives & Legislatures) and 162 (6) (State-LGA Joint account) of the 1999 Constitution, 70% or more of statutory monthly federation Local Government Councils’ allocations are maliciously diverted by the States and their Legislatures; yet they continuously complain of dearth of funds. From the foregoing, it is elementarily clear that those clamouring for the return to Regionalism on sole account of addressing the States’ economic melt-down are deceiving Nigerians and being economical with the truth.
However, Nigeria as a country is long overdue for a National Question and its majoritarian answer. Absence of a National Question has retarded and will continue to retard the national development, unity and cohesion in Nigeria as a country. From military cabals of northern oligarchs to Obasanjo’s civilian presidency nurse-maided by a cabal of ex military generals; to the present “Tinubu/Miyatti Allah oligarchy”, this long overdue National Question has been vehemently resisted by the referenced above. But the more it is cabalistically resisted, the more its immunity to such resistance stirs up unquenchably. In the world over, “rigid sovereignty or absolute sovereignty” is steadily waning and it is being out-fashioned by “citizens’ sovereignty or sovereignty as a responsibility”.
A National Question is a must and inevitable in Nigeria, otherwise the country will continue to rigmarole in absurdities. A National Question simply means a round table gathering of all ethnic nationalities through their representatives by way of proportionality or through the principle of equality; for the purpose of congregation and aggregation of common views and interests of all nationalities on how best to live together in peace and giant national development as a great socio-cultural diverse country or union of regional autonomies; with such congregated and aggregated agreements put to a general referendum of yes or no universal adult suffrage. It is also a National Question Answered when previous national dialogues’ outcomes are revisited, re-modified, updated, expanded or narrowed and popularly implemented with or without referendum or referenda.
Such a National Question or a National Question answered will critically and satisfactorily address the geo-political, geo-ethno-religious, geo-agricultural, geo-legislative, geo-judicial, geo-securitization, geo-environmental, geo-demographic, geo-industrial composition of the country. They can be factored at the end into optional and agreeable political structure by way of “confederacy” or “regionalism”, or “federacy” or “union or league of autonomous States/Regions of Nigeria”; or better still, “independent States of the former Federal Republic of Nigeria”.
“Doing everything to keep Nigeria together, even with self death and State violence”, is a presidential over-statement and akin to Mikhail Gorbachev’s unheeded early warning signals’ statement in then Union of Soviet Socialist Republic in the inevitable dying days of the Union; which eventually died in 1991. When the time for a National Question reaches its peak and its resistance continues, it can snowball into calamitous consequences with unquenchable repercussions. That is to say answers to a National Question have peaceful and violent outcomes, depending on the wisdom and foresight or otherwise of the managers of the political territory with such inevitable National Question.
Instances abound. The National Question of Czechoslovakia was well and peacefully answered leading to its Velvet Revolution of 29th of December 1989; which gave birth to Czech and Slovak Republics. That of the Union of the Soviet Socialist Republics was answered under relatively peaceful atmosphere; leading to peaceful dissolution of the Union and emergence of 15 distinct States of Armenia, Georgia, Lithuania, Turkmenistan, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Moldova, Ukraine, Belarus, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, Uzbekistan, Estonia, Latvia and Tajikistan on 26th of December 1991.
Conversely, the National Question of the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia was answered violently (violent conflict) leading to violent breakup of the country between 1991 and 1992, leading to emergence of seven violent independent States of Bosnia & Herzegovina, Croatia, Kosovo, Macedonia, Montenegro, Serbia and Slovenia.
Emeka Umeagbalasi is board chairman of International Society for Civil & Liberties & the Rule of Law and leader of the South East Based Coalition of Human Rights Organisations (SBCHROs). He is a recipient of a number of local and international rights and humanitarian awards; he is a graduate of Criminology and Security Studies and holds master’s degree candidate of Peace And Conflict Studies. He can be reached by email HERE.
The opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author.