A decentralized federation was the preferred design of Nigeria’s independence seekers. It also remains the best means of ensuring the sanity of the nation’s diverse units and the whole. If this revised structure can be termed a confederacy, its pendulum would swing towards more autonomy for its constituent units while safeguarding the coordinating and sovereign functions of the centre—to levy taxes and to arrest external aggression. Accordingly, constitutional amendments—reflecting extensive consultations across the nation—will be key to effect necessary changes.
Why It Matters
Small is not only beautiful but more manageable. Nigeria is as vast as it is diverse. Excessively centralized governance seems premature for a nation-state that has yet to be fully forged let alone formed. Moreover, unitary government operates best when units are not bludgeoned but voluntarily devolve powers to the centre. Coercive governance from the centre explains why Nigeria’s democracy continues to be malformed and, in need of repeat surgeries.
Decentralization would make constituent pieces more creative, governable, dynamic, involved and responsive. Concurrently, it should engender healthy competition among constituent units as each has a stake to copy best practices from other jurisdictions. Such cross-jurisdictional learning is common in Canada, Britain and the United States.
The Powers of the Constituent Units
Each confederal unit has jurisdiction to harness its own resources in key areas of energy, sanitation, water, health, education, commerce, roads and policing. An equalization formula will ensure fair allocation of resources across units; a unit’s power to tax its citizens will match or even exceed the centre’s.
The Functions of the Centre
Under a confederal arrangement, the role of the central government will be primarily to set national standards, to foster cooperation among the units (read: in areas of shared jurisdiction such as cross-border security and policing, interstate commerce, federal highways, waterways and airways), to coordinate joint initiatives of the states and to lead in key areas of residual jurisdiction, including foreign policy and the army. The centre’s political structure will mirror members’ individual set-up.
The Role of Traditional Rulers
One of the mistakes made following the January 1966 coup that ended Nigeria’s First Republic was the abrogation of traditional rulers from formal governance. Since they constitute key aspects of the nation’s traditions and culture, and remain current, especially, in both the North and South West, traditional rulers need to be woven back into the governance fabric.
Traditional rulers (Bales, Emirs, Ezes, Obas, Sardaunas, Sultans) represent vital human resources that should feature in formal governance where they can be held fully accountable rather than relegated to the back doors of informal politicking. Integrating them into formal governance will require each state having two legislative chambers: a Senate made up of traditional leaders and a House of Commons made up of the people’s representatives. In the Eastern region, in particular ,where traditional rulers are less common or not as paramount as those in the Northern and Western Regions, Senators can be elites with conferred traditional titles.
In the United Kingdom, both the House of the Lords and the House of Commons share policy-making functions in a manner that reflects the iron-sharpens-iron effects of tradition versus modernity; of the elites versus the people. In the United States and Canada, the Senate has a regional balancing function: each region has proportionately the same number of Senators. Nigeria can have the best of the worlds: she can blend tradition with modernity, balance powers between elites and peoples, while assuring regional equity.
At independence, virtually all Nigerian nationalists saw confederacy as the best path to nationhood. Slowness of centralized administration to resolve security, health, education and energy issues further motivates a confederal design. If each state controls its own resources, with an equalization formula governing how revenues with the centre are shared, long-standing acrimony over domination by any ethnic group should dissipate. Ditto, formalizing the role of traditional rulers in governance should promote greater accountability, harness valuable human resources and effect balance among elites, peoples and regions. To these ends, an amended constitution devolving greater powers to the states from the centre will be in order.
Fabowale Male, a Nigerian-Canadian, writes from Ottawa, Canada