Nigeria@62: Resetting The Federalist Button
By Olawale Rasheed
The convoluted debate about our national existence elicits depression among most citizens. A sense of hopelessness pervades the public space with near zero public trust in government. Increasingly, even the best of patriots is contemplating the worst. Decades as a student of Nigerian public political life however tend to confirm my conviction that a reset of the troubled federal republic is possible.
The status quo across various interests and factions in the country paints the picture of no respite. The caucus in power and the various factions outside are not enjoying the national calamities relentlessly spreading across all sectors. The state of the economy is not just precarious, it is fuelling insecurity and dislocating all regions of the country. Aside from increasing joblessness, the debt overhang is threatening national existence at a time national revenue is insufficient to service trillion naira debt. The fabled national cake is hugely depleted and largely incapable of going around the thieving classes. The source of the battle- the treasury is becoming empty as the likelihood of default on the debt is being projected in some quarters.
Not only is the cake crumbling, but the thieving leaders are also now endangered specie. With banditry, kidnapping, insurgency, militancy, and terrorism in virtually all the regions, the warring leadership assembly faces the possibility of mutually assured destruction unless a button reset is embarked upon. Those who assume that they are safe with their ill-gotten wealth now face existential threats. The millions of idle hands have become agents of insecurity. Leaders can no longer safely visit their communities and if they flee abroad, the growing global searchlight grants them no hidden place.
The totality of the unfolding scenario is the enlightened interest of all for elite consensus. Most settled societies grow so sane out of a collective decision by leaders to be governed by common inviolable rules. A decision is deliberately reached to enforce law and order, create communal and individual wealth, regulate society’s economic processes, levy tax, punish corruption, emphasize public good, place citizens’ welfare above individual interest and submit to the rule of law. Such society accepts democracy as the basis for leadership selection and there is a vow to ensure transparency of electoral conduct.
Each society has to build and sustain elite consensus, an arrangement by leaders on how the society should be governed. From pre-independence to date, this has largely eluded Nigeria. The independence leaders bickered up till the day of independence. The 1960 independence was full of suspicion and ill will among the leaders. That busted open soon after from the Western region later engulfing the whole fledgling federation. So we have never got it right especially in the area of building a national pact to which all nationalities agreed and accepted and subsequently sustained based on the equitable and just application of such pact.
Instead of such a national agreement embodying and protecting the interest of entities making up the federation, we have been swarmed and beclouded by ethnic, religious, and partisan interests. Leaders are ethnic champions rather than national icons. In their respective offices, tribe and religion dictate decisions rather than national interest. Unity in diversity is to many leaders a mere slogan to be deployed to further family and tribal agendas. Increasingly, we know nothing about national interest as elite consensus which forms the basis of national interest is non-existence. In the lower manifestation of our state, tribal interest dominates government and is equated with the national interest. Elite agreement in a region can never replace a nationally agreed template where all interests are protected and catered for.
As it is now, leaders across the country face the prospect of collective destruction unless conscious attention is paid to the collective re-ordering of national life. If leaders fail to act, the possibility of system collapse is a strong possibility. Nigeria is at a point where ethnic and religious interest needs to coalesce into a moderated national agenda in which all parts of the country would have faith and commitment. The reality is that there is no better time for this reform than now when the nation is about to elect a new leader.
Resetting the federalist button is a must for individual and national survival. I identify five areas of rest that may also not be exhaustive but comprehensive enough to set the nation on sustainable revival.
The over-bloated federal system is a disaster waiting to happen. The old justification for a strong center while still valid can be accommodated through a new total adoption of a merged 1960 and 1963 constitutions. The center is handling so many functions that are better left to the states. Devolving powers and financing to the sub-national level is a major condition for the future survival of the Nigerian federation. As much as some presidential candidates have made it a major campaign focus, let it be stressed that restructuring is the requisite life-saving pill for this ailing federation. We cannot afford to play politics with it.
A major challenge facing the nation is the refusal to allow competency as a guiding principle of national decision-making. Hiring and appointing the most qualified into designated offices fast tracks national development. Doing otherwise slows down the wheel of progress even as it dents the reputation of perpetrators. To ensure nobody is left behind, talent hunting can be a national policy such that all regions will be adequately represented. Installing imbeciles in sensitive national offices contributes in no small measure to current national setbacks.
Nigeria must embrace good governance as a basic yardstick for the management of society. As defined by various experts, good governance implies that the exercise of the vested authority is accountable, transparent, predictable, participative, and dynamic.
Quoting a UNDP report, good governance entails participation, that is all men and women should have a voice in decision-making, either directly or through legitimate intermediate institutions that represent their interests. Rule of law is a must such that the legal frameworks should be fair and enforced impartially, particularly the laws on human rights. Governance must be transparent that be built on the free flow of information where processes, institutions, and information are directly accessible to those concerned with them, and enough information is provided to understand and monitor them.
Other attributes include responsiveness of institutions and processes serving all stakeholders; consensus orientation which mediates differing interests to reach a broad consensus on what is in the best interests of the group; equitable treatment where all men and women have opportunities to improve or maintain their well-being; effectiveness and efficiency of processes and institutions which produce results that meet needs while making the best use of resources; accountability of decision-makers in government, to the public, as well as to institutional stakeholders; and strategic vision where leaders and the public have a broad and long-term perspective on good governance and human development.
Public Private Sector Partnership
To build a resilient society of the 21st century, we must match our quest for good governance with the operationalization of strong partnerships between the public and the private sector. The establishment’s aversion to the private sector needs to come to an end if Nigeria is to attain her full potential. Government agencies now have to become a facilitator rather than regulators that currently stifle rather than fast-track development. A government providing enabling environment for business is likely to attain better economic growth as this will enhance job creation and expansion of the Gross National Domestic Product.
From President Muhammadu Buhari to all the presidential candidates, a sacred assignment is at hand. For Mr. President, his best legacy is probably not going to be his successes or failure in the last seven or so years. His handling of the transition is a critical indicator of his accomplishment in office. In specific terms, the Number One Citizen must remove the toga of a partisan leader. Hence, he must enforce free and fair elections alongside impartial judicial adjudication of election disputes. Policing neutrality and open commitment to rule of law among others will affirm his positive place in history. The urge and the temptation to impose a successor must be resisted at all costs.
To the candidates, whoever wins cannot retain the business as usual model. Fundamental reform is a must for national survival. Another germane thing to note is that the North should not be punished for whatever excesses of the last few years. National restructuring can only take place where the past serves as a corrective yardstick and not as a weapon of punishment. An accommodated North will be more amenable to restructuring when it can get amnesty for her recent shortcomings.
As a new President will by this time next year be delivering his first national independence address, presidential candidates should produce a measurable blueprint through which they hope to salvage the nation. A costed plan of action embracing good governance and federalist restructuring is a must-demand from all contenders.
Nigeria urgently needs a federalist button reset. Who will affect it? Atiku, Obi, Tinubu or Kwankwaso?
● Olawale Rasheed, a public affairs analyst, writes from Abuja. He can be reached at email@example.com