HEADS UP: Arthur Kelly- On Restructuring, Referendum And Federal Character

HEADS UP: Arthur Kelly- On Restructuring, Referendum And Federal Character


In the cacophony of voices calling for Nigeria to be Restructured, Vote for Secession, it is apposite to state clearly what Restructuring and Referendum entails.

To restructure Nigeria means that all the states or regions would properly become a federating units. A federating unit is a part or section of the Federation that has willingly agreed to be part of a federation. It would generate its resources, contribute to the national coffers through taxes and develop at its own pace. The different constituent parts would decide on how they want to fund education at all levels, the importance of religion, the importance of trade, and generate its own power.

In the real sense, power would really be in the States or Regions. The artificiality of a Federal Government which dictates to the States would be gone. It follows that the current practice of going to Abuja every month end to crudely share money would cease. It is an unhealthy practice; it destroys personal initiative and encourages official laziness. Under the restructuring, states are regions would concentrate on generating its resources in order to meet their dreams. States would be more vibrant. Governors would sit up. The people would have a better and greater say in local politics.

Under the present structure, the federal government is encumbered with so many responsibilities and functions than it can effectively discharge and that are at variance with the fundamental constitutional aspiration of true and functional federalism. In so doing, the federal government has become a cog in the wheel of the growth and progress of Nigeria. Structurally and functionally, the country is presently bound to a vicious cycle of political crisis and economic instability – one feeding the other. Many of the issues we are having now can be addressed with commitment to proper decentralization and devolution of powers.

Referendum is a vote in which everyone (or nearly everyone) of voting age can take part in to answer sensitive national questions thereby guiding policy makers on the direction popular with the people.

In less than two years, the United Kingdom (UK) has held two referendum to settle some thorny socio-political questions plaguing one of the oldest political unions in the world. It is no longer news that they voted in a referendum on June 23, 2016 to decide their continued membership in the European Union (EU).

Holding two plebiscites in less than two years clearly portrays Britain as a truly democratic union that does not leave all the decision-making process in the hands of the career political elites whose judgements are often tainted by selfish motives. Engaging the common man in a vital decision process affecting him gives him a sense of belonging and, even if the majority turns out to be wrong, it would be a collective responsibility.

Referendum equally brings wider perspectives into public debates thereby broadening the understanding of policy makers and preventing the enactment of myopic laws. It is the most natural way of gauging public opinions on delicate national issues in all decent modern democracies.

In Nigeria, there are agitations that have been rocking our unity for ages. Some elements in the South East are agitating for the independence of the region due to blatant marginalization over the years. Absence of seaport in a commercially-oriented area, total disrepair of almost all the federal roads in the zone as well as lopsided composition of the present federal government against them are some instances of this political exclusions. The push of the Niger Delta people for resource control, agitations against decades of oil spillage and environmental degradation are always formidable challenges to every president elected or unelected in this country. The bloody clashes between herdsmen and farmers in some parts of the country are another matter that calls for urgent national discourse. Some States and social commentators are clamouring for state police, equitable revenue sharing formula and local government autonomy yet all these have fallen on the deaf ears of our leaders over the years breeding sporadic violence and tense political atmosphere everywhere. Issues like these ought to be decided through referendum.

However, it might interest you to know that there is a dubious error that there is no referendum in the 1999 constitution despite series of amendments it has undergone. Ours is one of the few constitutions in the world that are perpetually under amendment yet it has not tackled the chronic problems staring us in the face.

What did Nigeria do in the short-lived First Republic that is different from the issues canvassed here? The kernel of this worn argument is a review of the revenue allocation formula. That doesn’t amount to restructuring.

In 1983 and then in the 1990s those who felt shut out of power agitated for sovereign national conference or confederation, just a few years after the adoption of American presidential democracy which pundits had claimed had the cure for all Nigeria’s ills. What in the current arrangement stops any state from implementing free education at all levels, for instance? Nigeria borrowed the United States of America’s presidential system by name and not by statutes.

Nigeria’s problems are made in Nigeria and the solutions to them are not far fetched. As long as corruption remains a national ‘anthem’, there is no system that may make any sense even if you import the system in heaven to the country!

Nigeria is at it current bend of self-serving, self-seeking, avaricious kleptomaniac leadership who do not have the interest of the nation at heart, no matter what system we adopt. Whether we stay together or separate, if our problems are not properly fixed, we will keep running from pillar to post.

We need to do the right things.



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