By Eddy Aghanenu
Nigeria operates a federal system of government or so we are made to believe. What has been masquerading as a federal system is no more different from the unitary system of government practiced by the military. It is not surprising therefore to note that the same system is still being practiced in this civilian era since the operational constitution with a little cosmetic amendment by the national assembly was written by the military. Today, an emperor sits at the centre and all other provisional prefects must bow to his will or else….
Generals Babangida and Abacha bestrode the nation like conquering warlords. Their words were laws. Their transition programmes vividly depict the authoritarian nature of these leaders. IBB decreed two parties into existence. General Abacha became the sole candidate of the five political parties – what Bola Ige calls the “five fingers from a leprous hand.” With the power these leaders had, Nigeria became their personal property to do as they wished.
Chief Obasanjo was not different from former military leaders. He sacked communities at will. Governors who never agreed with him were chased by EFCC. He ensured that Alamiesagha was removed from office. He also ensured that he destroyed his ruling party in order to control it. Those he never liked their faces, he made sure never won election. Ask Atiku! He made sure that Rt Hon Rotimi Amaechi who won the party’s primary was not allowed to contest the election. If not for his doggedness, fighting spirit and belief in the judiciary, Gov Rotimi Amaechi would not have smelt the Government House, Portharcourt. Chief Obasanjo equally and illegally withheld local government allocation accruing to local governments in Lagos State.
The control of power, excess fund at the disposal of the centre are some of the things that lure politicians to aspire to be at the centre. The federating units with more burdens are at the mercies of the emperor at the centre. The lopsided revenue accruing to the centre at the expense of the states make the centre so lucrative that those who are there and are bereft of ideas with negative performance indices are prepared to come back to power at all costs including rigging elections. Unelected spouses of the emperor are wont to publicly scold provincial prefects. Unelected officials at the centre are of the habit of looking down on the elected leaders at the federating units. They use the instruments of coercion at the disposal of the centre to harass elected officials in the states. An elected governor was abducted by an unelected official with the tacit support of the powers that be at the centre. State properties were wantonly destroyed by the said official without even a protest from the centre. In another scenario, the centre became the accuser, the prosecutor and the judge in a local government issue which is within the purview of the State government. The federal government barricaded the said local government with its agents of coercion and prevented business from going on in the said local government secretariat.
This is not a federal system of government but unitary. What business has the Federal government with primary and secondary education? Why should the centre have more than half of the revenue when the states that generate the revenue and have more to do are given less? Why should the federal government through its agency be involved in driver’s license issue? Why should the federal government receive all the revenue generated from mineral resources mining and allocate peanuts to the states where such mineral resources are found? Why can’t there be state police? Why must there be a uniform salary structure when revenue accruing to each state is not the same?
These excesses in power and revenue at the centre are the main attractions why the urge and desire to be at the centre has become a “do or die” affair. It is also the reason why mind boggling figures are declared missing or misappropriated on a daily basis. It is this excessive power and funds at the disposal of the centre that makes it interfere in states like marauding gangs. Any wonder why a minister of works will stop a state government from maintaining or constructing roads when the centre cannot maintain such roads. Those with access to centre easily run to the centre to use the bearing influence of the centre to achieve their selfish means.
This overbearing influence of the centre is playing itself out in Rivers State. It started with an unelected lady publicly rebuking an elected governor. Then the local government issue which the centre blew out of proportion and bared its diabolical fangs in all attempts to cow the vocal and democratic governor. There was also the attempted imposition of a minority over the majority in the State House of Assembly. The latest is the issue of the Chief Judge in the state. The centre through its agency is trying to frustrate the state government from appointing the state’s Chief Judge. The state governor has gone through the due process of appointing a Chief Judge, yet the centre won’t allow it. In a truly federal system, this will not happen.
Some will argue though that the ongoing National Conference will be able to resolve th ese anomalies in the national setup. Unfortunately, this national conference is nothing but a talk shop. It is a charade. It will resolve nothing. The establishment of the conference has no backing in law. Like Chief Obasanjo’s conference, the report of this conference will only end up in the waste bin. The conference has been a political gimmick to remain entrenched at the centre. While the charade lasts, corruption will be on the increase. Impunity on the part of the centre will never wane. The fear of the centre will continue to be the beginning of wisdom for some state chief executives.
There is no democracy yet. We only have civilian rule. A situation where the centre dabbles into the affairs of states and acts like the big brother watching over the states – as it does in Rivers State – will never promote democracy. If there is no true federal system in the country, democracy will continue to be a mirage. As long as there is no true federal system of government and democracy, so long shall we continue to reap underdevelopment, corruption and impunity.
Eddy Aghanenu is on linkedIn