No section of the Nigerian state can claim correctly that its people are better served by the current structure of the federation within the context of the past 50 years of failed “unitary federalism,” former Vice President Atiku Abubakar has said.
Atiku, who has been one of the most respected and consistent northern voices calling for the renegotiation of the Nigerian state, made the assertion at a book presentation in Abuja on Monday.
According to Atiku, who served under former President Olusegun Obasanjo from 1999-2007, state actors and other politicians who insist that Nigeria cannot be renegotiated and equate every demand for restructuring with secession may actually be setting the stage for unsavoury outcomes.
He said: “What I find odd and somewhat unhelpful is the argument of those who say that we cannot renegotiate our union and who proceed from there to equate every demand for restructuring with attempts to break-up the country.
“I believe that every form of human relationship is negotiable. Every political relationship is open for negotiations, without preset outcomes. As a democrat and businessman, I do not fear negotiations. That is what reasonable human beings do.
“This is even more important if a stubborn resistance against negotiations can lead to unsavoury outcomes. The current structure may be working for some elite but it has clearly not worked well for any section of this country and the country as a whole. We should take deliberate steps to change this structure to serve us better. And we should not dither for too long,” he said.
Atiku stated that he had spoken repeatedly to his northern kinsmen where the most resistance to renegotiating the nation state comes from, that this course would also benefit the region.
“I have spoken a number of times in the past several years on the need to restructure our federation in order to devolve more power and resources to the federating units.
Recently, I went to Kaduna and told an audience of mostly my compatriots from the North, where most of the resistance against restructuring seems to come from, that restructuring is in the interest of the North and Nigeria.
“We must acknowledge that what got us to our current over-centralised, and centre-dominated federal system is political expediency and fear, and bolstered by the command and control character of military regimes,” Atiku said ,while expanding on a paper titled: “Nigerian Federalism: Continuing Quest for Stability and Nation-Building” at NAF Conference Centre & Suites, Abuja, venue of the forum.
According to him, “But after 50 years of “Unitary Federalism” we are now in a position to clearly see that it has not worked well. The federating units in the First Republic had their disagreements but none claimed to lack autonomy of action, and none waited for federal fiscal allocations before it could implement its programmes and pay salaries.
“A look at our 1999 Constitution, specifically Section 7, which, as the Introduction to this book notes, has 83 legislative items as against 15 for the states (which the Federal Government can also override), shows that there is a huge problem with the system.
“I challenge anyone who is against restructuring our federation to show me another well-functioning federal system in the world with that level of lopsided central dominance. Individuals operate within certain structural and institutional constraints.
“If all we lack are good operators, as these people argue, would anyone advocate doing away with constitutions altogether so we rely on fantastic individuals to do the right thing.”
Further laying out his vision of a new Nigeria, Atiku proposed that, “Political and civic leaders from across the country must come together, discuss, negotiate and make the necessary compromises and sacrifices needed to restructure our federation to make us a stronger, more united, productive, and competitive country.
“Perhaps we might start with making our grievances and fears apparent. When each section or party to a dispute airs its grievances and expresses its fears and concerns, the outcome may be better understood by others, and a quicker route to a resolution or agreement. That’s perhaps how we should proceed with the much needed rebirth and renewal of our federation.”
According to the former vice president, “We must acknowledge that in federal systems that work, federating units cede certain powers to the centre. In our strange federal contraption, it is the centre that is creating federating units, giving them money and monopolising most power and resources.
“Thus, our state governments are no longer performing as federating units. Rather, they currently seem like dependent provinces of the central government in Abuja,” he noted.