Posted by By Oladele Alake on
Close to two decades after his demise, the late sage, Chief Obafemi Awolowo's philosophy and vision remain as relevant as ever to the Nigerian situation. In many ways, he continues to be the major issue in Nigerian politics because his ideas were far ahead of his time.
Close to two decades after his demise, the late sage, Chief Obafemi Awolowo's philosophy and vision remain as relevant as ever to the Nigerian situation. In many ways, he continues to be the major issue in Nigerian politics because his ideas were far ahead of his time. Over 59 years ago, when he published his first political treatise, Path to Nigerian Freedom, this veritable political visionary had foreseen that the peace, prosperity and greatness of Nigeria's heterogeneous polity lie in the path of true federalism. If his carefully thought out admonitions had been heeded, it is likely that the country would have progressed faster and our stability and unity would not be as precarious as they are today.
I make bold to say that in this democratic dispensation, which commenced in 1999, the Lagos State Governor, Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu, has most ably sustained the great Awo's visionary political prescience. The Governor has over the last six years been the most vocal and consistent public office holder in articulating the case for the practice of true federalism in all its ramifications in Nigeria. Indeed some of his misguided critics accused Asiwaju Tinubu of not being able to make a proper distinction between his former role as a pro-democracy activist and his new one as an elected Governor and by implication a leading member of the political establishment. By being at the forefront of the struggle for fundamental political restructuring in the country, they perceived the Governor as a rebel against an establishment he was supposed to defend given his status in society.
Those who reasoned this way discounted the critical fact that the struggle for the validation of the June 12, 1993, presidential election was as much a struggle for the enthronement of true federalism in the country. It was obvious to perceptive participants in the pro-democracy struggle like Tinubu that the over centralization of the polity, a process that began with the first military regime and was intensified by subsequent ones, offered a fertile soil for dictatorship to thrive in Nigeria. Consequently, it was not enough for long term democratic sustainability in Nigeria, to restore power to an elected civilian government. Rather, the polity had to be fundamentally decentralized and the component states strengthened fiscally and institutionally to serve as effective counterweights to an overbearing centre whose extensive powers could always be exploited to impose and perpetuate dictatorship in the country. Asiwaju Tinubu thus saw his election as Governor of Lagos State as a unique opportunity to maximally utilize the immense influence of the office towards the attainment of this objective.
Accordingly he is one of the very few governors who have vigorously canvassed the necessity of a genuine people's national conference to redraw the boundaries of the distribution of power, resources and responsibilities in the Nigerian polity. Such a forum for unfettered exchange of ideas by the component units of the federation, the governor believes, will result in a restructured Nigerian entity with a healthy balance of intergovernmental and zonal powers more conducive to a federal democracy.
Unfortunately the pro status quo forces which benefit from the present obsolete political structure and are opposed to any form of restructuring have had their way in the last six years. Unfolding events in the country however continue to vindicate Asiwaju's stance on true federalism. The progressive deterioration of the Niger Delta situation, for instance, demonstrates the ultimate futility of trying to keep Nigeria together by force, rather than through constructive and creative dialogue. Now we have a scenario where the ever mushrooming militant groups are increasingly rendering sections of the oil rich region ungovernable. The ceaseless attacks on oil pipeline facilities continue to hurt the economy while the unfolding foreign hostage saga signals an alarming foretaste of things to come. If we had listened to advocates of a true people's constitutional conference like Tinubu and other progressive forces, would matters have degenerated so badly? I think not. But it is not too late for the voice of reason to prevail.
The issue of State police is another one on which Tinubu has been vindicated. Not only was he the first governor to champion this cause he has been the most vocal and consistent. Early in the first term a prescient Asiwaju had envisioned the imperative of states controlling their own police outfits if we claim to run a truly federal constitution. It is only logical that if states are authentic tiers of government with their own Houses of Assembly to make laws for them, they should have the capacity to enforce such laws through police outfits directly under the control of the governor. They should not have to depend on a central police outfit that will enforce state laws only at the pleasure of the Inspector General of Police.
Those who opposed this view contended that State Police could be abused to oppress political opponents. If this argument is pursued to its logical conclusion, the Federal Government too should not have any police under its control as this could also be used for political victimization. In any case they conveniently overlook the fact that the Federal Government has absolute control of the supreme coercive forces in the polity, which are the armed forces- Army, Navy and Air force; the National Intelligence Agency (NIA), State Security Services (SSS) and Directorate of Military Intelligence (DMI). This is in addition to its control of such powerful agencies as the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) and Independent Corrupt Practices Commission (ICPC).
No state can therefore constitute a threat to the territorial integrity of a federal polity simply because it controls its own police. Rather, the decentralization of police duties will promote greater efficiency in law enforcement and crime prevention in the overall national interest. Surprisingly, most governors did not identify with Asiwaju Tinubu on this issue of vital interest to their states. As a result we have not only witnessed the abduction of a governor and the vandalisation of another's office but also the Federal controlled Nigeria Police openly backing self proclaimed godfathers against defenseless state chief executives. Another vindication of Tinubu.
A third instance I will cite which vindicates Tinubu's principled and visionary stance on true federalism is his strong advocacy of true fiscal federalism. He has been a firm supporter of resource control by the component parts of the federation. He has consistently insisted that all funds accruing to the Federation Account be disbursed strictly in consonance with the constitution. Accordingly he had suggested on several occasions that an office of the Accountant General of the Federation should be created distinct from the Accountant General of the Federal Government. While the former will be responsible for the Federation Account jointly owned by all tiers of government, the latter will handle the finances of the federal government.
Again this suggestion which is so critical to true fiscal federalism has not received the desired level of support from the other states. Thus they have continued to remain victims of illegal deductions and seizures of their funds, selective disclosure and disbursement of amounts accruing to the Federation Account and the frequent decisions of the Federal Government to save what it calls excess crude revenue on their behalf. In his 2006 budget presentation to the State House of Assembly, Asiwaju Tinubu addressed the issue of excess revenue with characteristic candor. His words: 'No tier of government has the constitutional right or power to determine what excess revenue for another tier is. Consequently all revenues accruing to the Federation Account must be fully released to the various tiers as clearly stipulated in the constitution. Any tier can thereafter decide to save any amount it desires of its allocation as excess revenue. Indeed, your own excess revenue may be a revenue shortfall for me going by my own budgetary projection".
The truth is that we need more voices speaking up courageously for constitutionalism and federalism. Unless and until we subscribe to the tenets/principles of true federalism where there is interdependence, connectivity, collectivity and collaborative efforts by the component units of the polity delicately balanced with the latitude of the units to map priorities of development according to cultural, social, political and environmental peculiarities, Nigeria may just be groping in the dark for the elusive yet much sought unity in diversity.
Alake is the Lagos State Commissioner for Information & Strategy.
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