Monday Discourse 187
Hidden Agenda of a Monologue (II)
Readers will recall that when the national conference on political reform took off we dedicated this page to what we saw was the truth in the inaugural speech of the President, to what he did not say. We will not tread that path any longer for developments since the speech have helped to build a national consensus that there is indeed a hidden agenda behind convening the conference. Instead of convening it purposely to find a roadmap for a better Nigeria – and who told him we do not have a roadmap or which one has he been using for the past six year? – it is now abundantly clear that the President convened it at the instance of Afenifere accompanied by, but in some ways distinct from, the sectional interest of the South-south and Southeast.
That is one of the reasons why the conference does not qualify to be called a dialogue. It is a monologue since the agenda is set by one side and the conference convened on its behalf by one person – the President. This person has set, hypocritically, the waveband on which the conference must operate, meaning they can discuss anything. In the end, he will distil the resolutions and present to the national assembly a supernatant that conforms to his whims only. To materialise that whim, the North, according to the plan, represented by able and very active people like Dr. Sule Katagum, will be defeated on the floor of the conference and its delegates will be bribed in national and state assemblies. But this plan, like million of plans that fail daily in this world, is also likely to hit the rocks as we will see in our discussion today. This is not elections, Mr. President.
It appears now that four issues will dominate the discussion at the conference. These are federalism, regionalism, resource control, mode of government, and surely, Shariah.
I reason with all those calling for the trimming of the centre of the enormous powers it has. It is against the principle of federalism which the country claims to operate. I have clearly stated my reasons in my previous articles on this page and elsewhere. The colossal political power and resources at the disposal of the federal government is the bone of our political contention. With it sections of the country can be victimised, underdeveloped and marginalized as we have seen and felt in the past six years. Trimming its cap and pocket will make its weapon of mass destruction less lethal than it is now. This is simple to say and understand. A consensus is easy to arrive at here, but not strong enough a ground to build an agreement upon.
The problem arises with what to do with the prunes from the centre: To whom do we hand it over? Do we allocate it to the present states or do we allocate it to regional governments if we are creating some somewhere midway between states and the federal government? This is the point of difference. Northerners are yet to find their bearings on the matter, while southerners are clear from their submissions so far that they want a return to regions, the same regions they enthusiastically helped to destroy in 1967. In other words, the nation is going back 28 years in history to continue from where it stopped in its pursuit of balkanizing the North into regions.
The south was already three regions by 1967 when the regions were terminated; only the North remained a single entity. Thus the South is not facing anything new. It is the North that will bear the brunt. The proposal is to divide it into three regions in order to give the balance that fulfils demands of one of the six sub-principles of federalism expounded by Nwabueze. Here, the suggestion is that the present geo-political zones should be transformed into regions. The Southwest remains intact, if not expanded to include Kwara and parts of Kogi; the former Midwest will be extended to cover the entire South-South and the former Eastern region reduced to comprise only Igbo speaking states. The North, the suggestion goes, will comprise of Northwest that comprises former Kaduna, Kano and Sokoto States, without Niger; the Northeast comprising the present six states in the former Northeastern states; and Northcentral – or Middle Belt – comprising of states in the former Benue-Plateau and Kwara, with addition of Niger.
The difficulty in implementing this is enormous. Would Taraba remain in the Northeast and not join its sister Benue and Plateau states, as TY Danjuma would wish? If it fails, what happens to the Middle Belt dream? Would Kwara and Kogi both concede territory to the Southwest or allow themselves, together with Niger, come under the dominance of the first Tiv Empire called the Middle Belt? The Tivs are poor empire builders as we learn in History; in fact, they never built one. But in Nigeria today everything is possible.
I have always said that the tiny group of agitators for Middle Belt will receive a shocker of their life when it comes to implementing their conception because it is based on Christian sentiments in the first place in a region where Christians are not in the majority. The Middle Belt will not be meaningful without Kwara, Kogi, Niger, three states where Muslims are predominant, and Nasarawa where we have a sort of 55-45 Muslim-Christian ratio. Worse still, without Taraba, which will be very reluctant to share anything with Tiv in Benue, the entire Middle Belt project will shrink to former Benue-Plateau state. Unlike the era of making noise, now the reality is here and I believe people from these states will rise and protest their grouping with characters like Solomon Lar.
The difficulty of balkanizing the North goes much deeper. What happens if the Northwest and Northeast refuse to become victims of Afenifere agenda? What happens if Nassarawa, Niger, Kwara and Kogi join them to say NO, we prefer to be grouped with Sokoto and Borno States? Enormous difficulties will then be created at the conference and later at the national and state assembly levels where the resolutions of the conference will be put to a constitutional vote. I doubt if people in the dream Middle Belt will just sit back and see their fate decided by a handful of ethnic jingoists and fundamentalists. For sure, AGIP Jerry Ghana cannot drag Niger to Jos, neither would General Salihu Ibrahim be allowed to drag Kogi there; as for Kwara, kash, General Adisa is dead already. May his soul rest in peace.
Thus if the North proves to be a hard nut to crack, then the only option for the country is to abandon the dream of regional structure and stick to the present states which we have. The fire of the Middle Belt is thus quenched forever, and before it will be rekindled we need another generation of gerentocrats; the present ones will be resting in peace in the life beyond.
The country will then have no choice but to ensure that the last sub-principle of federalism as listed by Nwabueze is fulfilled, i.e. multiplicity of federating units to such a number that will yield stability to the federation when every unit, due to its size, is forced to see its survival only within the context of the Union, as in the United States. The regions as seen by Southern delegates to the conference will not fulfil this condition; only the states would. Otherwise, with a very weak centre, there is a strong possibility of secession by the South-west and the South-east and possible invasion of South-South by the latter and a renewal of Biafra.
The present 36 states structure is therefore the only guarantee to stability, when seen from the perspective of geopolitical structure. It douses the negative effects of ethnicity, religion and sectionalism. It makes the states interdependent. Again, that advantage is only from the perspective of geopolitics. Immediately resource control is introduced into the equation the whole issue takes a new dimension. And resource control is foremost in the agenda of southern delegates. Something tells them that they are better of managing their resources; that the North is a burden they have shouldered too long. Thus some of them want something, just about 13%, to be available for distributable pool from the resources of each state, the rest will be consumed – not controlled – by it; the South-South is more generous, perhaps realising its insecurity, allowing for 50% state control.
Now, how will these figures work out? The interest of the North aside, even the centre will not hold; it will be so much inundated with poverty that it will be going to some states begging for grants to cater for police, customs, prisons, ports, judiciary, monuments, national elections, census, external affairs, highways, tribunals, railways, posts, pensions, immigration, territorial boundaries, arms, defence, central bank, bills of exchange, currency, aviation, archives, accounts of the federal government and a host of other responsibilities in the exclusive federal list proposed in “Draft of the Paper on the Yoruba Position…” signed by Chief Richard Akinjide and Professor Bolaji Akinyemi.
The above situation, engendered by resource control, in which the federal government becomes too weak to carry out the above functions, all of which are its own by tradition of federalism, negates the sub-principles of equality between the centre and federating units. Likewise, it negates the theoretical demand for federating units to be both geographically and economically equal. On this Nwabueze said, “There must therefore be, as Sir Kenneth Wheare has said, ‘some sort of reasonable balance’ between the units in area, population and wealth, which will ‘insure that all the units can maintain their independence within the sphere allotted to them and that no one can dominate the others.”
In the precipitation of conflict, imbalance caused by disparity in wealth is as potent as the imbalance caused by disparity in population and land area. Resource control as proposed by our southern brothers will only substitute the political dominance of the North with the dominance of Southern states in resources. Recalling the case of Buganda, Nwabueze said, “The Buganda government was also granted special and incomparably more favourable financial relations with the national government. As was to be expected, its overwhelming power and financial resources compared with the other regional governments infused it with an arrogance that makes it always wish to impose its will on the other governments, both national and regional.”
Weak centre + resource control = trouble. The extent of resource control granted to southerners will therefore determine the future stability of our federation. If southerners will insist on resource control that will pauperise the centre and northern states or regions, then I strongly suggest that northern delegates move an agenda for DE-AMALGAMATION; otherwise, they will be substituting their freedom for servitude. Let alone, this would have been the agenda of the North but it is an idea awaiting its time, and it appears that northern delegates have already bought the idea of one Nigeria as sung last two weeks by Obasanjo.
That is why I also strongly suggest that northern delegates at the conference must never discuss the issue of regional governments or any federal structure until the issue of resource control is put to rest. You cannot approve of the architects plan without knowing the depth of your pocket.
If resource control is adopted to the extent presently advertised by southerners, then viability of many non-oil rich states – including some southern states – will be impossible. In this case, we are forced to return to the regional structure we earlier abandoned. In the alternative, northerners should force the rich southern states to drop their demand of resource control. If none of the above is done, then confusion and deadlock will ensue, tensions will reach the heavens, mass protests will abound. It will be as we used to say in our secondary school days: condition critical, transfer necessary, delay dangerous. The President will have no option but to dismiss the conference or the military intervenes to dismiss him from office. Shi ke nan.
Along the line, Shariah will be introduced to divide northern candidates along religious lines in order to achieve a majority support for regional governments and resource control. But I think people are wiser by their pockets on this matter than by their brains. It is very unlikely that Northern Christians will be that unwise to dispense with the monthly subventions of their states for the sake of Shariah.
The feeling that Afenifere also wants to use the parliamentary system of government to maintain its hegemony in post 2007 Nigeria is very strong. Baba may as well have been infected with the Tazarce virus that plagued his predecessors. But leaving Aso Rock he must, as they did. This too is left to the northern delegates to decide whether they want a continuity of the current regime of impoverishment or they want a more equitable distribution of power. I hope they will consult their brains here.
The conference, as you can see, will not be easy going. Outside the hall, on-lookers like me will anxiously wait to see what Nigeria will this bunch of predominantly old people wish to bequeath to their children. Soyinka and Obasanjo are one and the same. PRONACO is just another diversionary trick.
I will be away for the next two or three weeks, on a very important self-assignment. However, if I must reach out to my readers to discuss an important national issue, I will not hesitate to resume earlier or chip in a word. I am still tempted to write on two topics: de-amalgamation and federalism while the monologue continues.