Only if the deployment and manipulation of the center for looting galore, for squandermania on a colossal scale, and for a wastefulness of national assets and resources that is without equal anywhere else in the world are all either eradicated or substantially reduced in our country. These are the preconditions, the premises on which the case for a relatively strong center can, at this point in time, not only be made, but successfully “sold” to the majority of Nigerians everywhere in the land, North and South, East and West. Moreover, I believe that this case cannot only be made but ought, as a matter of fact and necessity, be made.
Probably, nearly everyone reading this is aware that what I am urging here is unpopular both in our country and in the world at large. In Nigeria, everyone knows that restructuring governance away from concentration of power and sovereignty at the center has been the single most dominant and persistent issue in our national public sphere for a long time now. And as I myself noted again and again in the series on IPOB in this column last month, the secessionist and devolutionary movements and organizations in Nigeria seem to be completely in accord with the tendencies around the world, not the least in Europe and indeed most of the Western world. Thus, it is most definitely not a particularly auspicious or opportune historical moment to argue for a relatively strong center for federalism in our country and our world today.
Indeed, both politically and ethically, to argue for a strong federalist position in Nigeria today is to find oneself in lockstep with strange, unsavory fellow travelers. This is because with perhaps the single exception of those who fought to keep Nigeria one during the Nigeria-Biafra war and are extremely sentimental about the unity of the country, nearly all of the groups and individuals that are arguing for a strong center of authority and sovereignty for our country come from the ranks of those who derive extensive economic, political and symbolic benefits from the strong center that they wish to maintain in Abuja, in the presidency as well as in all the organs and institutions of federal power in our country.
Concretely speaking, which retired general, air marshal, admiral or former senator that has been given an “oil block” does not want a strong center of federalism in our country, now and for as long as possible? Which well-connected Nigerian elite hoping for an ambassadorial appointment, possibly in London, Washington, DC or Berlin, wants to see an end to the hegemonic concentration of power and patronage at the center of governance in Nigeria? What of the thousands of contracts, appointments to plum, sinecure posts, and nomination for honorific titles and awards that come from the federal might in Abuja? Are the “patriotic” Nigerians who are hoping, indeed struggling for these perquisites and honors not powered by the knowledge that only as long as a strong center subsists and lasts in Abuja will their dreams and aspirations come true? Finally, isn’t it troubling that the loudest and most insistent voices for a strong center in Abuja as a basis for Nigerian unity come from vigorously conservative groups and individuals like the Arewa Consultative Forum, (ACF), Ango Abdullahi and Tanko Yakasai (who, by the way, used to be in the ranks of “progressives”)?
At this point in the discussion, I should perhaps point out to the reader that the very fact that I have very carefully and indeed rather meticulously gone over these important caveats against the case for a strong center of federalism in our country means that I have in no way forgotten them nor am I ignoring them. Indeed, to the contrary, my point, my frame of reference in this piece is to argue vigorously against the kind of strong federalism represented by the named groups and individuals. In other words, my central point in this piece is that the case for a relatively – as opposed to an absolutely – strong center of a kind that is totally different from what groups like the ACF is pushing can and ought to be made. Here is another way of putting my position on this issue across: I think hard, very hard, and I ask myself: How would genuinely progressive and patriotic Nigerians like Eddie Madunagu, Bene Madunagu, Col Abubakar Umar (rtd.), Ogbeni Rauf Aregbesola, Balarabe Musa, Dipo Fasina, Attahiru Jega, Issa Fage, and Kayode Komolafe make the case for a relatively strong center for federalism in Nigeria? I do not speak for any of these comrades and compatriots, but I am certainly thinking of them as I write the following second segment of this piece.
At the risk of oversimplification, here’s the central plank of my argument for a relatively strong center for Nigerian federalism at this moment in both local and global history: in all the post-tribal societies of the world, nations and regions that have strong and competitive markets are incalculably better suited for the challenges and vagaries of capitalist modernity than those that have weak and dispersed markets; moreover, strong markets for the most part work best with and in nations and regions with relatively strong centers of political governance. Seen in this light, a large, multiethnic and culturally diverse country like Nigeria with a relatively strong center of federalism is like a common market in which borders are easily crossed; people, goods and services are easily exchanged without prohibitive and protectionist regulations and protocols; and security of life, property and personal possessions are guaranteed both within and well beyond one’s cultural and linguistic locality. In case the point I am making here is (still) not clear, permit me to make it clearer through a brief but harrowing elaboration on this metaphor of our nation as a “common market”.
As a nation, Nigeria at the present time – and with its enormous actual and potential reserves of wealth and resources – is a grotesque caricature of a common market. The “common market” is there but it operates at a level far below the standards of most of the common markets of this world – precisely because the center does not operate even minimally in the interests of the constituent members. The most telling manifestation of this tragic and absurd situation is the seeming utter helplessness of the Buhari administration in particular and all post-1999 governments in general in ending or even substantially curbing the savage killings and massive population displacements produced by the herdsmen’ and farming communities’ standoff. Axiomatically, a “common market” protects not only property but also producers, the peoples who buy and sell and live out their allotted time in this world either as migrants or as settlers. Buhari’s administration is doing neither – protecting the “properties” and/or the lives of those killed in this almost nationwide standoff.
If we look both closer and wider at it, we find that the herdsmen and farmers’ savage standoff is a microcosm of the terrifying failures and crises of Nigeria as a national “common market”. The manifestations are legion. There is, for one instance, the use of central institutions of the Nigerian state like the legislature and the judiciary to prevent the operation of the rule of law in the administration of justice where corruption, the nation’s number one moral and material cancer, is concerned. For another instance of the same seemingly unending crisis, there is the fact that like emergency businessmen and contractors that spend more of their operating capital on luxury consumer goods than on the business itself, all the administrations of the country, federal, state and local government, spend far more on recurrent expenditure than on capital projects. And for yet another manifestation of this pervasive and defining “anti-common market” ethic of Buhari’s and APC’s Nigeria, small and medium enterprises (SME’s), the backbone of the national economy, get far less of available investment capital from both the government itself and the financial services industry, the most profitable sector of the national economy. Perhaps the single most frightening specter of all, at least in my humble opinion, is this: all the projections of Nigeria’s population growth indicate that in about another two to three decades, Nigeria will move from the seventh to the third largest nation in the world. This, by the way, will take place whether or not we remain one united, federal nation with or without a relatively strong center. The horrors to come in the wake of this looming demographic explosion if a relatively strong center does not emerge soon to manage our chaotic internal “common market” are better imagined than prophetically spelt out in detail!
For those who might think that my use of the metaphor or trope of the “common market” in this piece falls into the trap of an endorsement of capitalism mutatis mutandis, permit me to briefly make a clarification. Just as money, as capital, existed long before modern capitalism, so too did markets. And to say the least, it does not appear as if markets are about to disappear into the oblivion of history. What has been happening since the advent of modern capitalism is the growing and ever-expanding critique of markets, especially in their tendency to place profits and consumption far above humanity and the values that sustain both its material and non-material needs. In other words, increasingly, markets and market forces are being made subject to regulation and correction, unlike what used to obtain in both the distant and recent past when markets were pretty much unregulatable. And in this connection, let us note, compatriots, that Nigeria, Buhari’s and the APC’s Nigeria, is one of the last holdouts of unregulated and unregulatable national markets in the world.
I find the metaphor of the national “common market” useful in making the case for a relatively strong center for Nigerian federalism because those who, in my opinion, have been making the most eloquent and persuasive case for restructuring have not deemed it obligatory or even necessary to indicate just how “strong” or “weak” the center will be in their “restructured” Nigeria. Reading between the lines, between the implicit and unspoken hints in their analyses and prognostications, I do find that some of them do want a relatively strong center in place of the current absolutely strong, bloated presidency and the associated executive and legislature. Specifically, I have not read anyone calling for the armed forces to be broken up into state or ethnic militias. I have not read anyone calling for the judiciary and the administration of justice to begin and end at state or regional borders. I have not read that each state or region should send its ambassadors to the nations of the earth and/or play separate, exclusive hosts to foreign ambassadors accredited to our country. I have read of pundits or activists asking for state police formations to replace the current national force, but as I am against this, I do not wish to comment on it here beyond noting that at one stage in this country that coincided with my early youth, we had local constabularies and the experience was almost entirely negative.
I bring the observations and reflections in this piece to a close with the following point: just as it is necessary to note that restructuring is not secession, not a repudiation of the country’s unity and corporate existence, so is it necessary to ask of all advocates of restructuring to indicate clearly what will remain of the center in their “restructured” Nigeria. Reading between the lines, I get it that what most of these thinkers and pundits have in mind can be called a polycentric federal Nigeria. Very well. But even polycentrism has a center, no matter how small, how vestigial and so what, compatriots, would remain in the “center” in this visionary polycentric federalism of the “restructurenistas”?