(Part One of the Interview by OoduaPathfinder/Pathfinder International with the Secretary of Egbe Omo Oduduwa, Shenge Rahman, on issues affecting the quest for Federalism in Nigeria)
OP/PI: Now that every Region in Nigeria is consolidating its position on Restructuring, the latest being the retreat of the Northern senators and governors following on the heels of the “southern retreat”, and the Governors in the Yoruba States of Oyo, Osun, Lagos, Ondo and Ekiti States declaring their intention to promote a single position on Restructuring, OP/PI wants to know what the EOO position is and whether any formal presentation was made by your organization to the myriad of committees working on Restructuring.
EOO: We stated our position clearly in our memorandum to the APC Southwest panel that sat in Akure. The kernel of the position of the Egbe is that Restructuring cannot be reduced to Devolution of powers by or from an Almighty Centre to either the States or the so-called Zones which owe their existence to the administrative impulse of the Centre for self-preservation and enhancement under the military. In other words, Restructuring or Re-Federalization of Nigeria can only proceed on the basis of the acceptance of the principle of Lingual-Territorial factor as the determinant of the constituent units or entities, the subjects as opposed to the objects of a new Federal Union
OP/PI: Since all current efforts are anchored on elected representatives of the People–Legislators, Governors etc, what role do you suppose organizations like yours can play in the emerging political scenario? What influence can your organization exert? More so when yours is not a political party which is the only officially recognized form of representation in Nigeria?
EOO: Our understanding of the historical significance of the restructuring imperative is that it is a “political revolution” project that must come to terms in a bold, determined and creative manner with the existing political reality: the political structures operating in the political environment both as impediments as well as potential tactical or even strategic allies depending on the shape and character of reality as it unfolds. But one thing is key to our organization and that is the People. For us the raison de’tre of Federalism everywhere and in our particular and peculiar situation is the existence of multi-ethnic /lingual entities otherwise known as Nationalities which dictates the necessity for a power sharing agreement between them on the one hand and a central or union authority to whom they have agreed in conditional terms to cede a part of their individual sovereignty.
OP/PI: One of the critical issues on Restructuring is what is now known as “Local Government Autonomy” largely championed by the Nigerian Union of Local Government Employees (NULGE), among others, on the basis of its being closest to the people. How consistent is this with your understanding of the theory and practice of federalism?
EOO: NULGE is being ridiculous with its association of what it called “local government autonomy” with Federalism. The Union’s president even went so far as to suggest that local governments become federating units!!! In the first instance, autonomy presupposes pursuit of independent action and/or existence by an entity in and of itself. A Local Government is not an independent or autonomous entity as it is derived from an existing structure, the community without which there will be no local governance. Administratively, a local government is merely a mechanism for direct participation of the people in their own society. How then can such a government be “autonomous”? Autonomous of what? This reflects the bastardization of political thought that developed under the various military administrations whose so-called Local Government reforms were predicated upon a determination of the size of a Local Government territory as not expected to be made up of more than 180,000 people. This was the core of all the Local government reform activities of the military. We also know that the military, as an institution, was created as an anti-people entity, enforcers of the colonial order, hence its approach towards local governance was not surprising. A direct fall-out of this is the practice, especially in the Middle Belt areas, whereby Fulani people forcibly took over certain territories so that a local government authority could be created for them. And this is what had been happening with what is now commonly acknowledged as Fulani herdsmen terrorism where local inhabitants are powerless in confronting them.
OP/PI: If, as NULGE says, local governments are the nearest government structures closest to the people, don’t you think the golden ends of security and welfare will be better served when you liberate them (the people) from the incubus of state government’s tyranny?
EOO: From Nigeria’s experience, “closeness to the people” is no guarantee of security and welfare; otherwise, there would have been great improvements in the lives of the people since the 1976 Local government reforms. Yet, pre-Independence, in the Western region, the AG government was not yet in place when it developed its policy mechanism for social, economic and cultural development which was translated into reality in the 1952-59 period which is still being adjudged the “golden era” of the Western Region. To liberate the people from the incubus of state government tyranny, as posed by the question therefore creates a false dichotomy between the state government and the people itself. Rather, the ends of security and welfare of the people is an ideological and political question. It is not an administrative or bureaucratic issue—which is what a militarized mindset would connote.
OP/PI: If the NULGE position is representative of the Nigerian labor Movement in general, will this constitute the decline of Labor as a beacon for fundamental changes necessary in Nigeria?
EOO: Absolutely!! Labor formations, historically, were aimed at improvements in the general conditions of the society, be it from the shop floor/workplace or from an existing social or economic contradiction in the society at large. Even during the anti-colonial era, the Nigerian labor movement played its own roles in the firmament, especially after the 1949 Enugu coal miners’ strike and later the struggle against the Anglo-Nigerian Defense Pact in 1961 not to forget their various forays into electoral politics on labor platforms. But this NULGE position also reflects the centralization of the labor movement itself, through the pursuit of “Uniformity” which was one of the reasons adduced by Yar Adua in 1976 at the onset of the Local government reforms under Obasanjo Administration. The uniformity achieved through these various reforms enabled the same Obasanjo military administration to decree a single labor center in Nigeria, hence the establishment of the Nigeria Labor Congress. When there are now voices in response to fundamental and foundational issues in Nigeria, “unity” becomes a substitute, where all of Nigeria’s issues are reduced to “unity”. And this is how NULGE with its idea of Local Government Autonomy becomes an accomplice. Only one example will suffice.
The Sultan of Sokoto recently affirmed his leadership of the Fulani in Nigeria and West Africa—which by the way, is a true statement. But then, what is Nigerian Unity under such circumstances where a Nigerian is a recognized leader of non-Nigerians in West Africa’s geo-political space? At what point is he Nigerian and at what point Fulani, or are we to conclude that Fulani is synonymous with Nigeria. Meanwhile, there are Yoruba across at least 4 West African countries. When the Yoruba affirm their allegiance to their kith and kin outside Nigeria’s boundaries, just as the Sultan has done, can it also be said the Yoruba is synonymous with Nigeria? And this can also be said of several Nationalities in Nigeria. This obviously brings into focus the nature of “Nigerian unity” itself. Unity of Peoples or of territories? By acknowledging his leadership of the Fulani across West Africa, by the Yoruba acknowledging their relationship with their kith and kin across West Africa, unity of the Ethno-Nationalities is already in existence. Unity between different Ethno-Nationalities thus becomes a question of geo-political relations, summed up in the architecture of State aimed at achieving it. Fundamental changes in Nigeria then becomes a function of interrogating the post-colonial State which means its architecture must be reworked anew—and in a sense, the Sultan has shown the way. It will be better for him to refer to himself as a Fulani-African, just as there will be Yoruba/igbo/Ijaw/Igala Africans. We will no longer be “fighting” for Nigeria, as such, but for Africa and this will challenge us in the working out of a suitable architecture for that purpose and place the entire question of Restructuring under a different perspective with a more balanced solution.
Thus, when the north, under Fulani hegemony try to determine the trajectory for Nigeria’s unity, they are only working towards making the rest of us conform to their hegemonic world view. When a labor movement like NULGE to subscribe to this notion, it shows a lack of intellectual discipline within the union which again shows the malaise in the entire labor movement, especially when its leadership had always kowtowed to military politics, an extension of Fulani hegemonic politics. This is one of the reasons why EOO is promoting the notion of the Ethno-Nationality as the federating Unit in Nigeria. It will allow for the fullest expression of the relationships within the Ethno-Nationality within and outside Nigeria.
OP/PI: Perhaps what you are calling an aberration may be justified in the light of the need to fight the corruption in the local government administration and finances which allegedly is made possible by the superintendency of the state governments over the local government structures.
EOO: The corruption in the local government administration is not a function of the superintendence of its finances by the state government but a direct result of the corruption of its own foundation. Recall that in the first republic, where the regional governments superintended local governments, corruption was one of the causes adduced by the Nzeogwu-led military coup; Gowon was overthrown under the auspices of his government being corrupt; the NPN government was overthrown based on accusations of corruption; Babangida was supposed to be the master of corruption in Nigeria and the PDP government had corruption written all over it, which the Buhari administration vowed to change but whose change agenda is itself mired in corruption. So, you can see that corruption is a common, recurring decimal in all governmental changes. That being so, “fighting” it can no longer be a justifiable reason for any political or even structural change. There must be something else fueling corruption which is not being addressed. That something is the reduction of corruption to embezzlement of public funds, so much so that a corrupted environment which cannot but breed a corrupt society is neglected and everyone focusses on embezzlement as the entire definition of corruption. Denial of a peoples’ inalienable right to govern themselves can only be accomplished by corrupt methodologies, ranging from illegalities perpetrated by the governing authority, to imposition of an alien culture to forcible forms of governance to denial of a peoples’ natural existentialism to a gradual decline and or neutralization of their languages etc. Moreover, if NULGE based its advocacy on the alleged embezzlement of local government funds by Governors, it must follow that those Governors are already embezzling their state funds which only show the corrupt architecture of state. By not addressing any of the above, NULGE is reflecting the lack of political and ideological depth in the labor movement in general, where the tendency is to flow with an extant reality regardless of its validity when, by definition, the labor movement is expected to provide an alternative, simply by its being the anchor for social and economic development in terms of the application of their labor-power in that direction. The opposite is the case in that Nigeria’s labor-power is not a function of productivity but of governmental allocations, itself a function of the corrupted nature of Nigeria’s socio-economic organization and indeed its definition of Federalism which would allow NULGE to call for making the local governments federating units. Moreover, the theoretical hollowness of NULGE and other labor unions and their fellow travelers in the NGOs on this misconceived autonomy campaign becomes very clear when you appreciate the strategic role of theory in every human endeavor and enterprise. As a change agent, labor ought not surrender to the logic of the immediate or NOW but must always envision the FUTURE and work towards it even in its present struggles. Now the whole AUTONOMY agenda is premised on the presupposition and calculation of the authors and minders of the Unitary Formula to the effect that the Central authority is entitled to the role of the SUPER POWER that allocates resources to the governing authorities of the constituent units whereas it is supposed to be the other way around. But more importantly, the whole racket around Local government autonomy is founded on the untenable expectation that petrodollar will always be available to fund this strange brand of federalism. What happens when as it is certain oil loses its value in the world makes in the very near future under our nose?
OP/PI: In popular parlance in the country, you often hear pundits describing Nigeria as running a three-tier system with the local government constituting the third tier. How valid is this claim?
EOO: As noted in my earlier response, a so-called three tier system is not and cannot be referred to as a federation for the simple reason that a Federation is not defined by the number of tiers within the Federating Unit but by its being a union between two or more entities—how each of the entities organizes itself internally has no bearing on the nature of the federation as these would have been taken into consideration when the federation is being negotiated. For example, it was the British who created warrant chiefs in the east while the West had their Obas and the north their Emirs. This was the basis for the first republic federation. How then would the East come to demand that the West with its Obas must have warrant chiefs for the federation to work? Or vice-versa? But as you know, the east now has its own “obas”, known as Ezes with all its implications for Igbo society. So, as far as Federalism is concerned, there is no validity in the claim for a three-tier system.
OP/PI: If you see the idea of Local government autonomy as one borne out of intellectual decline in Nigeria, can you attempt an analysis of this malaise.?
EOO: Any society that wishes to be on the march must involve her intellectuals, for that is where ideas are generated, and policies debated. It is not for nothing that a university is deemed to be a combination of “town and gown”. Again, in the Western region, this approach was very much at play. Intellectual giants of the day were very much involved in such policy debates and formulations, not only as a theoretical necessity but also in their own practical lives. Many of the ministers and bureaucrats of the time were teachers who started life as teachers, and when the military took over, quite a lot of them ended up establishing their own schools, all of which showed a great appreciation of scholarship. But what do we see now? Since the introduction of SAP, there had been a marked decline in scholarship, the education system is in shambles hence there could be no serious engagement between town and gown. Yet most of those forced to flee to Europe and America excel in their academic and intellectual pursuits to the benefit of their host countries. Thus, that such an obnoxious idea as local government autonomy would even find expression among the educated elite is a pointer to the decline of intellectual pursuits in our society. The ability to “dig deeper”, having been destroyed by the “immediate effect” of military governance, itself borne out of the need to dominate the society, can only feed such mediocrity being witnessed today.(to be continued)