By Jerome-Mario Utomi
It is important to state from the beginning that this piece stemmed not from orchestrated troubling realities in the country, poor leadership induced failures and dissatisfaction/disaffections in some quarters occasioned by their understanding that the ‘Federal Character Principle’ which was introduced into the 1979 Constitution and the Federal Character Commission established in 1996, to among other responsibilities; promote peace, stability, sharing of power and resources amongst the states, has contrary to expectations failed to achieve the promised principles. And as a consequence, led to lowered education standards in the country, compromised standards and professionalism in the nation’s civil service by ignoring meritocracy.
Rather, this piece is a creation of a latest comment at a function in Lagos by the Executive Governor of Delta state Senator (DR) Ifeanyi Okowa, which brought new awareness to how the nation can effectively manage her unity in diversity.
On that day, at that time and in that place, Governor Okowa said in parts; Delta State, of which, by the grace of God, I am Governor, is a microcosm of Nigeria because she is populated by different ethnic nationalities. She has had inter-ethnic conflicts/clashes, fatal boundary disputes, especially over oil-bearing land, and political tensions. She has had high unemployment and poverty rates. Luckily, successive governments of the State have tackled the issues in different ways, and I am building on the foundation they laid. And the ruling People’s Democratic Party in the State has a policy of rotating the governorship among the three Senatorial Districts of the State for the purposes of equity and inclusiveness.
My administration has followed the above trajectories through equitable distribution of appointments and projects across the three Senatorial Districts. We have erected structures for conflict resolution and peace building. They include the Office of the Special Adviser on Conflict Resolution and Peace Building and the Delta State Advisory and Peace Building Council with a membership of 42 (forty-two) respected men and women in various fields drawn from every local government area of the State. These structures have proactively prevented crises by promptly and effectively resolving disputes.
Undoubtedly, without going into specifics, concepts, provisions and definitions, if this piece juxtaposes Okowa’s templates and achievements with what Federal Character was initially set out to accomplish, it will elicit the following questions; are the provisions of Federal Character fundamentally effective and efficient? Why has it not provided a strong source of remedy for individuals and communities negatively affected by injustices and imbalances daily witnessed in inequitable distributions of resources, positions and appointments in the country? If these frameworks exist and have been comprehensive as a legal solution to the above issues, why are they not enforceable? Why is the Federal Government finding it difficult to draw a lesson from Delta state experience and constitute Advisory and Peace Building Council to discuss the future of this nation? Most importantly, has the present administration kept to the provisions of the Federal Character?
Beginning with the last question, a report published September 11, 2018, and titled; In Search of a Viable Federalism: the Federal Character Principle in the Nigerian Constitution, by Iyabode Ogunniran, Senior Lecturer at the Faculty of Law, University of Lagos, Nigeria, and teacher of Comparative Constitutional Law at the Post graduate level, in my views did more than anything else to aptly provide a comprehensive insight/ answers to these questions.
The University teacher captured it this way; President Buhari was sworn in May, 2015. In the citizens view, all the appointments of the administration and pointed out that it is lopsided as it favoured the North (the tribe of the President). This was refuted and in November last year, the Presidency published a list with 75 appointees from the North and 82 from the South.
Continuing, she argued that the list is an affront on the sensibility of Nigerians as all the key positions are from the North: The major security offices-Chief of Army Staff, National Security Adviser, State Chief of Protocol, Chief of Air Staff, Chief of Defense. The main economic offices-Accountant General, Deputy Governor of Central Bank of Nigeria, Group Managing Director, Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation, Comptroller Generals of Customs and Immigration. Other core offices such as Chairman of Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), Inspector General of Police, Attorney General of the Federation etc. Summarily, there has never been such brazen abuse of the principle as witnessed in this administration. It concluded.
Away from the above erudite and factually backed argument, another example in my views that further asserts that all is not structurally well with the nation is the current demand by groups in the southwest and south-south for the marriage of 1914 is ended as the basis for its continued existence has severely been weakened. However, the very vociferous agitation for Biafra’s restoration by Indigenous People of Biafra, IPOB, led by youthful Nnamdi Kanu has been the loudest of the separatist movements.
While those of us who believe in the unity of Nigeria may not agree with Kanu’s campaign or campaign of any group or ethnic nationality to dismember Nigeria, the truth must be told to the effect that the whole gamut of restiveness of youths, whether in the south-east, south-south, north or south-west, and resurgent demand for the dissolution of Nigeria stem from mindless exclusion, injustice and economic deprivation. The template to solve these problems is already there: the Report of the 2014 National Conference. The holistic implementation of that report is germane to the survival of Nigeria which is right now in its most fragile state since the end of the civil war.
I believed and still believe that the likes of Kanu would instantly fizzle away and their cause dies naturally, if Nigeria is restructured to ensure more inclusiveness. But agitations for the death of Nigeria cannot go away when nepotism and sectionalism continue to be evident in the manner of political patronage and distribution of our common patrimony as currently obtained.
As the nation continues to seek for a solution to its political and socioeconomic challenges, we must not forget that ‘the essence of the federal character is to “avoid the concentration in a few ethnic hands or geographical places’.
If we are able to manage this situation and other social menace effectively and navigate out of dangers of disintegration, it will once again, announce the arrival of a brand new great nation where peace and love shall reign supreme. But, then, no nation enjoys durable peace without justice and stability without fairness and equity!
Utomi is the Programme Coordinator (Media and Public Policy), Social and Economic Justice Advocacy (SEJA), Lagos. He could be reached via;[email protected]/08032725374.