The current travails of Osun State Governor, Ogbeni Rauf Aregbesola, have once again brought to the front burner the nature of the country’s federalism. In the spirit of true federalism, as it is being practised elsewhere, the government of Osun state has gone ahead to produce a state anthem, flag, coat of arm, a new slogan, in addition to effecting a seemingly insignificant change in the name of the state. It is the latter- a strictly grammatical issue- which involved the change of the name of the state from Osun state to ‘State of Osun’ that has become rather more controversial. Indeed, a renowned opposition party in the state has canvassed the seizure of the state’s monthly revenue allocation in respect of the purported change of name. It is curious to observe that this development, reflective of the practice of true federalism all over the world, has been misconstrued in some quarters as having secessionist undertones.
Bearing in mind that it is this same Osun government that is collaborating with the federal government owned Nigeria Railway Corporation to enhance the activities of the ailing corporation, it is really difficult to see how the new initiatives from Osun can bring any harm upon the polity. The only strange thing, of course, is that it took the state this far to come out with such distinctive identities. Osun state, as one of the several federating units in the country, is entitled to developing a clear identity, the way it is currently doing. Hence, it has not breached anything by substituting the country’s coat of arms with its own at purely state functions. Lagos State, in the last twelve years, has been a leading light in this direction. In as much as Abuja makes use of the national coat of arms during national events, it should never be considered an aberration for Oshogbo, Ikeja or Abeokuta to act in similar fashion during their states’ events. Those demanding that Osun’s monthly allocation be withheld by the relevant authority, in view of what they perceived as a serious constitutional breach, have only demonstrated a lack of in-depth knowledge of what true federalism entails. The funds in question do not belong to the federal government as it only holds them in trust for the federating units. Former President, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo, once exhibited same ignorance when, against judicial intervention, he illegally withheld Lagos State’s monthly allocation because former Governor of the state, Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu, created new local council areas, in the state, in line with constitutional provisions.
The distinctive feature of a federation is the constitutional dissection of powers between the central government and the federating units. In a unitary system, total powers flow from the centre while in a federation, powers are detached between the centre and states. Federalism is supposed to be a mutually evolved system where none of the federating units is inferior to another but each deriving its powers and exercising them within the framework of the constitution. Federalism is normally considered a better political option in view of certain factors. For instance, it is politically expedient for a country with a huge land mass, big and heterogeneous population, incomprehensible cultural and language diversities to operate a federal system of government as a way of accommodating the diverse ethnic, religious, cultural and linguistic interests in the country. In other words, federalism becomes the viable option for a nation, like Nigeria, with diverse interests, as previously mentioned, to exist in a mutually binding framework. It is not an avenue for one federating unit to bully the other. It is not an avenue for the wife of a president or a governor or even a local government chairman to become reckless. It is not a system for state governors to become school children while presidents act as their headmasters. No! Rather, it is a system that calls for mutual respect and fairness among the federating units.
Unfortunately, because over the years, Nigeria has practiced the wrong version of federalism, individuals and institutions that advocate the practice of true federalism are often labelled as rascals, rebels or in some cases secessionists. It is pleasing to note that eminent individuals and organisations in the country have, in the past and in recent times, been canvassing for the enthronement of true federalism in the country. While recently delivering a lecture at the Sixth Annual Oputa Lecture at the Osgoode Hall Law School, York University in Toronto, Canada, the deputy President of the Senate, Senator Ike Ekweremadu, described what is being practiced in the country as ‘feeding bottle federalism’. He, perhaps, arrived at this assertion based on the several noticeable lopsidedness in the form of federalism being practiced in the country. Before Ekweremadu’s assertion, other well respected individuals across the country had commented on the nature of the country’s federalism.
Perhaps, the most eventful period in the country’s political history was when true federalism was practiced as reflected in the regional experience of the pre-independence and immediate-post independence era. This was the period when the western region under Chief Obafemi Awolowo made giant strides that are to date second to none in the region, using exclusively revenue from cocoa. In the same era, the eastern regional government was also able to record several landmark legacies depending solely on revenue from palm kernel among others while in the North, the Ahmadu Bello administration equally laid the foundation for the socio-economic evolvement of the region.
The way forward is for us to evolve a new constitution that will truly reflect the principles and sprit of true federalism. The present Constitution is lopsided in its power sharing at the expense of the states. For instance, Part one of the Second Schedule of the Constitution listed 68 items in the Exclusive Legislative List on which only the central government has control, while in Part two, it listed 30 items in the Concurrent Legislative List on which both the central government and states could exercise control. In a true federal arrangement, there should be no need for local government creation to require consequential provision of the National Assembly. The inclusion of Police, Mines and Minerals, Railways, Stamp Duties, Taxation of Incomes, and Value Added Tax (VAT) in the Exclusive list is also uneven. Similarly, a situation where states wait endlessly for the federal government to fix so-called federal roads in their domains should be discouraged. Equally, it is imperative that a new revenue sharing formula, that will be fair to all federating units, is put in place. It is only in a unitary system that the federal government takes 52 per cent of the total revenue while the federating units –states and local governments-share the rest. Similarly, there are some ministries that exist in Abuja that shouldn’t be in place because their duties are better performed by the states. In a proper federation, what the central government does is to focus on central federal matters like foreign affairs, currency, maritime shipping, and defence.
Perhaps, most importantly, states and local governments in the country should begin to identify areas where their internally generated revenue’s base could be improved. It is only when states are financially buoyant that the prosperity that the country once enjoyed in the Awolowo, Azikiwe and Ahmadu Bello era could be replicated. The present arrangement where governors queue cap in hand for monthly allocation in Abuja is quite laughable. Lagos, under Senator Bola Tinubu, was able to stand its ground, in the celebrated local government fund seizure case between it and the Obasanjo government because its leadership had creatively evolved a sound economic base for the state.
On a final note, advocates of true federalism in the country should not be seen as promoters of secession. They are not and must not be seen as secessionists. They are those who believe in the unity and oneness of the country. Indeed, most of them had, in the past, put their lives on the line, for us to enjoy the semblance of democracy that is in place today. It is not about secession. It is about doing the right thing.
•Ogunbiyi is of the Features Unit, Ministry of Information & Strategy, Alausa, Ikeja.