Case for state autonomy
By Ayodele Fagbohun
“If a country is unilingual and uni-national, the constitution must be unitary.
“If a country is bilingual or multilingual, the constitution must be federal and the constituent states must be organized on a linguistic basis.
“Any experiment with a unitary constitution in a bilingual or multi lingual or multinational country must fail, in the long run.”Chief
Nigeria is multi-lingual, religious and secular nation comprising over 250 ethnic/linguistic groups, which are very independent and autonomous before the conquest of British colonial rule and the eventual proclamation of the British pax.
Notwithstanding, the obvious facts, the Marphersion Constitution of 1951 during the colonial administration willfully imposed a quasi-federation on the country.
Until Oliver Lyttleton, Secretary of the State for the colonies of 1954 transformed the structure of Nigerian government from the unitary status. It gave the regime otherwise known as Northern Western and Eastern Regions greater autonomy and excised Lagos as federal capital.
However, the autonomy relatively enjoyed in the colonial era, which readily conceded self governing regional government later blown into full national independence is now progressively eroded and virtually in abeyance when we are fully in charge in the governance of our own country either military or civil.
Some of our leaders and readers alike can bear witness to this disheartening and disturbing development.
The majority of the present so called 36 states structures are neither viable nor sustainable to be self financing to meet daily yearnings, expectations and aspirations of the people.
It must not be forgotten in a hurry that the people from various communities and even hamlets or farm steads mobilized rank and file fought grim battle ready to shed every pint of their blood or risk self immolation if so denied legitimate demands for states and local government areas without necessarily given deeper thoughts to pay the price.
Some leaders even resorted to name calling, blackmail, cast aspersion, innuendoes on certain revered political aspirants whom they feared might frustrated their demands for new states out of the monolithic Western State.
All the strident clamour might not emanate from national interest afterall. A means to realize short term ends; choicest and privileged positions and new status of Permanent Secretaryship, governor-in-waiting, senators and host of winning high sounding laurels for the purpose of naked self interest in their new fiefdom.
For instance, on the occasion of the launching of a new political party, the Unity Party of Nigeria in Akure presided over by the UPN National President, Chief Obafemi Awolowo, the leader of Ondo State wing of the party, Chief (then Mr) Michael Adekunle Ajasin used the forum to debunk the vile rumour abroad that Chief Obafemi Awolowo was opposed to the creation of new Ondo State just to clip the rising political profile of the old man. Chief Ajasin said the allegation was spurious and false reminding the excited mammoth crowd of party faithful he (Awolowo) said privately and in his writings that states should be created on linguistic basis to make for peace, less acrimony, less misunderstanding and misrepresentation.
Much to the chagrin of the people, most of the states, if not all are virtually dependent on federal allocations, go cap in hand to beg for handouts, alms and loans and enmesh in degrading and humiliating bailouts to save them from financial predicament and national embarrassment.
This lugubrious scenario exacts a telling negative impact on the hapless people and upstage happy equilibrium between the interest of national unity and regional/state autonomy.
The strength of any federal constitution revolves on its capacity to foster national unity while the individuality of the components of the federation is preserved. This can be sustained when the federating units which are the states are autonomous enough to serve as independent and coordinate of the federal government.
The bleak future of state government on the inability to perform its statutory and interest function as viable component of the federation and how to remedy the knotty problems are nonetheless highlighted by the submissions of Chief Obafemi Awolwo as follows: “The system we are now operating is a unitary constitution with heavy devolution of functions to the so-called state authorities, which are becoming more and more provincial authorities with governors a little higher in administrative status than the French prefects. In the context of Nigeria, this kind of arrangement has very little chance of success under a civilian setting. With politics at its best, it would groan poignantly and at its worst, it would suffer nervous breakdown.”
Since we have accepted federalism as the most suitable system of government for the country, we cannot run away from its implication and conform to the extant rules, fundamental principles which are deducible from empirical process and attendant turmoil of constitution-making the world over.
“The organization of the country into constituent states should be on linguistic basis provided (i) No one/two states should be large in size and population, as to be able to overrule the other states and bend the will of the federal government to their own.
(ii) No state shall be so small as to be able to maintain its independence with the sphere of functions allocated to it.”
There is need for financial and executive capabilities of individual states to carry all allotted functions. In United States of America, member-states avoid federal control. Ideally, the states ought to be independent of each other. This essentially includes financial autonomy to the states.
To strengthen our federation for efficient and effective service delivery, there is clarion call for alignment and realignment of states across the country, to coalesce for meaningful development unity and progress. We must be very humble enough to accept and realize our collective failure as a federal union of states. The oil-well will soon dry up and evaporate leaving us to the traditional mainstay of economy which is agriculture. That is blatant truth.
Ondo/Ekiti that I know very well should revert to the status quo ante in pre-1996 military fiat to tap and benefit from the rich potential of the virgin and uncultivated area crying for agro-industrial revolution. This is without prejudice, bias and not to spite any individual past or present at the helm of affairs, in the two related and consanguine states.
By the same token, some communities in the country should be considered and given autonomous provinces in their own states. The Itsekiriland in the old Midwest demanded an autonomous province. The Itsekiri formula should be revived as obtain in the constitutions of the USSR and Yugoslavia to answer the fears of linguistic minorities throughout the country.
To douse the ceaseless and emotional agitation for creation of more states and to allay the just fears of minority groups, this innovation of Itsekiri formula should be incorporated forthwith in the 1999 federal constitution as amended.