It was the Emeritus Professor of Political Science at the University of Ibadan– John Ayoade, on February 10, 1982 at a special seminar held at the Institute of African Studies, who described Federalism in Nigeria as worshipping an unknown ‘god’. This is quite akin to the attitudes of both the Epicurean and Stoic philosophers including men of the ancient Athens, that Apostle Paul noted that they were religious. In the words of Paul ‘as I was walking along I saw your many altars; and one of them had this inscription on it – ‘to an Unknown God’. Paul observed that they were worshipping ‘god’ they never knew! What a replica of contemporary federalism in Nigeria.
Though, federalism was introduced by the 1954 Lyttleton constitution which laid the foundation of classical federation for the country ever since the polity keep on observing the tenets and canons of the system in breach. While the choice of federalism was almost automatic in 1954, it was clear that the choice was based on a wrong premise.
In the words of Ayoade, in that old perceptive seminar paper, the choice has always been determined by a unitarist concept of federalism in two ways. Firstly, and quite erroneously, federalism is thought of as a univalent term and secondly, Nigerian federalists are known to suffer from a mismatching of goals and means to the extent that what are normally unitary goals are expected from federal means.
The bone of contention rather than boon of contentment is the Rural Grazing Area polemic of recent. The idea of RUGA by the Federal Government simply put was acquisition of massive expanse of land primarily for cattle grazing in all the states of the federation including the federal capital territory to checkmate the frequent clashes between the Fulani herdsmen and farmers across the country. On paper, most especially going by the volume of money to be committed to the project, the policy look quite good but far from being pragmatic.
Going by the Land Use Decree signed by the Olusegun Obasanjo military regime, the Federal Government has no inch of land not even plot(s) of land anywhere in the federation. The decree vested land ownership in state governors who hold same in trust for the citizenry. It is incumbent on the Federal Government to make request for land in fact for whatever purpose and subject to the approval of the state governors. Where a governor declines for whatever reason(s), the Federal Government has no legal right or power to lord it over the governor of that state. It is absurd that in some states, signposts were erected showing land acquisition for RUGA! This is indeed ludicrous.
The reality of the situation is that they (federating states) are ‘concurrent regimes with overlapping jurisdictions’. It is, therefore, a non-hierarchical political system. Whereas, the disposition of our leaders most especially governors is the mentality of hierarchy. The relationship between a governor and Mr President is not superior/subordinate one. The likes of Ambrose Alli (of blessed memory) of the old Bendel State and Asiwaju Bola Tinubu of Lagos State typify ideal governors in a federal state. While we desire cooperative federalism for development, governors don’t need to kow-tow and operate like a subordinate to Mr President. Despite the fact that the Federal Government has been having the commanding height of socio-economic policies like the ill-fated RUGA, the truth is that the federal arrangement makes is imperative for governors to assert their power within their areas of competence.
Nevertheless, the idea of RUGA is a misnomer in a federal state. You don’t go all out to acquire land to promote the economic interest of an ethnic group all over the country and make it a condition for peace. The perception of an average Nigerian which is correct anyway is that such policy must have been intended to achieve local colonialism by the ‘Fulanis.’ Some assume that it is nothing but land grabbing agenda cum territorial expansion by disguise if not ‘Islamisation’.
All these fears were aggravated by the position of President Muhammadu Buhari asking the citizens of Benue State to tolerate their brothers who massacred them in thousands! Perhaps the height of insensitivity is the rationalisation of the Fulani onslaught on hapless Nigerians by the spokesman for the President, Femi Adesina, that people should surrender their lands instead of dying. This is nothing but hypocrisy as land is a natural resource that nowhere in the world are people ready to easily forego their property. People are even more passionate about landed property usually an inheritance in Africa than other parts of the world.
It is high time we enlightened ourselves that the genesis of Fulani herders/farmers conflict is not unconnected with the fact that Nigeria is a ‘weak state’ where laws are made but either not enforced or selectively enforced. In most cases, the state is too weak to enforce laws. Since the time herdsmen became a nuisance not many have been arrested, prosecuted and convicted. Even where arrests were made, the punishments are not usually commensurate with the heinous crime committed by them.
Rather than RUGA which is not the way to go, all tiers of government should take it upon themselves first to strengthen the law enforcement machineries irrespective of whose ox is gored. A Fulani man, Tiv, Ibo, Yoruba or Hausa that commits crime must be punished. It is not about criminalising an ethnic stock. This is where Nigerians expect Mr President who is a Fulani man to come out and decry the nefarious activities of the rampaging herdsmen who may even not be Nigerians anyway.
The recent call for state police makes sense in contemporary Nigeria. The over centralised police establishment cannot be efficient in fighting crime. The police needs to be decentralised while state governors should see themselves as the chief security officer of their respective states. Not only that, it is high time we took adequate cognisance of the techno-economic structure of the country.
A country that is technologically deficient cannot fight crime successfully. It is ludicrous that in this century soldiers could be ambushed, trapped and killed by insurgents. It means our soldiers don’t have the required gadgets to see few kilometres away to know whether enemies are lucking around or not! The strength of an army is not about the number of soldiers but the weapon and technology available to them. This is where the issue of brazen corruption that has eaten deep into the marrows of an average Nigerian comes in. With fat budgetary allocations to both the military and police establishments every year, how do we know whether such monies are released to them, in what magnitude or released in good time or not. The story of an officer who deserted the soldiers who fled with hundreds of millions is a sad tale.
Finally, to get the federal arrangement working is to inject the spirit of justice and equity into the system. Nigerians desire that the system works but the governing elite are too hypocritical. They have been making mess of the whole essence of national integration. You found a northerner selling ‘suya’ in every nooks and crannies of the country without any harassment or intimidation. But top elite foment trouble with their inciting statements putting on the toga of ethnic jingoism. RUGA is not the way to go, but pragmatic federal arrangement. Nigerians should stop worshipping ‘an unknown god’.
Dr Ojo is an associate professor of comparative politics at the University of Ilorin