I returned to and, recently, visited my folks at Kirikiri, part of the land of my upbringing, in my adolescent years as an Ajegunle boy. To the majority of Nigerians, Kirikiri is synonymous with the dreaded Maximum Prison. Yet long before 1955, when the high walled Correctional Institution was established, was the ancient Kirikiri, a village under the Prescribed Authority of Oba Alahun of Imore, now in the Amuwo Odofin Local Government of Lagos State.
Part of its territorial space is the Berger Bridge, under which is, arguably, the largest market for imported second-hand cars, as it also abuts the Beachland Estate, Snake Island, Tin Can Island Port, while it harbours the Containers Terminal, Navy Town, myriads of Tank Farms for imported petroleum products and numerous heavy trucks for their evacuation and transportation. It is a tragic irony that these infrastructures, even as veritable, nay indispensable, pillars of the Nigerian economy, are rendered inaccessible by bad roads which ensure total blockade to the ports. That life in Kirikiri Town is rendered a nightmare thereby, is an understatement.
Traffic congestion, no doubt, defines Lagos life but the situation in the Lagos Port area, with its unequalled significance to the nation’s economy, is an unmitigated disaster. As I meandered through what remained of the road, in pools and lakes of potholes from Oshodi, passing Mile Two, under breathtaking threats of ubiquitous heavy trucks, I kept wondering, if Nigeria were a proper federation, where the ports or part thereof, as economic resource, were owned by the Lagos State government, paying only taxes to the Federation, whether that road would have been so abandoned.
Just like the Kirikiri environment, the Nigerian federation and her component nationalities are locked up economically and politically, in the prism and prison of a unitary federation, as aptly so defined by His Excellency, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, the former Vice President of Nigeria and as reported by Yinka Odumakin the irrepressible Afenifere Publicity Secretary in his article recently in the Sunday Tribune. It cannot be over emphasised that the basis of federalism is that governments, both of the central and the federating units, have coordinate jurisdictions, in their respective spheres of influence, as allotted by the constitution.
Yet, so acquiescent with the present administrative centralisation are we that even governors appear so afraid to exploit the few concessions, even in the warped 1999 constitution. The modicum principle of federalism in the 1999 constitution is so intolerable to the central government, which prefers states as its mere administrative appendages. Unfortunately, some of the states, especially Lagos, which, at the early years of our current democratic outing, took the lead in ensuring the enforcement of the federal principles, are now bitten by the partisan bug of political correctness.
Security of life and property is the primary and bounden duty of government and afortiori, there is no government, properly so called, which has no capacity to enforce its laws. It is therefore shocking that the Nigerian Governors Forum, not too long ago, announced that its members could not agree on the need for State Police, as if there was any need for such consensus in a federation, which basic feature is plurality of choice. For instance, faced with war of evident annihilation, Borno State needed no consensus of other governors nor federal assent before it put over fifty thousand men under arms in the name of Civilian Joint Task Force constituted by native Kanuri youths and local hunters in the defence of the State against Boko Haram and associated criminality.
Igbokoda, the headquarters of my Ilaje Local Government of Ondo State, has, for some years, been taken over by brigands and cultists, mostly teenagers, who openly puff at marijuana, rape, steal and kill with reckless abandon. The police, overwhelmed by the fake notion of the invincibility of these Niger Delta boys, would prefer to stay in their station while heinous crimes are being committed. Nothing is ever done, except in rare cases when the Commissioner of Police, in a Fire Brigade approach, deploys some men from the State Command. Because of the strange operational tactics of the Nigerian Security system which will announce their operations days or weeks ahead, the bad boys momentarily leave the headquarters for the creeks while the stranger Commissioner’s men only resort to arresting some innocent citizens for Report purposes. How on earth, the Nigerian government expects a contingent of less than 50 men and women, in one station, constituted by non-natives and strangers to the environment, to effectively police a Local Government of over half a million people, mostly riverine and coastal territory, stretching from part of the Lekki Peninsula in the West to Delta State in the East, is most confounding.
As agreed at the 2014 Confab, states so desiring, shall have the power to establish their own police in addition to Nigerian Police. Even the police for the federation, its members, from the rank of a superintendent and below, shall be indigenes of the states of their deployment. These much were also re-echoed by the El-Rufai Committee of the All Progressives Alliance (APC) on True Federalism.
It is instructive, that the federal arrangement bequeathed to Nigerians by our founding fathers, before the military inspired present practices, recognized pluralism and freedom of choice among the component groups and governments of the federation in many ways, depending on their peculiarities. Each region had its own constitution patterned along its existential realities. Thus, while the Northern and Western regions operated bicameral legislatures, an arm of which was the House of Chiefs, giving vent to their cultural monarchical political arrangements, the more Republican Eastern Region saw no need for such chamber.
The much talked about RUGA programme ran into early storms, when it appeared such land based venture was made a central government programme, in a federation which legal framework vests all the land in a state in their respective governors, in trust for the people. When the 2014 Confab recommended ranching for advanced livestock business and as panacea for farmers/herders clash, even when the problem hadn’t reached these genocidal proportions, there was a caveat that, in line with federal principles, such ranches should be state based and voluntary.
The National Assembly, rather than being seen as the bastion of our Federal democracy, appears in competition with the Executive in seeking to undermine the states as co-ordinate and autonomous governments. One of such current instances was the order to the Governor of Edo state to reissue a new proclamation of the State House of Assembly. Stretched to its logical conclusion, the NASS was precipitating a constitutional crisis which, happily, was aborted by His Lordship, Justice Omotosho of the Federal High Court, holding inter alia thus:
“The National Assembly has no power to direct the governor to issue a fresh proclamation. The governor is the Chief Executive of the state and cannot be controlled by the National Assembly…Nigeria is a federal state and state governments are autonomous. Our political actors must see it like that and treat as such . ”
Like Obaseki in Edo, some of our governors, either of their own accord or compelled by circumstances or by ideological conviction, appear to have risen to the occasion. Such are Ortom of Benue State and his Taraba comrade and Borno Governor as earlier discussed. Seyi Makinde of Oyo State, in addition to programmatic displays of state autonomy, even symbolically demonstrated this when, in a meeting with the South West PDP leaders, which I attended in Ibadan, recently, he stood tall in patriotic attentionto the _Asiwaju ni wa_ (we are Pace Setters) anthem of Oyo State, rendered in Yoruba, immediately after the National Anthem. The governor, thereafter, declared to the admiration of his distinguished audience, that “Nigeria is a federation and we shall stretch its federal principle to its logical limits”. His actions, since assumption of office, attest to the fact he intends to live by that principle, in accordance with his Afenifere background.
The fiscal policy of our federation is only practicable in an alaaru_ (carrier) economy. According to a Yoruba economics maxim, a hired alaaru, whether at Oyingbo or Oja Oba markets, or freighters on high seas or cargo carrier planes, must earn his wages, notwithstanding the market fortunes of his hirers. In this _Ogo ta, Ogo o ta, owo alaaru a pe_ economy, assurance of allocation and bailout from the federation account is the opium of the states.
Like the desired physical liberation from the Kirikiri territorial logjam, Nigeria will, surely and indeed, be freed from its quarantined constitutional unitary quagmire and take its rightful place as an internally flourishing and internationally respected nation, when we return to federalism, in its true principles and praxis, giving vent to the creative energies of its constituent states and nationalities.
- .Ebiseni, lawyer and former Commissioner in Ondo State, was also a delegate at the 2014 National Conference.