Written by the Editorial board of The Guardian Newspaper

It appears the only people who do not understand the import of the debate on the future of Nigeria are those cocooned in the seat of power. For, wherever two or more are gathered over Nigeria’s politics and governance, there is either a direct discussion on the expediency of restructuring of the failing federation or the failure of governance strategy.

This indifference of the ruling elite to the urgency of making Nigeria a truly functional federation is a disgrace to them. And it is not surprising that such elite imperviousness to reason and lessons of history has compelled Nobel laureate and literary giant, Professor Wole Soyinka, to lend his voice to the calls for a critical look at the state of the union and to put a lie to the typical response from those in office and power that ‘Nigeria’s unity or sovereignty is not negotiable.’ This constant refrain is not only simplistic, it is outright dishonest.

Nigerian leaders at all levels should understand that this is a democracy and when they shut their ears to the people’s yearnings, they board the vehicle to failure.

Soyinka has aptly reiterated this newspaper’s firmly-held age-long position that “the sovereignty of the nation is negotiable” and a decentralisation of the nation would ensure healthy rivalry among the component units.
Nigeria, certainly, cannot make progress with the current centralised arrangement which encourages indolence on the part of some while they feed fat on the sweat and resources of others.

This is an arrangement that must be dismantled and replaced with one that bears the finest attributes of a true federation.

A centralised revenue aggregation and then allocation formula, whereby the centre collects all resources only to turn around and dole out some to the federating states every month will continue to make the constituent states beggarly, un-resourceful and unviable. The centralised police system has failed the nation as the police force in its current state cannot deal with the nation’s internal security challenges. So, the issue of state police in a federation is an idea that can no longer be wished away! There are clear examples in federations such as the United States, Canada, Germany, Australia and even the United Kingdom (UK) where a decentralised police system is the norm. In the UK, for instance, there are 43 police forces, apart from other supporting forces in different localities. The New York City (not New York State) Police is one of the most operationally efficient police in the world. In Nigeria’s First Republic, when the regions were autonomous before the military destroyed federalism, state police was part of the success of that era.

It is unfortunate that Vice President Yemi Osinbajo has been ambivalent about the structure of Nigeria and what to do to make the country function properly. On one hand, he said restructuring was not more expedient than diversification (of the economy) and in another, he reportedly supported the idea of state police in the context of massive insecurity challenges in the country. There is no middle ground. Nigeria is either a federation or not. And given its diversities, the only way to development is for such a country to adopt federalism in which the individuality of its component nations is acknowledged and a strong unity is built out of the diverse interests.

There is one thing Nigeria’s leaders should note: nation-building is not a project for the faint-hearted. Which is why all elders and statesmen in the country should raise their voices, like Soyinka has done, in educating those who pretend or actually do not understand history that sovereignty is better negotiated peacefully than forcibly taken or foisted. Within one generation, the Soviet Empire collapsed like a pack of cards into not-so-remarkable entities. Yugoslavia disintegrated into a collection of warring states and municipalities. Germany was once forcibly divided but eventually evolved into one country from two.

Eritrea came out of Ethiopia even as Menelik II had sold Djibouti to the French almost 116 years ago to fund the modernisation of Addis Ababa. Sudan was forced to let Southern Sudan go after years of war as a result of centralised injustice and further splitting is possible given the current agitation in the same South Sudan. What of the United Kingdom? That once great power may soon be reduced to only England as Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland are reconsidering their membership of the United Kingdom, following the just concluded Brexit vote. India, the world’s largest democracy, evolved from one territory to three countries (India, Pakistan and Bangladesh) within just a quarter of a century. So, the opposition to negotiating Nigeria’s sovereignty or restructuring it into a functional federal state is unfounded, ignorant and unpatriotic.

What Nigeria needs today are leaders with open mind who would not see those calling for restructuring of the federation as rebels out to break up the country. Indeed, proponents of authentic federalism should be seen as patriots who want a solid foundation for a united and prosperous Nigeria whose re-construction is yet to begin.

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