• Friday, June 21, 2024
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Restructuring for effective statehood


My gentle and faithful readers, last week we sought to make the case for restructuring; marshalling the arguments and rationale for the revamping of our federation. In this follow-up, I offer some reflections on how we might go about the process in a manner that would allay the fears of those who believe that the whole thing might end up with the unintended effect of toppling the applecart.

We must begin with first principles: What does a state exist for? And what are the duties of states as understood by sages since Aristotle and Kautilya, Ibn Khaldun and Sultan Mohammed Bello?

I believe that the most universally agreed principal duty of a state is to ensure the physical security of lives and properties of all citizens and people that live within its jurisdiction. Any state that fails in that primary duty has, ipso facto, failed in its most elementary duty. Thomas Hobbes, the pessimistic English political thinker, argued that, in the state of nature, life is ‘nasty, brutish and short’. He made the case for the emergence of a Leviathan that will secure the common peace while preventing men from devouring one another.  While Hobbes reached the conclusion that the solution to this perennial problem lies in having strong kings who will unify the state while ruling with an iron hand, his compatriot John Locke argued strenuously for representative government based on the rule of law and the evolution of effective institutions that conform with the imperatives of liberty and justice. John Locke underlined the principle of consent as the foundation of the compact between men and powers. Men consent to be governed because the state provides them with a minimum of public goods such as security, the rule of law and liberty. When governments fail to provide these public goods then the people concerned are morally as well as jurisprudentially justified to rebel, sometimes by force of arms.

Jean-Jacques Rousseau declaimed that ‘man is born free, but everywhere he is in chains’. Rousseau famously articulated the notion of a ‘social contract’ as the moral foundation of statehood. Men agree to live in political communities because of the existence of a social contract between states and citizens. When that contract ceases to exist, the moral legitimacy of the state is undermined and rebellion and upheaval become the order of the day.

In our twenty-first century, the role and duties of the state encompass a wide spectrum of social and political obligations. These include: upholding the rule of law; effective monopoly over the instruments of legitimate violence;  creation of citizens’ rights through social policy; sound management of public finances; institutionalisation of a well-functioning governmental machinery; effective taxation; investment in human capital; aggregation of societal preferences, i.e. effectively articulating what society needs and providing the means for the pursuit and implementation of those societal choices; conflict resolution and management; provision of public infrastructures; effective provision of vital knowledge and information; and promotion of social justice.

How can a government best fulfil these functions?

The buzzword these days is ‘state effectiveness’ or ‘state capability’. A capable and effective state is one that is able to provide all its citizens with all those public goods that enable them to fulfil the good life. The ancient Greeks used to call it eudamonia or ‘flourishing’.

The opening lines of the American constitution are glorious and unforgettable: “We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”
The American Founding Fathers – George Washington, John Adams, Thomas Madison, Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson and the others – were men of the highest calibre. They thought deeply about where they were coming from and where they were going as a people. Having a new constitution and establishing their own New Jerusalem was for them a matter of destiny over which there could be no compromise.

State-building requires conscious efforts by a leadership that is dissatisfied with the way things are and is willing to do what it takes to build a better future. It calls for statesmanship, vision and supreme moral courage. Equally important is ensuring a broad level of consultations across the broad spectrum of society. This is essential to ensuring the legitimacy of the whole process of political transformation.

In the case of Nigeria, the report of the last political confab needs to be dusted from the archives. It is vital to distil its essential lessons as a guide for the future. In addition, we need a commission of wise men to work for perhaps a year to develop new thinking for a more viable political structure as well as governmental system. Should we operate on the basis of regions or should we limit ourselves through a series of mergers between states? Should we opt for a parliamentary system instead of the expensive presidential system that currently obtains? Should we maintain a bicameral or unicameral legislature? How can we minimise the cost of government while maintaining its effectiveness?

After the wise men and women would have submitted their findings the next process would be a conference of all the nationalities of our country, on the basis of proportional representation. The aim of the nationalities conference would be to reflect on the report of the Commission of Wise Men and Women and to firm up the principles for both the structure and system of government that is desirable going forward.

The report of the conference of nationalities will now be tabled before an elected Constituent Assembly whose job would be, working within the guidance of the distilled principles and received wisdom, create a new constitution for our country. The Constituent Assembly should not be dominated by lawyers with a penchant for creating legal loopholes that will generate enormous wealth for their profession in terms of litigation while crippling the democratic process.

I would be remiss if I did not state upfront my own convictions. I believe that Nigerians would not be agitating to go their own separate ways if our state had evolved as a servant of the people rather than its master. Over the past decade, thanks to the intrusion of the military on the political arena, we have created a monstrous Leviathan that has continued to suck the life-blood out of our people. We need to reinvent Nigeria as a country that works – that offers our youth hope of a better future. I would like us to collapse the current 36 states into a federation of 10 regions, with the FCT remaining as our capital. We need a less decentralised system that is not necessarily a confederation. The regions must enjoy a broad level of autonomy to make their own laws, operate their own police and collect their own taxes. The federal centre should mainly concentrate on issues of broad macroeconomic policy, national defence and foreign policy. The current presidential system should also, in my view, be replaced with a unicameral parliamentary system.

Men are not angels. The presidential system confers frightening powers to the President and governors. Only those who fear God will exercise power with restraint, humility, mercy and justice. Many have gone ahead to commit murders, knowing that they can hide their crimes under cover of constitutional immunity. This is pure evil and the system must be changed.


Obadiah Mailafia