Much of what is masquerading as debate about ‘restructuring’ or so-called true federalism is only hot air at the top. It has very little to do with the people or issue of most concern to the bottom of the pyramid.
Suddenly, it is now all about looking back in order to fix our future. The 1963 Constitution is the magic wand now being waved to help resolve the national question, even by people who have never seen or read the Constitution.
Indeed, there are elements within that constitution that will serve us well, just as there are elements within the present constitution that should be serving us well. Truth is, there are many commonalities in the 1963, 1979 and 1999 constitutions.
But then, some of those calling for the adoption of the 1963 constitution are actually clamouring for a return of the regions, as they were in the golden days. How that would be they seem not to know. Will the states, said to be insolvent, dissolve, pack up and simply hand over to a regional government? Is that realistic and practical?
Are we calling for another layer, a buffer between Federal and State Governments for the office of Governor-general at the regional level? But then we are already burdened with big government and multiplicity of bureaucracries at many levels? Is the solution then to be found in creating another layer of bureaucracy?
I argue that much of the debate ist only at the top and does not percolate to the bottom, stuck in the middle, appropriated by an aspirational class pretending to be involved by palying a game being engineered by a manipulative power elite.
The 1963 constitution is held out as the ideal document, working well for us until hot-headed military boys came in to disrupt. Really? By 1962, Chief Awolowo was already on trial for treasonable felony. The opposition was in disarray, driven underground, elections were rigged, violence erupted in parts of the country.
Great as the 1963 consttitution might have been, who remembers that the country was lready on its knees by 1964/65 as the political elite fought tooth and nail over power? Such was it that the military intervention in 1966 was there to rescue the nation from going down.
Some want us to go back to the regions, claiming the states were mere creations of the military. True, only in part. Perhaps, some of our fathers who are again clamouring for a return of the regions, should tell us what roles they played in the creation of some of these states.They need to tell us how they formed unions and coalitions and campaigned for the creation of some of these states for a long time.
The Western Region is often cited as this model where all was well. Cocoa was sold and we built Cocoa House, Stadium, instituted free primary education, etc. True, in part only. How many remember that the people of Ondo province felt largely short-changed or marginalised, to use contemporary word, that while much of the cocoa was from their part of the region, Cocoa House showed up at Ibadan.
How many remember that there was a bit of murmuring from parts of region that the cream of the power elite and the Business elite were from a part of the region? Point is the ideal being painted was never what it is being touted. There were issues, as to be expected. Ondo State was created and Ekiti people felt marginalised in it. There was no respite until Ekiti state was created. Now, the talk is about the marginalisation of Ekiti South. Even if every hosehold were to become a state, yet marginalisation will not end.
Osun came from Oyo. What has it solved. Ijebus want out from Ogun. Yet, some say we should go back to regions. No wonder just as some are calling for a return to regions, others are calling for more states. The same elite who led us to a balkanisation are the ones seeking to put together a plate already broken into several pieces. They led us to canvass for a state of our own. Now, they say the answer lies in returning to the days of going to Ibadan.
I tell you, we are dealing with a power elite that is not only lazy and manipulative, but one that is confused. It starts with the fact that many who call for true federalism do not even know what federalism means. Federalism is more about craeting a protective shield for the weak and less baout creatinga red carpet for the strong to show off. It is a continuous work in negotiation and review, ensuring to allay the fears of segments who feel threatened by any change thought desirable.
Earlier today, some friends cited how ideal the 1963 constitution was, in allowing for referendum through which the Mid-Western region emerged. I had to remind them it was not that smooth, that in fact, agitations were more rife in the North (Middle-Belt) and the East (Calabar- Ogoja- Rivers) but Mid-West came into being more as a move to weaken the West and erode Awolowo’s base over political differences, for he was the major supporter of those canvassing for creation of new regions in the North and East.
So, my point is, what ails us as a people have less to do with the type of system we practise (even as I am for a parliamentary system) and the constitution by which we are governed. What is of paramount interest to the people at the bottom of the pyramid is to be founded in the weak socio-economic sub-stucture which has failed to deliver on development and value to the people.
So, rather than focus on that which should be of more interest to us, we fall into this trap of following them to debate what we know little about or truly concerns us and when we are boxed into a corner, we suddenly realise we do not even know the meaning of the concepts being bandied.
Do not be mistaken into thinking that all those calling for restructuring or so-called true federalism know what they are talking about, or that all that “dogo turenchi” have anything to do with the people.
Simbo Olorunfemi is a Nigerian poet, journalist, and
business person with a background in TV production and