By Odeh Henry
Former President of the Nigerian Bar Association, NBA, and human rights activist, Olisa Agbakoba (SAN), has adviced President Muhammadu Buhari to divide the country into eight regional structures in the interest of peace in the country.
Agbakoba, a foremost advocate for democracy and good governance in Nigeria, has noted that there are so many unclear issues in Nigeria about how people of the country want to organize themselves and how they want to live together.
The senior lawyer told reporters at the weekend that insecurity and other serious issues facing the country “can’t be fully arrested,” if the central government remains so strong as it is now.
He added that, “This is because community policing or state policing is a tactical tool to deal with the problem, but the strategic tool is the bigger question of the national question.
“There are so many unclear issues in Nigeria about how we want to organize ourselves, how we want to live together, this is what some people have called the restructuring question, some call it the national question, but I call it devolution of powers question.
“Whatever it’s called that is the central issue that needs resolution so that even if you use tactical tools like community policing, but the bigger issue remains then I don’t know if we can resolve it.
“What Nigeria needs is space, there are diverse ethnicities and they are living in such close proximity that one ethnic community is in the face of the other with counter-cultures, counter-religious beliefs and that is not healthy. Even in America in spite of all their advanced democracy, they take care of diversities.
“So, I think if I were to advise the president, for instance, the first thing to do is create space…,identify the ethnic regionalities, create eight big blocs, even though we have 6 to make it 8.
“And then I will give them the power to do things at their own local level, it’s called the principle of subsidiarity; let them work at their own local level. Subsidiarity is where people engage themselves at the local level such that you find in Wales, Scotland, Ireland and England.
“Part of the challenge they had when they were living closely was to create an act of settlement of 1705, that was when peace began to come and each of the regions recognized themselves.
“They all had their own prime ministers and they call them first ministers, so the prime minister of the UK is the one we see internationally, but on local matters like school, refuse collection, education, agriculture, employment, health issues, it’s local.
“So, imagine where eight of the regional structures in Nigeria were fending for themselves at their local levels and not depending on federal allocation from Abuja, things will be different.
“Immediately they will take control of what is around them, they will create state police, they will create the relevant security apparatus to deal with any threat, therefore, you don’t need one Chief of Army Staff, and they don’t need one Inspector General of Police to be running around entire Nigeria.
“For instance…say in the South-south region, they will have all the relevant apparatuses to deal with whatever situation that they need to survive as a region.
“They could have courts; they might like to have a Supreme Court of the South-south where cases end in the Supreme Court of the South-south, so they do not have to go to the Supreme Court of Nigeria because the Supreme Court of Nigeria has no business dealing with issues arising from there.
“That is the kind of space I think that should be paramount in the issue concerning where Nigeria is heading to.
“Because that discussion is not on the table, all these ethnic issues flare up as major national insecurity challenge. So, that is what I will do or suggest if I had the opportunity to advise on it. The Federal Government is too strong.
“The Federal Government is actually not a Federal Government, ours is a unitary government because the states have no power on the legislative list so there are 68 items on the Exclusive List and as the name implies in Exclusive List only the Federal Government handles it.
“There is 30 on the Concurrent List, concurrent is between the federal and the state to legislate, but if the Federal Government legislates then pursuant to what is called the doctrine of covering the field the state is not allowed to do anything. In other words, the states have no legislative authority, that creates a problem.
“Why should the Federal Government be dealing with Universal Basic Education for primary schools? What is the Federal Government responsibility with that? I don’t understand.
“What is the Federal Government responsibility with setting up a JAMB process so that you equalize educational activities, but if my grandchild from Anambra scores 282, but my friend’s grandson from Zamfara scores 100, my friend’s grandson gets into the university, but my own does not get in. Why don’t you simply say ….look each region can just organize itself and take your examination?
“So, it is this centrifugal federalism, that means federalism that has a pyramid that has only one leader that is our problem.
“We just have to blast the structures and allow regional leaders as we had under the 1960 Constitution. So, when you have regional leaders you will have people who will like to play regional politics or regional law.
“There is no reason, for instance, in my own profession the eight regions I propose should not be awarding SAN to their best lawyers. Why must it only be Abuja? In the UK, the SAN in England is different from the SAN in Scotland.
“So, the formula that worked for Nigeria was to recognize the differences and I think the best example of the agreements that we can apply is the Aburi Accord.
“The Aburi Accord recognized that Nigeria’s problems were as a result of our diversity not being well managed. We need to manage our diversity that is the way we can move forward.”