There is no doubt that Nigeria has witnessed 22 years of unbroken democratic rule with Nigerians going to the polls to elect leaders both at the state and federal levels every four-four years since 1999. However, too many discerning minds voting can be said to be the only benefit that Nigerians derive from the nation’s democracy.
Thus, to salvage the horrid experience that has been the lot of Nigerians since the advent of the Fourth Republic, apart from the ritual of the National Assembly organising reviews of the 1999 Constitution which remains the ground norm of the nation’s democracy, various governments have held conferences, the last been the 2014 National Conference under the administration of former President, Dr. Goodluck Jonathan. Bodies and individuals were also not left out.
But the essence of virtually all these exercises is to chart a way forward for the country’s democracy for it to have meaning in the life of an average Nigerian. It was in this direction that the Oyo State Ministry of Justice recently gathered Nigerians from all walks of life, including elected officials, academia, legal, financial and security experts, in Ibadan, for a two-day event tagged: 2021 Governor Seyi Makinde National Democracy Summit, with the theme, “The Future of Democracy in Nigeria”, where speakers spoke on the imperative of true federalism.
The sub-themes of the summit include, “Towards A More Effective Federalism In Nigeria; Insecurity And Conflict As Threats To Nigeria’s Democratic Future; Can There Be A Case For State Constitutions In Nigeria?; Fiscal Federalism And National Development; Challenges Of Constitutional Amendment In Nigeria; Poverty And Socio-Economic Exclusion In Nigeria; Nation Building, Citizenship And National Identity And Political Parties And Citizens Participation In The Democratic Space.
The state Attorney-General and Commissioner for Justice, Prof. Oyelowo Oyewo, while setting the tone for the summit, said with the choice of the theme, it was a contribution to save democracy from dying in Nigeria. He said the present state of Nigeria’s democracy characterised by failure in governance, inept leadership, fragmented political parties, trust deficit (open and glaring distrust) and lack of confidence in government by the majority of citizens, the collapse of the security architecture, proliferation of arms in the hands of non-state actors, the unprecedented wave of insecurity, unimaginable population of internally displaced persons in peacetime, massive infrastructure development deficit, rabid corruption, existential problems of poverty, separatist/secessionist violent agitations, demands purposive and selfless action by all Nigerians to ensure that democracy does not die in the country.
The Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), while maintaining that the summit is to enrich the discourse needed to steer the country from the precipice, charged President Muhammadu Buhari to listen to voices of reason and save democracy in Nigeria. According to him, “We are mindful of the fact that democracies, like everything associated with life, do die, if not well well-maintained! It is patently clear that the Nigerian democracy is in peril, and it behoves the Buhari presidency to heed to the myriad of calls, counsel, plea, recommendations, and what have you, all demanding for a change and reform of our democracy, constitution, polity, governance, and practices to stem the tide of doom that looms on the horizon if the present course of tyrannical undemocratic rulership persists. Quite frankly, it is in the best interest of the ruling class to secure the future of democracy in Nigeria, as the cost of a failed democratic governance in Nigeria is too worrisome to contemplate.”
The Speaker, Oyo State House of Assembly, Rt. Hon. Debo Ogundoyin, in his goodwill message, said the effective practice and strict observance of the rules, principles, and ethics of democracy and its values are the means through which society can be transformed to greater heights. He maintained that the concept of democracy has gained prominence as it is largely believed to be a sine-qua-non for growth, development, and sustainability of the body polity as opposed to military rule, stating that following the return to civil rule in 1999, there were expectations that democracy will deliver Nigeria from the long decades of savagery and oppression.
He said not until when there is total submission to the rule of law; the principle of separation of powers is strictly adhered to and effective checks and balances among the three arms of government, the country may not achieve much in democracy. Ogundoyin further stated that the 9th Assembly under his leadership has been up and doing in touching the lives of the people positively with various bills and resolutions while working hand-in-hand with other arms of government.
His words, “The 9th Assembly in Oyo State, on our part, is aware that government, among other things, is measured by the quality of legislation from the parliamentarians. The 9th Assembly is making a meaningful contribution towards making lives meaningful for the citizenry of Oyo State, ensuring that enabling environment for necessary legislation, passing of bills into laws and effective oversight function which had indeed impacted positively over the last two years on the success achieved by the executive arm of government.
“To date, the 9th Assembly had passed 83 resolutions and 56 bills into law. The three arms of government in this pacesetter state have been working harmoniously with mutual respect which had greatly contributed to the enviable growth so far covered by this administration”, he said.
On his own part, Governor Rotimi Akeredolu of Ondo State, represented by the state Attorney-General and Commissioner for Justice, Sir Charles Titiloye, in his message, posited that the country is not practicing true federalism but rather what he termed unitary form of government. According to him, “What we have had so far in this country is not federalism but a unitary system of government. Yes, in a situation whereby it is the centre that dictates to the component units; in a situation whereby the state goes cap-in-hand every month to beg for funds from the Federal Government rather than the states contributing for the control and funding of the centre.
“These are local issues, which the state can easily handle, and for us to have true federalism that we are talking about, these are areas that should be permanently handed over to the states of the federation.”
Governor Makinde, in his keynote address, said fiscal federalism and devolution of powers remained the only way to take Nigeria away from the edge of the precipice, stating that the country must devolve powers to the federating units, especially powers to control natural resources and the state security architecture, in order for it to avoid the path of destruction.
According to him, “As we continue to deliberate on the future of democracy in Nigeria, let us remember that true federalism is the way forward. Restructuring the Nigerian state, and giving the federating units more powers is the route to economic prosperity. We are the Federal Republic of Nigeria, but our federalism exists only in name. Students of political history will tell you that what we have been practising is, in fact, a unitary system of government – where more powers are concentrated in the central government.
“There is so much power at the centre and another thing that our political theorists will tell you is that by nature, a unitary system of government is better suited for small countries, maybe countries with flat ethnic nationalities. Nigeria is not a small country and very diverse. So, you can easily identify why we are experiencing developmental challenges across board. We are trying to place a square peg in a round hole. For true federalism to thrive, the federating units should have more powers and autonomy. The legislature is also fighting for autonomy, which has shown that we have to devolve.”
The governor stated further that it has become imperative for the country to address the issue of devolution of powers along the two critical lines of power to control natural resources and power to control state security architecture, maintaining that when states are allowed to take control of their resources, they will have more funds to execute developmental projects and the idea of going cap-in-hand to seek federal allocations would end. He maintained that once states are allowed to control their natural resources, the power dynamics will also change, as states will become more independent-minded and can also choose how to develop their natural resources and use them to attract investments to their states.
On the issue of the need for states to have control over state’s security architecture, Makinde said, “The prevailing security situation in Nigeria as a whole has shown how closely linked security is to development. Without a secure environment, all efforts to attract investments will be in vain. Nobody wants to put their money where they are not sure of making a profit.
“A look at the National Bureau of Statistics data will tell you which states records the lowest Internally Generated Revenue in Nigeria. When we analyse those figures, we conclude that there is a direct link between insecurity and underdevelopment. That being established, we need to fully appreciate that state policing is a sure cure to our national development challenges. Anyone who has been involved in security at any level will tell you that policing is local. One of the reasons why the Western Nigeria Security Network, code-named Amotekun is recording success is because members of the corps are drawn from the locality. They know the terrain and so can gather needed intelligence. Also, they can be held accountable by the local people.
“When state governors become the actual Chief Security Officers in charge of the security personnel in their states, they can quickly respond to security challenges. Yes, we will continue to do our best. We were able to get Amotekun off the ground and it is in operation now…but there are several limitations to what Amotekun can do right now and the types of firearms they can carry. If we are given the authority and licence, I will also buy AK47 rifles for Amotekun. So, these are just two areas where true federalism will bring greater economic benefits and development to Nigerian states,” the governor said.
Makinde also declared that his administration is ready to ensure that true federalism is practised to the extent that the Nigerian constitution allows it, pointing out that his government has continued to seek areas of collaboration with the Federal Government in order to attract economic benefits to the people of the state. He said, “For instance, we have indicated our interest in having a stake in the Ibadan Dry Port. It is a Federal Government project but Oyo State wants it to succeed. Another example is our collaboration with the Federal Ministry of Mines and Steel Development, which is in charge of solid minerals, to build a gemstone market in the state. We already donated two hectares of land in Ojoo, Ibadan, for this purpose. So, if we can achieve this much now, imagine how much more Oyo State will benefit should we practice true federalism. This is why one of the fundamental issues we have put before the federal government after our recent meeting of governors of Southern Nigeria is restructuring; this is the future of democracy in Nigeria.”
Makinde, however, said there can be no democracy without the rule of law, noting that for the country’s democracy to endure, actions must be based on the law and that the sanctity of the judiciary and the press must be upheld.
For former governor of Edo State, Prof. Oserheimen Osunbor, who moderated the plenary with the theme, “Challenges of Constitutional Amendment In Nigeria”, in his own submission, said the fundamental issues to consider in a period like we are presently in Nigeria, which will strengthen democratic practice or aspirations of the country are majorly two issues. “The first is the issue of fiscal federalism and I am very happy Governor Makinde also stressed this in his opening remarks, when he said: “We actually need to go back to the ’60s and adopt, in fact, revive the fiscal federal structure that we had, which was quite robust and capable indeed.
“Then, the states were generating a lot of funds for the local government. And I think that is the salvation for the federal system in this country. If we do not go back to that, any talk on federalism in this country is a propaganda and will not take this country out of the woods, especially in terms of effective governance.”