Rethinking Regionalism

On restructuring and devolution of powers, Nigeria can retrofit 1960 regionalism to 2015 realities.


map of nigeriaA number of Nigerians still believe that this 100-year old amalgam is in dire need of structural changes. This conclusion is hinged on three central themes: political restructuring, devolution of powers and fiscal federalism. Since these issues are tied together like Siamese triplets, there has been passionate arguments by opponents and proponents on the nature and texture of the changes necessary for our next century. Clearly, a nation of almost 120 million people, about 250 ethnic groups, 36 states and 774 local government areas is definitely too big and too complex to manage from one centre in Abuja as our history can unravel. Also, countries like India and the United States of America have achieved high levels of competitiveness, growth and development through tactful devolution of powers. It is safe to posit that sometime during the lifetime of the Buhari administration, calls for the restructuring of Nigeria and devolution of powers will resonate again. Even though some aver that, on the contrary, Nigerians would rather want elected governments to get on with ruling and changing their lives. My counterfactual would be that until the nation is settled, governance would continue short-change us, no matter the good intentions of the few that have had the opportunity to rule (or lead) us. After all, even after independence in 1776, America could not begin to deliver on the promise of governance until they settled the continent at the Philadelphia Convention that produced their Constitution in 1787.

The loudest voices in the calls for restructuring and devolution of powers have suggested a return of the regional structure of 1960. The central theme by the proponents of regionalism are that the recognized six (6) geopolitical zones should replace the states as federating units thereby returning the country to the ‘glorious’ days of the regions. The arguments in support of a regional federation are the reduction in the cost of administration, ending unhealthy ethno-tribal competition in the quest to control federal power, accelerating development through the regions which will be big enough to undertake large-scale development projects, greater accountability in the utilization of state resources and healthier competition and emulation among the regions.

However, the opponents of regionalism are proselytizing their rejection based on an aversion to “returning to Egypt” and they are suspicious of another intra-regional domination. They fear that such loss of power would erode ‘gains of independence’ made by the creation of states.

It is against this background that I suggest that we need some form of creative thinking to be applied to the concept of regionalism. It is therefore imperative that a governance framework for such regions should address the sensitivities and sensibilities of some of the opponents of regionalism. If this can be achieved, then the structure of 1960 would have been re-crafted to suit the realities of 2015.

A framework for this modified regionalism is expected to recognize the federal, regions and states as federating units and power devolved from the exclusive and concurrent lists of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria to the regions. Such powers include those relating to internal security (clearly, regional police will be better than state police without negating the need for a Federal Police), regional infrastructure development, revenue generation & allocation, resource derivation and exploration, etc.By this arrangement, the bulk of the responsibilities for direct development shall be left with the states and it is expected that inter-regional competition will generate and drive growth and development.

The form of government to be adopted, which is also a main issue can be fashioned around the Presidency of the Council of the European Union with executive powers vested in a Regional Council comprising the elected governors of the constituent states. The Council will in turn rotate the position of its Chair, may be called a Governor-General (from among the governors in alphabetical order of the states) for a term of six (6) months or one (1) year and the Secretariat of the Council will be in a capital of a constituent state that will be recognized as the Regional Headquarters.

The Regions will then have Regional Commissions, not ministries (about five in number, depending on the peculiarities of each Region) to design and oversee policies approved by the Regional Council. Such Commissions can include a Police Service Commission, a Resource and Fiscal Commission as well as other Commissions to address the specific needs of the Regions in different policy sectors like an Agriculture Commission, Infrastructure Commission or Social Services Commission. The head offices of such Commissions can be located in the other capitals of the constituent states.

A Regional Parliament with elected members from the constituent states elected on the basis of equality of states (not proportional representation) as in the current Senate to make laws for the good governance of the Region. In adopting the equality of states in the Regional Parliament, it would take care of the fear of intra-regional domination and the parliament can create the legislative framework for setting regional quality standards in areas such education curriculum, health services, infrastructure development, etc. provided that such laws will not be in conflict with federal laws. The Regional Parliament will also provide oversight to the Regional Council as well as to state governors.Such Parliament can be situated in the capital of any constituent state, just as is obtainable in South Africa.

A Regional Appeal Court will be the highest judicial authority in the Regions and take care of appeals from the State High Courts. Leadership and membership of the Court shall be appointed by the Regional Council, based on the recommendations of the Regional Judicial Service Commission.The Regional Appeal Court can be located in the capital of another constituent state (again like South Africa) just as the headquarters of the Regional Police can be located in the capital of another constituent state.

In addition, the idea of regional constitutions should be jettisoned to sustain the supremacy of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (which will institute and underpin the proposed regional structure). Institutions such as the Supreme Court of the Federal Republic of Nigeria and a unicameral legislature whose membership shall be by election based on proportional representation (like the current House of Representatives). They shall be the supreme judicial and legislative institutions of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.

This 3-tier government shall be guaranteed by the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria i.e. federal, regional and states. The states would then be run by the Governors and their executive councils to implement policies and decisions of the Regional Councils. There would be no state legislatures as legislative authority shall remain with the Regional Parliament but as stated earlier, each state shall have a High Court as well as magistrate courts.

The Federal Government of Nigeria headed by a President of the Republic will then be left with matters such as foreign policy, defence, national security, etc. with relevant ministries, departments and agencies. Memberships of statutory National Commissions like the Independent National Electoral Commission, National Population Commission, Revenue Mobilization Allocation and Fiscal Commission, etc. can be reduced to twelve (2 per region) with a Chairman and Secretary. Others with functions that are now transferred to the regions and/or states will be scrapped.

If we can retrofit this model of the European Union (with an adaptation from South Africa regarding ‘centres of power’) to Nigeria, we would have instituted the desired restructuring of the country which will be required to leapfrog our current development status. It would reduce the rush to Abuja to ‘share the national cake’ and cut down the cost of running government, especially with the scrapping of state legislatures and local government areas. Furthermore, regional competition and competitiveness will drive national competitiveness, growth and development as was the case in the ‘golden days of the sixties’.