The cry of a colossal central government that has arrogated unto itself every important executive and legislative power and reduced the states to mere administrative appendages in our false federal republic can be heard from all corners of the country. When state governors are not loudly denouncing Abuja’s forceful seizure of more than half of the nation’s revenues, they can be heard complaining about this or that overweening action of the president.
In law and in fact, whoever sits atop Aso Rock holds untrammelled sway over the states. In law: by the replacement of the 1960 independence constitution with the hodgepodge 1979 constitution drafted under the withering gaze of a retreating military dictatorship, followed by General Abacha’s literally hand-written revision of the same currently in use.
In fact: by the cold truth that state governors are at the beck and call of the president, and are ever ready to grab toothbrush and comb and scurry off to Abuja at a flex of his index finger. Ah, to know that the late Ahmadu Bello could not be persuaded to leave Kaduna for Lagos, the then federal capital!
The short but treacherous road to this appalling state of affairs began with Major-General Aguiyi-Ironsi’s calamitous unification decree of 24 May 1966. Although abrogated by General Gowon a mere three months after, its lethal venom had by then so completely damaged every social cell and sinew of the new “nation” that before long Nigeria had become a federation-in-name-only (FINO).
Ironsi had sought to eliminate the “intense regionalism” he saw as a major cause of the January 1966 coup and to replace it by fiat with national unity. And so he declared, “Nigeria ceases to be what has been described as a federation” and “now becomes simply the Republic of Nigeria.” Just as blithely, he designated the hitherto autonomous regions as “territorial areas” to be called “provinces.” His military rascality marks the birth of states as mere administrative units and of governors as prefects with a budget. Military governors were to be assigned to the provinces and could only exercise their powers “subject to the direction and control of the Head of the National Military Government.”
By one fell swoop, a newly independent “nation,” founded on treacherous grounds with hardly a firm leg to stand on, was reduced to an “administrative machinery,” a system of taking orders from the centre and executing them in the provinces. Orders issued pursuant to the centre’s assumption of “all legislative powers throughout the Republic” and codified in the Exclusive Legislative list of the 1979 and 1995 constitutions.
The consolidation of this treasonous act by all subsequent governments has radically altered the national psyche, causing us to accept a FINO identity as given, as a law of nature. Nothing demonstrates this appalling reality better than the absurd political drama currently playing in Rivers State. The National Assembly has not only hastily and haughtily arrogated to itself the power to legislate for the people of Rivers State but, also — and this is the more troubling thing — has been applauded by many!
According to Messrs Leyii Kwanee and Onari Brown, deputy speaker of the house and chairman of its committee on information, respectively, the National Assembly’s power grab is valid because it will save lives.
This species of specious reasoning is often masked by a resort to the bland claim that the action is in accordance with the constitution, as Mr Onueze Okocha, senior advocate of Nigeria, argues. Yet, the solution to the crisis, Okocha says, can only come when the warring legislators “resolve their differences.” After which they would “be able to convince the National Assembly to allow them resume their legislative duties and other functions.”
This is reasoning borne of the psychic violence wrought by the unbroken militarisation of our polity, which in turn has produced a structure of thinking that unquestioningly accepts the centre as the fons et origo, the source and origin, of our national existence. It prevents us from insisting on better interpretations of the constitution or questioning its premises; from seeing that Section 11(4) of the Constitution is best read in conjunction with Section 305 which lays out the conditions for the exercise of emergency powers by the federal government.
At any rate, it is clear that the events of 9 June could have been prevented by a commissioner of police intent on maintaining law and order rather than subverting it by taking orders from the “centre.” It causes us to forget the crucial fact that on that same day, 27 of the 32 members of the house did sit to carry out an important legislative duty: passing an amendment to the state’s budget.
The solution to the Rivers House of Assembly crisis ought not to be more than subjecting to the rule of law the five members bent on trampling majority rule through violent and other unconstitutional measures. Certainly, it does not lie in its members meekly surrendering their legislative autonomy to the federal government and “convincing” it to restore same after they might have resolved their differences.
For what, then, would be the point of the take-over? It is high time the states took themselves more seriously; high time we all thought, spoke and acted more like citizens of a FEDERAL republic than like denizens of a conquered land.
Professor Ifowodo, a lawyer and human rights activist, now teaches literature at the Texas Central State University in the United States. Kindly reach him by email via firstname.lastname@example.org
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