Playing down tension for a headway at confab

HASSAN A. SALIU, a professor of political science, identifies some issues that should be of utmost concern to the generality of Nigerians at the ongoing national conference,  as well as those that should  be of interest to the Ilorin Emirate

One must commend the foresight that informed the decision of the Goodluck Jonathan administration in settling for another round of discussions among Nigerians. The number of Conferences can never be too many especially in a democratic environment. The more the opportunity to engage in sincere and genuine discussions, the stronger will be the bond that binds the nation together. The Ilorin Emirate should therefore seize the opportunity of the forthcoming National Conference with its both hands. As a kind of juncture town or community, a lot of benefits are potentially available to it if Nigeria’s political structure or federalism functions properly.

No part of Nigeria apart from Kano, Port Harcourt, Lagos, and a few other places, should match the level of development of Ilorin. Being a part of the area from which the concept of Abuja was originally derived, it should have been a leading light in economic development. Indeed, it was an economic light, boasting of many industrial concerns in the past. The prospects of getting the development agenda right for the Emirate are certainly higher, brighter and more assuring with hard work, in Kwara State than any regional platform.

Burning issues
The Ilorin Emirate must prepare for the eventuality of some elements in the present Kwara State who will want to join their brothers and sisters in Niger, Osun and Kogi States or new states may be, called for that will embrace parts of the present Kwara State. Unfortunately, there is nothing that can be  done beyond defending the retention of Kwara State or striving for the creation of an Ilorin State if occasion demands for it. Research must therefore be stepped up on the area that belongs to the Emirate, its resources and history. Nothing will be gained at the Conference if we hope and expect other areas to defend us and our collective heritage.

For us to be successful at the  Conference, we will need to play down the rising tension of political intolerance in the state. People need to appreciate that what is at stake is the existence of Kwara State or the retention of the structure that will ensure the continuous existence of the state. As such, all hands must be on deck. Our Royal Father and the Emir of Ilorin, His Highness, Alhaji (Dr) Ibrahim Sulu-Gambari CFR needs to consider the creation of an All Parties’ Group/ Committee that will generate a consensus on the agenda for the Emirate. The likelihood of members of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) undermining members of the All Progressive Party (APC) and APC members undermining members of PDP is not likely to work in our collective favour.

Revenue allocation and resource control
We must support the calls for more resources to other tiers of government to enable them have the wherewithal with which to meet the needs of their people. This must be complemented by people showing more interest in how governments at all levels utilize the resources at their disposal. Our situation of being a state that counts and relies on federal allocations makes the double barrel advice inevitable. Also, our delegates should prepare for hot debates that will come up on the issue of resource control as the usual argument against us by better endowed parts of the country is our apparent inability to contribute more to the national economy.

Preparing a check list of mineral resources available in the state and their commercial value will be a good defence and a kind of game changer for us. Meanwhile, the oil producing states will definitely ask for more allocation of resources which ordinarily they should deserve. However, all theories of federalism make provisions for peculiarities for states adopting it. This then means that our delegates should allow the peculiar situation of the existence of Kwara State to be their guide and more importantly, the overall interest of the nation.

This paper shares the view that the problems facing Kwara State are surmountable if we show the willingness and readiness to serve the good people of the state. Anything short of creating an Ilorin State should not be preferred at the expense of Kwara State. While noting and agreeing that we can do better politically, economically and socially within the context of Kwara State, we should be hesitant in giving support to any restructuring that will place us under any regional administrative set up that will limit our horizons and potential. Our vote must therefore be counted in the general call for more devolution of powers to states and the resuscitation of Local Government Councils as the third tier of government, working to make the concept of governance meaningful for our people at the grassroots.

Complacency, encouraged by the phenomenon of oil economy and the loss of political vibrancy, has not made Ilorin to maximize its locational advantage. We must therefore brace up to reverse the trend. As a minority group in the north, the Emirate does have a major disadvantage.  The temptation will always be there that it will only be considered after the major ethnic groups in the north have all taken care of their interests. However, with astuteness and all-inclusive political arrangement, there is a lot we can do to regain the lost grounds.

One of these is to re-negotiate our location and alliance with the North. This is inevitable as a review of our political history and behaviour shows the strong political alliance with it. Looking for another political suitor now in the context of regional politics would certainly not be in our best interest. This has nothing to do with the current situations in the political parties or even approaching elections. What I think has always been the problem is the amount of trust that the core North has in the Emirate in terms of our political behaviour. But as the North is trying to rediscover itself, Ilorin should be part of the process though under new terms arrived at through negotiations.

This suggestion is not unmindful of the election fever in the air where politicians have pitched their tents and partisanship colours everything. Ilorin, after the 2015 elections, can take stock and considers the appropriate roadmap to sustainable development for the Emirate.
The greed, insensitivity and the damage done to the North by its narrower conception by successive successors to Sir Ahmadu Bello as the leaders must be pointed out. Our other grievances against our natural allies must be highlighted and redress must be sought.

The Emirate should also support the existing federal structure in the country. While one has no major problem with the new wave of regionalism, Ilorin is not strategically placed to support the call for a return to regionalism. With a renewed focus and vision, we hold the strong view that the concept of Kwara State can still be a platform for accelerated development for our people at the expense of the concept of North Central Zone or whatever name may be given to the geo-political zone that we currently belong. With the attitude of some Nigerian politicians, such a creation may be another opportunity to entrench a regime of regional or ethnic champions.

More importantly, the North Central Geo-political Zone is so diverse and it seems not to have many things in common beyond the fact of being involved in the politics of the Middle Belt that some politicians have played its card to gain more access to vital political and economic resources. If the concept of North Central Zone must stay, it should be for ceremonial administrative purposes or distribution of political positions as is currently the case. The virtual homogeneity that drives the regional integration processes in Western and Eastern Nigeria is sorely missing when the searchlight is beamed on the North Central Zone.

 Presidential versus Parliamentary
One other issue that agitates the minds of Nigerians upon which the forthcoming Conference is expected to deliberate upon and a solution found to it has to do with the system of government; Presidential or Parliamentary. At the inception of the First Republic, the Parliamentary System inherited from the British colonial masters was preferred and it lasted for six years before the military truncated democracy in 1966. The Parliamentary System encourages the fusion of the executive powers with the powers of the Legislature as members of Executive can also serve as members of the Parliament. Among its attractions is the concept of collective responsibility as members of the Executive arm are also members of the Parliament and that promotes consensual politics which facilitates the effective implementation of programmes, among others. Little surprise, some Nigerians especially the older generations are in love with it and have therefore argued for its return in the country.

The Presidential System distinguishes itself by the high premium it places on individual/ministerial responsibility and its elegant position on separation of powers  notwithstanding the thrust of vesting of one individual with both the ceremonial and executive powers of the state. Thus, when the storm swarmed around Princess Stella Oduah, former Minister of Aviation, over some infractions regarding procurement matters, she was individually responsible for her actions in office, not the entire executive members. The freedom given to the President to choose his ministers means that he can appoint them from any background. If they are from the Parliament, they are expected to resign their membership of the legislature. Its strongest weak points include; high cost of running the system, the instability or more appropriately, high turnover of ministers and the frictions that often develop between the Executive and the Parliament.

Viewed comparatively, the two systems are as good as their operators. None is inherently good or bad. A lot depends on the environment under which each of them is being practiced. Based on the fact that the population of the country shows more of youths than older generations and given the fact that on the whole, the System first practiced in the country in 1979 has been with the nation for nineteen years (1979-1983 and 1999-2014) which makes it more popular than the Parliamentary Mode that only lasted for six years, the former though still with its teething problems, is the best for Nigeria with her mounting complexities and diversities. It can be made cheaper if the operators adjust their attitude and watch their propensity for materialism and reconcile themselves with the real needs of the people. It is doubtful if any system can be adopted without it being compromised given the pervasive corruptive culture in the country. The polluting environment is what the country should address. It is capable of polluting any other system that people may be thinking about.

Legislative Matters
Bicameralism has always been with Nigeria. Yet, some of our compatriots are beginning to have a rethink about its appropriateness for the country. In the original development of the two-tier legislature, it was expected that while one can be composed of politicians, the other can be made to represent other special interests.

Based on the issues of cost, absenteeism, insensitivity and the obvious lack of capacity, some Nigerians have argued against having two legislative houses; one based on population and the other on the principle of equality. What I think should concern Nigerians more is their overall relevance. More activism is required and the disturbing level of disconnect between Nigerians and the National Assembly should be addressed. Once the tendency towards being perceived as a rubber stamp to the Executive arm is taken care of and more people-oriented proposals are being tabled and passed into laws, the perception of people about the National Assembly will change. Factors of population and diversity combine to support bicameral legislature for the country.

There are Nigerians who are more worried about the cost of running the National Assembly. They are therefore in the mood of canvassing for part-time legislators for the country. While this paper is not oblivious of the fact that some money may be saved by such adoption, the huge requirements of development and given the pivotal role of legislative actions in facilitating it, this paper is not inclined to side with the apostles of part-time legislators for Nigeria. The cost of running the National Assembly will definitely go down if we look at other expenditure items such as constituency allowances and projects, feeding allowances and other sundry expenditure items that necessarily swell up the overall cost of managing the legislature. Above all, the value of the National Assembly will be enhanced and less criticism will trail its character and nature if our legislators change their overall attitude which suggests affluence both home and abroad that is informed by primitive accumulation.

Tenure/term limits
Another issue that I think should concern the Ilorin Emirate has to do with the term limits for political office holders especially the President, Governors and their Deputies. The 1999 Constitution, as amended, provides four year tenure in the first instance for this category of politicians. Some Nigerians are not comfortable with this constitutional provision. Because of the texture of Nigeria’s elections and the distractions that Second Term or re-elections constitute to governance in Nigeria, there have been repeated calls to limit the President, Vice President, Governors and their Deputies to one term of four years or five years or six years or even seven years.

The concerned Nigerians, no doubt, have chosen to ignore the fact that re-elections or renewal elections or second chance elections have their democratic value which cannot be overshadowed by the negative politics that characterizes second term bid of some politicians. Renewal or second chance elections generally give the opportunity to the citizens to air their views and thus have a say in either returning politicians to power or sacking them. They are not ceremonial but appraisal exercises for the citizens. The ugly events that have characterized the re-election attempts of some politicians should not make us to reject the philosophy of second chance elections. With INEC bracing up to its duties, this phenomenon will be on the downward trend. People need not to unwittingly be weakening the democratic fibre through the attitude of some politicians.

There is no guarantee that if the tenure is adjusted to give people more than four years that will automatically better the governance environment in the country. The crisis of governance facing the nation cannot be effectively tackled by limiting the tenure of certain categories of political office holders. I doubt if that proposal can solve the endemic corruption, weak attachment to or absence of manifestoes by political parties, disconnect between the people and the governments, etc., that are currently challenging the nation. We should therefore be more concerned about the properties of good governance such as accountability, transparency, efficient service delivery, inclusiveness, etc., at the expense of elongated one term tenure for some elected officials.

The electorates should not be denied their roles in periodically assessing their elected representatives and give their verdicts through elections. Across the parties, the fear of elections and the prospect of being rejected at the polls have informed the relative shaping up of some political actors both at federal and state levels. This potential check deserves to be preserved. A long stay in power always brings its consequence costs. One of these is fatigue and the other is a tendency to be despotic and contributes negatively to the democratic growth and development of the society. The notion of messiah is often cultivated and nurtured in the vortex of overdrawn tenure especially under little democratic flavour.

Rotational presidency
There is a clamour for Nigeria’s Presidency to rotate among the six geo-political zones in the country. This is predicated on the need to give a sense of belonging to all Nigerians. For the ruling party in the country (PDP), there is a strong indication that the presidency should rotate between the North and South of Nigeria. The death of President Umar Yar’Adua in 2010 has however turned this gentleman agreement into a source of political cleavages in the party, with the North hanging on to the rotational principle to return to power. There are others who believe that the presidency of the country should not be rotated. Rather, it should go to any Nigerian with competence. The ghost of rotation will surely resurrect at the National Conference.
My suggestion on it is that it is a dicey matter for the Emirate given our minority status in the North or North Central Geo-Political Zone.

It will be extremely difficult for power to rotate to our own part of the North given the charged political environment and the relapse into ethnic and regional politics of the old era. We seem to stand a chance of clinching the country’s presidency under the regime of leaving it open than rotation. When the chips are down, the Emirate may find it difficult to muster the required clout to clinch it even if it is the turn of the North Central Zone. The ethno-religious characteristics of the zone and the entrenched Middle Belt irredentists who are driven by the divisive factors in the North might be a hard nut for any Ilorin man or woman to crack to advance politically and presidentially.
Saliu, a professor of political science, University of Ilorin,  presented the paper at an IEDPU stakeholders’ meeting recently in Ilorin.

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