By Sam Omatseye
They came with the air of heirs to a new realm. They were revolutionaries. They were rescuers in a time of peril. They had great ideas. In Asaba, they all arrived, one after the other. In sartorial facades, they highlighted the cultural cornucopia of the south. The caps, tunics, beads, neckwear, footwear, et al. The time was near. Indeed, the time had come for the big jump over the chasm to save the heirloom for the realm.
But it was like a small sigh from a giant’s chest. This was an anti-climax. The governors from the south did not see it that way. They had had a great meeting, and they unveiled a great resolution. Some call it anti-climax. Others say it was heroic.
They called for restructuring, but it was nothing new. They asked the president to address the nation. Nothing special about that. The man had been quiet on that front from the neck up for too long. They shut their borders to open grazing. Even the north has said that much. So, why all the hullaballoo, the private jets, the attires, the royal ambience, the caravans, the air of majesty of the southern governors as they strode into Asaba?
The host, Governor Ifeanyi Okowa of Delta State, hailed his colleagues. The senate president thought otherwise, couching his onslaught in logic as inelegant as its language.
They did not do anything bad. They just pointed the finger to the centre instead of at themselves. By their resolutions, they admitted that the centre could not hold. To avert anarchy, rather than release a charter of action, they uttered a cry of surrender.
Did they expect anything from their resolution from a centre that has not been able to comb the bandits from the bush, save nubile girl in college, or the old man in a village hut during night raid? What they did was a grandiloquent ritual, a good photo op, a good headline, and absolutely nothing.
It might have been better if they went to Mr. President, and told him that. Even if the man did nothing, it would have made a greater gesture, perhaps a prelude to action. Even at that, it begs the question.
The governors forget that even if the centre cannot hold, they can tie the country together. They need to heal themselves of what the Hungarian novelist of ideas, Milan Kundera, calls the unbearable lightness of being. They feel light whereas they are freighted with great power by our constitution. It is the great virtue of the federalist system that if the centre fails, the parts can save the union. This is the power they have failed to realise.
One of the great opportunities from security is the security council that men like Femi Falana (SAN) have been harping on for some time. It is a council that has not been holding. The president and governors are supposed to meet on security. That body has remained inert. The governors have the power to invoke the law and compel even the president to convene it regularly. In that meeting they can take far-reaching decisions that will even make the present security architecture superfluous if it does not obey that council. It is a body with constitutional heft. So why are the governors crying about their impotence when the power to attack the goons in our midst is within them? Are they afraid to call on the president to convene it? They have the right to browbeat him to do it within the ambit of the law.
Again, the issue of restructuring has rankled us. The argument that we have all matters resolved in the archives has droned for so long that Nigeria will need another conference to decide what document will work. It will be the rigmarole, a coming and going that goes on forever.
The southern governors can go into action and restructure the country without a conference. We know that we need two-thirds of the state houses of assembly to append signature for a matter to be passed into law. If these southern governors are ready, they can start right now. The state houses of assembly are virtually rubberstamp, and the governors preside even in this democracy with the paraphernalia of a monarch. They can bring their monarchical resources to the benefit of democracy. Soldiers have given us democracy, like the charisma of George Washington. So, why not elected governors? After all, the governors also decide who will be a member of the House of Representatives and the Senate. They control who makes law at home and centre. All they need do is come together as governor and decide to whittle the centre one law at a time, and within one year they can restructure the country, without a conference, without a billion naira jamboree and without a jot of blood. It will be a game of numbers. That is where the task calls for statesmanship and perseverance. It will be interesting to see if the president can turn down the law at his desk.
If the southern governors are serious, they can start shopping for support among their colleagues up north. It will be a grind of give-and-take. They don’t have to win them all. They just have to win enough. They can start with revenue. All states know they lack for money and that is why they go to the centre as beggars. Why can’t they take the financial wind out of the centre and legislate for fiscal federalism? This is what political scientists call cooperative federalism. Eventually, it should redound to what is called dual federalism where all powers belong to the states except foreign affairs and defence.
If the governors start this, it will give the nation its great ferment in politicking since 1960. There will be back-channel deals, threats and carrots, but the excitement of give and take will trump any subversive forces. It will be the big Nigerian dialogue. It will be the move to save the country. There will be wolves and there will be lambs. The idea is to change the wolf to lamb, or what Shakespeare calls “ravening-wolvish lamb” who might yield to their gentler natures. Governors have done such feats in the past as in the introduction of the doctrine of necessary during YarAdua’s time.
Theory will yield to practice, just as it happened when the Americans had to translate their Federalist Papers into a country. It is still work in progress even though Hamilton and Jefferson belonged to opposite ends of the pole.
It is a way to make democracy save federalism, and vice versa in the midst of the present rumbles in Nigeria.
Those who follow Akwa Ibom politics will not appreciate it until they go online, and it is a pot-pouri of opinionated folks often masquerading as great journalists. It is also the stronghold of the opposition who must tear down whatever the government is doing. It is sometimes difficult to distinguish opposition pamphleteering and honest rage. For instance, I read a piece that was saying that the government has done little on unemployment, and I wonder if the writer saw the syringe factory, the best in the subcontinent, or the coconut refinery under works, or the meter factory, among others. Or even Ibom Air, with the best planes today, and surging the Nigeria air every day. That shadowy writer also somehow blames the state government for the unfortunate slaughter of Iniubong Umoren, whereas it is a police matter and it is in the hands of the federal authorities. Beware of what brand of social media you like.
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