“All of us—all of us need to be reminded that the federal government did not create the states; the states created the federal government.”—Ronald Reagan.
While the presidential system of government Nigeria adopts makes executive positions appealing, the sudden resurgence of interest in the presidency by all and sundry—men, women and boys alike—is deserving serious attention. Although every Nigerian has a right to pursue his/her political ambitions without let or hindrance—except those contentiously imposed by the constitution such as age, criminal records, academic qualifications, etc.—it should worry us that the entire nation is being goaded into a narrow consensus of adopting the top-down as against the bottom-up approach to resetting the country and putting her on the pedestal of development.
Proponents of the bottom-up approach argue that the key to solving Nigeria’s myriad problems lies within the various parts that make the country whole. They hinge their argument on the devolution of powers to the states and local councils, adopting the idea that since the local government was not only the closest of the three arms to the people but carved in light of the unique peculiarities of the nationals that make each of them home, meaningful development can only be achieved through a sustained and deliberate effort at equipping the government at the grassroots with the requisite power needed to grow their respective lands.
This position is not new. I remember the first inaugural address of the 40th US president, Ronald Reagan wherein he promised “to curb the size and influence of the federal government and to demand recognition of the distinction between the powers granted to the federal government and those reserved to the states or to the people.” Given Reagan’s position, it thus baffles one to see Nigeria, with all of its claims of adopting the US system of government run on a highly centralized one wherein the president is vested with so much authority, thus, becomes too powerful as to render him invincible, a neck-breaking load inadvertently imposed by a militarized constitution that sets him up for failure however skilful he is.
It is for this reason that successive occupants of Aso Villa have found it difficult wishing away the sordid reputations affixed on them. While they see themselves as average or above average leaders as their egos could muster, the people whom they claim to have served nurse opinions at variance with whatever self-serving, masturbatory ones they hold within their chests. Although pedestrian thinkers allude their vivid failings to gross indiscipline and unbridled corruption, keen observers are quick to remind them of the incompleteness of such a narrative—the other half being that the Nigerian constitution from the outset had set any occupant of the office of the president for failure, for even the most conservative onlooker would easily surmise that with a single office having monopoly on the military, para-military and other law enforcement agencies from the cities to the remotest of villages, handling power issues, chairing the basic education commission, sitting as a visitor to over a hundred institutions of learning, deciding on what almost 200 million people drink, eat and wear (just to mention a few), it is obvious the presidency is trapped in a catch-22 situation where any discerning creature, including those with supernatural abilities will do well to avoid. The individuals hoping to sit on the presidential stool mimics the proverbial adventurer in search of trouble who, in the words of the Apala legend, Ayinla Omowura, choose to own a “dead” car.
With this in the know, it thus shudders one to find, government after government, administration after administration, a plastic, unwavering resistance to the call for the unburdening and decentralization of key institutions of government from law enforcement to education, a key component of what is widely called restructuring. While this campaign is being hijacked by enemies of the state who have suddenly embraced it for political expediency, Nigerians should not see it as a mere line from the deceitful symphony of the same persons who rode on it to power.
The APC-led administration of Muhammadu Buhari saw the merit in the restructuring debate to have made it a central theme of its manifesto in the build-up to the 2015 elections. That he got to office only to repudiate it does not strip it of the qualities that endeared it to Nigerians who see it as integral to infusing the nation with a new breathe of life. Without a restructured nation, and with very few political actors thinking in that direction, it is therefore ludicrous to witness such a scramble for the presidency almost to the point of stampede.
What on earth endears the over thirty presidential aspirants to the rocky chair having recognised the many failings that await the successful one amongst them? Could it be an appreciation of such a stark reality and a yearning to—once they get to office—shed as much as possible, the power, influence and responsibilities associated with it; or, a wily campaign to—as did Muhammadu Buhari—wrap their campaigns within the restructuring gambit only to sing a different tune in office?
Already, the individuals that fall within the second category are well known to Nigerians. Members of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), unarguably the assemblage with the most number of presidential aspirants fall into this category. From Bukola Saraki to David Mark, Ahmed Makarfi to Atiku Abubakar, one observes a clear, consistent pattern of power-hungry, power-drunk individuals who have contributed nothing to national hygiene but have for decades, been direct beneficiaries of this over-centralized, unjust system in place. Nothing in their résumés portray them as possessing a soul, not to mention the requisite discipline needed to have a rethink on the ruinous path they and their coteries have put the country. It is in light of this that we draw inference that the craze to become president by these men is a symptom of a much deeper malice afflicting the nation; it connotes a plot by politically exposed characters to further the despoliation of the country having won the battle that would have made them account for their sordid crimes against the state.
A restructured federation, if it is to yield fruits must go beyond that which existed prior to and a few years after independence. It must take significant chunk of authority from the president and governors to the local councils who by far are home with the people. For instance, what business is it of governors to venture into waste disposal, or of a president policing a village? And this is why the call for devolution of power has been met with unbridled attacks by politicians whose only interest is to feed on the nation. With the present order giving them the opportunity to steal and wear hubris, they cannot imagine losing for a second, such an opportunity. With a restructured Nigeria as stated above, the 36 parasites in the states who have made it a sworn duty to emaciate their local governments will have no choice than look elsewhere for another host; the president, whose cough or catarrh sends shivers down our economic and political spines could catch cold for all we care, for the nation, having shared responsibilities from the top right to the grassroots would have developed enough absorbers to withstand the vicissitudes of one man.
Restructuring means different things to different people, but a common denominator exists for all who have a clear conception of that term: devolution of powers and decentralization of state apparatuses. The clamour to sanitize the system should begin with making the president less invincible. One advantage of this is that it reduces the burden on him/her, making him/her less susceptible to failure. The few individuals whose interest in becoming president is predicated on leaving a sound legacy behind need be reminded that the less power they wield as president, the more their chances of leaving with their reputations intact.
Even if the present occupant, Muhammadu Buhari, had been a sophisticated and just leader and not the ethnocentric and analog-thinking creature we’ve come to see him, he would—like all of his predecessors—still have failed miserably giving the kind of centralized contraption he presides over. Deep within him, he recognizes the merits of wielding less power but having been taken captive by megalomania, he just cannot succumb to sound reason. There is just no way around this debate, the president’s wings must be cut.
Modiu can be reached on [email protected]