AMOTEKUN: A Path To Renewed Federalism
By: Okpe People’s Forum
Since the amalgamation of Nigeria in 1914, the country has been beset by a myriad of problems and social discord, especially facilitated by the military in power and their imposed constitution of 1999. It is safe to postulate that the governance of Nigeria under the 1999 Constitution is not dissimilar to a military dictatorship even though the various governments since then are robbed in civilian attires.
The problems facing Nigeria can be attributed to the following:
the contradictory views on the amalgamation of 1914;
the mismanagement of ethnic and religious relations;
the theft of public wealth by the military and political classes;
the impoverishment of the population;
the increasing perception of discrimination and marginalization by various ethnic nationalities;
the distortion of federalism;
the creeping influence of disintegrative forces;
the gradual islamization of Nigeria;
the mistrust of the ruling class;
and the shadow of Biafra.
In our view, these problems have been accentuated by the policy choices of the President Muhammadu Buhari-led government since 2015. The pre-election commitment to restructure Nigerian federalism was discarded in the dustbin of history after he was elected as President in 2015 and his re-election in 2019. In fact, federalism has increasingly lost its meaning on President Buhari. Since 1914 we observe that Nigeria has been restructured on several occasions in quest of a better political order. For example, while the British amalgamation in 1914 structured Nigeria into three components: Colony of Lagos, the Southern Protectorates, and the Northern Protectorates, subsequent restructuring took the following forms.
3 Regions (East; North; and West) from the Richards Constitution to 1963.
4 Regions (East; Midwest; North; and West. 1963-1967 under an elected civilian government).
12 States. 1967-1976. (Under a military dictatorship.)
19 States. 1976-1987. (Under a military dictatorship.)
21 States plus a Federal Territory of Abuja. 1987-1991. (Under a military dictatorship.)
30 States. 1991-1996. (Under a military dictatorship.)
36 States. Since 1996. (Under a military dictatorship.)
It should be stressed that federalism was killed in Nigeria when the military under General Johnson Aguiyi-Ironsi took power on January 16, 1966, following the abortive military coup of January 15. Aguiyi-Ironsi’s Decree 34 (Unification Decree) promulgated on May 24, 1966 effectively killed federalism and installed a unitary system on the basis that a military regime is unsuitable to govern a federal political system. Despite the correctness of this position, Decree 34 was misunderstood in several quarters, particularly in Northern Nigeria where it was viewed as a ploy to impose a dictatorship from the centre. This sentiment gained momentum in Northern Nigeria as military officers of Northern extraction staged a counter-coup and assassinated Aguiyi-Ironsi on July 29, 1966. His successor, (then) Lt. Col. Yakubu Gowon promptly repealed Decree 34 via Decree 9 on August 31, 1966 as he assumed the title of Head of State of the “Federal Military Government of Nigeria”. Essentially, this was to mollify the anti-Decree 34 elements of the military from Northern Nigeria into believing in the “return” of “federalism” under the military. But a “Federal Military Government of Nigeria” is a contradiction as a federal system cannot be operated under a unitary command system which is the basis of a military regime.
Unfortunately, Nigerians gave credence to this falsity by referring to respective Nigeria’s military dictatorships as a “Federal Military Government of Nigeria”. Aguiyi-Ironsi was conceptually accurate, while Gowon was deceptively misleading. The five restructurings under various military dictatorships enumerated above entrenched a unitary command system and drove Nigeria farther away from pre-January 1966 federalism.
The agitation for a return to pre-January 1966 federalism has engaged the minds of Nigerians since the end of the civil war in January 1970. Nigerians fondly recall when each of the then four federating units enjoyed jurisdictional independence in key sectors of the economy including natural resources. The agitation for a renewed federalism includes, inter alia, exclusive jurisdictions of the federating units over key elements of their polities, natural resources, oil and gas, mining, state police, agriculture, etc. This renewed federalism will accord each ethnic nationality, with defined and distinct kingship system, language, culture and territory, an autonomous jurisdiction in its area. Not only will this guarantee the independence of a federating unit, it will enhance its security and safety.
Proponents of a return to pre-January 1966 federalism, or a restructured federalism argue for the independence of the federating units and the extrication of Nigeria from the current militaristic federalism, whereby the central government controls the so-called federating units, creates local government councils, and determines the salary of public servants (governors, etc) of the states and local government councils. There is a federation because federating units agree to establish a federal system. The federating units determine the powers to concede to the federal government. In the current Nigerian set up the central government creates the federating units and determines the powers to assign to them. This is not a federal system, but a unitary political system.
The call for a national sovereign conference to discuss the future of federalism in Nigeria faced obstructionist tactics from succeeding Nigerian governments. It is interesting to note that President Olusegun Obasanjo rejected to convene such a conference, President Goodluck Jonathan convened it in 2014 and could not implement the recommendations, while President Buhari completely disregarded the recommendations when he assumed office in 2015.
It was on this basis that a mechanism was conceived and born on January 9, 2020 when the governors of the six South-West States launched a Western Nigeria Security Network code-named Amotekun. The intent of Amotekun is to provide for the safety and security of the citizens and communities of the South-West States, a need which became imperative following the incessant raiding of communal farms and the killings of innocent persons by a series of Fulani herdsmen rampaging through the South-West states and other states in Nigeria. The failure and/or inability of the Federal Government to curtail the menace of the Fulani herdsmen has compromised the status of the present administration as an impartial referee.
The response of the Nigerian Government to Amotekun has been ambivalently confusing. Speaking for the Nigerian Government, the Minister of Justice and Attorney General, Abubakar Malami oscillated from a position of outright condemnation to a reversal of position and then to one of cautious endorsement. In a recent meeting with the Nigerian Government (represented by the Vice President Yemi Osinbajo and Malami), the South-West states agreed to enact the necessary instruments to provide a legal backing to Amotekun. Notwithstanding the incompleteness of Amotekun, its establishment has opened an avenue for a national debate on a renewed federalism. The elders of the South-South and the Middle Belt have endorsed Amotekun. The Governor of Bayelsa, Seriake Dickson recognizes the value of Amotekun, while Chidiebere Nwobodo urges “IPOB and Ohaneze Ndigbo to harmonize their ideological and social differences and forge a common front as a people” like the South-West states in articulating their interests on renewed federalism.
We in the Okpe People’s Forum recognize the value of a renewed federalism and its potential impact on the growth and development of the Okpe Kingdom. We therefore welcome Amotekun as a strategic path to a renewed federalism in Nigeria. We urge the governments of the South-South geo-political zone to lend support to Amotekun so as to advance the debate on restructuring Nigeria along the tenets of federalism.
We call on the Federal Government to support the initiative of the governments of the states of the Western Region and commence the process for the amendment of the constitution to incorporate state police and other internal security apparatuses. We call on the states of the South South zone to emulate the Amotekun initiative and initiate the process of setting up a comparable security infrastructure for the states of the region.
Prof. Kenneth Efakponana Eni
President, Okpe People’s Forum
For and on behalf of Members of OPF