It is also clear that it is the coming together of these Autonomous Communities that gave rise to a Federal Government. In other words, the Federal Government is an agency of the Nigerian Nationalities which make up the various States. The subsequent “creation” of States by Federal Military Governments must be discounted as part of the distortions and mutilations of the true political order, brought about by unlawful military usurpation of power. Nigeria is, therefore, a Federation of former Kingdoms, Empires, States, Nations and Autonomous Communities.
The fundamental and distinguishing characteristic of a federal system is that neither the central nor the regional governments are subordinate to each other, but rather, the two are co-ordinate and independent. In short, in a federal system, there is no hierarchy of authorities, with the central government sitting on top of the others. All governments have a horizontal relationship with each other.
NIGERIA after Independence was on the right path of economic growth and development. Industries were springing up in every region of the country. In the North, Ahmedu Bello who held sway was occupied by setting up farm settlements, textile industries. It was the same story in the East where Michael Opera set up farm settlements and a number of manufacturing companies. In the West, Chief Awolowo, apart from the popular free education, set up a number of industrial estates which attracted several companies from abroad. It is this simple reason that the West is the most industrialized part of the country. At this time, the Nigeria economy was in top shape and at take off stage in economic development. The Nigerian economy was rated along the same indices with Brazil, Indonesia, Malaysia and the rest of the now talked about BRICKS countries. Then Nigeria had development plans that guided the nation. The various regions were autonomous entities and there was competition among the regions on internally generated revenue. The military intervention and the discovery of crude oil in commercial quantity seemed to have radically altered the course of Nigeria’s economic development. While the military discarded the fiscal federalism structure of the country and made the states to become federal allocation collector, the discovery of oil made Nigerian leaders to sleep walk and refuse to plan believing that the money flowing from the ground will solve all the nation’s problems. As the military leaders were sleep walking and basking in the euphoria of petro dollar earnings, Nigeria’s population was growing faster than the resources
General Ironsi, emerged as the head of state after the first coup. Against all advice, Ironsi promulgated Decree Number 34 of 1966, which abrogated the federal system of government and substituted a unitary system; he argued that the military could only govern in this way. Given the already charged atmosphere, this action reinforced northern fears. As the north was less developed than the south, a unitary system could easily lead to southerners "taking over control of everything," as a northern spokesperson put it. It was at the height of northern opposition to unitarism that the countercoup of July 1966 took place. The North wanted a return of federalism as the only way to guarantee their autonomy. The military government of Ironsi insisted on maintaining the unitary military system! Lieutenant Colonel (later General) Yakubu Gowon, became the head of state after the second coup. His first act was to reinstate the federal system, along with the four regions and their allotted functions. But relations between the federal government and the Eastern Region, led by military governor Colonel Chukwuemeka Odumegwu Ojukwu, were very strained. In September Colonel Gowon summoned an ad hoc constitutional conference to deliberate on the country's political future. Most regional delegates to the conference, with the exception of those from the midwest, recommended a confederal system to replace the federal system. The delegates from the Eastern Region insisted that any region wishing to secede from the federation should be allowed to do so. The conference was ended abruptly by increased killings of Igbos in the north and the heightening of tensions between the federal government and the Eastern Region. A summit of military leaders at Aburi, Ghana, in January 1967 attempted to resolve the disagreements and recommended the establishment of a base confederation of regions. The Aburi Agreement became a source of contention, however. In anticipation of eastern secession, Gowon moved quickly to weaken the support base of the region by decreeing the creation of twelve new states to replace the four regions. Six of these states contained minority groups that had demanded state creation since the 1950s. Gowon rightly calculated that the eastern minorities would not actively support the Igbos, given the prospect of having their own states if the secession effort were defeated. The Gowon years also saw the oil boom and a buoyant economy. The federal government was encouraged to take on some responsibilities formally allocated to the states, especially in the area of education. The structure of government under Gowon was basically unitarian. At the apex of government was the all-military Supreme Military Council (SMC), which was the lawmaking body for the entire federation. Its decrees could not be challenged in any law court. Most members of the SMC under Gowon were state governors. There was also a Federal Executive Council composed of military and civilian commissioners. The states also had commissioners appointed by the governor. The states were practically reduced to administrative units of the federal government, which in several domains made uniform laws for the country. This basic structure of military federalism has, with amendments, remained the same during all military governments in the country and was transferred to the civilian government with its 1999 constitution. Nigeria has remained so till date; a unitary system.
There are basically three revolutionary movements in Nigeria today and each of them have a different perspective on how to solve the Nigerian problem. The first group, lets call them the Unitarians. They believe that there is nothing wrong with the present unitary system of Nigeria. What is wrong with Nigeria is Nigerians. There is a moral decadence that must be tackled, there is need for reorientation and values. Nigerians have become corrupt and have equally corrupted the political system. In summary, the Unitarians believe that it is Nigerians that needs to be restructured and not Nigeria's political system. The second movement; lets call them the secessionists. This group of Nigerians believe that Nigeria is in fact a lie and that a lie cannot be restructured! They admit that Nigeria is badly structured and they doubt that it can ever be restructured. So far, they have opted for a complete dismemberment of he union as the only way to save themselves, their tribe, communities and region. They want Nigeria dissolved because they fear Nigeria has never worked and will never work. The last group is where we belong here; the Federalists. The federalist movement believes that something is obviously and fundamentally wrong with Nigeria. After an interesting research, the federalist has reached the conclusion that what is wrong with Nigeria is the structure of its defective federal system and that the solution will be to restructure the country and entrench true federalism.
Politically, the era of centralization seems to have come to an end, and this is as it should be. A multi-ethnic, multi-lingual and multi-religious society such as ours cannot and should not be administered in a highly centralized manner. That people in their respective localities have the right to administer themselves, exercise a degree of command over their own resources, and develop their own cultures and languages must be taken as axiomatic…But there must also be unity within diversity. In the past we emphasized unity at the expense of diversity, and we have paid dearly for it. Let us hope that now we will not move to the other extreme and emphasize diversity at the expense of unity.
There should be two tiers of government recognized by the federal constitution; a federal and state government. Each of them should have a separate constitution. The state government should have the exclusive right to create another tier of government as it wishes. We suggest that a community/city based government be recognized and established by the state as the last tier of government. Community/City based government should therefore replace the existing local government style tier of government. The constitutions must guarantee the autonomy of each tier of government. The community based government should have full control over the most basic things that affect the community. Issues like basic education (management and funding of basic schools), security, water, maintenance, health care, etc should be done by the community based governments. It should also have the right to raise its own taxes to fund its needs. The community based government should be the most empowered tier of government.
In truth, the people who oppose restructuring are stronger than those who propose restructuring. This implies that (for now), restructuring is a minority call. To restructure Nigeria and entrench federalism, this pattern must change. The Federalists must become the majority! Legally, it is the duty of the legislature to begin the restructuring process. Unfortunately, the legislature has become one of the biggest beneficiaries of the present skewed unitary system, they will therefore be opposed to any structural change which will likely threaten their existence. It is on this basis that Nigerians must unite to overwhelm the legislature with their demand for federalism. We cannot depend on and expect the beneficiaries of the present system to change the system, certainly, not without a fight! The kind of restructuring Nigeria needs is not cosmetic. For a fact, we do not need a constitutional amendment but an entirely new constitution. At the end of the day, what we desire is a Sovereign National Conference (SNC). To get this, we must unite. Every tribe, every community, every state and every ethnic nationality must unite to demand for a system that works.