There is a furore about Caverton pilots that were arrested in Rivers two days ago, and the state governor has come out to explain why he ordered the arrests. Of course, the aviation minister has blasted Nyesom Wike. From where I’m standing, the truth is, Wike is wrong in this, and Hadi Sirika is right to blast him. The problem with Sirika’s stand is that just yesterday, 748km away, Kaduna state announced that they’ll start quarantining travellers passing through on account of COVID-19.
Basically, Nigeria’s states are taking more power for themselves. Can Abuja stop this trend?
Let me tell a quick story (I’ve told it many times before, and I’ll keep telling it…
In 1999, Nigeria organised the u20 World Cup. The organisation was done entirely by the FG, and Nigeria ’99 is on record as probably the worst ever FIFA competition. It led to loads of changes in the way FIFA ‘helps’ host countries. 10 years later, we were, for some reason, awarded the right to host the u17 World Cup.
When it became evident that the LOC was slacking, state governments in some state govs stepped in, and Nigeria 2009 ended up being more successful in some areas than it was in others. In Lagos, Kano, Ijebu Ode and Calabar, the organisation of Nigeria ’09 were quite well done (except for a few minor details as it seems to be with all things Nigerian). In Enugu, Kaduna and Abuja, things were not quite what they should have been. When Jack Warner led FIFA’s delegation to Calabar in the lead up to Nigeria 2009, he told some other state officials should “take a walk to Calabar to learn the basic distinction between aspiration and achievement.”
This disparity in organisational success in Nigeria ’09, and the disparity in the responses of various states to the COVID-19 pandemic, shows us that for parts of Nigeria (and eventually the whole) to make real progress, there has to be competition among the constituent parts.
The entire point of being a federation is that big, diverse and multi-ethnic constituents are allowed a significant degree of freedom in directing their affairs in ways that account for the unique circumstances of their geographic, social and political situation. I made an argument about this in my BusinessDay column, but that column, given the 800/900 word limit, is only just scratching the surface of our state issues.
Yesterday, Hadi Sirika complained about the Caverton pilots that were arrested by Rivers. Given the different ways that our various states have reacted to the coronavirus and the fact that they have essentially used it to abrogate some powers to themselves, real questions have to be asked, and it’s not just about Sirika crying about arrested pilots…
Let’s take another recent example, the right of way thing. States met with Isa Pantami in January, agreed to charge ₦145 per linear metre for RoW, and then promptly reneged on that agreement when faced with their dwindling revenue profiles. Lagos charged ₦500/m, some are doing up to ₦6000/m.
This brings up the issue is the right of states. The Land Use Act gives states the power over lands in their domain so it will be difficult for Abuja to enforce the Pantami agreement, yet the FG keeps trying to dictate to the states. Unfortunately for Abuja, the fiscal situation of the states is making a few rebels bolder, reflecting, the broken state of Nigeria’s so-called federalism.
One question is, as more states make demands, will an ever-weakening Abuja be able to stop them?
The answer is no, which is why a discussion is vital before the whole thing becomes scattergun. You see, Nigeria will restructure like it or not, so it is in our interest that such a restructuring, devolution if you may, is in an orderly fashion. It is the same argument playing out in a different form in states declaring their “borders” shut because of coronavirus.
Nigerian states don’t have borders — they have boundaries, and it is the National Boundary Commission that exists to take care of such matters, not the states. To add to that, none of the states that declared border closures have the control of security forces that are needed to enforce such orders.
Kaduna for example, legally should not be able to enforce the quarantine for those who are transiting through the state. While the states have taken action (which I agree with for the record), and those actions are meant to protect their people and residents, those actions could establish a dangerous precedent that needs to be tackled by robust discussion.
I think the states to become more strategic in their demands for the devolution of powers, whittling down the Executive Legislative List and a general overhaul and panel-beating of the 1999 Constitution…
There are so many things to unpack with what has happened this year. You can’t expect, or demand that Abia and Zamfara structure their affairs the same way.
This is why the restructuring of Nigeria is key.