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Return to regionalism, old anthem and new nostalgia

There seems to be a wave of nostalgia sweeping across the country. Not all of it, just in the corridors of power. Following the recent…

There seems to be a wave of nostalgia sweeping across the country. Not all of it, just in the corridors of power. Following the recent reversion to the old national anthem, “Nigeria, We Hail Thee,” a development that waltzed through the National Assembly with surprising speed, we are today confronting rumours of designs to return the country to regionalism.

To what ends, one might ask? Well, the proponent of the idea, Dr Akin Fapohunda, who in proposing “A Bill for an Act to substitute the annexure to Decree 24 of 1999 with New Governance Model for the Federal Republic of Nigeria” is pushing for a new governance model for the country with eight regions carved out of the 36 extant states.

It is worth noting that Dr Fapohunda, as quoted by the Punch, suggested that “in the new dispensation, the present States (for example the six in the Western region) would be converted to provinces. Governance at this level shall be by Provincial Councils that integrate executive and legislative functions, with Chairman and Support Specialist Administrative Officers. The regions shall be at liberty to create provinces, subject to viability and self-sustainability.

“The present Local Government Areas are to be transformed into divisions, with divisional managers and specialist administrative officers; to operate as socio-economic development institutions. The new provinces shall also be at liberty to create divisions, subject to viability and self-sustainability.”

It is worth noting that Dr Fapohunda is not a lawmaker but a chieftain of the Coalition of Indigenous Ethnic Nationalities. The NASS had earlier in the month disowned the proposed bill. That, however, does not seem to deter Dr Fapohunda who had submitted the proposal to President Bola Tinubu with the hope of the president presenting it to the NASS as an Executive Bill.

Is that likely to happen? In Nigeria, one quickly learns not to take such rumours for granted. After all, most Nigerians immediately dismissed the insinuation that we might be changing our anthem as idle talk until we woke up singing a new/old tune.

The principal reason for this change, Fapohunda said, would be to “reduce the cost of public and civil service administration to less than 20 to 30 per cent of generated revenue”.

That would be a welcome development because Nigeria’s governance cost is rather high and any proposal to cut that down is worth considering. However, his proposal ignores the cost of the restructuring itself. As we know, nothing in Nigeria is cheap, not even cutting down the cost of already expensive things. This cost is not only a fiscal one but a likely human cost as well. Nigeria is prone to friction and these frictions are often ironed out in violent conflicts and bloodshed that have hindered our development. The friction caused by the military’s sudden retreat from the political space in 1999 is still being polished through the hundreds of civic violence we have been experiencing, from ethnic clashes in one locality to religious conflagrations in another. In some a bloody cocktail of both. This is one of the few countries in the world where local border disputes are triggers for violent, often fatal confrontations because as a people, we are often more eloquent with our machetes than we are with our tongues. The proposal of collapsing existing borders and redrawing new ones along ethnic lines is another barrel of gunpowder to be dumped on the fire.

We had regions in the past and we scrapped that structure for a reason. The idea of breaking the regional blocks into 12 states on May 27, 1967, was to avert the concentration of regional power that made the civil war possible. The fracturing of the states fractured communal angst into smaller, contained pockets. While the agitations of those days have largely remained unaddressed, their expression has been localised. Beyond that however, the government at the state level have been closer to the people, and local governments are supposed to bring governance even closer to the people. The implementations of this have not been perfect though and this is where I fault this proposal the most. Dr Fapohunda could have concentrated efforts in developing a bill to improve local government administration, grant LGAs greater autonmy from state governments and ensuring accountable governance at that level.

Instead, this proposal is offering to undo all of the thinking that went into fracturing the regions in 1967. I feel that Nigeria has more pressing issues to address than this modified nostalgia project. The problem with Nigeria is not the lines drawn in the sand or on maps. The problem is the failure in both governance and followership. So instead of bills to resurrect long-dead regions with new names and new borders, emphasis should be on bills that guarantee accountable governance, improved public administration, and infrastructural development. Anything short of this amounts to reinventing new names for old problems.

There have been arguments that the move is an attempt to recalibrate voting patterns in the country. The suggestion is that block votes from the regions are threatening the re-election of the president, who is only a year into his first term, and reinstituting regionalism will affect voting disrupt voting patterns. I do not think this is the case. The creation of 36 states has not done much to change voting patterns in the country. The North, as a collective of 19 states, still largely votes the same way, as does the Southeast and the Southwest. I say largely very liberally here. If that is the case, I think a return to regionalism would rather consolidate those block votes. Dismantling a political structure built by a pattern of cultures and shared ideologies does not require dismantling the administrative structures in the relevant geography.

We keep recalling nostalgia simply because we have bricked ourselves into a corner and we think calling the same things with old names would automatically restore their old glory. I have yet to see a convincing argument for the reversion to “Nigeria, We Hail Thee” and I haven’t seen one for this proposed return to regionalism. What Nigeria needs are better legislature that will cut down the cost of governance and increase governance efficiency. I would think we will be better served focusing more energy on that than riding a wave of nostalgia that will perish on the same beaches that our present hopes are crashing on.

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