The Director of the International Institute of Journalism, (IIJ), Abuja, Emman Shehu, in this interview, bares his mind on the contentious issues of restructuring and devolution of powers. He also proffers solutions to Nigeria’s current challenges. Excerpts:
PT: What is your position on the rising calls for restructuring and devolution of powers in the Nigerian polity? What do you think this means?
Shehu: As you rightly noted, restructuring has become a difficult topic in Nigeria today. There is no clear definition of what restructuring means. It starts from one extreme to the other: the extreme of fracturing the country into as many parts as possible from one extreme of breaking up the country into countless fragments like a China plate dashed on the floor, to the other extreme of going back to the old regions.
I call it extreme because it is impracticable as we would see when we try to closely analyse the situation. The regions were split into states to reduce the cumbersomeness of size and governance, and it allowed several communities that had been repressed to get a leeway.
Do you think those communities would now willing surrender themselves to the old subjugation? What would even happen is that politicians would now create a new hierarchy of leadership over the regions, for example a Governor General of a number of states with all the appurtenances including a multitude of aides, which means more bloated governance.
Underlying all of this is the fact that changes have to take place as the country evolves. Even the American nation, in terms of democracy, their constitution has evolved. We like talking about the American constitution but even their constitution has evolved. It isn’t what it was by the time it was created by the founding fathers. But it changed gradually and dispassionately to avoid crises
So every country evolves as anything that is living evolves. But the Nigerian problem is that there is too much politicisation of almost any issue you can think of. And this is made worse when we approach general elections. It is like people who have lost in the previous elections try to use restructuring as a threat to get what they want at all costs, throwing caution overboard.
So a lot of time and energy are spent trying to stop the overheating of the polity, rather than focusing on constructive engagements that would yield meaningful progress for the greater good. We have to agree that there is no country that was just created on its own.
That is the reason history is replete with accounts of conquests from ancient times across all parts of the world. Countries were created out of one form of colonialism or the other. When we try to say Nigeria is an artificial creation, every country is an artificial creation, if we are to take it that way. One needs to read the history of how countries came about to understand this. That is why you have conquests littering the history of countries.
In the Nigerian context, we have gone from the colonial creation, as we like to say to our own creation, creation of regions and creation of states. And we still seem not to be satisfied. Those creations came as a result of agitations.
PT: What are the causes of these agitations?
People are looking for justice, they are looking for a situation where they can be recognised as human beings and as partners in the progress of the nation.
For me the solution lies in devolution (of powers) which is what happens in most countries. The three major areas that should be addressed are: the judiciary, state legislatures, and the local governments.
PT: What about the security architecture?
Shehu: I am coming to that. I think the devolution should start from the local governments. And people are being dishonest. This current administration has asked that there should be such a devolution. The governors have refused. When you empower the local government, allow them the freedom to operate, this is going to reduce some of the pressures.
Then, of course the judiciary, allow the judiciary the freedom to operate and then the state legislatures that are held ransom by the various state governors. That way we would have progress.
On the issue of security, this is a very important aspect of devolution. Some people are crying about state police without looking at the ramifications on a wider level. You only need to look across the nation to see the confrontation the governors have with the opposition or the people that they are not on good terms with.
It frightens one to think of what the governors would do if they have the police at their beck and call. I have never been a supporter of state police. It is still too early in our stage of development. I also speak from the position of being a religious minority in the core north. Even this Sharia that we have now (in some states) we can see what it is like when the state governors are in control of law enforcement.
Imagine if they now have state police across the country. It is going to create more insecurity rather than stemming the current insecurity.
PT: So how do we tackle the issue of insecurity then?
The first step is to create a justice system that is fair to everybody. That is number one. The justice system does not work fast enough to ensure that people who are involved in misdemeanour are punished appropriately and on time.
The other way is to ensure people trust the law enforcement agents. At the moment, there is a deficit of trust which is obvious if you have had any reason to be involved with law enforcement agencies. You will know that anything can happen even to you who has a genuine case.
We also need to empower numerically the law enforcement agencies. We don’t have enough to actually police our various communities. This is the major deficit. It is not about creating state police. We could overhaul the police, do the same thing with the military.
Also their roles should be properly defined. The military should not be playing the role of the police. This complicates issues. We also have situation where policemen are acting as bodyguards for the elite in the society, it is unacceptable. For security to be properly addressed, there should be an overhaul of the security architecture to also enhance intelligence gathering.
PT: So, who should initiate these measures, the government in power as the opposition would argue or the parliament as the government usually pushes back?
Shehu: We should take any exercise that comes with changing aspects of the constitution seriously. You know at the moment, the parliament has started a process of constitutional amendments. Are people taking this serious, that is the issue. People are not taking it serious.
When the exercise is closed, people will now say the parliament has done nothing. So let us work with what is available. It is like my brothers in the East who keep complaining. Have they ever held their parliamentarians accountable?
Most times it is the failure of the parliamentarians and failure of the citizens to hold their parliamentarians accountable. The provisions are there but who holds his representative responsible? We all focus on the federal government. We don’t even hold our governors accountable. A lot of things can be done even at the state level.
Also note, that devolution is a process and we cannot pack too many things into the process. Even in other countries that practises devolution, you will see that they take things one step at a time to avert overloading the process and ending up with disastrous consequences. Even in the United Kingdom there are age-old agitations but the underlying approach is one of caution.