Towards True Federalism In Nigeria

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As it was in the last years of the Chief Olusegun Obasanjo Presidency, when, disturbed more about the need for a peaceful transition than to addressing holistically, the vexed Niger Delta problem, the Federal Government offered militants cash for some ‘dane’ guns not so much required in the insurgent’s sophisticated armoury, amnesty is today, the catch – word to assuage pains of the region.
This time however, what Nigerians are repeatedly told is that the Federal Government will require about 60 billion naira to implement an amnesty package for repentant Niger Delta militants, without acceptable details. The much, President Yar’Adua has obliged Nigerians is the information that the presidential pardon will, among others, include rehabilitation, education, training and re-orientation of the reluctant beneficiaries, in order to make them good citizens worthy of integration into the civil society.
Quite frankly, no sane Nigerian will protest against amnesty for any genuine Niger Delta activists whose non-violent protestations, for years, centred around resource control, but certainly not common criminals who, in order to conceal their shameful antecedents, willfully hijacked the people’s just struggle for the socio-economic integration of the oil producing areas.
The Tide warns that blanket amnesty to militants, by itself cannot address the protracted militarisation of the Niger Delta. Its usefulness lies only in its ability to temporarily halt the hostilities. For instance, no militant had, in the past, willingly surrendered any or all sophisticated weapons in their various armouries, several, had instead have often preferred to save their best for the rainy day.
The option therefore, is to address in a holistic manner, the key issues that have continued to generate and regenerate unrest and for the umpteenth time threatened the economic mainstay of the country. We say so because the blanket amnesty to all ‘militants’, in isolation, without a look at the bigger picture, is not only wrong, it also, in our view, equates to including Area Boys and miscreants in the payment of salary arrears to workers after a trade dispute, because of the violent contributions of the low-lives to the workers’ action.
One of the key issues that ought to engage urgent attention is that of embracing true federalism which will allow the various components of the federation to determine their economic, political and indeed socio-cultural survival using resources available to them. What is indeed required now is for the federal government to lay the necessary framework for states to generate viable and productive economic activities and be made to pay, to the central government, a reasonable percentage of taxes for the management of some institutions on both the exclusive and concurrent lists, like defence, justice, national security, education, the legislature among others.
Without doubt, the relative peace enjoyed by Nigeria before and shortly after independence was grounded in the principle of rewarding hardwork and the quasi-autonomy enjoyed by the regions, which was why in the years of the great groundnut pyramids, palm oil, cocoa, coal, tin and cattle among others, producers were allowed to control their resources.
Regrettably, those who enjoyed the economic independence and boom of those years are some of the same who continue to under-estimate the Niger Delta people’s ability to fight for their right, by continuing to argue that oil is a natural gift and should not be seen as any state’s exclusive endowment, even when membership of what became Nigeria was by forced amalgamation, nay choice..
Intrinsically, it is very tempting to believe that the Yar’Adua administration is not ready to correct that faulty argument and instead, appears to favour the interventionist option of addressing the Niger Delta question by simply scratching the surface.
This is indeed why The Tide shares the position of the Rivers State Government that the right things be done, first and foremost, which in our view, does not include granting amnesty to criminals in the ranks of genuine activists.
What is most paramount, as voiced by Governor Chibuike Rotimi Amaechi, through his Deputy Tele Ikuru at the stakeholders’ meeting with the Federal Government Amnesty Committee held last Tuesday at the Presidential Hotel, Port Harcourt, is for the federal government to embrace the tenets of true federalism by allowing states and oil bearing communities the relief to directly negotiate with multi-national investors, control their own resources and contribute an agreed percentage to the centre according to their worth. That way, the states can take responsibility for their internal security and separate activists from common criminals.
In addition, The Tide insists that the various stakeholders and civil organisations, that for years have championed the non-violent agitation for the socio-economic integration of the region, before its militarisation, be invited and dialogued with, in order to work out viable options, and not to parley exclusively with the militants and their legal counsels.
We say so, because we know, based on familiar antecedents that without proper dialogue with all concerned, an even more violent militancy will emerge later if not sooner. Now, is the time to prevent that.jul0309editorial8