(Presented and adopted at the Middle Belt Summit in Makurdi, Monday 16 July 2018)
Our country Nigeria is constitutionally a federal state. By federalism, we are referring to a constitutional arrangement whereby power is shared between a central government and the constituent federating units. The federal system tends to predominate in diverse societies where the people choose to live together within a broader political community while seeking to preserve their cultural, linguistic and ethno-religious diversities. Central to the federalist idea is the devolution of power, with clear constitutional provisions regarding the rights and prerogatives of the centre and the federating units.
The most universally agreed principal duty of the state is to safeguard the physical security of the lives and properties of all the citizens. Any state that fails in that primary duty has, ipso facto, failed in its most elementary duties. Men consent to be governed because the state provides them with a minimum of public goods such as security, the rule of law and liberty. When governments fail to provide these public goods then the people concerned are morally as well as jurisprudentially justified to rebel, sometimes by force of arms. Men agree to live in political communities because of the existence of a social contract between the state and the citizens. When government abdicates its most elementary duties then the social contract seizes to exist even as the moral legitimacy of the state is undermined. In such circumstances open rebellion is not only a right; it is a duty.
In our twenty-first century, the role and duties of the state encompass a wide spectrum of social and political obligations: the rule of law; law and order, with effective monopoly over the instruments of legitimate violence; enforcement of citizens’ political and social rights; sound management of public finances; institutionalisation of a well-functioning civil service and governmental machinery; effective taxation; investment in human capital; aggregation of societal preferences, i.e. effectively articulating what society needs and providing the means for the pursuit and implementation of those societal choices; conflict resolution and management; provision of public infrastructures; effective provision of vital knowledge and information; and promotion of social justice.
The opening lines of the American constitution are glorious and unforgettable: “We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” The American Founding Fathers thought deeply about where they were coming from and where they were going as a people. Having a new constitution and establishing their own New Jerusalem was for them a matter of destiny over which there could be no compromise.
At this juncture in the history of our country, we must rise to the occasion in seeking to build a more stable and vigorous union. State-building requires conscious efforts by a leadership who are dissatisfied with the way things are and are willing to do what it takes to build a better future. It calls for statesmanship, vision and supreme moral courage. Equally important is ensuring a broad level of consultations across the broad spectrum of society. This is essential to ensuring the legitimacy of the whole process of political transformation.
Issues and Challenges of Nigerian Federalism
Contrary to what many suppose, federalism is not a panacea or magic wand that solves all political problems. Federalism, which is the diametric opposite of the unitary, centralised system of government, is a constitutional choice made by political communities that want to live together while preserving each others’ differences.
In our contemporary political discourse, we often hear the refrain about “true federalism”. That unfortunate phrase has little or no meaning. To talk of “true federalism” is the same as talking about “true democracy”. Such an animal does not exist anywhere. There are different forms and degrees of federalism. Federal systems differ from the United States and Canada as they do from India, Australia, Malaysia and Switzerland. A successful federal system derives from the unique trajectory of a country’s history, its experiences, political conditions, how skilfully the federal arrangement is implemented within the country’s unique conditions and challenges, in conformity with the temperament of its people. What this means is that every country needs to evolve a federal system that works for its people and helps them to secure their liberties while promoting social justice and collective welfare.
We believe that the debate on the necessity of a federal system for Nigeria is now a settled one. The challenges our system faced from independence in October 1960 to the collapse of the First Republic in January 1966 made it clear that the federal structure was defective. The system collapsed mainly because we did not observe one of the most important laws of the federal political order: that no single region should be as powerful as to overwhelm and threaten the others. In the federal structure that was bequeathed to us by the British, the North overwhelmed the rest of the regions by its sheer population and geographical landmass.
The eminent scholar on colonial administration, Dame Margery Perham, famously noted that Nigerian federalism was an edifice hanging on a “tripod”, which, by definition, was unstable. It only required one of the legs to bend for the entire structure to come crashing down. This was what eventually happened in January 1966.
The military administration of Major-General Johnson Aguiyi Ironsi did briefly experiment with the unitary system of government by way of Decree No. 34 of May 24 1966. It may have been well-intentioned, but there is no doubting that it was a disastrous experiment. It contributed to the bitterness which engineered the countercoup of July 1966 that brought General Yakubu Gowon to power. Tragedy followed upon tragedy and the centre could no longer hold.
The long night of military rule did affect the spirit of federal constitutionalism. By their hierarchical and centralised command structure, the military super-imposed their mindset and leadership culture on the federal system. What emerged was a highly centralised federation with a domineering central government and relatively weak states. The greatest casualty was the institution of parliament. When the military take over power, the executive and the judiciary are always preserved while the legislature is always abolished. As a consequence, the institution of parliament has remained the weakest link in our traditions of democracy and civil government.
The success of a federal constitution requires certain critical elements.
First, a desire for federal union embodied in the sentiments of the citizens, with people being happy to have a dual loyalty to the federal centre and to their own state or region.
Secondly, there has to be a formally written constitution that encapsulates an institutional design, decision-making procedures and consociational practices that ensure a vibrant plurinational federation with inbuilt guarantees that preserve the identity of the constituent units while promoting loyalty to a common union.
Thirdly, there has to be a political culture that favours liberal democracy, equity and the rule of law.
Fourthly, there has to be a crop of political elites and leaderships imbued with the capacity to govern and to work together within the framework of a collective sense of national vocation and destiny.
Fifth, prevalence of a party system that with a structural capacity to bring the diverse citizens of the federation together while at the same time accommodating the social diversities of the constituent federating units within the overall national system.
Sixth, existence of a prudent and viable system of fiscal federalism with a capacity to effectively address the contentious issues of resource allocation and redistribution while providing an effective mechanism for adaptation to social change and economic development.
And finally, there is need to preserve and enhance ‘the federal spirit’ in terms of sustaining a commitment to the federal idea as a political and moral principle of government that all citizens can buy into.
Federations can, of course, fail. Among those that have failed we have the Union between Singapore and Malaya; the West Indies Federation; the defunct USSR; the Federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland; and the United Provinces of Central America. Several factors contribute to the failure of federations. They range from lack of sufficient will and commitment to entrenching a federal political and constitutional order that genuinely accommodates the diversity of the populace to the prevalence of a weak democratic political culture, an inadequate fiscal federalism and resource allocation to absence of a genuine ‘federal spirit’ among the political leadership.
When everything else is considered, the ultimate guarantee of a successful federation rests in the hearts and minds of the leaders and citizens. In the words of the American statesman John Quincy Adams: “…the indissoluble link of union between the people of the several States of this confederated nation is, after all, not in the Right, but in the Heart. If the day should ever come (may Heaven avert it !) when the affections of the people of these States shall be alienated from each other, when the fraternal spirit shall give way to cold indifference, or collision of interests shall fester into hatred, the bonds of political association - will not long hold together parties no longer attracted by the magnetism of conciliated interests and kindly sympathies; and far better will it be for the people….to part in friendship with each other than to be held together by constraint.”
The Middle Belt Approach to Restructuring
Like our brethren in the West, South-East and South-South, we the peoples of the Middle Belt affirm our commitment to restructuring of our federation to make our country survive and flourish in the years ahead. Taking cognizance of the major defects inherent in the 1999 constitution – a document that did not spring from the collective will of “We, the people”; we desire a new constitution that better reflects the aspirations of all our people. The 1999 constitution was designed and handed-over to us by a military dictatorship without the full consent of the people. The very idea that our constitutional law-givers were a faceless cabal gives us no comfort whatsoever. That constitution, ipso facto, is bereft of all legitimacy.
We in the Middle Belt take strong exception to the gerrymandering of the structure of our federation in such a manner that favours some while short-changing others. Consider, for example, the entire region known as Southern Kaduna. In land size and population, Southern Kaduna is larger and more populous than Zazzau Emirate, which is the northern part of the state. And yet, the South has 1 senatorial district while the North has two. Through constitutional gerrymandering, the former Saminaka Local Government, which has 90 percent Southern Kaduna people, was renamed “Lere” and lumped under Zazzau Emirate. By this process, the minority automatically becomes the majority in a manner that ensures that the actual minority will rule in perpetuity. Several other examples can be cited for such anomalies. We have reason to believe that the number of local government areas per state as enshrined in our constitution were done in a rather arbitrary manner to favour some regions while disfavouring others.
We also have reason to believe that the secular character of our constitutional government has been grossly compromised under the 1999 constitution. Consider, for example, the fact that Sharia is mentioned 73 times; Grand Khadi 54 times; Islam 28 times and Muslims 10 times. There is no single reference whatsoever to the word “Christian” or “Christianity”, not to talk of believers in African Traditional Religion.
We the peoples of the Middle Belt believe that the 2014 Political Conference was one of the most successful episodes in democratic consultations that we have had in our history. The conclusions of the confab provide the basic framework for the Middle Belt position on constitutional restructuring. We believe that holding another consultation of that kind will be a wasteful exercise. What the government needs to do at this point is to release the report and develop a White Paper out of it as a basis for further action. After the report and What Paper would have been released, an enabling law should be passed by the National Assembly to create a constituent assembly to design a new constitution for our country.
The Middle Belt believe that the current six Geopolitical Zones, which have no basis in law but exist merely as convention, should be expanded to 7 constitutional Regions: North East, North West, Middle Belt East, Middle Belt West, South West, South East and South-South. The Federal Capital Territory of Abuja should have an autonomous status with a Minister that shall be appointed from among the indigenous Gbagyi peoples. We advocate creation of several additional states to bring the total to 54 from the current 36 states.
Among the regions to be created, the two proposed Middle Belt Regions comprising Western Middle Belt and Eastern Middle Belt should comprise the 6 existing states of the North Central Zone in addition to Southern Borno, Southern Kebbi, Southern Kaduna and parts of Adamawa, Taraba and Gombe. Through the process of a referendum, ethnic nationalities must be given the choice of which regions they would prefer to belong to.
We envisage a two-tier federation in which the federating units will be the 8 regions, each governed by an elected Governor-General. Within each of the regions there shall be states with elected State Governors. Each state will be free to create its own municipal councils with Administrators and elected councils. We envisage Regions that shall be economically and financially viable; able to meet their basic obligations in terms of operating an elected government and civil service.
We advocate for a system of Regional Police with powers under the Governors-General to provide security for lives and properties of each of the federating Regions and States.
The bulk of the natural resources of each Region shall belong to the Region. A sharing formula will be worked out such that the central Federal Government does have some share of the revenues accruable from those natural resources. But the bulk will belong to the Regions and States. The definition of “natural resources” must also include hydro-electrical resources such as in Kainji, Shiroro, Kurra Falls and Mambila Falls.
At the national level, we advocate for preservation of the institution of the President who shall be the Executive as Head of State, Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces and symbol of the nation. We also advocate for a triumvirate of 3 Vice-Presidents which shall be drawn from the regions other than the one the elected president comes from. The vice-Presidents shall be responsible for specific mandates, to be worked out through broad consensus within the ruling administration in a manner that reflects the cultural and ethnic diversity of the country.
We also believe that the spring and fountain of participatory democracy must be founded on a vibrant parliament. Our parliament as a political institution has been the weakest link within the three arms of government. This is because throughout the long night of military dictatorship in our country, both the Executive and the Judiciary continued to function. It was always the parliament that was the casualty in every military coup d’état. As a consequence the institution of parliament has tended to be the weakest link in our political system. In the restructuring that we desire, we advocate for a popularly elected full-time unicameral legislature at the federal level. At the level of regional government we also advocate the creation of a popularly elected full-time unicameral legislature. At the level of state and local governments, however, we recommend the creation of popularly elected part-time legislative assemblies. Whereas in the former, the full-time legislators will subsist on a salary, the part-time legislators at state and municipal levels will only receive sitting allowances.
With regards to the judiciary, we believe that the common law tradition inherited from the British has served our country rather well. It is a corpus of living law rooted in equity and justice and also capable of development through organic evolution to meet the needs of changing times. We in the Middle Belt reaffirm our deepest convictions about the inherent fairness of the British common law tradition with its commitments to equity, natural justice and good conscience. The British, in their wisdom often applied the “repugnancy test” to all legal tenets that were alien to the common law tradition. A multiplicity of often conflicting legal systems is a recipe for confusion, if not disaster. For the sake of good public administration and sound civil government, it is always recommended that a country that aspires to a civilised status among the nations must possess one legal system and one corpus of laws that embodies its legal tradition.
The constitution of a nation is the spring and fountain of its laws and its fundamental grundnorm. As such, it must embody and represent the will of all the people together. It cannot emerge as the will of a small group or region. The 1999 constitution was handed down to us by military diktat. There are speculations as to who wrote it. The fact that we have to speculate as to who wrote it is in itself a defeat of the very notion of constitution-making as an expression of the general will. Throughout the long history of constitutional development in Nigeria, our people were openly and actively involved in the process. Indeed, the 1979 constitution, with all its defects, was based largely on the will of the people. The 1999 constitution, unfortunately, marks a major departure from the letter and spirit of constitutional consultation. This is why, ab initio, it does not reflect the will of the majority of Nigerians and is therefore of limited moral and political legitimacy.
Going forward, we demand, that, in the design of a successor constitutional settlement, a Committee of Wise Men and Women, made of jurists and scholars of the highest intellect, will develop a White Paper out of the report of the 2014 political conference. They will also undertake broad consultations throughout all the sections of Nigeria to distil the essential elements of a broad national consensus on the way forward.
The next process will be for a Constituent Assembly, drawn from a broad cross section of our country, to work together on drafting a new constitution based on the broad elements provided by the Committee of Wise Men and Women.
The third and final process will be a referendum across the country for the adaptation of the new constitution based on the principle of simple majority.
There will also be a transitional period leading to adoption of the new constitution. The transitional period should not be more than 2 years, during which elected politicians will continue to hold office during that transitional period until new elections are held and a new government is installed in power based on the new constitution.
The Middle Belt Covenant of Solidarity
When, in the course of history, a people desire a better life;
When, in the course of ordinary events, a people desire to build a new society that will see their lives go forward and to guarantee a future for their children;
They will begin by solemnly reaffirming those universal values that have guided humanity through the ages in their quest for the Good life, for justice and the pursuit of happiness.
We, the Peoples of the Middle Belt:
Believing that men and women are made in the image of God; equally endowed by the Almighty Creator with inherent rights to life, liberty and happiness, to live in a secure and peaceful environment, to flourish with our children and families;
Aware that, we, like every people on this earth have a right to live under a government of our choosing as enshrined in all the sacred precepts of the Law of Nations and the United Nations Charter;
Aware that, for the better part of two centuries, we have been at war with alien feudal lords who pursued our ancestors with threat of enslavement, persecution and subjugation under the ruse of Islamic Jihad;
Remembering our heroic ancestors who remained valiant and strong with the help of God Almighty, and were never conquered;
Aware that Her Majesty of Great Britain, using the sword of her imperial might, subjugated our peoples and placed us under the Caliphate to promote the moral economy of British imperialism;
Regretting the failure of the Willinks Commission 1959 that was intended to address the unique challenges facing the so-called “minorities” of the Middle Belt and the South;
Aware that, through the decades of independence in 1960, succeeding Nigerian governments preserved and strengthened the yoke of oppression over the peoples of the Middle Belt under the spurious ideology of “One North”;
Conscious of the fact that our people bore the burdens of keeping this country together as one indivisible entity;
Recalling the structural violence and social injustices visited on our people through decades of neglect, systematic religious and ethnic persecution and gross social discrimination;
Recalling the thousands of our war dead – men, women, children, old people and disabled – who perished under a myriad of assaults through the pretexts of Sharia, so-called “religious riots”, Danish Cartoons, Boko Haram and murderous Fulani militias;
Recalling the martyrs of Dogo Nahauwa on the Plateau, the martyrs of Chibok land, Southern Kaduna, Taraba and Benue, and the rape and rapine visited upon the young martyred virgins of the daughters of our people;
Remembering the holy martyrs Reverend Fathers Joseph Gor and Felix Tyolaha and the 17 parishioners of Ukpor-Mbalom who were massacred for their faith on 24 April this year;
Recalling the systematic destruction of churches and persecution of Christian communities of the North, from Kano to Katsina, Borno, Yobe and Zamfara;
Recalling the silence of the entire world in the face of genocide against our people;
We solemnly proclaim regional autonomy and self-government for the peoples of the Middle Belt and all our brethren throughout the South;
We covenant this beloved land of our ancestors - this green and rich homeland of ours -- to be inalienable under God forever;
Reaffirming that every inch of this land of our venerable ancestors belongs to the people who live on it, that we are entitled to all the riches under its soil, its rivers, its valleys, its rocks, and its hills and mountains to enjoy and to pass on to our children and our children’s children as an inalienable heritage forever;
We hereby declare our autonomy from the iron yoke of the Old North that has treated our people with such evil contumely for more than a half-century, realigning with our brethren in the South in the pursuit of a common destiny under God;
We swear that the crimson blood of the holy martyrs of our people shall never go in vain;
And let it be known to friends and foes alike, to those who wish us well or ill, that we will do whatever it takes to protect the lives and liberties of our peoples;
That we will defend this sacred land of our ancestors against all alien impostors, in conformity with the Right to Self-Defence by people threatened with genocide under the sacred precepts of international law and global ethics;
With malice towards none and with goodwill towards all, we will march forward to protect the land we love, joining our brethren in the South and all men and women of goodwill to build a New Nigeria where truth, freedom, peace and justice shall reign.
Forward ever, backward never!