Oddities of Nigeria’s Federal System
By Dirisu Yakubu
When penultimate Thursday Governor Nyesom Wike arrested 22 ExxonMobil workers who reportedly breached his executive order barring movement into the state, many had looked forward to a real contest of powers between federal and state authorities.
“As a responsive government, we have quarantined them in line with the relevant health protocols, and they will be charged to court,” Governor Wike vowed in a session with newsmen the following Friday.
Cast against the earlier arrest and prosecution of the cabin crew and passengers of a Caverton Helicopter who also breached the same executive order, students of Nigeria’s federalism had looked forward to a possible showdown.
The governor’s vow came against the pledge by the minister of aviation, Senator Hadi Sirika, that the Caverton crew would be released from detention and would not suffer prosecuted it looked as Wike was being pushed to the edge.
However, within days of the governor’s threat, the Rivers State authorities withdrew the charges against the Caverton pilots and passengers and also released the 22 ExxonMobil workers.
The governor said the release of the men followed entreaties by well-meaning Nigerians who intervened to stave off a clash.
However, few would have observed that a day after the arrest of the ExxonMobil staff that the state commissioner of police, Mr. Mustapha Dandaura was replaced by a new commissioner, Mr. Joseph Mukan at the instance of the Inspector General of Police, Adamu Mohammed.
Whether it was that or not that pushed Wike to unbend remains a matter of speculation.
However, his local political rivals in the All Progressives Congress, APC were not lost for words in harping in on his predicament.
Erstwhile Publicity Secretary of the APC in Rivers State, Chris Finebone hit home when he said that Wike knows when to huff, puff and threaten and also when to beg as he challenged him to name the eminent persons who intervened.
He said: “I feel happy that the innocent oil workers have regained their freedom from what I consider hostage-taking.
“You see, the governor is not as brave or naïve as people think. He knows when to huff, puff and threaten in front of the camera to rally his base and enjoy momentary applause. And he also knows when the real hammer is about to fall and how to cow, beg, throw in the towel and scamper to safety with style.
“One day he will tell the real story why he hurriedly released the 22 ExxonMobil staff.
“Forget the story about eminent persons intervening. Okay, can he name those eminent persons who intervened, how they intervened, where and when?”
Indeed, the reality of a an overwhelming Federal Government is one that many governors have had to cope with.
Indeed, few days after his miraculous emergence as governor of Bayelsa State, last February, Governor Douyle Diri was at the Presidential Villa where he submitted himself as one of the sons of President Muhammadu Buhari.
“Since I resumed as Governor of Bayelsa State, precisely on the 14th of February, I have not come to see the father of the nation. Today I just did that: to come and see the father of our country and to work with the federal government of Nigeria in ensuring peace and stability in my state and ensuring the development of my state.”
“Mr. President received me as one of his sons, as a state governor, and the reception was very warm.
“He promised as one of his sons, a state like Bayelsa that is critical to the security and peace in the Niger Delta that he was prepared to also work with me.”
Some opposition governors have even been more adventurous in engaging the president to guarantee their political survival and Anambra State is a particular example.
In the past two governorship elections in Anambra State the party at the centre has been accused of mortgaging its own interest to sustain the All Progressives Grand Alliance, APGA in the state.
For whatever was the partnership between President Goodluck Jonathan and Mr. Peter Obi, Jonathan was believed to have turned his back on his party’s candidate, Dr. Tony Nwoye in projecting APGA’s Willie Obiano.
Jonathan when he came to campaign for the PDP told the crowd to vote according to their conscience.
When the same Nwoye switched over to the APC and became the candidate of the party, Buhari did not come to campaign for him.
When few weeks to the 2017 governorship election in which Obiano was pitched against Nwoye of the APC and Oseloka Obaze of the PDP as the main contenders, it was not surprising that the incumbent governor following a visit to the Presidential Villa would speak as if he were the spokesman of the president.
“He (President Buhari) likes governors who work hard, who are delivering what people can see and are delivering dividends of democracy to their people. That is what the President wants.”
If the case of the opposition governors is as such it is even more beggarly with governors of the ruling party.
Few months ago when the majority of All Progressives Congress, APC governors appeared set to move against the national chairman of the party, Comrade Adams Oshiomhole it took just a visit to the president for the move to be derailed following a visit to Buhari.
A state governor presenting himself as a son to the president evokes one of the oddities of Nigeria’s federal system.
The oddities of the federal system are reflected by the disproportionate share of federal resources and monopoly of the agencies of government.
Despite his seeming bravado, Wike last year alluded to such when he crossed party lines at a sensitive time to pay homage just like Diri to Buhari.
The governor shocked the polity when after the Supreme Court judgment on the 2019 presidential election he came out to congratulate President Buhari despite his adherence to the opposition Peoples Democratic Party, PDP.
“I am sure all of you are surprised that I congratulated Buhari. Is it not good for me to congratulate him than to go to his house in the night?” he asked his audience at a funeral ceremony in the oil-rich state.
“So many PDP governors go to see him (Buhari) in his house in the night. I have never gone and I will not go,” the governor added. So, are these visits, day or nocturnal, part of the principles of federalism or simply an artificial creation intended to preserve an interest, no matter how narrowly defined?
Professor of Political Economy, Pat Utomi in an exclusive chat with Saturday Vanguard said what is being practiced in Nigeria is difficult to be described as a federal system.
According to him, the pilgrimage to Aso Rock negates the vision of the nation’s founding fathers, many of whom would be turning in their graves today with the way things have turned since their transition.
Utomi said: “It is difficult to understand the system of government being practiced in Nigeria. The first question to ask is what is the purpose of a system of government? It should ordinarily be an optimal way of solving problems for the people. Whether what we have is solving the problems Nigerians have should then determine how to analyze its efficacy and effectiveness.
“Nigeria is marked by enormous diversity and differences from extreme poverty to middle class living in spatial distribution from North-East to South-East; Low literacy from North-West to near-universal primary education in the South-West, etc. Flora and fauna vary markedly and would this need different policy choice for dealing with issues?
“The prebendal journey to the villa on every subject is not only a betrayal of the founding fathers of Nigeria but an indication the governors misunderstand their roles and are treacherous to the Constitution of Nigeria.”
Like Utomi, Professor of Political Science and former Minister of Education, Tunde Adeniran berated governors with the habit of visiting Abuja at the slightest opportunity and tasked them to brace up to the challenge of governing their respective states. Some governors visit the villa and are delighted to see their pictures published in both social and main stream media.
“It is a real mockery in a Presidential democracy of a federal system of government. It is a clear evidence of the fact that many of them do not understand or appreciate the enormous work they have to do in their states. They also don’t seem to care that the President should not be squandering precious time on the frivolity of receiving state governors on courtesy calls and social visits,” he noted.
Another Professor of Political Science and Chieftain of the Social Democratic Party, SDP, Professor Rufai Alkali however does not see anything wrong with governors visiting the President, provided the significance of such visits would impact positively on their states.
According to him, the fact that the Constitution envisages collaboration between the federal and state governments in the exercise of their concurrent powers; interface between them cannot be dismissed.
“Nigeria is a peculiar country and we must understand that our governors need the cooperation of the federal government, or if you like, the cooperation of Mr. President in many areas. For instance, governors are the chief security officers in their states but you and I know that security is the exclusive preserve of the federal government. So, there is nothing wrong for instance, if a governor visits the President to brief him of the steps he is taking to complement what the federal government is doing to maintain peace, law and order in that state.
“Elections have been a source of worry for Nigerians for long. Our quest for free and fair elections is fallout of the experiences we have had over time. Ballot boxes snatching, shooting, killings and what have you have been constant features of our electioneering history. What this means is that governors, particularly those who are about to have elections conducted in their states, would see it as a duty to approach the federal government on the need for rules of engagement to be obeyed and all that.
“I agree that we will get there someday, I think we are not doing badly at the moment,” Alkali stated.
In the United States of America which Nigeria models its system after, the outbreak of the Coronavirus has provided sufficient food for thought.
Ensuing developments in the US has seen some governors shove off threats by President Donald Trump to reopen their states.
Addressing a press conference earlier in the week, Trump said that “when somebody is the President of the United States, the authority is total,” and fired a shot at Democrat governors threatening to reopen their states saying “they can’t do anything without the approval of the President of the United States.
Penultimate Tuesday, the president took to Twitter to note that deciding when to reopen the states is “the decision of the President,” not the governors.
His assertion immediately earned him a verbal rebuke from Governor Andrew Cuomo of New York State.
In a sharp rebuke of the position of Trump, Governor Cuomo reminded him that Americans elected a President, not a monarch whose orders are likely to go unquestioned. “We don’t have a king, we have a President,” the governor fired back.
However, faced with a similar situation in Nigeria, Governors Babajide Sanwo-Olu and Dapo Abidoun of Lagos and Ogun States respectively were quick to kowtow to the lockdown of their states by the president.
Like Professor Alkali stated, it appears time would come for the Nigeria’s system to reach into a realm where governors would no longer see themselves as political appendages of the highest office holder in the land.