For some time, political thinkers and social pundits alike have toiled on the 1914 amalgamation and the colonial falsity of one Nigeria. They have proliferated visions and ideas on way forward and have tinkered on ideas like the sovereign national conference, self determination and secession, yet, many Nigerians still hold firmly to the ideals of one Nigeria.
The idea of one Nigeria might not be bad as opponents have painted it to be – simply because moving from our current competitive federalist structure to a system like dual federalism might offer solution to the current dilemma.
In dual federalism, the federal government will not interfere in the affair of states and each state will have sovereign authority to make decisions, fend for itself and determine its own success. However, the federal government will exist and act within the limited power accorded to it by the constitution.
Better still, as President Lyndon Johnson of the United States did in the 60s, we can design a creative federalist arrangement that is a lar carte to the Nigerian problem.
But I am not an advocate of one Nigeria, not because it would not work if some creative ingenuity is instilled into its new make. I have developed a conceptual framework which trounces many of the flaws of federalism and I believe it is a better alternative.
My framework emerged out of the weaknesses of centralization and the drawbacks of regionalism which many see as solution to an heterogeneous society as Nigeria.
One of the attendant problems of regionalism is that it can distribute corruption more widely and make regional disparities widespread especially in times of uncertainty. For instance, if the price of oil is to fall drastically in the case of our regional existence, the region that is dependent on oil for its survival may find it difficult to meet its obligations and if the central government is broke, this might lead to some serious crisis.
Some of these problems were encountered in the 60s in Nigeria’s regional system after independence (except that they were less pronounced) and creative regionalism seeks to address them all.
Creative regionalism does not merely acknowledge the complexity and heterogeneity of regions, it believes in the process of continuous bargaining and is built on efficiency, inter-regional collaboration, localism, regional standardization and competitive innovation.
To promote efficiency, the system advocates that governments should be lean, economical, small and networked across all regions. Hence, it advocates caps in government spending as a percentage of GDP according to the size of participating regions.
For instance, the government of each regional division in the case where Nigeria adopts creative regionalism might not be allowed to spend more than 10% of their annual GDP on government administration and recurrent expenditure.
This would enable governments to focus on their core oversight functions and run a small and measured administrative control. It would also have many implications, 1) because of constrained budget size on administration, governments across all regional division would have to be creative and find ways to provide efficient public services with minimal operational expenditure, this would ultimately lead to the adoption of modern technological innovation like e-government channels to deliver public services - as it exists in places like Singapore, South Korea and Estonia. Take South Korea for example, around 85% of public services are available online and through mobile phones giving citizens 24 hours access. 2), because of the small size of government and of recurrent expenses thereof, there would be less prospect for misappropriation, nepotism and inefficiency which are the commonest forms of corruption in Nigeria. 3), there will be less room for bureaucracy, waste and ineptitude which are some of the biggest problems of governance across the world.
Creative regionalism is planned on the idea of pre-emptive governance and its application across all regions and their local units. The proposition of pre-emptive governance is that instead of responding to crisis and problems as they occur, which usually come at a higher cost to government, the utilization of analytics and big data will help government to address problems before they occur. For instance, there could be regional data centres that use data from previous years to pre-empt future disasters like accidents, fire outbreaks, infrastructural damage, etc. and this would enable governments across regions to respond pre-emptively, hence, prevent deaths, save costs and improve service efficiency.
Creative regionalism advocates for localism through any system of regional governance that brings government closer to the people and this can be achieved in varying ways. For example, through a provincial system of government divided into municipalities, down to districts and sub-districts, or through a regional system divided into states and states divided into districts and smaller local governments.
The system supports a unicameral legislature at every region along with a strong unicameral legislature at the centre.
Cross regional standardization is another premise of creative regionalism and the idea behind it is to ensure a minimum benchmark of standard, in terms of education, healthcare delivery, housing, social services, waste disposal, transportation and environmental management. A typical standardisation policy could be that every region must make it obligatory for education authorities to have at least 1 teacher per 15 students in public, primary and secondary schools or that every region must spend a minimum of 5 % of their GDP on primary and secondary agriculture investments.
Ensuring regional standardization will help keep every region on par with each other and will help to reduce disparities across regions. It would create a benchmark upon which development and other yard sticks of growth and performance would be measured.
Following from the lessons from the crisis in the eurozone, creative regionalism proposes that establishing a unified regional government should nonetheless allow regions to have a loose monetary policy that suits their economic and social characteristics. However, there would be a common central bank and treasury. The need for an apex financial authority is to monitor and control divergences in fiscal and monetary discipline across regions.
For instance, each region can print its own money to meets its obligations provided it follows the rules of the apex financial authority. One of the many flaws in the design of the eurozone as many economists would agree is that while there was convergence in interest rates and other monetary principles across member states, there were divergences in economic performance across member states enabling some members to achieve faster growth while others struggled.
An apex financial authority would oversee, control and monitor regional monetary performance and ensure that regional central banks maintain best practice.
The system also proposes an apex human right court standing above regional supreme courts as the option of last resort. The court would settle interregional disputes, arbitrate and resolve cases that individuals think had been compromised at their regional supreme courts.
Creative regionalism believes in the power of fair competition and collaborative consumption to reduce the undue power of free market. It seeks to promote Pan –Nigerianism through the celebration of ethnic identities and our deep ethno cultural and linguistic diversities in the system of governance. For instance, why should we have traditional chiefs, Oba, Emirs, Obi’s, etc, who get paid to do nothing? The framework advocates for these traditional title holders to be recognised by the constitution and given important roles to play in society.
I believe that if the proposed framework is applied to the Nigerian system, it would address many of the current ethno cultural, linguistic, economic and structural crises that has characterised brand Nigeria since amalgamation. It would allow for land redistribution and the system of governance that is Pan –Nigerian, which focuses on localism and deemphasizes the concept of universalism.
It would definitely not eliminate corruption entirely but can reduce it to the barest minimum. Creative regionalism does not merely want to solve the problem of now; it takes account of the constantly changing, and growing challenges of governance in the 21st century and beyond.