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Op-Ed: Nigeria’s Path To True Federalism: A Detailed Plan

THE calls for restructuring Nigeria have intensified over recent years, reflecting the country’s deepening economic and political challenges. Various proposals have come forth, including the creation of the United States of Nigeria or the United Regions of Nigeria. These ideas aim to address the complexities of Nigeria’s federal system and offer potential pathways to greater stability and prosperity.

However, a return to true federalism, akin to the governance model outlined in Nigeria’s 1960 Constitution, may provide a more grounded and historically anchored solution. To make this vision a reality, it is imperative that any debate on restructuring also includes a detailed implementation schedule. This ensures that the transition is not only well-conceived but also practically executable, fostering a structured and strategic approach to national reform.

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The debate around restructuring Nigeria often hinges on the contrasting past experiences with federalism and the current centralized governance model. Advocates for restructuring frequently cite the 1960s Constitution as a model for reestablishing a more effective federal system. Here, let’s explore the regional efficacy within Nigeria’s 1960s Constitution and outline a practical timeline and schedule for implementation that can navigate both current political dynamics and societal aspirations.

Regional efficacy in the 1960s Constitution

The 1960s Constitution of Nigeria established a federal structure that allotted significant powers and autonomy to the regions (which included Northern, Western, Eastern, and Mid-Western Regions). Key elements of this regional efficacy included:

Resource control and revenue allocation: Regions had control over their own resources and revenue streams, thus ensuring direct stakes in their economic development.

Legislative competence: Regional governments had extensive legislative powers over sectors critical to their development, including agriculture, education, healthcare, and infrastructure.

Cultural autonomy: Regions could preserve and promote their unique cultural identities, contributing to national unity through diversity rather than forced homogeneity.

Security: Regional security arrangements allowed for a context-sensitive response to local challenges, although national defence remained a federal responsibility.

Given this backdrop, many believe that returning to a similar form of federalism based on the 1960s Constitution would meet contemporary demands for self-determination, economic autonomy, and improved governance.

Designing timelines and schedule for implementation

Implementing a return to true federalism akin to the 1960s Constitution requires careful planning, consensus-building, and a phased approach to minimize disruption. Here is a proposed timeline and schedule:

National dialogue and consensus building (12-18 months): The initial phase is crucial for building consensus among Nigeria’s diverse stakeholders. A broad-based dialogue ensures all voices, including those of minorities and marginalised groups, are heard. This participatory approach enhances legitimacy and lays a stable foundation for subsequent phases.

Months 1-3: stakeholder consultations Identify key political, community, ethnic, and civil society leaders. Conduct one-on-one consultations to gauge initial viewpoints and build alliances.

Months 4-9: public awareness campaigns Launch a nationwide media campaign to educate the public on the benefits of restructuring based on the 1960s Constitution. Organise town hall meetings across all regions to facilitate grassroots engagement.

Months 10-18: national conference: Convene a conference with representatives from all regions, political parties, ethnic groups, and major stakeholders. Facilitate collaborative discussions aimed at defining the framework for the new federal structure.

Constitutional review and drafting (6-12 months): A revised constitution reflecting the 1960s model must incorporate modern realities while retaining essential elements of regional autonomy. The review and drafting process should be transparent and inclusive to maintain the momentum of consensus.

Months 19-21: constitutional review committee formation: Appoint a multidisciplinary committee of legal experts, historians, economists, and civil society representatives.

Months 22-28: drafting the constitution: Develop draft amendments, with specific attention to resource control, legislative powers, judicial reforms, and security arrangements. Conduct public consultations to solicit feedback on draft versions.

Months 29-30: incorporating feedback:  Revise the draft constitution based on public and stakeholder feedback.

Legislative actions (6-9 months): Securing legislative approval is essential for any constitutional change. Engaging both national and regional legislatures early ensures smoother ratification processes and builds institutional support for the new federal order.

Months 31-33: national legislature vote: Present the draft constitution to the National Assembly for debate and approval.

Months 34-36: regional legislature votes: Submit the approved national draft to regional legislatures for endorsement. Promote regional town hall meetings to explain the constitution’s implications and gather public support.

Months 37-39: state referendums (if required): Where constitutional or political structures mandate, hold state referendums. Ensure transparent, free, and fair referendums to legitimise the new federal structure.

Transition period (12-24 months): The transition phase must be well-managed to transfer powers smoothly from the federal government to regions. Capacity building and economic adjustments will mitigate disruptions and ensure regional governments can fulfil their new roles effectively.

Months 40-45: institutional realignment: Map existing federal functions to regional competencies. Gradually transfer administrative, legislative, and fiscal responsibilities to regional governments.

Months 46-57: capacity building: Provide training programmes and workshops for regional government staff. Strengthen regional institutions to handle new administrative and service delivery responsibilities.

Months 58-63: economic adjustments: Implement revised revenue-sharing formulas. Facilitate regional plans for economic development, resource management, and investment promotion.

Implementation and monitoring (ongoing): Ongoing implementation and monitoring ensure that the new federal system works as intended. Regular evaluations and adjustments based on real-time feedback will address emerging challenges and opportunities.

Starting Month 64: framework rollout: Fully activate the new regional competencies and structures.

Ongoing: monitoring and evaluation: Establish a monitoring committee to oversee the implementation. Conduct bi-annual reviews to assess progress and adapt strategies. Engage with citizens through continuous feedback mechanisms to ensure the system stays responsive.

By embedding a detailed implementation schedule into the debate on returning to true federalism based on Nigeria’s 1960s Constitution, the discussion moves beyond theoretical advocacy into actionable planning. This approach not only demonstrates feasibility but also enhances consensus and ensures a smoother transition to a more effective and balanced federal system.

In conclusion, the debate on restructuring Nigeria is pivotal for navigating the nation’s future. While various innovative proposals have been floated, a return to true federalism as per the 1960 Constitution emerges as a compelling option due to its historical efficacy and alignment with Nigeria’s federal principles.

Central to the success of this approach is the inclusion of a robust implementation schedule within the debate. Such a schedule will serve as a roadmap, guiding the nation through systematic changes and ensuring that each step is carefully planned and executed. This structured approach will better equip Nigeria to address its economic and political challenges, ultimately fostering a more cohesive and prosperous nation.

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