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Op-Ed: Reviving Nigeria’s 1960s Constitution For Federalism And Growth

NIGERIA’S 1960s Constitution laid a foundation for a federal system characterised by regional autonomy and a shared governance structure that resonated with the diverse aspirations of its people. Reviving this Constitution’s spirit offers a pathway to concurrently implement regionalization and true federalism, addressing contemporary challenges while capitalizing on the nation’s diverse strengths. Here’s a detailed justification of how Nigeria can achieve this:

Historical context: The 1960s Constitution

The 1960s Constitution provided a framework that balanced regional autonomy with federal unity. Regions had significant control over local affairs, including agricultural policies, public health, and education, while the federal government managed overarching national interests such as defence and foreign policy. This arrangement fostered innovation, competition, and self-governance, leading to relative stability and development.

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Framework for concurrent implementation

Constitutional amendments: To revive the 1960s Constitution’s spirit, Nigeria must undertake constitutional amendments that re-establish regional autonomy within a federal framework. These amendments should delineate the powers and responsibilities of both federal and regional governments, ensuring clarity and preventing overlaps.

Decentralisation of power: Power should be decentralised to regional and local governments, allowing them to manage resources, design policies, and address local issues effectively. This includes devolving fiscal responsibilities, such as taxation and budgetary allocations, empowering regions to generate and manage their revenues.

Autonomous regional governance structures: Each region should have its council or assembly, similar to state legislatures, which can enact laws and policies tailored to local needs and priorities. Regional governments must be given the authority to manage key sectors such as education, healthcare, and agriculture.

Strengthening local governments: As part of true federalism, local governments should be strengthened to ensure grassroots participation in governance. This involves fiscal autonomy, capacity building, and a clear legal framework to prevent interference from higher tiers of government.

Benefits of concurrent implementation

Better representation and participation: By decentralising power, governance becomes more participative and representative. Citizens can have a more direct influence on decision-making processes that affect their daily lives. Political engagement at the regional and local levels ensures that all groups, including minorities, have a voice and a stake in governance.

Economic diversification and development: Regionalisation allows regions to leverage their unique resources and comparative advantages, fostering economic diversification. Regions can develop policies that attract investments, promote local industries, and create jobs, enhancing overall national development.

Conflict mitigation and national unity: Granting regions autonomy reduces central government imposition, which often fuels regional and ethnic tensions. As diverse groups witness equitable power distribution and resource allocation, secessionist sentiments diminish, strengthening national unity.

Innovation and competitiveness: Regional autonomy encourages healthy competition among regions, spurring innovation in governance, economic strategies, and social services. Successful regional policies can serve as models for others, creating a cycle of improvement and efficiency.

Enhanced accountability and governance: Localised governance enhances transparency and accountability, as governments are closer to the electorate and can be more easily monitored and held accountable. This leads to better governance practices, reduced corruption, and increased trust in public institutions.

Challenges and mitigation strategies

Coordination between federal and regional governments: Establish inter-governmental councils to facilitate coordination and cooperation between the federal government and regional authorities. Implement conflict resolution mechanisms to address disputes over jurisdiction and resource allocation.

Capacity building: Invest in capacity building for regional and local governments to equip them with the skills and resources necessary for effective governance. Develop standardised governance frameworks and best practices to ensure consistency and efficiency across regions.

Balanced resource distribution: Establish fair and transparent mechanisms for resource distribution, ensuring that all regions have the financial capability to govern effectively. Introduce equalisation grants or revenue-sharing arrangements to address disparities and promote balanced development.

Implementing regionalisation and true federalism concurrently, inspired by the 1960s Constitution, presents a viable solution for Nigeria’s contemporary governance challenges. This approach promises enhanced democratic participation, economic development, national unity, and effective governance. Through constitutional amendments, power decentralisation, and robust local governance, Nigeria can harness the strengths of its diverse regions, fostering a more inclusive, innovative, and prosperous nation. By embracing this framework, Nigeria can move towards a future where regional autonomy and federal unity coexist harmoniously, driving the country towards sustained growth and stability.

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