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Opinions of Friday, 4 September 2020

Columnist: Olu Fasan

Gambari’s strange idea of federalism with more centralisation of power

Professor Ibrahim Gambari is settling down well in his new role as President Muhammadu Buhari’s chief of staff.

Since he started the job in May, his presence has been strongly felt in the Presidency and his imprimatur has been on the governing process.

That’s how it should be! In a piece in May about Gambari’s appointment, I said that it would be a waste of his enormous talent “if he is only seen as President Buhari’s “so-called ‘gate-keeper’”.

I argued that “he must also be his chief strategist”.

Professor Gambari is such a talented technocrat that he must, ipso facto, be the intellectual force behind the Buhari administration. But I also said in that column that precisely because Gambari must be President Buhari’s chief strategist, we should be interested in his values, in what he stands for.

There’s no place in a democracy for faceless cabals who wield so much power behind the scenes but are unaccountable. The citizens should know who, if any, are behind the policies their president is pursuing; what are their values, what is their worldview? Well, unlike his predecessor, the late Abba Kyari, who secretly wielded enormous power but expressed no public views, Professor Gambari is an open book.

With several decades in public life, some of his views on public policy are common knowledge. And one area where his views are well known is on the crucial issue of federalism and restructuring.

Why does this matter now? Well, it matters because we are at the coalface of the crisis of federalism.

The Buhari government, of which Gambari is a linchpin, is so determined to ride roughshod over the state governments with its so-called community policing scheme that it wants to bring all regional security outfits, such as Amotekun, under central control! Recently, the Federal Government approved N13.3bn for community policing in Nigeria. But the money won’t be used to support state or regional security initiatives.

Rather, it will be used to create nationally-controlled community policing structures, under which state or regional security outfits must operate; they cannot exist as standalone operations.

Garba Shehu, President Buhari’s senior media assistant, recently said: “Whatever name they go by, Amotekun or whatever, they will be streamlined and they will be run in accordance with the structures defined by the Inspector-General of Police.”

He added churlishly: “They can choose their own nomenclature, but it doesn’t make a difference.”

So, all those laws that the South West state assemblies and governors enacted to give legal backing to Amotekun are utterly worthless – in a supposed federal system! Which brings us back to Professor Gambari.

What are his views on this issue, and what advice is he giving to President Buhari? Well, we know his views from what he has said publicly.

He is viscerally opposed to regional security initiatives like Amotekun.

Speaking in March at an event to mark the 80th birthday of General Domkat Bali, former defence minister, Gambari said we should not look at solutions to the security challenges from a regional perspective but “a national prism”, and condemned any regional initiative “which is not tied to the primacy of the national security apparatus”.

To be fair, Gambari supports local policing. Indeed, he believes that “unless Nigeria localises its security architecture”, it cannot tackle its security challenges.

But he wants that local or community policing to be controlled nationally, not regionally. That view provides the philosophical anchor for the presidency’s undisguised mission to cripple regional security outfits, such as Amotekun, and bring them under national control.

But where does Professor Gambari get the idea of federalism with more centralisation of power from? According to the Encyclopaedia Britannica, the two main characteristics of true federalism are: non-centralisation and local autonomy.

Indeed, in a true federal system, the federating units can provide a strong alternative to the policy of the centre.

Well, hear President Buhari’s spokesman again: “So, we are going to have a single type structure community policing across the country and whatever is not in line with this does not have a place in the new scheme of things.”

Really? A “single-type” community policing across Nigeria? That sounds like a unitary system. Which true federal system has such centrally controlled policing? Which even has uniform, nationwide policies on most issues? Take the United States, which some centralists often cite to support their position.

Most of the 50 states have different laws on such key issues as gay marriage, abortion and death penalty. And the US federal government cannot impose a “single type” national system on any of these issues! Has any of the centralists been to Scotland? It is so institutionally and structurally different from the rest of the UK you would think it is a separate country.

In 2017, Chief Emeka Anyaoku, former Secretary-General of the Commonwealth, said that “unless Nigeria goes back to regional governments, it may be embarking on an endless, fruitless search for meaningful development”.

He added: “From my over 30 years’ experience of governance in over 50 Commonwealth countries, I believe that, given its history and pluralistic character, a truer federalism is a sine qua non for Nigeria’s achievement of its development potentials and enduring political stability.”

Professor Gambari, a top UN official for several years, has broadly similar international exposure to Chief Anyaoku’s. But he comes to a different view. For him, it is centralism, not regionalism. Well, Anyaoku is right, Gambari is wrong, utterly wrong! Truth is, there’s a huge mismatch between power and identities in Nigeria.

Power is centralised, but identities are regionalised. That’s the root-cause of the perennial instability. The solution recommended by scholars, and adopted by most heterogenous and multi-ethnic countries, is radical decentralisation of power to regional governments.

Professor Gambari fears that regionalism could split Nigeria. But, as Professor Wole Soyinka warned last week regarding the Water Resources Bill, it’s over-centralisation, it is micromanaging Nigeria from Abuja, that could break up the country. Gambari must tell his boss that!

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