Date: Sun 15 May, 2016
Mr. Dipo Famakinwa is the executive director of the Development Agenda for Western Nigeria (DAWN), an organisation, which has been in the frontline for regional integration in the Southwest. In this interview with KAMAL TAYO OROPO, he explained that the agitation would persist until stakeholders desist from running in circles.
In view of the financial stress in states, many are calling for a return to regional arrangement. What’s your take?
I think that’s a call that has been made almost always. It would not go away because it makes sense. The so-called federating units bear that only in names and not in capacity and ability to compete in any way.
But it would require a constitutional exercise with all attendant cost in time and resources. Would it be worth the while?
The thing is that before we embark on another constitutional exercise, we have to be clear about what all this is about. Nigerians have been saddled with all kinds of exercises that have led us back to the starting point. Let’s even start with a national conversation about what sort of country we want. Do we really want this country and if the answer is yes, are we prepared to deal with the fundamental issues, rather than just running around in circles? So yes, a constitutional exercise, but not in the way we have always done it and not getting the right results, but simply getting the same results, and that’s insanity.
I think for most parts, we have endeavoured to construct Nigeria on faulty foundations. Many of the things we had thought would solve our problems or mitigate our difficulties have ended up putting us in a bigger bind. Regionalism worked, no doubt, and should have remained the structural underpinning of our March into the future. However, progressively, the fear that one part, possibly a region should no longer have the muscle or the audacity to challenge the other parts of the country, must have been a dominant thinking. And once new states were created, it threw up accusations and loud grumbling of unfairness, and the more we attempted to respond to the accusations, the more the clamour for the creation of more states and that’s not going to go away. Even at the last constitutional conference, it reared its head, so much so that most of the negotiations for concessions and concensus were happening at the altar of those new demands.
But, the 2014 National Confab actually recommended creation of more states?
That’s part of the contradictions that I found in the recommendations of the 2014 Confab. Like many of the previous attempts before, it had quite a number of important recommendations, but that bit about creation of more states runs contrary to the dominant position about a Federal Nigeria based on regions.
I participated in many of the discussions that preceded the Conference and nowhere, at least from the Southwest, did we agree on new states or as a matter of fact, states as the federating constituents. The dynamics apparently changed on the ground based on some of the reasons that I earlier alluded to. It is perhaps also an indication that things have really not changed as far as debating the imperatives for progress.
The conference recommended more states on one hand, recommended collapse of ‘unviable’ states on the other hand. What do you think was at play in the minds of conference delegates?
That was an attempt to strike some balance in my view. But again, a good attempt to run away from the real issues. That’s neither here nor there. Tell me, which state was going to admit unviability and on that basis seek a collapse? Under what arrangements would that happen? A voluntary acquiescence or some forced modality? It would surprise you that as homogenous as we look in the Southwest, it is also, perhaps, one of the most difficult parts of the world, not just in Nigeria, where forging an agreement is really an excruciating activity. Let’s redirect the conversation. Our fathers didn’t face the same realities that we are facing now, which makes the case for regionalism easier.
In all, what options are available to this present government?
We must not relent on our advocacy for a proper federalism. The structural construct of Nigeria is faulty and platitudes are not enough. The ultimate is for us to renegotiate this federalism. And this must be seen as a development imperative and not some ethnic fancies as many people seem to have turned it into. Nigeria must make progress. Nigeria must be on the pathway to actualisation. Time waits for no one.
However, we must remain on the pragmatic lane as the times suggest. And that is part of the driving force for the work that I do. And that is what I’d like to refer to as the regionalisation of development. Nigeria is naturally dimensioned into regions and we can make that count for us at this time. Let all the states that comprise the six regions in Nigeria bandy together and start thinking in a more compelling manner about the necessity for development integration.