Balancing negativities in an unbalanced federation By Zainab Suleiman- Okino

Recent development in the country is proven evidence that no part of the country has monopoly of everything negatively repulsive to a decent society. It’s as if we are in a race to win medals for bad deeds. No group—ethnic or otherwise—can beat its chest and proclaim, ‘this can never happen in my place’. In this competition of mutually assured destruction, the greatest loser is our dear country, Nigeria, and its people. Perhaps this is our own ingenious way of maintaining a delicate balance in a country blessed (or is it cursed?) with huge and arguably incomparable diversities. So, if one Northerner or Christian is accused of corruption, we have to balance the equation by looking for a corrupt Southerner or Muslim. That same way, if there is an attack in one part of a town, reprisals have to take place in another part of that same town to balance the equation. We also have a horrible national pastime that is re-enacted at public functions every now and then. It is the idea of invoking the name of God with Muslim and Christian prayers even when the gathering is presiding over frauds. As long as the delicate religious or ethnic balance is maintained, no infraction matters, even if it is against the holy name of God.  Our idea of a balanced federation is not in terms of contributing our quota to its development but in a skewed sense of taking from the national cake forcefully and, in most cases, illegally.

Since 1993 when democratic space was opened to all, some form of militancy has crept into the polity. It began from the South west, where OPC was born shortly after civilian rule began; it was a carry-over from the struggle over June 12. Not quite long after, MASSOB in a mould reminiscent of the Biafra struggle came into being. There was a feeble attempt to create the equivalent of OPC and MASSOB, in the North, then called Arewa People’s Congress, APC, but the idea did not quite stick and it was not militant enough, so it fizzled out. Somewhere in the oil rich Niger-Delta, and in no time militancy in the area took the centre stage. MEND came into reckoning and quickly became a force to reckon with. The group started with kidnapping for ransom of foreign nationals working in the region. That paid off handsomely, so they devised another strategy of yanking off oil pipelines. And that hit the heart of the nation’s economy, so much so that the federal government was compelled by the contextual circumstance of the time to negotiate and eventually rehabilitate them. In the North came the worst of the nation’s woes.

The Boko Haram insurgency started, and we have never had peace since then. Balancing evil with evil has become a national pastime too. Boko Haram started by attacking government institutions and graduated to attacks on churches. Last week in  Bukuru, Jos, three masked men invaded a mosque around 1.30 pm and shot three persons dead. According to the report the gunmen arrived in a car and parked during the Zuhr prayer time, entered the mosque and shot at worshippers and drove off. That commando-style attack is every inch a Boko Haram tactic, but their Christian counterparts are learning the ropes, fast. The same thing has just been re-enacted in Kaduna. Now, talk about balancing terror with terror. That is very Nigerian. The ongoing cash-for-clearance saga between Rep Farouk Lawan and oil baron Femi Otedola is a clear case of how we balance things in Nigeria, including corruption.

The oil majors, in collusion with the federal government, had been caught pants down in the fuel subsidy probe, a project that Nigerians ‘invested’ in emotionally, mobilised to support it, and were eager to see its outcome.  The Farouk Lawan committee did not disappoint. It did a thorough job, and was being applauded. The executive must have felt ambushed, as people began to call for the committee report’s implementation. Then the unexpected suddenly happened. A sting operation that took place in April was fast forwarded. Lawan took bribe. The report is tainted. The executive must have thought that it should not go down alone, and started plotting. Lawan became a willing tool, and the biggest loser.

The unfortunate thing about this whole drama is that instead of the federal government and all its agents like Otedolas to be remorseful and show restraint, it does appear that someone somewhere is happy, that the blame for the ignominious role played in short-changing Nigerians through the subsidy regime, would now be shared by the executive and the legislative arms of government. And as it’s always the case, attention has now been diverted to the legislators, while the monumental fraud being carried out by the executive is glossed over. We continue to imitate one another in more negative ways than positive ways.

That is why we balance corruption and stealing of public funds regionally, religiously and across branches of government. In other words, when it comes to dipping hands in the treasury, there is religious or ethnic diversity, and marginalisation is only an issue when you ‘eat’ alone. The Nigeria Governors’ Forum has what it calls peer review mechanism, which is supposed to serve as a check on the governors’ performances in comparison with their colleagues. I do not know whether the governors have taken advantage of it to advance development in their states.

Otherwise, why don’t they try to replicate good things happening in Lagos and Jigawa states, for example, or invoke it as a a yardstick to measure their performances. Here is a nation that is not structurally balanced. The federal government controls 52 percent of the nation’s revenues and dishes out what remains to states and LGs. The states in turn corner what belongs to the LGs and leave them with crumbs.  At the end nothing really gets done at the LG level and nothing ever gets done to uplift standards of living. This is a structural defect. States are supposed to defer some powers to the federal government, but in Nigeria there is a reversal of that role. We should balance this federation to achieve positive results for its component parts instead of balancing corruption and negativities


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