Rivers: The Gathering Storm

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Rivers: the Gathering Storm

Since the rumour that Governor Rotimi Amaechi of Rivers State is nursing an ambition to be the next vice president to a northern presidential candidate in 2015 started circulating, many disturbing developments have occurred. Whether this rumoured ambition is true or not, it is totally irrelevant. The truth is that every Nigerian over the age of 40 is entitled to aspire to be president or vice president of Nigeria.


This constitutional entitlement is not in any way qualified by the party or zonal relationship between an incumbent president and the aspirant. That is why the series of unfortunate events that have occurred in Rivers State since the so-called aspiration was published are most disturbing, ominous and dangerous.

The publications in various newspapers in the last few weeks have disclosed that the following disturbing events have occurred:

1. The grounding of the official private jet of the Rivers State Government, intended apparently to cripple the Rivers State governor’s movements around the country.

2. Prevention by police of the state House of Assembly from functioning.

3. Escorting some suspended members of the House of Assembly accompanied by hoodlums masquerading as protesters by the police with the apparent intention of initiating impeachment action.

4. Prevention of the Caretaker Committee of a local government council from functioning.

5. The withdrawal of the security details of the Speaker of the state House of Assembly.

6. The threatened withdrawal of the security detail of the governor himself.

What all these events establish is that neither democracy nor federalism is functioning properly in Nigeria. Any Nigerian, more so, a high official like a governor, is entitled to have presidential ambition. It is his constitutional and democratic right. To lay a siege on him and his state because of the rumour of vice presidential interest is a major assault on our so-called democracy. The sort of events that have been occurring recently in Rivers State have a threatening and intimidating effect and are unworthy of any society governed by the rule of law. When any Nigerian is threatened and his environment surrounded by the sort of dark clouds and storms being witnessed in Rivers State, it is democracy and democratic rights in the whole country that are endangered.

The above developments have also demonstrated the fact that Nigeria is not a federation, but merely a unitary state pretending to be one.

In a federation, both the Federal Government and the federating units are autonomous and independent of each other. This has been stated again and again by both national and international authorities, including our own Supreme Court. As Wheare put it, “the fundamental and distinguishing characteristic of a federal system is that neither the central nor the regional governments are sub-ordinate to each other, but rather, the two are co-ordinate and independent”. In short, in a federal system, there is no hierarchy of authorities, with the central government sitting on top of the others.  All governments have a horizontal relationship with each other.” (Wheare, Federal Government, 4th Ed…OUP, 1963)

According to Professor B.O Nwabueze:

“Federalism, therefore, may be described an arrangement whereby powers within a multi-national country are shared between a federal or central authority, and a number of regionalised governments in such a way that each unit including the central authority exists as a government separately and independently from the others, operating directly on persons and property within its territorial area, with a will of its own and its own apparatus for the conduct of affairs and with an authority in some matters exclusive of all others.  In a federation, each government enjoys autonomy, a separate existence and independence of the control of any other government. Each government exists, not as an appendage of another government (e.g. of the federal or central government) but as an autonomous entity in the sense of being able to exercise its own will on the conduct of its affairs free from direction by any government.  Thus, the Central government on the one hand and the State governments on the other hand are autonomous in their respective spheres.” (Nwabueze, Federalism in Nigeria under the Presidential Constitution, Sweet & Maxwell, 1983, p.2.)

In Attorney-General of Lagos State v. Attorney-General of the Federation [2003] 6 SC Pt. 1, p.24 at pages 35 and 57, Uwaifo JSC explained the nature of a federation lucidly as follows:

“But I do not need to repeat that Nigeria operates a federal system of government. Section 2(2) of the 1999 Constitution re-enacts the doctrine of federalism. This ensures the autonomy of each government. None of the governments is subordinate to the other. This is particularly of relevance between the State Governments and the Federal Government, each being, as said by Nwabueze in his book, The Presidential Constitution of Nigeria, pages 39-42, an autonomous entity in the sense of being able to exercise its own will in the conduct of its affairs within the Constitution, free from direction by another government. I think it is significant that shortly before and since the independence of Nigeria in 1960, all the Constitutions that have been enacted have taken the pattern of federalism. Under this system, each tier of government has its legislative competence or functions conferred on it as the case may be”.

In conclusion, Uwaifo JSC., stated thus: “it is a non-controversial political philosophy that the Federal Government does not exercise supervisory authority over the state governments.” (at p.60)

From what has been happening in recent weeks in Rivers State, it is clear that if every state has its own Police Service, there will be no need for the Federal Police to provide security for state authorities and agencies.

Therefore, to the extent that states do not have their own police forces, our federalism remains incomplete and under developed. The National Assembly, therefore, has a lot of re-thinking to do about the present attempt to amend the Constitution. What it has done so far, is, in fact, a perverse movement towards more centralism and unitarism and that is contrary to the interest of an enduring Federal Republic of Nigeria.

It is now obvious that there is need to look at our constitutional provisions in order to re-structure them for the achievement of true federalism, in which states and their governors will be able to assert their autonomy and independence from the Federal Government. The current events in Rivers State are ominous and do not portend well for the future of the Federal Republic.

*Prof. Sagay is a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN)

Source: Vanguard

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