Dr Olisa Agbakoba SAN

Former President of the Nigerian Bar Association NBA, Dr Olisa Agbakoba SAN, has again written President Muhammadu, insisting that regional autonomy, which would entail devolution of powers, remains the only solution to the myriads of problems currently facing the country. He defined regional autonomy as the governance and administration of a federating unit in the interest of the local people, according to their aspirations.

In a letter dated February 3, 2021 entitled: ‘The Missing Fundamentals and Regional Autonomy for Nigeria’, he defined common fundamentals as policy goals in the political, economic, cultural, religious and social affairs of a nation that often must be similar to achieve political cohesion.

He noted that these common ideals are usually taken for granted, but remain central to effective governance and development of nations, regretting that Nigeria does not have these common ideals unlike countries like China, Taiwan and Singapore.

He also observed that Nigeria as a nation was brought together by force of amalgamation in 1914, but also regretted that the country has unfortunately mismanaged the challenge of diversity, adding that it was not until 1951 that the first attempt to manage her diversity occurred, which brought about self-rule in three regions – Northern, Eastern, Western and eventually Mid-West region.

“We must return to the notion of devolution of powers and regional autonomy. Regional autonomy resolves our diversity challenge. More importantly, it allows subsidiarity to deliver public service at the base of the nation.

“I was intrigued by the extent of devolved power in the western region under self-rule in 1951. According to the author of a lecture on regional autonomy, devolution of powers in western Nigeria was substantial and devolved from the regional government to the provisional, divisional, district and native authority and public service was taken to the roots of the region.

“In order to resolve the challenges of our diversity, it is clear that we must adopt regional autonomy and massively devolve power from centre to the grassroots.

“Nigeria has been engaged in the federalism question. It is clear that our diverse nature and large size means that, the political system best suited for Nigeria is a federal system. But the challenge has been what type of federalism. I believe that this must be devolution of powers and regional autonomy.

“In my opinion, the process of regional autonomy and devolved powers can be achieved by virtue of an enactment styled, Constitution Alteration (Regional Autonomy and Devolution of Powers) Bill. This is the only way to stabilise Nigeria”, he said.

While insisting that Nigeria has no National Fundamentals, which consist in her diverse religious, cultural and ethnic backgrounds, he argued that this development has severely impaired her ability to work together. 

According to him, the challenge is to resolve the country’s diversity in harmony, which needs deliberate policy choices to create unity in diversity, adding that this was the central theme of Nigeria’s old national anthem.

He said: “Unfortunately, our policy choices have resulted in very divisive dialogue. We cannot agree on a mode of a federal political system. We continue to raise issues around our differences – the dilemma of missing fundamentals.  We can only make progress by understanding and embracing our challenges.”

He cited the example of the UK, which provides a perfect example of managing unity in diversity, saying that the UK is made up of at least four ethnic nationalities; the English, Welsh, Scottish and Irish, but managed by devolution and has grappled with the challenge of their missing fundamentals.  The Senior Advocate noted that even with hard work, it still grapples with discontent as the Scots want out of the kingdom.

He warned of dire consequences should Nigeria continue to fail in managing her diversities, citing countries like Yugoslavia, which mismanaged its diversity and the result is the emergence of six distinct countries; Bosnia, Herzegovina, Macedonia, Montenegro, Serbia and Slovenia. The same fate befell Czechoslovakia, now the nations of Czechs and Slovaks.

This, according to him, is unlike Canada, which though Quebec is the only fully French speaking province, yet Canada is bilingual for the sake of Quebec.