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#ENDSARS stemmed from deformed federal structure – Enekwechi



George C. Enekwechi, a legal practitioner, is a former chairman of Awka South Local Government Council during the Babangida military regime. He spoke to POLYCARP ONWUBIKO in the wake of #ENDSARS nation-wide demonstration by the youths against brazen police impunity and brutality, gross violation of the constitution and conducts that are pointedly out of sync with global standard in the observation of fundamental human rights by the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS). He also delved into some crucial national issues that stoke angst among some sections of the country. Excerpts:

 AS A legal practitioner of many years standing and politician, how would you situate the climax of frustration of the youths against Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS), that triggered nationwide demonstration?

  The protest by the youths has long been expected. In fact, for years, I have shared some views that if the youths were aware of what is being done to their future, they would react; and I won’t say that I am disappointed that they have taken the gauntlet to now speak out and protest against what is being done to their future and the present onslaught by SARS on the youths. It is sickening to see young men being afraid to carry their phones in their pockets, in their cars to go out because SARS would hold and seize their phones or consider them to be yahoo boys.

  In other words, there is nothing else that can be used to determine who is a yahoo man or who is a thief except by arresting them, searching their phones, searching their pockets, searching everything about them, humiliating them and doing all manners of unspeakable things against them.

It is very saddening because we never had that kind of experience in our youth. SARS could not have been invented if the country has been operating a proper federal structure of government with decentralised security architecture.

What is in operation is a deformed structure where security is centralised akin to a unitary system of government as a result of the 1999 Constitution which was not produced by the accredited representatives of the ethnic groups in Nigeria.

If the federating units have their security infrastructure, there would be effective and efficient security networking like it was in the regional government in the first republic.

  The muddle that go with the unitary-federal contraption in practice in Nigeria today led to establishing special squads which are centrally controlled; hence the gross abuse that led to much-abused youths which at the climax of crass impunity ignited the wild fire that is “ #ENDSARS” protestation nationwide. When we were at their age, nobody dared do that to us. So, you see that the youths are losing their humanity and courage and confidence as citizens of this country.

  It is not surprising that the youths have decided to take the bull by the horn and to extricate themselves from the tragedy that is facing them. So, what they are doing is proper and very encouraging; particularly when you look at the society; you see that it is not even considering the future of the youths.

  When you look at the Nigerian annual budgets, you see that it is skewed selfishly towards the legislators; such that they take the large chunk of the entire national budgetary provisions. Education is poorly funded, infrastructure is poorly funded and you see that the basic aspects of life are very poorly funded. Health sector is in comatose and not well catered for.

  Some who are in authority who ordinarily should be proud to attend government hospitals or create the enabling environment for  healthcare in the country are going for medical tourism in Saudi Arabia, Britain, US, India, UK, Israel, South Africa, but in Nigeria, they pauperise the hospitals and leave them for us who cannot afford medical tourism abroad.

In other words, it is the woeful failure of government at all levels to make substantial provisions for youths’ empowerment to realise their destiny and creative minds that has coalesced to ignite the nationwide protestation.

   The vice president of Nigeria, Professor Yemi Osinbajo, in the course of addressing the youths, profusely apologised on behalf of the federal government for being reticence or not doing enough to curb the excesses of SARS. How would you react to the confession?

  The vice president’s apology is cosmetic in nature with intents to mislead the youths or to lure them to stupor so that they will not continue with what they are doing. It amounts to creating an impression that the federal government is repentant of what they had done and willing to do something positive.

  The federal government should demonstrate in practical terms what would satiate the youths and give them confidence that the government is poised to make the country conducive for everybody. But for now, I don’t think the federal government is being truthful and honest to reinvent good governance that would make life tolerable for all and sundry.

While I would advise the youths to appraise the federal government’s carrot, they should not relent until they are satisfied that the promises are implementable in the foreseeable future.

 Taking into consideration the nationwide clamour to restore the principles of federalism as obtained in the first republic, how do you see the police reform that had started with SARS, SWAT, and community policing model?

 What Nigeria needs at this critical historical juncture is fundamental restructuring of the federation which has an integral part the decentralisation of security architecture. Whatever that has been done like SARS, SWAT, Community Policing Model is mere distraction from restructuring of governance to reinvent the inexorable principles of federalism as obtained in other countries that practice federalism.

In federal arrangements the world over, security is decentralised, while centralised security architecture is for unitary system of government. So, in essence, the SARS, SWAT and the so-called Community Policing Models are subtle subterfuge to divert attention from the needed restoration of the principles of federalism which restructuring is all about.

There is no amount of police reform outside restructuring that can bring about maximum security in all the nooks and crannies of the vast federation. That’s just the simple truth which the ultra-conservative forces stoutly resist. One should not lose sight of the fact that all the systems of government have inexorable and sacrosanct principles and conscious violation of any principle adversely affects the beneficial outcomes of the particular system.

  The pith and marrow of the formidable challenges that are devastating the country is traced to the blatant and willful violation of the principles of federal system of government as were observed in the first republic which were enshrined in the 1960 Independent Constitution which was later transformed into the 1963 Republican Constitution.

  Restructuring the federation and governance is not a new angled concept but simply to go back to where the country’s military leaders derailed, which is the generally accepted principles of federal system of government. In the first republic, nobody was complaining as the regions which constituted the federating units were developing at their pace, which was perceived as “competitive federalism”.

The current position where the federation go to Abuja every month for handout without which governance will come at standstill is an aberration and out of sync with principles of federalism as obtained in other countries.

  Does Nigeria need new constitution or to panel beat the military imposed 1999 constitution?

    Well, the 1999 Constitution made by the military regime is really not Nigerian-made constitution. If we are honest with ourselves, there should be a new, people-oriented constitution made by the conference of all the ethnic groups in the country.

This was what led to the 1960 Independent Constitution. Sovereign National Conference is very imperative so that people will determine where to belong to and what they want in the federation.

It could be a con-federation so as to enable the diverse ethnic groups to realise their God-given potentials. The issue of fiscal federalism is a desideratum because a situation where the proceed of the sale of crude oil and gas exploited in the Niger Delta region of the country is channeled into the federation account while the gold and other precious minerals exploited in some northern states like Zamfara, is appropriated by the state is not in tandem with the principles of federalism.

  It is unfortunate that there is double standard in what the federal government allowed Zamfara state. Again, while the northern governors are kicking against the disbandment of SARS on the ground that they are efficient and effective in confronting criminalities, cattle rustling and bandits, their southern counterparts stoutly reject it based on the impunity and brazen lawlessness.

On that score, it boils down to the necessity of decentralisation of security infrastructure which goes with restructuring and true federalism where each federating units know what will work for them and implement. That is the beauty of competitive federalism as was in vogue in the first republic. That is why restructuring remains a categorical imperative if the country could be saved from the brink of a failed state.

  The senate minority leader, Senator Enyinnaya Abaribe, kicked against the letter from the president seeking confirmation of the acting director general of National Pension Commission (PENCOM), Mrs. Aisha Dahir Umar from North-East Geopolitical Zone when it is the turn of Southeast to be appointed to the position in line with Federal Character. Why do you think that the agency’s provisions are subject to violation to the advantage of the northerners, especially the Moslem North?

  The concept of federal character in the appointment and promotions in top echelons in the federal public service has been terribly abused by a section of the country.

The DSS, Customs and Exercise and other strategic agencies’ recent recruitment exercises were skewed in favour of the ethno-religious group in the north. The south was made to be contended with not more than 30 per cent of the entire recruitment. This is a brazen violation of the principle of the Federal Character Commission.

  As far as the concept of Federal Character is concerned, and as long as the PENCOM Act is concerned, that position should be for the Southeast. The federal government will be deceptive if they look around the Southeast and they don’t see a competent person to man that exalted position; that is condemning Southeast.

  It amounts to telling the youths in the Southeast that they have no future in Nigeria as it is now. It is a tragic reminder of the civil war which is being used to marginalise the Igbo race, who have a surfeit of high level manpower in all the fields of human endeavour.

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