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(Opinion) British elections and lessons for Africa


The recent Parliamentary election in the United Kingdom of Great Britain had produced rather a dramatic victory for the ruling conservative party led by the Prime Minister, David Cameron. After about five weeks of intense campaigns by all the political parties, opinion polls and book makers were unanimous that the election result was too close to call as the two major parties: the ruling conservative party and the main opposition Labour Party were running neck and neck according to the polls including the exit polls as the election was underway. It was earlier predicted that none of the major parties would secure a comfortable majority in Parliament, hence a coalition government was inevitable after the election as was the case in the last Parliament.
Indeed, it was a dramatic turn of events as the conservatives unexpectedly secured a decisive victory which was made possible by the charismatic personality of the leader of the Tory Party, David Cameron who had made a last minute appeal to the undecided voters to give the conservatives a clear mandate to execute its manifesto to the British people. The outcome of the election surprisingly gave the conservatives a near comfortable majority in Parliament as they were able to secure three hundred and twenty six (326) seats leaving the balance of three hundred and twenty four (324) seats to be shared among three other parties namely: the Labour Party led by Miliband, the Liberal Democrats led by Nick Clegg, and the United Kingdom Independent Party (UKIP) led by Nigel Farage in a Parliament of six hundred and fifty (650) seats at the Westminster. In the spirit of sportsmanship as practiced for centuries by the British commonly referred to as the “Mother of Democracy,” the leaders of the Labour Party, Liberal Democrats and the United Kingdom Independent Party (UKIP) respectively including other smaller parties immediately conceded defeat and promptly resigned as leaders of their parties.
One of the most dramatic developments in the just concluded British election was the unprecedented victory of the Scottish Nationalist Party (SNP) which has been campaigning for the independence of Scotland from the United Kingdom. The SNP had won a total of fifty six (56) out of the fifty nine (59) Scottish seats in the British Parliament and thereby sending a strong signal to the Westminster (seat of power) that the Scottish people were determined to achieve their independence from the United Kingdom in no distant future.
The Tory leader, David Cameron had promised the British people that if the conservatives were returned to power, he would carry out far reaching reforms which among others was the highly contentious issue of holding a referendum by the British people to decide whether to remain in the European Union (EU) or leave the Union. In his victory speech soon after the election at No. 10 Downing Street (official residence of the Prime Minister) David Cameron made a solemn pledge to the British people that he would duly respect the wishes of the four nations that make up the United Kingdom namely: England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Island. He also reiterated his campaign promises that more powers would be devolved from the Westminster to Edinburgh in Scotland, Cardiff in Wales, and Belfast in Northern Island so as to remove once and for all, all forms of perceived injustices, marginalization and inequality within the United Kingdom. The Prime Minister David Cameron’s, historic speech to the British people soon after his electoral victory, was a clear demonstration of a leader who duly recognized the perennial problems confronting his nation and quickly proffered immediate solution to the problems in a clearly pragmatic manner, rather than to pretend that the problems were non-existent.
If a former colonial power such as the United Kingdom after more than three hundred years of her existence as a nation, could now realize that all was not well after all, within the Union, then it stands to reason therefore, that the diverse ethnic cum cultural nationalities within the African Continent and indeed all the third world countries that were forcibly lumped together as individual nations by the erstwhile colonial powers should urgently re-examine their present unworkable political structures in order to chart entirely a new course that would promote genuine unity and peaceful coexistence among the diverse ethnic nationalities that today make up the various countries in Africa and beyond.
A typical case to be analyzed in this write up therefore is the present lopsided and unjust structure of the Nigerian Federation made up of diverse ethnic-cultural and religious nationalities that were forcibly brought together ironically by the same British colonial overlords who today are also battling for her own existence as one united country.
The Nigerian leaders, particularly the incoming Buhari administration should as a matter of utmost urgency embark on the immediate restructuring of the country along the present six geo-political zones with some minor adjustments as the federating units in the country. The current over concentration of powers at the centre (Abuja) should be discarded out-rightly through the immediate devolution of powers to the new federating units or regions in the spirit of true fiscal federalism as operated in advanced democracies of the world such as the U.S, Canada, Switzerland, India, etc.
It is pertinent to mention in this piece also, that the erstwhile British colonial powers bequeathed to the Nigerian people, the federal system of government as the most suitable system of government for the country in view of the diverse ethnic cum religious nationalities that were brought together as one nation called Nigeria. The military, when they illegally seized power in 1966 jettisoned the federal system and adopted the unitary system that suited their central command structure. The nation today is simply operating the unitary form of government as a hangover from the military regime and merely pretending to be operating a federal system thereby, making nonsense of the concept of true federalism purely for the selfish agenda of a particular section of the country.
It is the contention of this writer therefore, that the time has now come for the immediate return of the country to a truly federal system of government in the overall interest of the nation. Any further delay in restructuring the country to reflect the current political realities in Nigeria could obviously lead to more frustration and endless agitations for self determination and eventual independence by the perceived marginalized sections of the country. The world today is witnessing an avalanche of separatist cum nationalist movements clamouring for autonomy and independence as a result of gross injustice and inequality as experienced in countries such as Scotland in UK, Quebec in Canada, Catalonia in Spain, Crimea in Ukraine and other flash points around the globe. The erstwhile imperial power the British, has already set a pace for other nations with similar lopsided and unjust union for them to urgently correct the obvious defects or imbalances in their union charter or constitution in order to foster more united and cohesive society where equity, justice and fair play reign supreme.
Nigeria as a nation could therefore, borrow a leaf from the Indian experience which has maintained her unity and territorial integrity, since her independence from Britain in 1947. India with a huge population of over one billion people is certainly a unique model of democracy with ethnic cum cultural and religious diversity and successfully operating true fiscal federalism.
It is instructive to note in this thesis however, that the Republic of India had never come under any serious threat of disunity or disintegration inspite of her huge population, size, and diversity as was the case in some other smaller nations of the world. This remarkable achievement by the Indian nation was made possible mainly due to the fact that there were adequate constitutional guarantees and safeguards that allowed each component unit or region to enjoy full fiscal autonomy and develop at her own pace.
It is therefore strongly recommended that the Indian experience as well as that of other advanced democracies could easily be replicated in Nigeria should our political leaders be sincere, patriotic and genuinely interested in her unity rather than their familiar slogan or phrase such as “to keep Nigeria one is a task that must be done” and such stuff like “One United, indivisible and indissoluble country, Nigeria.” These slogans were merely coined by the political elites for their own selfish ends and were never intended to serve the common interest of the vulnerable and impoverished masses of the country.
May God Bless Nigeria!

Akabogu (JP) is a regular Public Affairs commentator and he wrote from Enugwu-Ukwu, Anambra State. (nzenwabuezeakabogu@yahoo.com)

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