By Abubakar Jimoh
As delegates begin debates on the reports of the 20 committees formed to deliberate on issues in the ongoing National Conference, the Yoruba ethnic nationality has said they will not accept anything short of regional autonomy. The group which recently met in Ibadan, Oyo State capital for five hours endorsed a 15-point agenda which it hopes to canvass. Prominent among them is the demand for regional autonomy.
The ethnic nationality also demanded for a new Nigeria consisting of a central union and six regional governments (based on the current six geo-political zones) operating federal and regional constitutions respectively. Key Yoruba leaders from south-west were reportedly unanimously endorsed the agenda and put a curse on anybody, or group of people that will betray the race in the national conference. The document also stated that any ethnic group or groups within a state wishing to align with any other state or to belong to a new region should be allowed to do if confirmed in a plebiscite by the affected people, for instance, Yoruba people in Edo, Kogi and Kwara states.
The agenda was reportedly dominated by federalism that will give Regional governments absolute powers to develop at their respective level without unnecessary disturbance from the federal or other regions. They demanded fiscal federalism and resource control where a substantial part of the proceeds accruing from every region would be domiciled in the region and an agreed percentage contributed to the centre by the federating units insisting that it was “regional autonomy or nothing”.
Regional autonomy has been described as the establishment of regional autonomous government which assumes certain powers, functions, duties and budget from the national government to enable it to formulate its own development policies and programme. This piece will focus mainly on the implications of regional autonomy with reference to some other parts of the world, where regional autonomy is in practice.
In 2009, a study by the Institute of Development Studies, Indonesia through several empirical studies confirmed the connection between better governance and improved economic performance using Indonesia which has decentralized political, administrative and significant fiscal autonomy to regional government, as a case study; only for the studies to discover dramatically variation in the regional economic performance, as check and balance of power between the central and regional causes numerous problems.
Recalled, as part of its political reforms, Indonesia embarked on its regional autonomy in 2001, entrusting the regions with self-governing authority under the Regional Government Law. However, in the analysis of Asian political analyst, Calvin M. Sidjaya, the law is unfortunately flawed due to check and balances mechanism in relations between the central and regional governments. According to Sidjaya, the years since the law have been marked with scandals and acts of defiance of law itself on the part of regional heads.
Data from the Indonesian Home Ministry revealed that since the inception of regional autonomy, some 1, 000 regional heads and high ranking officials have undergone investigations, mostly for corruption and extortion cases. The data shows growing number of deviant regional leaders that have left the public bedazzled.
Sidjaya lamented the lengthy and frustrating political deliberations by Regional Legislative Council to recommend to the President to hold an erring regional leader accountable for his misrules. Consequently, in the words of Sidjaya, Indonesia regional autonomy has practically diminished the central government’s legitimacy to enforce law and orders.
He recalled the deprivation among the regions as a result of the dominance of others, noting Jakarta which has for long time been accused of treating other regions asymmetrically, squeezing resources from rich regions and leaving them in poverty.
Similarly, American political analyst, Jack Powell while observing further implications of autonomous regions highlighted that autonomous regions within a country are not bound by the same laws as the country. “This means the law in autonomous regions could conflict with the laws of the country. Native American reservations in the United States, for example, allow gambling and do not have hunting restrictions. Casinos are allowed to obey hunting laws when hunting on their own land. Differing laws have the potential to cause conflicts over resources,” he noted.
In addition, Nigerian famous activist, Jubrin Ibrahim lamented: “Indeed, Nigeria was lucky to have survived the dangerous path the politics of regionalism placed the country on and we cannot return to it, at least not along the lines of the 1963 Constitution. The main couple of Nigerian politics has been identity mobilisation and perceptions of political domination. Identity mobilisation has been at the levels of ethnic, regional, religious and communal consciousness. These forms of consciousness are in themselves not a dangerous feature in plural states. They become problematic when they become, or are perceived as objects around which discriminatory practices and unjustified use of violence are organised. Ethno-regional conflicts brought Nigeria to its knees in the 1964-1970 periods and led to a civil war in which over one million people lost their lives.
“Regionalism poisoned the political life of the First Republic because it was closed linked to fears of domination in the public imagination. Two broad issues are posed when ethno-regional domination emerges as a political issue. The first issue is the control of political power and its instruments such as the armed forces and the judiciary. The second is the control of economic power and resources. Both are powerful instruments that are used to influence the authoritative allocation of resources to groups and individuals.”
Nevertheless, in Indonesia, regional autonomy has contributed positively to regional economies as evident in the rapid increase of Gross Regional Product (GRP) per capital. Statistics compiled by the Indonesia Central Statistics Agency revealed that GRP per capital increased by an average of 15.71 percent during the period of 2004-2010. Despite its flaws, regional autonomy is necessary for ensuring regions stand an equal chance of increasing their welfare.
Also, after new China was established in 1949, it introduced the system of regional autonomy for ethnic minorities. By the end of 2003, China has established 155 ethnic autonomous areas. Under the regional system, all the ethnic autonomy areas are entitled to have the right of self-government and independent management of their internal ethnic affairs. China saw the system as critical to enhance the relationship of equality, unity and mutual assistance among different ethnic groups, to upholding national unification, and to accelerating the development of places where regional autonomy is practiced and promoting their progress.
In China, ethnic autonomous areas enjoy the right to formulate self-government regulations and separate rules, including alternations to existing national laws in conformity to their own customs.
In 2000, as part of its efforts to accelerate development of China’s western regions and ethnic autonomous areas, the China government launched a grand strategy. Consequently, no fewer than 60 important projects have been constructed in West China, with a total investment of 850 billion yuan. As reported by a famous online journal, People’s Daily Online, in 2013,the GDP of China’s ethic autonomous areas reached 1,038.1 billion yuan, exceeding 1, 000 billion yuan for the first time. The per capital net income of rural residents in ethnic autonomous areas was 1, 895 yuan, 2.31 times than in 1994. However, the report acknowledges that some remote areas in the western China have not recorded significant development and are still backward.
It is noteworthy as noted by Regional Development Council of Cordillera Administrative Region, that some benefits are enjoyed by an autonomous region, such include: the right to govern or manage its natural resources based on its own regional development objectives; freedom to formulate and implement its policies, programs, and projects that fit and are appropriate to the conditions, needs, and priorities; ability to pass measures to preserve its cultural heritage through various programs in education, tourism, agriculture, and environment; opportunity to formally unite various states across the region as one region and one political unit; chance to establish a regional government that would lead and approve development programs that are needed by the people and the region; liberty to have a regional government that would initiate programs to enhance the region’s agriculture, economy, tourism, environment, culture, infrastructure, and industries; opportunity to become self-reliant and independent from the dictates of the national government in terms of development projects.
Furthermore, in 2012, a Filipinopolitical analyst and regular columnist, Rolando Butalid argued in support of the above but advised that to avoid legal impediments and adverse public opinion for discriminating the rest of the country in granting a particular region an autonomy, a regional autonomous model must be crafted to cover the rest of the country.