NIGERIA’S FEDERALISM- TO RESTRUCTURE OR NOT TO RESTRUCTURE
NIGERIA’S FEDERALISM- TO RESTRUCTURE OR NOT TO RESTRUCTURE
My good friend Obinna Osuagwu strongly believes that corruption, political instability, and other manner of irregularity common in Nigerian politics is as a result of the existing faulty federal structure. For him, as long as we have the present style of federal government with money being shared at Abuja and raw cash coming down to the local politicians, we can never fix corruption. In other words, corruption is an inevitable by-product of our existing political structure. Once we fix this structural problem, every other thing falls into place. As long as raw cash continue to exchange hands in the system, you cannot stop it from being stolen. That’s even by the way.
He also believes that the Niger Delta is backward because of lack of activities going on in the region. The Niger Delta has no genuine economy, no serious activity is going on in that region. Oil production does not create job at the well-head locations. Yes, the production goes on in the Niger Delta, but the activity that drives the economy goes on in Lagos and Abuja, activity is what drives the economy and creates the jobs. If the Niger must become developed, it must drag down as many activities to its region and get the host communities to be actively involved in the production and activity processes. Host communities must become shareholders of every exploration company in the region. The whole idea of rental arrangement is deceptive and cannot guarantee long term development. Obinna despises the idea of rental state. This is also by the way.
The major issue I am more interested in is the debate on whether Nigeria should be restructured into true fiscal federalism, or not. What is true fiscal federalism? Stephen Dieseruvwe defines true fiscal federalism in simple terms; Removing power from the flawed, skewed and corrupt center. Devolving and decentralizing power to the Federating Units, and adopting a bottom-up approach. This is what True Fiscal Federalism simply is.
I sincerely have no objection against this whole idea, however, there is a salient danger in the call for restructure that its proponents fail to discuss. This is the major reason why I have brought the discussion to the public once again. First, to restructure Nigeria into a fiscal federalism is to strip Abuja of its luring powers, empower the states and introduce economic competition among the states/regions. Many states are not ripe for economic competition as they have no source of alternative income (apart from federal allocations) and substructure to build an economy upon, how do we fix this problem? Second, how do we ensure that a restructured Nigeria will be fair to all regions/states and economic justice will be guaranteed even to the least advantaged regions/states? How can states that currently cannot afford to pay workers cope when they are cut short of crude oil allocations? They obviously will go bankrupt! Third, even if there is initial financial provision for ‘poor’ states to kick start their independent economies after the restructuring process, there is still no guarantee that these independent economies will be sustainable in the long run, considering their present level of IGR collection. The recurrent cost of state civil service alone consumes more than what most states internally generate, can such states survive the initial troubles that comes with the proposed restructuring? How do we control this impact? Or should we just allow such states cater for themselves, even if it means them merging with other states to survive? And lastly, the whole idea of restructuring seem to favour the regions/states with existing economies and vital natural resources (i.e South-South & South-West), does this not raise question as to the rationale behind the proposal/agitation? How does this proposal favour the rest of Nigeria, especially the Northern part?
For example, if Nigeria is restructured today, the Niger Delta will likely become richer than the rest of the country because all cash flow to Abuja from this region will cease to flow to Abuja (except for taxes and levies). Also, states like Osun that has being unable to pay salaries will automatically go bankrupt, even Abuja might not survive the impact of restructuring! And the presidency will no longer be attractive as it has become over the years. Only states with strong economic base will survive restructuring, yet it seems like it is the major way to get our states to become productive, efficient, competitive, innovative and prosperous. In fact, it seem is the only way.
Osuagwu has reminded us that ‘Nigeria runs a quasi-federal structure where the states have been created more for administrative purposes than for taking economic responsibility for their domains’. If we must change this, then we must restructure.
Dieseruvwe also has reminded us that the new central government had promised to support the call for restructuring. As was contained in the APC manifesto, the party stated that part of its plans if elected into power will be to ‘Initiate action to amend the Nigerian Constitution with a view to devolving powers, duties, and responsibilities to states in order to entrench true Federalism and the Federal spirit..’ (Source: Securing Nigeria’s Future Document, APC The 2015 Manifesto.- page 6)
Someone had asked why former President, Goodluck Jonathan, being from the South, did not champion the cause for true federalism throughout his six year tenure. Well, General Alani Akinrinade has an answer to that question, he says, “If President Jonathan, an Ijaw man has been in government for about six years and has not been able to change the revenue mobilization and distribution system, nor has he been able to implement the clear United nations report on cleaning up the environmental mess in Ogoni land which costs a mere one billion dollars, it is clear that the issue is not who is in government but the structure of the federal government. It is the structure that needs to be re-designed.”
Again, I ask, should Nigeria be restructured into a true fiscal federalism, or should the status quo be maintained?