In April 2012, the present Governor of Kaduna State, Nasir Ahmad El-Rufai, published an article titled ‘A Federation without Federalism’. In this article, El-Rufai gave a passionate and critical review of the skewed unitary federalism which Nigeria practices and advocated that the structure of Nigeria’s federalism is faulty and should therefore be restructured in a true fiscal federalism to allow the states (or regions as the case maybe) compete among themselves so as to drive a productive, fair, efficient and sustainable Nigeria.
As part of the argument put forward by El-Rufai, was the need to revisit the 1963 constitution and decentralize power so as to enhance fiscal responsibilities to the governments closest to the people. Like he rightly said in that article, ‘from one perspective, there might be a nexus between our anomalous federal structure and the lack of accountability, particularly at the state and local government levels.If we reflect on our distant past, the 1963 Republican Constitution was close to an ideal federal structure, with clear guidelines on how the Nigerian federation and the federating units were to be financed without undue reliance of one on the other.Unlike the 1979 Presidential Constitution and its successors including the current 1999 version, the 1963 Constitution set clear parameters for territorial and fiscal federalism and carefully avoided undue centralization.For instance, section 140(1) (a) & (b) of the 1963 Constitution foreclosed any agitations in the guise of ‘resource control’.While all minerals – solid or liquid – remain unequivocally the property of the government of the federation, the Constitution provided thus: “There shall be paid by the Federation to each region a sum equal to fifty percent of – the proceeds of any royalty received by the Federation in respect of any minerals extracted in that Region; and any mining rents derived by the Federation from within that Region…In reciprocal terms, the regions were contributing towards the costs of administration of the federal government at the centre in the proportion of what they received as their own share of proceeds of export, import and excise duties collected in each region by the region on behalf of the government at the centre. In the case of oil production, the same applied with the unforeseen exception that the federation will go into joint ventures and production sharing contracts that bring in revenues other than rents, royalties and taxes. This system was maintained until the circumstances of the civil war changed it radically in favour of retention of most of the revenues by the centre, in order to prosecute the war. Things have never been the same since then.”
If there is one thing all patriotic and intelligent politicians will agree upon irrespective of political inclinations, it would be to admit that the structure of Nigeria’s federalism is faulty and this is mostly responsible for the unlimited abnormality we have experienced in Nigeria. In one of my early articles on Fiscal Federalism, I insisted that the politicians and their political parties are actually not the cause of our national problems; they are not the solution either. The cause of our national trouble is grounded in our skewed system of unitary ‘feeding bottle’ federalism. PDP did not cause it, APC will not solve it, only Fiscal Federalism will. Even the massive level of corruption we see at the centre is only a byproduct of the system we have chose to practice; a skewed federalism breeds inevitable corruption and underdevelopment.
Sometime in 2011, Senator Bola Ahmed Tinubu made an appeal to the elected lawmakers on the Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN) platform. In that appeal, as like in subsequent appeals, Senator Tinubu urged the lawmakers to support true fiscal federalism. Tinubu was not only stating his personal opinion, he was expressing the philosophy of the ACN. Like Senator Tinubu rightly stated in that appeal ‘only fiscal federalism can accelerate Nigeria’s development’. He was obviously right. He went further ‘What should be our agenda? What we stand for is what we are saying. And the stability of our country. We have Federal Republic of Nigeria and we are running a federal constitution. Then, we are here to ensure true federalism and I hope I am clear. Now fiscal federalism is mandatory for us. It is only the legislature that can effect the change in the revenue sharing formula…In the last 12 years, I have not heard that the revenue allocation has been reviewed and implemented. We have a lopsided revenue sharing formula…Critical to that, you have a lopsided revenue formula giving the Federal Government 52 per cent of the commonwealth of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. It is not acceptable. The real people are there in the states and local government levels. The Federal Government should not take more than 25-30 per cent of the revenue…In the federal principle under the constitution, it is the state who ceded power and trust to the Federal Government to hold certain aspects in trust on behalf of the states. Without the states, there is no federal. The situation is sad…we have not been running an effective federal system; it has been unitary system and it has to stop. And we have to work hard on that.’
Those were the words of an opposition leader who understood the metaphysical foundation of Nigeria’s challenges.
By 2012, Former Vice-President Atiku Abubakar had become an advocate for fiscal federalism. In one of his debates, he regretted his refusal to support regionalism in the past and expressed his disappointment in the present structure.
“I was among those who opposed it (fiscal federalism) because I thought that Ekwueme, coming from the defunct Republic of Biafra, wanted to break up the country again…Now, I realise that I should have supported him because our current federal structure is clearly not working.Dr. Ekwueme obviously saw what some of us, with our civil war mindset, could not see at the time.There is indeed too much concentration of power and resources at the centre… And it is stifling our march to true greatness as a nation and threatening our unity because of all the abuses, inefficiencies, corruption and reactive tensions that it has been generating…There is need, therefore, to review the structure of the Nigerian federation, preferably along the basis of the current six geopolitical zones as regions and the states as provinces…The existing states structure may not suffice, as the states are too weak materially and politically to provide what is needed for good governance.” He went on “Why should we be talking of federal roads and federal secondary schools?Decentralisation is not an invitation to the breakup of the country and national unity should not continue to be confused with unitarism and concentration of power and resources at the federal level.”
The issue of Fiscal Federalism was once the major objective of the opposition party. And its proponents were from various parts of the country. Fiscal Federalism was therefore not even a regional ideology. It was a national concept championed by opposition men such as El Rufai, Tinubu, Atiku and even Muhammadu Buhari. In March 2011, the then presidential aspirant of the Congress of Progressive Change (CPC), General Muhamadu Buhari (rtd) stormed Ibadan, the Oyo State capital, promising to practice true fiscal federalism if elected into office.
It is indeed confusing to see all these men who once believed in the power of true fiscal federalism become mute upon gaining control of the central government. One would believe that true fiscal federalism would become the impressum of their government. Alas; they have all gone mute. President Buhari who once preached about fiscal federalism in soliciting for South-West vote did not even have the courage to mention the word ‘fiscal-federalism’ in his inauguration speech. And the rest of leaders agreed with him. Is this not the height of national hypocrisy and deceit?
Just before the 2015 general elections, the All Progressive Congress (APC) published its party manifesto which it titled ‘Securing Nigeria’s Future – A Roadmap to a New Nigeria’. Two pertinent points are to note in this documents. The manifesto begins with a promise on true fiscal federalism by asserting that if the APC is voted into the central government, it would “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…”. It also went further to state that it would “Make sure people at a local level benefit from mining and mineral wealth by vesting all mineral rights in land to states.”
The APC is now in full control of the central government. By full control I mean, controlling both the executive and the legislative houses, both at the state and federal level. Yet, eight months into the government, no attempt has been made to at least begin the debate for true fiscal federalism.
Again, I ask, is this not the height of national hypocrisy both by the APC and its leaders?
Nigeria cannot continue to practice this skewed unitary ‘feeding bottle’ federalism. The change that Nigeria desires is not a change of politicians nor political party, it is a structural change. Until this is done, we shall continue to have the experience of ‘the more things change, the more they remain the same or get worse’.
True Fiscal Federalism is the solution and the APC led Federal Government has a moral, legal and patriotic obligation to make this happen.
Like El-Rufai once said “Without question, I believe the situation would have been different if true federalism in which every state generates the bulk of its recurrent needs, lives within its means and gets help from the centre on need basis; operated as in the 1963 Constitution. Rather than blame the government at the centre for the woes of the states, citizens would have learnt to hold state governors and local government chairmen responsible for their neglect, and the incessant scramble for political positions at the federal level would have been less desperate and divisive. As it is, the attitude is one of “it is our turn to rule and chop” – with dire consequences for national cohesion, transparency and accountability in governance…A sound federal structure with balanced devolution of powers among the federating units would provide a respite for the security challenges currently facing the country…”
President Buhari and the APC must save themselves from the pitfalls of our present skewed structure by doing the needful- restructure the country. That is, if they wish not to be overwhelmed by the criminality of the present structure, just like the leaders and party before them.
Tony Osborg writes from Aboh Kingdom of Delta State, Nigeria.