Answering the call for federalism
The administration of President Muhammadu Buhari should urgently respond to the nationwide calls for a true federal structure and practice in the country. Different persons from diverse backgrounds have repeated the call for the nation to return to the federalist temper which governed Nigeria in the early years of nationhood. Right from 1999 when the current democratic government was inaugurated, it was clear that the terms of the federation would have to be properly and vigorously re-negotiated. All the indices of a wrongly-skewed federal system were there. Disenchantment followed, expressed through violence and even statements by different opinion leaders. The reason for this is not far-fetched.
Nearly 60 years after independence, the states which ought to be the constituent units of the federation still go cap in hand to Abuja monthly for economic hand outs. They all largely depend on a mono-product economy, crude oil sales, with which nature has endowed the nation. This product is located mainly in the Niger Delta and the other states have left their natural endowments untapped. The result is that once oil sales suffer a hiccup in the international market, all the states fail to meet their obligations to the people. The situation is made worse by the sad fact that crude oil is extracted from the soil and sold to other entities who add value to it and re-sell same to Nigeria at great cost. Thus, an oil-bearing nation like Nigeria still imports refined products for its daily operations. The oil refineries in the country have failed to meet the needs of the people and government. If anything they are operated with the highest level of unethical and scandalous business practices.
In consequence, the other states in the federation have not developed the natural resources which they have. They have also not explored other money-spinning opportunities which economies of scale could give them. They have become lazy, indolent, and pathologically dependent on the Federal Government to meet simple and basic obligations. Across the country, states are indebted to Local Government employees. Some are in arrears of one year and above.
Time was when the constituent parts of the federation, the three and later four regions, (Northern, Eastern, Western and Mid-Western) built solid economies on agricultural produce and other services that sustained their well being and that of the Federal Government. The politicians of those halcyon days, especially Sir Ahmadu Bello, Chief Obafemi Awolowo, Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe, Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa and Dr. Michael Okpara, all worked for the stability of their regions.
They pursued programmes and projects that were people-oriented. Their political parties had their manifestoes that were unique to their avowed goals and dreams. Under a restructured political framework Nigeria could return to the stability of those days.
The attention of those who oppose the idea of restructuring the federation needs to be drawn to the fact that there is nothing to fear. Restructuring ought to be embraced as a legitimate and constructive way to diffuse the perpetual political and economic tensions that have become perennial in the land. Indeed, if anybody wants a stronger and dynamic Nigeria, the way to go is fiscal federalism. By this, as recommended by the 2014 National Confab, all states would ultimately become hubs of development. Through a gradual but sure process all vestiges of the unitary system (an inheritance from the Command and Control structure of the military) would be done away with.
Let the process begin. The report of the 2014 National Confab should be resurrected from the archives where the Buhari administration seems to have consigned it. The Federal Government should concentrate on Defence, Currency, and Foreign affairs. The creation, operation and management of Local Governments should be left to the States. The Federal Government has no business constructing roads in the States. Apart from broad legislation, education and health matters should be left to the States as well. If Nigeria does this, the bloated Federal Civil Service which gulps billions in form of wages and services would be a thing of the past. The national budget should be re-visited and re-designed with more monies going to the States and Local Governments. Policing is essentially a States’ affair. The Inspector General of Police cannot pretend that the current system of crime prevention and detection is working. State Police is inevitable. Ultimately, the false allure of Abuja will give way to vibrant states developing at their own pace.
Finally, the 1999 Federal Constitution is federal only in name. In practice, it is unitary. A national conference which was adjudged successful, and which had broad and effective national representation, freely reviewed the constitution and came out with far-reaching recommendations on the path to true federalism.
It is incumbent on the APC-controlled Federal Government which won elections on the promise of change to effectively bring that change about.