Federalism as an idea for this time
There are now very clear signals all over Nigeria at the moment that federalism has become a powerful idea the time of which has really come. It was quite remarkable the other day when very notable delegates to the 2014 national conference regrouped and urged government unequivocally to implement the report of that conference generally believed to be very credible and acceptable to most Nigerians.
Indeed, most Nigerians believe that the nation’s ‘unitary federalism’ imposed on the people by the military since 1966 has not worked. This is evident in the fact that the country has not exhibited critical indices of development into a modern state. Most of the 36 federating states are not viable. They go cap in hand to the capital every month to share revenues that accrue to the federation account from a few of the states, thereby encouraging the indolence of others. In fact, the strident call for federalism has reached a feverish pitch with reports that extra-budgetary bailout for states hits trillions, and the calls by states’ chief executives for more bail-out funds from the Federal Government cannot end because of fundamental flaws that have encouraged and nurtured “dependency syndrome.”
But strangely too, despite all the clear signs that the absence of genuine federalism in the governance of the country has been a problem, it is unfortunate that President Muhammadu Buhari, popularly elected two years ago for the purpose of effecting change in the direction of all matters of the country, announced to the nation in 2016 that he hadn’t even read the 2014 Constitutional Conference Report and had, in fact, confined it to the archives.
But, luckily, that has not halted the wind of time that has been blowing federalism into the people’s consciousness as a powerful idea that no force on earth can stop at the moment.
This newspaper has unapologetically and relentlessly advocated federalism and restructuring of the federation. Unfortunately, “restructuring” and “federalism” have become the most misrepresented words even by those who should understand and work for their actualisation in the interest of peace and progress of Nigeria.
It is, indeed, sad that a few mischief makers have chosen to see the call for restructuring as a weapon by a section or sections to break up the country so that others would not have access to the oil and gas resources.
Despite this, it must be repeated unequivocally that the honest pursuit and enthronement of federalism in its true meaning will be hugely beneficial to all Nigerians from all the geo-political zones.
The first and the most fundamental point is that there is a common denominator, poverty and mass illiteracy, all over Nigeria.The effects of those decades when the military overthrew the finesse as well as practice of federalism are still being felt nationwide. In other words, the real trouble with Nigeria is not just poverty nurtured by corruption and illiteracy but lack of understanding of the impact of the abolition of the principles of federalism, a system that once triggered rapid growth in Nigeria.
It bears repeating that since a proper federalism that engendered exponential growth of the Northern, Western, Eastern and Midwestern Regions was destroyed by the military politicians, Nigeria has not recorded any tangible growth in any economic or political sense. The selfless leaders from the North and South of Nigeria in the first republic were, arguably the last of the great men this country has had. Since federalism or regionalism that propelled them to greater heights collapsed, crass opportunism and enlightened self interest have given birth to small minds as ‘big men’ who have led the country to the nadir of reproach.
It is, therefore, time to tell all Nigerians, including those who profit from misleading the people about the many benefits of restructuring that, just as there was oil in the South, cocoa in the West, rubber and timber in the Mid-west, the North of Nigeria had grains, nuts and cotton which made it play host to most of the best textile companies in the country and indeed West Africa. It is a shame that Nigerian leaders would not be eager to harness these vast mineral, agriculture and water resources within the context of a true federation today.
In an ideal Nigeria, any state, for instance, can go to another and invest in some mineral or agricultural resources and employ the people there, just as Lagos State is currently doing with Kebbi State in rice production. It is the Nigerian of Kebbi origin who is employed and taxes will be paid to Kebbi State, after all. That way, there will be a balance of opportunity to exploit what is available in all states. This should be exemplary as a clear road map for the nation’s economic and growth plans.
The time has come for Nigeria’s leaders at all levels and from all regions to remove politics from discussions of the many benefits of fiscal federalism and focus on how cattle rearing, grains, gum Arabic, tomatoes, sweet potatoes, rice and other products in the North can be exploited for the glory of the region and the nation. This, of course, does not remove from the efforts at finding oil in the North East, which may just be some added value.
Some states in the Eastern flank of Nigeria, comprising the South South and South East, are already showcasing the gains of self-dependence. Anambra State, for instance, is gradually finding its groove in agriculture and industrialisation. Lagos is leveraging on human capital and being a commercial nerve-centre. The West, of course, should return to all of its agricultural and mineral resources.
Therefore, instead of shooting down and foreclosing discussions of opportunities that abound in federalism, all Nigerians should encourage their representatives to take another look at the recurrent and exclusive legislative lists. The exclusive list that gives too much power to the Federal Government in exploitation of mineral and water resources should be relaxed and the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) should begin the process of devolution of powers to the federating units for the rapid development of the country.
Besides, those who wield federal powers now should seek to be persuaded that Nigeria cannot be broken or hampered by the practice of federalism as some have mischievously submitted. Indeed, federalism will even strengthen democracy and make the country grow economically.
If the 36 federating units are not allowed to exploit all the natural endowments in their domains and develop state policies based on priorities and then pay their workers according to what they can afford, development even at the centre will be a mirage. At the moment, poverty in the federating units, which keep asking for bailouts from the centre before they can pay even basic bills is shameful, ridiculous and therefore unacceptable.
Against the background of diversification, with emphasis on agriculture and mining as central elements, that all things are available in every state but not exploited till now is the shame of a nation. Governments should step forward and remove obstacles to these resources and the value that would accrue to all citizens therefrom. But the Federal Government should not resort to ad-hoc pronouncements or tokenism as a way of introducing federalism. This would be pedestrian as such may be limited to revenue sharing without mechanism for production and productivity in these federating states.
Nigerians, especially members of the elite, must show and demonstrate an understanding beyond the dubious position of those who associate true federalism with the balkanisation of the country.