‘Restructuring as inevitable option before Nigeria’
The debate over whether a particular section of Nigerians or some personalities do not buy into the agitation of Nigeria being restructured to true federalism or adopt full autonomy and resource control module of governance as a better system to what the current 1999 Constitution offers is no longer an option but a ‘must’ demanding to be addressed now. It has indeed become obvious that the country is tilting towards implosion if those in power continue to overlook the agitation to thinker with the current system of government.
This is against the background that almost all the ethnic nationalities that make up the country, except the so-called infamous ‘cabal’, have agreed that the constitution is not only faulty and retrogressive but also unhealthy for the country, whose progress and development it has stunted.
Even the erstwhile Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), which was in control of the Federal Government from 1999 to 2015 but failed to address the subject, has come full circle to realise that Nigeria will not move forward unless the present system is adjusted. Unlike PDP, the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC), which campaigned on the basis restructuring but later jettisoned it after getting into power, has also realised it is an inevitable option whose implementation is long overdue.
What has, however, made restructuring more urgent is the worsening insecurity and the latest option of self-help via regional security initiatives geopolitical zones are now adopting to preserve life and property from rampaging Fulani killer herders, bandits, and kidnappers while the President Muhammadu Buhari-led APC government continues to sleep on duty in the last five years.
It is possible to count the few leaders that are uncomfortable with the demand for Nigeria to be restructured and how their stand on the subject has almost blighted their political image. President Buhari, who once said the 2014 National Conference report is best for the archives, has lost touch with Nigeria’s reality while his vice, Professor Yemi Osinbajo, an old advocate of restructuring and diversification, has almost become politically extinct as the two are struggling to get a grip on things while the country drifts into the abyss. For the duo, Nigeria is far from what they had imagined when they assumed office in 2015.
But whether Nigerians will agree to sit on a roundtable again to deliberate on an acceptable system of governance or revert to the various reports from past constitutional conferences or go through the constitution amendment process already initiated by the 9th National Assembly is uncertain. However, recent developments where regional security initiatives are springing up and the enthusiasm with which they are being embraced by the generality of the populace shows that there is little or no commitment to Nigeria as a corporate entity and an indication of clear signs of a country whose centrist leader have failed to meet the aspirations of Nigerians.
These were the focus of discussions during Freedom Online media outfit’s third annual lecture entitled: ‘Nigeria: Foundation, Fundamentals, Future’ held in Lagos last Tuesday. Different speakers including Lagos State governor, Mr. Babajide Sanwo-Olu, Minister of Transport, Mr. Rotimi Amaechi, former Governor of Ogun State, Otunba Gbenga Daniel, erstwhile Deputy National Chairman of PDP, Chief Olabode George, senior special assistant, Media and Publicity to President Muhammadu Buhari, Malam Garba Shehu, and others expressed worry over the way issues of ethnicity and religion are being deployed to divide the country.
Sanwo-Olu, who was represented by his deputy, Dr. Obafemi Hamzat, argued that Nigeria’s salvation lies in decentralization of federal powers, just as he sought review of fiscal federalism. The governor, who is in agreement with the popular demand for restructuring, said true federalism could solve the current security challenges bedeviling Nigeria and put the country on the path of accelerated development.
Sanwo-Olu said decentralisation of some exclusive functions of the Federal Government, including provision of security, would provide an instant answers to the current agitations threatening the unity of the country. He said the emergence and dominance of ‘beggar states’ as the major consumers of resources they do not contribute to producing was keeping down Nigeria and would continue to stunt its rapid development.
He said the flawed federalist ideals enshrined in the 1999 Constitution have continuously limited the power of the states to pursue individual development at their own pace, stressing that Nigeria must holistically address the “fundamental question” of federalism if the political class was serious about lifting the country out of the current quagmire.
He recalled that Nigeria was administered efficiently during the period of regional arrangement, pointing out that the feat was achieved because each region assumed autonomy of its resources and developed at its own pace without relying on handouts from the centre.
According to him: “One of the legacies of military rule was the abolition of powerful and largely financially independent regional governments and replacement with weaker entities known as states. These states were, of course, beholden to a very powerful central government that doled out resources to them and used every opportunity to make it clear that the states were appendages of the centre.
“At the time (before military incursion), the regions worked hard, earned their revenues from exports, from taxes, and so on, and kept a large chunk of what they earned. None of them came to Lagos – the then Federal Capital – cap-in-hand for what we now refer to as ‘Federal Allocation’. Every region survived mainly on its internally generated revenue. There was also a healthy competition among the regions.”
Sanwo-Olu stressed that the provision of security must be ‘highly’ decentralised, adding that states must play significant roles in providing internal security, while the Federal Government must face the issue of defence, foreign policy, border control, currency, and customs among others. He also called for a review of the terms of fiscal federalism between the centre and state governments, saying that the Federal Government must consciously devolve more responsibilities and resources to states and local governments as those entities are the closest to the people.
He said: “Today, the revenue sharing formula is 52.6 per cent for the Federal Government, 26.7 per cent to the states and 20.6 per cent to local governments. The Federal Government takes the lion share, out-muscling the state and local governments, which are the closest tiers to the populace. State and local governments ordinarily should be drivers of development. As it is today, it is common knowledge that most states depend on a monthly allowance from Abuja to survive.
“States should be free to control the drilling of oil and mining of solid minerals and pay the required taxes and royalties to the Federation Account. Many states really have no business being poor or suffering a cash-crunch given their huge mineral deposits. There is also no reason why states cannot generate and distribute electricity and license the same, within their geographical limits. This can be done in a way in which necessary returns will be made to the Federal Government.”
He, however, urged that no one should lose hope of a better future, observing that the ongoing revolution in the agricultural sector and investment in infrastructure by the Buhari administration had started to gradually change the outlook of the national economy. The Lagos governor said ongoing reforms in agriculture must continue to sustain non-oil revenue and reduce dependency on a single commodity economy.
Keynote speaker, Chief George, faulted the current system of an over-powerful centre, which, according to him, is holding everyone down to stagnation and gradually withering initiatives for development and growth. He also faulted the current centralised policing system, saying the new security initiatives in the Southwest codenamed Operation Amotekun, the north’s outfit known as Shege Faka Sai and all the sundry security outfits emanating from the South-South and the South-East are necessary complimentary community policing agencies to enhance the effectiveness of the federal organ. He noted that there should not have been a need for them if states were constitutionally empowered to run their own policing systems as the Senator Ike Ekweremadu’s stalled Bill
According to him, “The overwhelming, unwieldy center must restrict itself to national defense against external aggression, the printing of currency and international diplomacy. Let the other powers be devolved to the states like in true federation.
Daniel said while it is important to commend President Buhari’s courage to close the border, Daniel said the problem of the country is very simple and straightforward.
According to him, “If we don’t consume locally made products there is no way Nigeria can go anywhere. We must stop capital flight through the consumption of local products and by doing this the problem of unemployment and crimes would be addressed.”
While calling on the government to make legislation that would compel wealthy Nigerians to invest in the country, Daniel said he doesn’t care where such money comes from as long as it is invested in Nigeria.
The Managing Director/Editor-in-chief, Freedom Online, Gabriel Akinadewo advocated for local and state governments’ autonomy in handling resources and generating revenue from public properties for the development of Nigeria.
In his remark, Amaechi, represented by the Registrar, Council of Regulation of Fret Forwarding, Sam Uwakowu, said there is less value on human lives in Nigeria as the policing structure is not solid to tackle insecurity unlike in other countries.
He said other smaller countries do not rely on central policing to tackle their insecurity challenges, as those charged with the responsibility of the safety of lives and properties are localised.
However, while Shehu appealed to Nigerians to look at crime as it is, he disagreed with the idea of associating a particular crime to ethnic groups. But a Chief Tola Adeniyi, a widely travelled renowned journalist said the incumbent Federal Government could build Ruga in the 36 states of the federation on the condition that each settlement would be manned and dominated by indigenes of those areas.
Meanwhile, Nigerians are set to engage the Senator Ovie Omo-Agege Constitution Review Committee set up by the Senate recently while the ruling party itself may forward the report of the Governor Nasir El-Rufai on restructuring to the commitee as part of the ongoing efforts to thinker with the current system. It now remains how sincere the ruling party is to the agenda but what is certain is restructuring has become an inevitable project for the country. And it is better done in peace rather than through violence.