I have read a lot of literature by very eminent and knowledgeable citizens on the need for restructuring our practice of federalism in Nigeria. Most of these calls for restructuring cite the lopsided structure of Nigeria which is perceived as an arrangement favourable to the North, and have argued that since Nigeria was birthed by the fusion or amalgamation of the Northern and Southern protectorates, they do not understand the basis for the northern protectorate having overwhelming advantage over the south. These advantages they say are apparent in the number of States, Legislators, and Local Governments amongst other socio-political and economic benefits that the North has over its Southern counterpart.
No doubt the incursion of the military into Nigeria's political space caused serious harm. Even though a product of a military school, I am an unrepentant democrat and strongly believe in the principles of true federalism, ironically ingrained by a Soldier-Teacher, Mr Afuwape, who played a major role in developing his students’ interest in democratic norms.
The Restructuring Debate
In simple corporate parlance, restructuring means “the re-organisation of a company with a view to achieving greater efficiency and profit or to adapt to a changing market.
The above definition can be used to illustrate the current narratives making the rounds in the country today. If you look at Nigeria as a Corporate entity, which in real sense can be seen as such, you will agree with me that our nation urgently requires a re-organisation with a view to achieving greater efficiency and productivity and without this re-organisation the agitation we are currently experiencing, God forbid, might make us become a failed state.
What federalism connotes is a system of government that proportionately divides power between the central authority and its subordinating states with definite constitutional roles that permits for economic control over resources beneath their soil. It was James Madison who asserted, that in a Federal structure, the state and central government "are in fact but different agents and trustees of the people, constituted with different powers." The bane of our nation today is that we practise a deceptive form of federalism which in real sense is a unitary system of government, where every month the states go cap in hand to receive hand-outs from the central government. Federalism envisages a situation where the States ought to control their resources and give returns to the centre not the other way round.
It will interest you to know that the Philippines, (which practices a unitary system of government is proposing a change in its system of governance from its current unitary arrangement to a federal system of government, where the states/regions generate income and keep 70% of such income for their own use and send the remaining - 30% to central government, to address the problem of unitary form of government that has established an unfair distribution of funds between the regional government and national government in the country. This change is being spearheaded by the country’s President Rodrigo Duterte.
Even though some Nigerians dispute the ability of states in the current pseudo-federalism to independently handle themselves without hand-outs from the Federal Government, and the likes of Governor Nasir El-Rufai have labeled those calling for restructuring as political opportunists and irresponsible, I believe that a change in responsibilities and structure will encourage fiscal reforms in states.
It is time for Nigeria to adopt a system that works and solves problems while understanding the peculiarities of respective regions thereby giving states the independence to govern and manage their resources. This will create a more conducive environment to drive economic growth and sustenance, instead of concentrating power at the Centre while potentials that should be maximized are allowed to waste in the regions.
Can the Federating States Be Viable?
Emphatically Yes! The federating states can be viable if they are empowered to tap into their mineral and natural resources and also retain a sizeable portion of its proceeds. Most States in Nigeria have become aggressive in their tax drive, so as to boost their Internally Generated Revenues (IGR) and collections, to shore up their dwindling allocations from the Federal Government. It is common knowledge that the current structure of Nigeria’s quasi-federalism is not only parasitic but also redundant in the face of global demands for citizen-driven governance. There is no gainsaying that each state in Nigeria has its own comparative advantage in some sphere of endeavour, which has been and remains beclouded by the lucre of collecting monthly hand-outs from Abuja.
Records prove that there are huge economic opportunities that States have refused to explore. A report by the Nigerian Extractive Industries and Transparency Initiative, NEITI in 2015 revealed that there are about 40 different kinds of solid minerals and precious metals of commercial quantity in the Northern and some Southern part of the country waiting to be exploited. The value for the abandoned minerals tends to run into hundreds of trillions of dollars.
Restructuring - Fear of the Unknown
Fears that restructuring could erode the powers of the Federal government are unfounded as the benefits of a nimble and efficient Federal government far outweighs its demerits.
Those opposing restructuring can only be said to have a tunnel vision of what federalism means and the opportunities inherent in it. When a country decides to delve into a fiscal federal system, it tends to guarantee for itself protection; the capacity to negotiate on shared values; more direct access to domestic markets and above all, higher standard of living since the state apparatus can decide the minimum welfare packages based on its earned resources.
The Exclusive legislative list (contained in the second schedule of our constitution), as it presently stands gives the federal government unfettered and overbearing powers over the federating units (states). I imagine an Exclusive List which is devoid of major items such as: Power, Railways, Police, Labour and Mineral Resources (just to mention a few) to be transferred to the Concurrent Legislative List (the list where items that can be legislated on by both Federal and State Government are contained) to encourage state efficiency, boost and stimulate true federalism and enhance the autonomy of the state. You will be amazed at how light the Exclusive list is in India and the United States. In these jurisdictions, the exclusive list only bothers with issues like defence, banking and currency, foreign affairs, other items such as police, commerce and the like are in the residual and concurrent list. Imagine, how this will unlock the dead assets we have in Nigeria and how this will curb urban migration, create employment and prosperity.
In the United States, the power to regulate and enforce compliance is domiciled with FG while leaving the states and private entities to handle implementation. For example, the local police in the US get their certifications from the Federal Regulatory agency that monitors Police Conduct. They have State, City, County, College, Post Office and Airport Police to name a few; but each of these Police Formations has to recertify its competencies every year with a Federal Regulatory Unit called Internal Affairs. They investigate local Police for misconduct and human right abuses.
The call for restructuring has been gaining momentum in the light of agitations from different quarters and as rightly posited by Former Military President and Elder Statesman, General Ibrahim Babangida (Rtd), “We cannot be detained by those fears and allow civilization to leave us behind. We must as a people with one destiny and common agenda take decisions for the sake of posterity in our shared commitment to launch our country on the path of development and growth. Policing has become so sophisticated that we cannot continue to operate our old methods and expect different results.”
Across the geopolitical zones, the singsong hinges on the need to find a new bearing; with the All Progressives Congress (APC) South West caucus also wading into the debate for restructuring. In a communiqué issued on the heels of their conference held in Ibadan, the Oyo State capital, months ago, the party posited that “meaningful progress and socio-economic development of the Nigerian nation is unattainable without restructuring the extant, largely Unitarian geo-political arrangement. It is by such re-arrangement, leading to genuine fiscal and political federalism that the innate energies of the people of Nigeria can be realized and new vistas of human development opened up.”
Who is afraid of Restructuring?
Is it the Northern Oligarchy? Is it for economic reasons or fear of losing political dominance?
In 2012 Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu said challenges facing the country will be resolved when it adopts the practice of constitutional democracy and fiscal federalism.
Recently former Vice President Atiku Abubakar picked up courage by talking about restructuring the Nation, something most Northerners have been afraid to talk about. This should be the agenda of our government going forward and all hands must be on deck to make it a reality.
Surprisingly, the narrative over the years has always been that the North is obsessed with the free money coming from oil and does not want restructuring for selfish reasons, but two of our last three presidents have been Southerners who ought to have spearheaded the campaign to restructure the country.
I recently read an article by Chief Duro Onabule, titled “Restructuring: Who lopsided Nigeria in the first place? He opined that Nigeria under Tafawa Balewa practiced fiscal federalism with a very robust federal constitution which encouraged financial autonomy, competiveness, operational revenue allocation. He stated that this was however cut short by the General Agunyi Irons i’s Government which introduced the unitary system of Government that reduced the powers of the region and added more to the federal Government, which action gave birth to the imbalance or lop-sidedness we are currently confronted with.
While President Goodluck Jonathan had no definite stand on federalism, political elites are comfortable to keep the federating units subservient to the federal government. Against this background, it can be deduced that the real reason why we have not practiced Federalism in its fiscal form lies in the fact that we had elected Presidents who lack the political will and insight to make restructuring a priority and reality. It is apparent that they have been skeptical about the outcome of restructuring on the federal budget, the economy and their political party. It behoves the current administration to correct past wrongs and toe the line of public good by initiating the process for the much desired economic and political restructuring.
Youths and Restructuring
Gauging the mood of the youths across the country, it is obvious they want restructuring because of its inherent benefits. The United Nation warns that the 15 million unemployed Youths in Nigeria is a ticking time bomb and a disaster waiting to happen.
The President of Arewa Youth Consultative Forum (AYCF), Alhaji Yerima Shettima, stated in the wake of the 2014 National Confab that the youth do not support the anti-federalism position of northern delegates at the national confab, since the “northern youths wanted fiscal federalism and regional autonomy”. Truth be told, the Nigerian youths are getting disenchanted with Nigeria, they believe there is gross injustice in the polity and have been speaking loud enough for the discerning elders to hear.
Without being obstructive, it seems the leaders are disconnected from the aspirations of the youths. I have sampled the opinions of a great number of youth and restructuring is all on their lips. The Nigerian youths are only wondering why the presumed giant as it is currently positioned is not economically viable or politically dependable.
Nigeria no longer belongs to the old brigade; it belongs to the youths who represent over 70% of its population. They should be listened to and it is their ideas that should shape the future of Nigeria. Only a handful of current leaders (elders) listen to this generation.
The best gift that CHANGE can birth is a restructured polity, a truly federal system that has been identified to have more advantages than disadvantages.
As the representative of my constituency at the House of Representative, I must admit that the cry for Justice by constituents in our polity has been overwhelming and failure to lend my voice in favour of holistic restructuring will be a disservice to them and the future wellbeing of my dearly beloved country. I must also add that as a member of the House of Representatives Special Adhoc Committee on the Review of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, representing Lagos State, a good number of the divergent positions on restructuring have been accommodated in the Committee’s extensive engagements across the country.
BABAJIMI BENSON, MEMBER REPRESENTING IKORODU FEDERAL CONSTITUENCY WRITES FROM LAGOS