'How True federalism can facilitate rapid development in Nigeria ' - Kenny Igwe - MnTrendsNews

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Wednesday, 6 December 2017

'How True federalism can facilitate rapid development in Nigeria ' - Kenny Igwe

 

      The Silver Lining of Restructuring

I was in a forum where I mentioned a sage quote by Adolf Hitler “how fortunate for leaders that men do not think”. Just the mention of the name ‘Adolf’ was ample for the audience to nail me to the cross through their countenance and I grinned. I made a quick deduction at that point that people simply appraise a message by its messenger.

Needless to say, Adolf, I would rather say, turned evil, in contrast with popular opinion as inherently evil. This was so because the global powers hitherto prepared a fertile milieu for him to cultivate his evil deeds. For a better comprehension, please see the details of the Versailles Treaty of 1919. Just to corroborate a little though, the treaty was one of retribution rather than pacification, and that built extreme bitterness in him and his cohorts and such prejudice presented Hitler a horseback to ride on to become what we now know of him.

It will be fortunate for our leaders if we, the ordinary Nigerians, do not know that the unity of the country is suffering from a cancer called ‘the 1999 constitution’. It will be fortunate for our leaders if we do not know that the unity we celebrate today as a nation is like an ‘empty basket’, completely devoid of gratifying content. Lastly, it will be fortunate for them if we don’t know that such cancer needs attention called restructuring and if not done, would be, preparing in the offing, an abyss where we all might plunge into.

America, we all celebrate today, in order for her to find a common ground for coexistence, came together at Philadelphia to discuss terms of nationhood which eventually birthed the famous ‘Declaration of Independence’ in 1776 and the unanimous subsequent constitutions that accompanied it. For this alone, the country, despite her rough historical experiences, have managed to record huge successes in terms of development and otherwise and has gone far to crest her name in the global sphere.

At what point did Nigeria make similar declaration, for those we refer to as founding fathers, which to me isn’t but just mere elites and nationalists trying to acquire political control, were at their infants. History tells us the whites made it for us in 1914 for obvious reasons. Moving up to 1960 when we politically, not economically, bid farewell to them, we created a constitution that seem like the America’s declaration and it served us a base to coexist as a people. Six years later, it was altered by the military and from then on we got no opportunity to reverse this ugly trend, even at the break of democracy in 1979. Until 1999 when democracy reared its head again, one would have thought that we will return to that we initially agreed on to govern us as a people but fortunately for a few and otherwise for many, it remains a far cry to fulfilment. What we saw was a hand-me-down constitution of 1999 which is regarded as a stereotype of the military decrees with a false preamble ‘we the people’. 

Having said the above, Nigeria today is said to have in practice; a federal system of government. However if there is a resonating call from virtually all quarters of Southern Nigeria and some pocket areas of the North for a crucial return to federalism in its true sense and nature as practised in the 1960s which some have christened ‘true federalism’ , it therefore means that something conspicuously, about the present system, is amiss. This thus begs the question, what is wrong with the present structure?
However, in my curiosity for answers to this seeming complex question and most importantly, to understand the reason for the nostalgia of the 1960s regional years, I began to study the term ‘federalism’ or what a typical ‘federation’ should look like. Fortunately, I stumbled on this definition from my pinterest android app ‘federation is a political organisation characterised by union of small states, groups or parties which are self-governed in internal affairs and are united under a central government’

I was glad to have seen this because it is self-explanatory. First it agrees with the fact that it is a political organisation ‘characterised by union of small states’, (even groups preferably, which well defines the composition of Nigeria). Breaking the definition further, it says; ‘which are self-governed in internal affairs’ which suggest having units with more powers to dispense and lastly ‘united under a central government’.

Will anyone in all honesty still call Nigeria a federation or a country practising federalism as a political system, having meticulously and holistically studied that definition? Of course the answer is no. Also, is such federalism feasible in Nigeria? Oh yes it is. In fact, it was, as mentioned above, explicitly in practice in the wee years of our post-independence until the untoward intrusion by the military which thus gave birth to the contemporary structure we have today in our political domain where the central government wields so much power than the federating unit (the states) thereby making it difficult for meaningful development to be actualized as well as creating a gulf between the ‘rulers and the ruled’, I beg to say.

For a country with enormous diverse ethnic groups as Nigeria, it is only fair and rational that her co-existence be negotiated and agreed upon to entrench a watertight unity amongst them. This, the nationalists, before and after independence, did before the military encroachment. They (nationalists) introduced constitutions (1960 and 1963) that recognised the uniqueness of the diverse groups, allowed regions to operate independently; both politically and economically, and relinquished little percentage of its economic resource returns to run the central government.

Just to help our sheer scepticism on the need for restructuring of the country. Federalism, in its true practice, does not guarantee a utopian system or development for Nigeria. But it is an ideal system for a country with huge distinct socio-cultural, political and religious groups that make up the nation. It will eliminate ethnic, regional or religious suspicion, leaving the various groups to harness their potentials and be responsible for their success or woes rather than blaming the central government which wields so much power and responsibility than it can even dispense, thus engendering a tardy development.

People are very correct to say that restructuring of the system isn’t the remedy to Nigeria’s woes but ‘restructuring of the mind’. However, what we should know is that it would be better to have the right people in the right system than having the former in a wrong system. Let me simply put it this way, it is difficult to plant a good seed in an arid ground and anticipate a prosperous harvest. Rather it is very soothing and rational to plant such seed in a fertile ground, well prepared, for a good season and expect a bountiful harvest. To answer the question of ‘restructured mind’ only as the panacea, restructuring Nigeria into the true practice of federalism is directly preparing a suitable system so that a restructured mind can have an easy and friendly atmosphere to function effectively and this we saw prior to the 1960s first military incursion. It is not to say that the 1960s was perfect, of course it had its flaws but compared to the inglorious structure we have now, it fared better, in terms of good governance, development and what have you. The current structure presents a wrong system with a wrong mind and from this; I expect nothing short of what we have today.

Restructuring will reduce the obnoxious ‘game of thrones’ that play out during electioneering whereby everyone strives ardently even before and during election just to attain the lofty seat of the presidency. Some even go as far as making elephant promises they sure can’t keep. Some reputable economist would attest to the fact that one of the reasons for the country’s entry into recession was the humongous sums of money that was thrown into public sphere just to attain victory.  Due to the attraction of the seat; the superfluous power it wields, most of the contestants go as far as acquiring loans they cannot even defray. What happens next is that, after victory, they begin to make plans to pay back such debts in their little time of delivering the dividends of democracy. This alone, has increased the enormous dearth of needed infrastructure that ought to drive the economy atop.

Nigeria is so much a dependent economy, consuming more than she produces and the implication is evident on the current value of the naira in the foreign exchange market and the high cost of commodities. Hence, we must increase productivity. Too bad we’ve got to compete with other developed countries with superior productions which mean the chances of survival are thin. However, the solution to this isn’t far-fetched. We must endeavour to improve our Foreign Direct Investment (FDI). The bottleneck however is having investment friendly environment such as stable power supply, good roads and most importantly, security. This will, of course, guarantee ease of doing business. To achieve that, cost of governance must be mitigated while capital expenditure soars.

Returning to the 1960/1963 constitution is a lucid means to the above. Having two legislative chambers at the federal level, which milks the nation billions of naira, could be saved with having just one chamber on part-time basis with fair representation. Each lawmaker earns about 22milion or 29million per month excluding other frivolous earned allowances. We can infer the total sum the lawmakers gulp from the nation’s treasury in a year if we multiply that by about 460 legislators or more. Not to mention their surrogates. Imagine what would be saved if this cost is reduced and further put into capital expenditure. This, and many more like it, is the reason why budget cannot be fully implemented and thus needed infrastructures suffer neglect. This is not to exempt the excessive ministerial offices. Having ministry of aviation and transportation as separate departments is clearly irrational but to observe the federal character principle, thirty-six states must have a representation and as such, capital expenditure suffers.  Even if efforts are to be made to improve capital expenditure, it usually comes from borrowing which again is unhealthy for the economy.

The bulwark of our economy is crude oil. It is refined in the Niger Delta region. However It is absurd that the huge proceeds from it today is nationalised as it contribute about 80% to the nation’s coffers but the environmental hazards it create, at the expense of the people’s subsistence, isn’t but left for the victims alone to deal with. Just 13% of the derivation is given to them. No matter how we try to blame corruption for the situation, it doesn’t preclude the fact that the government overtime has given short shrift to salvage the problem. Also, even when allocation is dispensed, instead of it being channelled to the most affected area, it is shared to all areas of the particular state, leaving an incomplete or diminutive response to peoples’ basic fundamentals. The end result is the actions of the militants. Well, with restructuring, the region will get as much as 50% of the derivatives which should suffice to facilitate development and extinguish militancy while our GDP grows stronger.

During the recession days, the government went ahead sponsoring hajj pilgrimages, providing pilgrims access to forex at subsidised rate. This of course has no impact on the economic development of the country because it falls under recurrent expenditure. Also, clearly such step isn’t beneficial to the various groups that form the country but a set of religious group and is capable of eliciting discontent among other non-beneficiaries. The consequence here perhaps would be insecurity. Restructuring the country to the 1960s constitution will allow regions to have independent constitutions. By so doing, if a region is perhaps dominated by a particular religion and decide to embark on such religious activity, or even modify its laws in consonance with their religion, it won’t affect other regions that see hastening provision of infrastructures as paramount.  At the moment, whatever each state derives, is brought to the general table and shared according to the national formula, thus, whatever is expended at the federal level truncates the much that should go to the states for development purposes.

With the 13% derivative formula, Lagos is experiencing a rapid development. I can only imagine the level of development that can be achieved if more fiscal autonomy is given to the state. Surely, it may perhaps be capable of generating its own power, build refinery, inter alia. But such responsibilities solely rest on the federal government which also has other departments to deal with, thus, subjecting the fundamentals to redtapism. This leaves the federal government jack of all trade and master of none. Why should we have a state road and a federal road? In most cases we find some roads motorable because it is constructed by the state and within that same state, you find some roads dilapidated and abandoned just because it is a federal road. Ordinarily the state could tend to such situation without fail but the current structure militates against it. The fact is that the federal government has a handful of businesses more than it can attend to and this restructuring would address, by devolving more powers to the federating units which is closer to the people and which can respond swiftly to whatever issues that arises. It was absurd to see that mineral prospectors from Kaduna had to travel all the way to Abuja to seek federal approval before exploration could commence.

Every well-meaning Nigerian would agree that the process of state creation from the beginning have been unfair. Some regions have as much as seven while others, six, and even five. This disparity must be addressed to silent the aggrieved groups, for what is good for the goose is good for another goose I wish to say. This should assuage the feelings of particularly Southeasterners and give them a sense of belonging. Returning to the 1963 constitution will collapse the present state creation and allow for an agreed federating unit to govern the people.

The good about restructuring is endless. It will be fortunate for our leaders if we don’t understand the above. What we have today is what some have described as ‘feeding bottle federalism’ which makes the states indolent. It has to stop or as Mike Ozekhome, an eminent lawyer once quipped ‘we might be postponing the evil days’. Corruption, no doubt is the bane of our underdevelopment but despite its pervasiveness, it did not stop the indelible development that was recorded in the regional years.

I conclude by stating, a stronger individual may survive a 100years but a stronger system or institution, that abets fairness, equity and justice for all, eons. For some it's restructuring, for some, reconfigure, well for me, it's what Russians call 'Perestroika' but who will play the Gorbachev?. I don’t know about you but, like Charly Boy’s parlance, ‘my mumu don do!!!’. I believe strongly in the Nigerian jollof rice.

written by Kennedy Igwe (kennyz3991@yahoo.com)

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