NATIONAL UPHEVEALS: TRUE FEDRALISM IN NIGERIA, TO BE OR NOT TO BE

The issue of mustering political will to restructure Nigeria’s polity, especially revisiting the practice of true federalism has, gathered more momentum in public discourse. Even civil groups, opinion leaders and ethnic groups in the country, who once opposed the demand, have joined the clamour. As the debate continues, it has become clear that restructuring the political and administrative structures of the polity back to real federalism is the master key to the legion of problems facing the country.

Recently, the Federal Government has given indication of likely bulging in to the peoples’ agitations. Acting President Yomi Osinbajo has said government knows what to do on the matter, but, such move must follow constitutional channels.

But The All Progressives Party’s leadership has shown a posture against restructuring. Its National Chairman, Chief Oyegun says the party is not for that, instead it is for three agendas: anticorruption, security and economic development. The Governor of Kano, Alhaji Nasser e-Rufai lambasted agitators as self-seekers. Arewa Consultative Forum, from the North appears diplomatic that restructuring is a complex project as such many things ought to be considered, adding that there is a sitting legislature in the country to address national issues.

Before now, certain factors had hindered efforts to embark on fundamental structural changes, to settle lingering problems. A major factor has been lack of political will on the part of leaders to do so, despite series of conference reports and clamour. Political, ethnic and religious interests are also impediments.

The idea of restructuring has often times boiled down to the re-enactment of a true federal system in the country. But besides the aforesaid hindrances, there seem to be lack of proper understanding of the concept of true federalism. The concept was obfuscated by sectional and political interests, which beclouded many persons’ comprehension of the concept, especially now that it has further been complicated with the term “fiscal federalism”.

True federalism, a concept often misunderstood and deliberately obfuscated for sectional interests, is being touted as the core of the restructuring. Federalism as a concept refers to a federal state and federal system of government. A federal state is a country that practices federal system of government. A federal system of government is that which has different levels of government: federal, state and local. The functions of government are constitutionally shared into exclusive, concurrent and residual lists.

Exclusive functions such as defense, minting of currencies, immigration, conferment of honorary citizenship are for the federal level. Concurrent functions such as education, agriculture and infrastructure are for both federal level and states to perform, but the centre’s interest supersedes when conflict arises. Residual list contain functions such as construction of markets, feeder roads, bridges; collection of levies, rates and issuance of licenses; registration of births and deaths, performed by local government level.

A true federalism system of government is that which too much power is not concentrated in the centre. Real federal systems grant autonomy to states in aspects which include owning and managing their own resources, state constitutions, judicial and court systems as well as police and other paramilitary agencies, all subject to overriding powers of the centre in case of conflicts.

To reiterate, the most important principle of true federalism is that, the levels of government are allowed to manage their resources, without central control. At the best, the states pay taxes to the federal government from their internally generated revenue. The taxes are to enable the centre carry out central administration and execute vital national programmes and projects as well as defend the federation from external aggression. This is where fiscal federalism another misunderstood concept, which means taxed-based federal union, comes to play.

Fiscal federalism is in line with Professor K. C. Wheare’s theory of an uncompromising true federalism in which the levels of government are financially independent of one another, and that the moment one depends on the other, it is not a federal system of government anymore. Good examples are the federal systems of Canada and the United States of America.

Contrarily, what obtains in most countries is a mixture of the elements of federalism and unitary systems of government, which brought about quasi or semi-federal systems. In such semi-federal systems, as in Nigeria’s, which was copied from the developed countries, the centre dominates the states, just as the states dominate their local government councils. The skewed structures give room to the centre to explore and appropriate major resources of the states and the third tier, which are in turn allocated funds by the centre. This arrangement as Professor Ben Nwabueze (1992) in his book, Democratic Experiments put it, has made states fiscal vassals to the centre, just as local governments s are slaves to their states.

The advantages of real federal system of government are promotion of unity amongst ethnic nationalities with diverse historical, cultural, language and religious backgrounds as well as large population and geographical spread. Ideally, such diverse nations ought to willingly agree to federate in order to enjoy those benefits besides having a common strong army and economy. Constitutionally, a federating nation or unit could decide to withdraw from the system.

These merits also as factors influence adoption of real federalism, as in the case of Nigeria. It is traced to the British imperial administration, which revoked the Royal Niger Charter in 1900 to pave way for a formal British colonial administration in the Niger Area, later called Nigeria by Flora Shaw.

In 1906, the colonialists merged Lagos and Southern Protectorates for administrative and economic gains, after which Sir Lord Luggard amalgamated the Northern and Southern Protectorates in 1914, followed by the introduction of elective principle in the 1922 Clifford Constitution.

However, the Arthur Richards Constitution of 19946 is the genesis of Nigeria’s federalism, meant to appease the nationalists and promote unity in diversity. It set up a Central Legislative Council and three regional legislative assembles in the then Northern, Western and Eastern regions, but with limited powers.

Dissatisfied, the nationalists called for introduction of real federalism to promote unity and prepare road to self determination. Chief Obafemi Awolowo is documented as haven argued vehemently at the colonial Central Legislative Council that real federalism should be introduced because Nigeria as a whole was not a nation with common ancestry, language and other commonalities, but a mere geographical expression, hence only a federal system which fits it as a state created by Britain, could address the diversity and promote unity. The Sarduana of Sokoto, Sir Ahmadu Bello staged similar arguments.

Chief Awolowo’s collegues such as Sir Tafawa Balewa and Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe who had been suspicious of the idea of federalism on the part of the colonialists and nationalists such as Awolowo had favoured unitary system. But they later saw reasons for arguments in favour of federalism.

Chief Balewa, cited in Oluyode (1995) in his Book Administrative Law and Practice in Nigeria, supported arguments for federalism at the colonial legislative council when he said “Since the amalgamation of the Southern and Northern provinces in 1914, Nigeria had existed as one and only on paper… it is still far from being united. Nigerian unity is only a British intention for the country”. Unfortunately, Balewa’s good arguments like those of Awo, Bello and Zik where at that time taken with grain of salt, as being tailored towards hidden ethnic and economic agendas.

Following the agitations by these and other nationalists politicians, the 1951 McPherson Constitution introduced a vital principle of true federalism, by sharing powers clearly into exclusive lists, concurrent and residual, but the centre still had veto powers against regions as it was in 1946, thus a quasi – federal system.

True federalism, however, began in colonial Nigeria when the 1954 Littleton Constitution granted legislative functions and autonomy over resources to the then Northern, Western and Eastern regions. Unfortunately, the system was disrupted by the early military incursions into the polity shortly after independence in 1960. Fiscal federal federalism or resource control held sway from the Littleton Constitution, up to 1959. In this period, the North utilized 100% of its revenues from groundnut exports just as the West controlled revenues from cocoa and the East palm oil. The regions only paid tax to the central colonial administration. Indeed, it was true fiscal federalism.

Given that arrangement, there were no bitter economic rivalries, until the era of crude oil as from 1956 when it was found in commercial quantities at Oloibiri area of Ogbia Local Government in present Bayelsa State. The Financial Times in 1980, observed that revenue politics began in Nigeria as soon as oil was struck in the East (referring to present day South-South which was part of the then Eastern region). The cities of Lagos, kano, Kaduna, Sokoto, Enugu, for instance were developed initially with the cash crops revenues from their land, but crude and gas revenues were later used to consolidate their infrastructural and human capital developments.

This is because, true federalism changed to “revenue allocation federalism” as oil and gas became main revenue spinners for the central government which in turn shared to the bonafide owners. Emergence of oil revenues led to politics of revenue allocations, a situation captured by ThankGod Apere (1999) in his book Public Finance Management as well as by D. M Jemibewon (1988) as the most thorny issue in Nigeria’s polity.

Given the scenario, the Financial Times in 1980 wrote that, with the emergence of oil dollars economy, emphasis shifted from full resource control to principles of revenue allocation based on need and population. Other principles as enumerated by Ezekiel J. Hart (1997, Ed.) as well as J. H. Price are land mass (Not river mass); primary school enrollment; even development; national interest; equality of states; minimum national development standards; absorptive capacity; tax efforts and fiscal administration; financial comparability as well as derivation. Derivation principle had held sway until the collapse of the cash crop economy but later revived due to the agitations for fairer deal, by the Niger Delta region which is the mainstay of the nation’s mono-economy.

Thus, this long era in which states, local government and even communities lack rights over their major resources has being characterized with the ethnic and political rivalries among levels of government, ethnic and political groups. The rivalries led to gradual decline of control over resources, between 1960 to 1963, which brought about many revenue committees and commissions that were set up to resolve, but to no avail. Hence, control over resources dwindled from 100% control to 50% when cash crop still managed to hold sway, and later to 45%, in the period.

As crude oil and gas revenues held sway, derivation percentage for allocation from the center, reduced from 45% at the close of the cash crop economy to 25% in the Gowon’s regime; 5% in Murthala Muhammed’s regime; 3.5% and 2.5% in Shehu Shagari’s regimes and 1% in subsequent military regimes. It was however raised to “not less than” 13% by the Late Sani Abasha’s regime and included in the 1999 constitution in section 162, subsection 2, paragraph 2.

The creation of states and local governments became another hot politics in Nigeria, as ethnic groups in power created lopsided numbers to garner more oil and gas Dollar revenues taken from the Niger Delta to the center.

Even the 1999 Constitution that gives states rights over mineral resources in section 44, subsection 1, takes it away in section 3. This and other obnoxious mineral Acts as well as the 1978 Land Use Decree now an Act are negotiations of true federalism, thus causing the bitter struggles to mount the central seat of power, to allocate resources raked to the centre, from endowed impoverished states and communities.

Early crises that had ensured before now were ethnic-based party politics; census crises in 1962 and 1963; military incursions starting from January 15, 1966 and the destructive civil war of May 30, 1967 to February 15, 1970.

The acrimonies and agitations for better deal have since then continued in many parts of the country. Notable among them are the Niger Delta elitist movements such as that led by the executed Ken Saro Wiwa’s Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni Ethnic Nationality; youth militant groups in the Niger Delta; the Movement for the Actualization of the Sovereign State of Biafra (MASSOB); Independent Peoples of Biafra (IPOB), Odua Peoples’ Congress (OPC), Afenifere group; Arewa Consultative Forum; Ijaw Youth Congress (IYC); Ijaw National Congress as well as recent youth groups in the North that gave ultimatum to Ibos to quit their states.

The recent agitations, also fuelled by the current economic downturn, in which the operations of the states, even resourceful ones, are nearly grinding to a halt, and could not pay salaries nor do projects effectively, put pays to the urgent need for restructuring.

A move to avert the current agitations was the Justice Lebgo Kutugi’s-led 2014 National Conference under the administration of former President Goodluck Jonathan, in which several issues including restructuring and true federalism were unanimously given potent solutions to, by the delegates. But the conference report was seen as a political strategy of former President Jonathan, and was so politically dismissed. But public opinions are re-echoing the recommendations of that conference, summed up in true federalism, as the sure solution.

The benefits of adopting true fiscal federalism are mainly healthy economic competition among the three tiers of government to formulate better programmes as well as optimally explore and utilize their own resources for their own betterment.

There will also be economic competition among states as well as among the local governments to work hard survive as autonomous units in the federation.

States and the center, states and states, states and local governments, local governments and local governments as well as local government and families or private organizations will collaborate to carry out common projects. Autonomy of these units will promote balanced and mutually beneficial interdependence in exchange of ideas; material, monetary and human resources based on comparative advantage of each unit and mutual agreement. Thus there will be equity, justice and unity amongst them instead of disharmony.

Industrialization that has been a mirage will be a thing of the past, just as unemployment will be drastically tackled. New foreign-direct and local investments that will come on board could absorb youths within and far beyond the states or local governments that own or hosts the investments, based on manpower need and merit. Youth vices and crime could also reduce.

Security of lives and property will be properly addressed in new federal system, where states have their own police and paramilitary organisations. As a result religious and ethnic tolerance could be archived if leaders at the states and local levels do not get power drunk. Of course they could be easily checked as government will be at the people’s doorstep.

Local government and state capitals and headquarters and even new agrarian and urban centers that will emerge will attract many persons sojourning in expensive large and congested cities like Abuja, Lagos and Kano and Port-Harcourt, to return to the grassroots for better living.

The cost of governing a large bureaucratic polity and the Federal capital city will be reduced as many dwellers and civil servants could move to their home-states and council areas. Reducing powers at the centre would mean cut in the cost of executing programmes in the exclusive and concurrent lists, as it used to be.

Considering these and other gains, there is every need to revisit true federalism to douse the tension in the country in order to maintain national unity and make all parts of the country develop competitively. As recently clamoured even by the former Military President Gen. Ibrahim Badamosi Babangida who tried to decentralize powers in his time though under watch of his military binoculars, the time to bring back true federalism is indeed now! Former Vice President Atiku Abubarka though seen as marketing presidential ambition has equally called for restructuring, consistently.

Luckily some sections of the Ibos, Hausas and Fulani’s, Yorubas, Middle Belt and the Niger Delta have declared their support for the one Nigeria project instead of disintegration. Even the United States of America that once predicted disintegration of Nigeria has detoured, assuring that such won’t happen. Therefore, the Federal Government should act now to commence the process of re-enacting real federalism.

The executive’s promise through acting president Yomi Osibanjo that the agitations would be looked into, besides the National Assembly’s interest to adopt the Kutugi’s National Conference report recommendations, should be matched with urgent actions now.

Nigeria will indeed be the real place for all the 250 ethnic groups and 36 plus Abuja the Federal Capital Territory and even our Bakassi-Returnees if and only if true federalism comes to be.

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SOURCE :The Nigerian Voice (opinions)

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