A Case for the Devolution of Economic Power to State Governments, By Ugochukwu Amasike
…the devolution of power to the federating units will signal the rebirth of Nigeria, resolve most of the social stresses we are experiencing and unleash Nigeria’s much touted potentials, whilst ensuring the sustainable diversification of Nigeria’s revenue base.
Recently a bill seeking to grant states control of mineral resources within their domains passed the second reading in the House of Representatives. Titled “A Bill for an Act to alter the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999, to vest the control of the revenues derived from minerals, mineral oils, natural gas in, under or upon any land In the States of the Federation and for Other Related Matters”, it seeks to give much needed realism and impetus to Nigeria’s quest for economic and revenue diversification. The truth is that if Nigeria is to make progress economically and achieve its goal of a sustainably diversified economy and revenue base, then it must reform its political-economic institutions to reflect its socio-economic realities and the legitimate aspirations of the different ethnic nationalities that have voluntarily congregated to constitute the Federation known as Nigeria.
The current quasi-unitary system we currently practice is essentially a system of bondage that has shackled Nigeria’s economic potentials, via the subjugation of its federating units, nay states, which otherwise should be the engines and propellers of Nigeria’s march to economic development. Nigeria is currently enmeshed in a recession for which many reasons have been adduced to explain the cause. Of all reasons so far adduced, the most factual and resonant has been that aside the mismanagement and corruption of past thieving administrations, Nigeria remains unhealthily saddled with a deleterious mono-product economy, which is a result of the stifling political and economic system we currently practice. A system that places premium not on productivity and innovation, but on doctored population figures and other Machiavellian schemes designed for the purpose of securing a larger chunk of revenue from the corruptly-termed and dwindling “national cake”.
It is this aberration and legacy of despotic military rule that the proposed bill currently before the National Assembly seeks to remedy, by seeking the devolution of economic powers to Nigeria’s federating units to enable them harness their varied comparative advantages for the overall benefit of the Nigerian economy, as was obtainable under the Republican Constitution of 1963. The 1963 Constitution, being a true people’s constitution, provided for the healthy and broad distribution of economic power to then regional governments and provided incentives that encouraged the active participation of the then regions in the task of bolstering and sustainably expanding the Nigerian economy.
It is interesting to also note that in spite of the glaring flaws of our current political-economic system, there are those who opine that Nigeria’s under-development has little to do with the unjust and tragically flawed nature of Nigeria’s political-economic system. They insist that our problems are essentially a function of “poor leadership”. They further assert that all Nigeria needs to reach the Promised Land is “repentance and a change of heart” on the part of our political elite, and the people. The proponents of this school of thought have however failed to ask themselves WHY Nigeria has continually been afflicted with “poor leadership” over the years. Is Nigeria and are Nigerians accursed of God? Are all Nigerians avowed corruption-lovers? The answer to this question is rather obvious: Nigeria’s corrupt political-economic system, as a matter of course, births “poor leadership”; in the same manner a goat cannot give birth to a lion, neither can an unjust and flawed political-economic system give birth to responsible and accountable leadership.
The few instances of good governance Nigeria has recorded since the coming into force of this present political-economic system have been nothing but anomalies, this is because the Nigerian State does not have the required mechanisms needed to incentivise or replicate such isolated and rare instances of good governance. There is nothing that incentivises responsible and accountable leadership in Nigeria. For an average Nigerian elected or appointed public official to muster the will to do the right things, he or she must be somewhat of a zealot, with significant political leverage and a singular determination to do what is right and legal, in spite of systemic limitations.
Whilst appreciative of the critical need for good and purposeful leadership, it is humbly submitted that the long-suffering people of Nigeria can not continue to depend ad infinitum on the emergence of anomalies. We must, as a people, create the requisite political-economic institutions and systems that incentivise good governance, engender social cohesion and advance the economic well-being of all our people, irrespective of the political party or person in power. We must design a system that makes it impossible or at least extremely difficult for the lowest denominators in our polity to emerge as our leaders; and only the reformation of our current political and economic systems will enable that.
It is the humble submission of this concerned Nigerian that a further and better amendment of the 1999 Constitution, as typified by the current Bill before the National Assembly which seeks the just and equitable devolution of power to Nigeria’s federating units is a very necessary course of action, if we are to make real and sustainable progress. It is submitted that the devolution of power to the federating units will signal the rebirth of Nigeria, resolve most of the social stresses we are experiencing and unleash Nigeria’s much touted potentials, whilst ensuring the sustainable diversification of Nigeria’s revenue base.
Ugochukwu Joseph Amasike, a lawyer, writes from Lagos. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org