Rebuilding Nigeria (1), By Dele Agekameh
In truth, the 1999 constitution has served the country better than people realise, but there is the need to break away from its stigma of military influence with the passing of a new document that will be perceived as truly democratic and sensitive to all interests as far as the unity of the country can accommodate.
Calls for restructuring Nigeria have continued to gain ground in recent times. This is coming on the heels of many disturbing events that have exposed the cracks in Nigeria’s unity. Problems arising from a weak federal structure, bad governance over the years and the inadequate responses of government to many years of genuine agitations of groups around the country, have led to this impasse.
From the present state of things and the widespread clamour for some form of restructuring, it looks increasingly inevitable that a major change will have to occur in order to save the country from imminent disintegration. This call for change has been generally termed “restructuring”. The uncertainty about the nature of this restructuring is connected with the differing ideas on what such a change would comprise.
The varying views about a possible restructuring as being considered by people from one region/geopolitical zone to the other, is, no doubt, inspired, by the particular grievances or interests of groups within the different zones. Besides this simplistic view of restructuring, stakeholders who are more versed on the issue have taken a conceptual view of the subject, differentiating between economic, political, fiscal, administrative and other forms of restructuring that they consider should be the focus of any drive to quell the growing agitations. It is believed by this class that one or more of these modes of restructuring will be enough to address the problems without resorting to a complete overhaul of the system as we know it. Such a view may be erroneous.
It seems that only a change at the level of an overhaul will suffice at this juncture. This point is supported by the sheer volume of the report of the last national conference that was organised by former President Goodluck Jonathan’s administration to tackle many of the same agitations facing the country now. The 898-page report containing over 300 recommendations/resolutions is indicative of broad, sweeping challenges that, if resolved, will leave the present constitution so altered as to be unrecognisable. It is also indicative and demonstrative of a lack of faith in the constitution as drafted, with the stigma of traditional military centralism.
In truth, the 1999 constitution has served the country better than people realise, but there is the need to break away from its stigma of military influence with the passing of a new document that will be perceived as truly democratic and sensitive to all interests as far as the unity of the country can accommodate. There is need for finality through the creation of a new constitution that the majority of citizens will accede to through a referendum. A piecemeal treatment of issues as the Eighth National Assembly is currently undertaking will lead to the same calls for restructuring, perhaps, for the rest of the life of the nation. To avoid this unpleasant consequence, a final resolution to all issues, duly signed by all states and confirmed by the citizens should be effected. Such new document would serve as the symbol of re-democratisation and the springboard for true federalisation as has been canvassed for so long.
The major hold of the federal government over the states is the monthly allocations that state governors receive from the centre, which leads to the slow growth of industries and poor development of the potential that many states possess. Resources go to waste while state governments await hand-outs from the federal government.
Without mincing words, one of the biggest problems of Nigeria at present is the over-reliance on oil revenue and the lack of diversification of the economy. Although the country is presently engaged in a huge drive to divest the economy of petroleum profits, the sheer importance of the commodity to the availability of resources at the federal and state levels, reduces government’s will to truly diversify the economy. The truth is that the private sector is the major vehicle that can drive diversity. Definetly, not a federal government that is eager to maintain its stranglehold on constituent states. This is so because the government, which is bugged down by huge personnel costs and overheads occasioned by a teeming federal service, will find it difficult to attract private investments in critical non-oil sectors that will drive growth in other industries.
It is imperative, therefore, to say that the country is at a critical juncture in its history, and if issues are not settled within the next few years, the country runs the risk of recreating the carnage that now plagues Venezuela. The Latin America nation, Venezuela, is witnessing a complete breakdown of law and order and there is no sign of an easy solution to the situation President Nicolas Maduro now faces. The opposition in the country has presently seized the opportunity of the unrest to create a parallel authority, with widespread support and sympathy from a largely dissatisfied populace. Interestingly, some lessons can be borrowed from the Venezuelan circumstance, which will be highlighted subsequently.
The direction here will be shifted to key areas of interest in the current restructuring debate with reference to the 2014 national conference and present realities in the polity. The aim is to determine the propriety or otherwise of these positions towards a final resolution of issues and achieving a solution that can endure and be supported by all.
This is the area where the devolution of powers comes in. It is a vital area of reform that can potentially bring the country in line with true federalism. The state governments have wide powers concerning their respective states, but this is limited in critical areas that can help a state to function at its own pace. The major hold of the federal government over the states is the monthly allocations that state governors receive from the centre, which leads to the slow growth of industries and poor development of the potential that many states possess. Resources go to waste while state governments await hand-outs from the federal government. Therefore, change in this area will aid the diversification process of the Nigerian economy, if states become responsible for their own finances.
By adopting a bottom-up flow of critical financial resources from states to the federal government, states can become more creative in revenue generation. In this arrangement, the federal account can be credited by states on pre-determined percentages of their profit, instead of the reverse.
There is no doubt that certain regions will be more fortunate than others on the basis of the demand for their resources, but this must not be seen as a disadvantage for any region but an advantage for all. After all, California in the United States is the fifth largest economy in the world, ahead of that of the United Kingdom, despite having no petroleum resources. This was achieved because it created an enabling environment for technology companies and its “culture economy” generated an estimated $293 billion in 2014. There are many opportunities for states outside Lagos and the South–South to generate profits without depending on revenue allocation. By adopting a bottom-up flow of critical financial resources from states to the federal government, states can become more creative in revenue generation. In this arrangement, the federal account can be credited by states on pre-determined percentages of their profit, instead of the reverse. Understandably such a measure will need time to be fully implemented, and this shall be accounted for subsequently.
Again, there is a growing clamour for the creation of new states. This will not solve current agitations concerning marginalisation. In the South-East, which is populated by the Igbo ethnic group, for instance, there have been calls for a level playing field through the creation of at least one extra state in order to be equal with most of the other regions of the country. The problem with this is that it is backwards thinking based on the regions existing sometime earlier in the history of the country, when Late Major General Johnson Umunakwe Aguiyi-Ironsi was at the helm.
The South-East should not be a bloc for any purpose in this regard as the country is now constituted by a federal government, as well as state governments, and should not be divided by zones or regions. The devolution of powers to state governments as envisaged above, will negate any need for this political posturing, and all states should cater for their own interests, rather than any regional or zonal interests based on ethnicity.
For comments SMS (only) to: 08058354382