Old political-economic architecture: Need for constitutional reforms
THE foundation of our problems as a nation is our distorted national political and economic architecture; it sustains vested interests, rewards laziness and places premium on ethnicity over merit, and this naturally breeds corruption and under-development.
However, the beneficiaries of this flawed political-economic structure, chose and continue to choose to turn a blind eye to the futility and folly of trying to maintain such a system, choosing as it were to postpone the evil day. However, sooner than later, the chickens will come home to roost, and they already are coming, as exemplified by our current economic fortunes, nay misfortunes, with the Federal Government having to, at some point, borrow money to finance recurrent expenditure and bail-out several state governments that are unable to meet the most basic of their duties: the payment of worker’s salaries and the provision of stationery for the running of government.
As patriotic and determined as the current administration is, it can and most probably will be hindered in its drive to positively “change” Nigeria under this stifling political-economic architecture we inherited from the dictators of our chequered dictatorial past.
This military-tailored system, which was crafted specifically for the purpose of weakening the then regional governments and the maintenance of a ‘Command and Control’ structure in the aftermath of the Nigerian civil war has run its course and has now become a stumbling block in our path to real and sustainable development as it now inhibits the states from determining their economic destinies without the overbearing influence of the Federal Government.
This unitary system of governance we have practised since the end of the civil war was never intended to deliver the dividends of democracy to the people of Nigeria, simply because it was not designed for that purpose. It was designed to strengthen the central government, by keeping the regions (now states) economically dependent on the central government and as we all know, “he who pays the piper dictates the tune.”
The motivations for the creation of this framework was to ensure the unity of Nigeria and blow out any separatist fires burning in the county, a noble objective, but as Prof. Chinua Achebe once wrote: “unity is only as good as the purpose for which it exists.”
Nigeria – as an entity, cannot and should not be more important than its people – the Nigerian people; and so the unity of Nigeria must be maintained not for the purposes of coercion, subjugation or exploitation, but for the purpose of harnessing and maximising our natural and God-given resources for the good of all Nigerians and this flawed system of governance we currently practise will not and cannot facilitate that. It should go.
It is this obsolete and flawed political-economic structure that has also given rise to the separatist agitations in certain sections of the country. A number of Nigerians, disillusioned with the current set up have begun to question its usefulness and have misguidedly sought to throw away the baby and the bath-water, by canvassing for secession, rather than seeking for a remedying of the situation as this article is canvassing for.
This sad state of affairs has been occasioned by the problematic and stifling features of the bequest of a flawed and corrupt political-economic structure to Nigeria, one executed by erstwhile military adventurers via a now outdated and obsolete legislation-institutional framework as epitomised and enforced by the 1999 Constitution. This Constitution inadvertently facilitates corruption, inefficiency and highlights our fault-lines, driving us ever so apart instead of building a productive and cohesive nation.
The situation must be corrected if we are to survive and make progress and the first place to begin from is Nigeria’s current quasi-federal 1999 Constitution. The 1999 Constitution ensures that states remain appendages of the Federal Government, in direct contradiction with the most basic tenets of the principle of federalism, which postulates that co-ordinate states are to be economically independent, and sustainable, whilst contributing to the maintenance of the government at the centre.
However, today, we are instead treated to the unseemly sight of state governments in an alleged “Federal Republic”, doctoring their census figures and bribing powerful federal politicians and civil servants in their bid to secure a larger share of the largesse from the purse of “Mummy Federal Government”.
Today, Nigeria now has state governments that cannot function or exist without the monthly hand-outs from the government at the centre.
This inhibiting legal-institutional framework has ensured that there is no incentive to encourage and grow local industries and businesses, no incentive to educate and train the human resources of the various states, and certainly no need for accountability to the electorate because there is “cheap, lazy” oil money to be shared – by law! In essence there is no incentive to think or to work.
The foundation of this aberration is effectively captured and provided for by Section 162 of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (as amended) which provides thus:
(1) The Federation shall maintain a special account to be called “the Federation Account” into which shall be paid ALL revenues collected by the Government of the Federation (i.e “the Federal Government”)
(2) The President…shall table before the National Assembly “proposals” for revenue allocation from the “Federation Account,” and in determining the formula, the National Assembly shall take into account, “the Allocation Principles”…
(3) Any amount standing to the credit of the Federation Account shall be distributed among the federal and state governments and the local government councils in each state on “such terms and in such manner” as may be prescribed…
The foregoing Sections of the 1999 Constitution effectively turned Nigeria, a once productive fiscal-federalist state, into a unitary republic with a mono-product economy, ensuring also that state governments have no independence and no identity.
The reproduced constitutional provision is also at the heart of the poor leadership that Nigeria has been burdened with, especially at the state level, with many governors simply aspiring to get elected into office in the knowledge that no mental input is required of them vis a vis the creation of an enabling environment for wealth creation activities to blossom and thrive in their domains. They simply look forward to the next disbursement of their monthly pocket money from the Federal Government.
Ladies and gentlemen, Nigeria, even with the best of intentions and with the best federal ministers and technocrats, cannot achieve its famed great potentials by practising an obsolete and flawed system that has outlived the purpose for which it was designed and now instead stifles economic growth and political maturity.
This system we practice patronises and rewards the indolent. A system that has now given rise to a society that places premium on (often) doctored population figures, religious subscription, ethnicity and other general “Allocation Principles”, rather than on merit and industry. The system is unsustainable, we have tried it and it has failed us; it is time to move on and to revert to fiscal federalism.
If Nigeria is to survive and thrive, then the current administration has to see to the reconstruction of our national political-economic architecture along the lines of the recommendations of the 2014 National Conference Report.
Whilst noting that all the recommendations contained in the 2014 National Conference Report may not be perfect, its nationalistic intent leaves no one in doubt, and in its pages, we find an excellent template for the reconstruction of our national political-economic architecture for the attainment of growth and development, under terms that are agreeable to all Nigerians of every race and creed.
It is the considered opinion of this writer that President Muhammadu Buhari should use his influence and power both as a Nigerian statesman and as President of Nigeria, to push for the implementation of the recommendations of the 2014 National Conference and by necessary extension the amendment of the 1999 Constitution or the enactment of a new one that will form the foundation of a new and progressive Nigeria.
The practice of federalism will eliminate or reduce to the barest minimum the scourge of corruption and the shameful scars of poverty and under-development that dis-figures our national landscape by freeing up the states to be able to harness and grow their local economies with its positive concomitant effect on the national economy. In essence, fiscal federalism will facilitate the diversification of the Nigerian economy and enhance our revenue base; whilst maintaining our unique beautiful cultural and national identities.
In conclusion, I borrow the words of President Buhari during his inaugural speech, wherein he quoted Shakespare’s Julius Caesar: “there is a tide in the affairs of men, which taken at the flood, leads on to fortune; omitted, all the voyage of their life is bound in shallows and miseries…”. We have an opportunity. Let us take it.” God bless the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
• Amasike a Legal Practitioner lives in Lagos (firstname.lastname@example.org