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Strengthening state economic management systems – Part 3

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Former Vice President, Atiku Abubakar

To make this, that is, economic restructuring happen would require appropriate political intervention. In particular, it would require that we establish and sustain a model of governance which would nurture a spirit of participation and consensus on key national issues and accommodate all the diverse segments of the society.

In other words, if we accept the wisdom behind calls for a restructuring of the economy, we must be ready to build a foundation for its success: we must, in other words re-structure the polity.

Nigeria has operated for too long a faulty system of federalism especially under military governments. True federalism ensures that a strong Federal Government guarantees national unity while allowing various parts of the country or the federating units to set their own priorities.

As a consequence, the Federal Government appropriates, along with these responsibilities, huge resources. For example, in the allocation of revenue from the Federation Account the Federal Government is unduly favoured at the expense of the states and local governments. Out of every Naira in the Federation Account, 56k will go to the Federal Government and four other ‘special accounts’ which it manages! This is neither efficient nor equitable.

Let me use this opportunity to once again emphasize why everyone of us must be involved in the discourse on re-structuring. When I carry the gospel of restructuring Nigeria around, I don’t carry it for mere political convenience, I am in this crusade for the purpose of making Nigeria work. Africa and indeed the world needs a Nigeria that is working.

While maintaining all the other niceties inherent in promoting the restructuring discourse in Nigeria, today, I want to add that beyond the healthy competition among the federating units which a restructured Nigeria would engender, is the unique opportunity for the retooling of the leadership recruitment process in the country. Governance would be elevated to a serious business manned by equally serious-minded people. The attraction to power would no longer be a chance to stumble upon privileges not worked for. But a carefully calibrated move to demonstrate ingenuity and quality in creating wealth for the country.

The restructured Nigeria that I talk about, is a Nigeria that not only provides opportunities for everyone to work but even more specifically challenges the leadership to demonstrate capacity to create wealth for every layer of governance.

It is time for serious minded people to get involved and take the lead in making our country work. It is time for citizens to demand as a matter of right, from people aspiring to lead them, a plan on not just how to manage their wealth but most fundamentally how the wealth is going to be created. Slogans cannot take the place of plans and propaganda is a poor substitute for proper agenda.

For long, our leadership has been pampered. We work into managing a wealth we have little input into how it is created. And because we are not involved in the creation, we rarely appreciate it. Hence, we turn out as either bad managers or killers of the greater Nigerian dream.

For instance, I insist, anybody who cannot tell Nigerians at the State level how, he/she is going to generate the required resources to run the State he/she is aspiring to govern is not worthy of the electorates’ votes. Nigeria needs a leadership that can create wealth for the country and make it work. Every part of Nigeria has enough wealth to sustain it. What is lacking is the leadership with the required capacity and vision to tap and manage the wealth on behalf of all.

To me, any skeptic of restructuring Nigeria, is submitting to the leadership indolence which has denied the country its cherished position of leading Africa to greatness.

Restructuring is not just about the devolution of powers to the states, it is about transforming the role of the federal government. In matters of territorial governance, the federal authorities must learn to cooperate with, and in some instances defer to state authorities; in matters of economic governance, the federal authorities must learn to cooperate with, rather than displace or ignore, the private sector.

If we want Nigeria to succeed, we must break with the misguided notion that the Federal Government, or the President, knows best, and that no one else can be trusted. When I talk about restructuring, I am not talking about just constitutional tweaks, I am talking about a cultural revolution.

It is not about re-shuffling a few responsibilities or resources, but about disrupting the authoritarian politics our democracy has inherited from its military and colonial rulers.

And there is nothing abstract about it: just think about the open skies agreement [Single African Air Transport Market (SAATM)], which African governments agreed on in January, and which the Nigerian government underwrote without consulting our airline industry. You do not have to convince me that we must integrate African markets, that we need arrangements like the open skies agreement. I am a believer. But you will never convince me that a government can build an open market economy or transform trade relations if it refuses to cooperate with the private sector.

We, as a nation, must rekindle the spirit of enterprise we experienced two decades ago, when we prepared our return to democracy. We must rediscover the pragmatism that guided us through the difficult transition we were facing at the time. And we, as leaders, must recognise that this time, we cannot do it alone: we must encourage cooperation, we must embrace openness, and we must rebuild trust – with our people, but also with our international partners.

These are some of the ways I believe Nigeria’s states can improve their capacity, increase their revenues and better manage their local economies which are critical to the safety, prosperity, and welfare of all Nigerians and will allow my homeland to realise its true potential.

Let me end with these words: Some Nigerians states are poor not because they are not receiving a fair share of oil money but because they are not receiving a fair shot at true federalism. Only restructuring can correct that.
Thank you all and may God bless Nigeria.

Concluded.
Being an address delivered by His Excellency, Atiku Abubakar, Vice President of Nigeria (1999-2007) at Royal Institute of International Affairs (Chatham House).


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