Nigeria And Contradictions
The continued existence of Nigeria as a corporate entity in the throes of existential threats, paradoxes and fault lines is an enigma. It seems that the plethora of entrenched differences – ethnoreligious, socio-cultural, etc are factors sustaining it.
In other words, there seems to be a balance of centrifugal and centripetal forces acting on Nigeria’s body politic. Nigeria is a country with a huge reserve of material resources but is characterized by mass poverty and misery. It is one where many men and women of character and capacity are not on the front line of governance at all levels.
The APC-led government has raised the tempo of trepidation and lamentations by its failure to secure lives and property amid the unrelenting activities of Boko haram, killer herdsmen, kidnappers, bandits, etc. Yet, there are discordant tunes across the north-south divide on the desirability of state police. The northern governors are inexplicably averse to state police notwithstanding that the north is the epicenter of the national security challenges. Rather, some have called their citizens to arm, a futile expression of frustration.
There are four refineries which are allocated 445,000 barrels of crude oil per day for refining. But they don’t refine, selling the crude in exchange for import of petroleum products – petrol, diesel and kerosene. Because of the dynamics of global energy costs, the country is ensnared in a fuel subsidy regime gulping huge sums of money every year.
By 2022, four trillion Naira has been earmarked for subsidy. What happens to the staff of the refineries? They are paid huge salaries monthly for doing nothing. Where in the world does this happen? Still on natural resources. Bitumen, a key material for road construction, abounds in Edo, Ondo, Ogun and Lagos with a proven reserve of 42.47 billion metric tons, the second largest deposit in the world. The federal government in whom this resource is vested has failed to exploit it. The states cannot. The federal government imports bitumen every year to meet local demands. This is the case for untapped natural resources abounding in the country.
Governments, past and present, have recognised the need to cut the cost of governance where there are no constitutional constraints to do so. Indeed, the monetisation policy of Obasanjo’s administration was a pragmatic step to address wastage and profligacy in government spending. But it was not sustained by succeeding governments. The Steve Oronsaye committee’s report showed duplication of functions by many agencies of government. Even in light of the increasing debt burden, this government has not demonstrated a firm commitment to addressing the anomalies. The recent move by the government in this regard does not inspire confidence coming as it were in the twilight of the administration.
The Revenue Mobilization, Allocation and Fiscal Commission (RMAFC) is charged in section 31(d) of the Third Schedule of the 1999 Constitution to “determine the remuneration appropriate for political office holders ————-”. Over the years the recommendations of RMAFC for political office holders are several folds higher than the corresponding ones for civil and public servants operating within the same economy. Whatever the justification, if those of the political office holders are realistic, then the ones for civil and public servants are not if they were denominated on the same prevailing economic indices.
The Nigerian economy is constrained and the low level of available electricity is a factor in the ease of doing business. In recent times, the total available energy is less than 4000MW which is barely adequate for a population of 4 million people. The shoddy privatization of the power sector and the constitutional provisions for power as a concurrent item for the federal and state governments stand in the way of effective provision of power and management.
Specifically, item 13(f) on the concurrent legislative list of the 1999 Constitution confers on the federal government the power to “the regulation of the right of any person or authority to use, work, or operate any plant, apparatus, equipment or work designed for supply or use of electrical energy”. On item 14(b), it confers on the state the power to “the generation, transmission and distribution of electricity to areas not covered by a national grid system within the state”(emphasis, mine).
But in reality, even areas covered by a national grid do not receive a steady power supply and the state, from its power plant, cannot provide supplemental electricity to such areas unless authorized by the federal government. Indeed, it is the case that the federal government would prefer that the state government feeds the national grid from its power plant before a discretionary allocation thereafter. This is anomalous and negates the overarching objectives of power projects by states. The need for authorization by the federal government is applicable to many other concurrent items, notably federal roads, for the most part, decrepit dotting over the states. Where there is no rapprochement, federal roads in the states, even when there are the means, remain unattended to by state governments, raising the question, in whose interest is governance?
The foregoing is paradigmatic of a constitutional dysfunction pertaining to the 1999 Constitution, one that is unitary in form but encapsulated as federal with contradictions. The challenge is how to secure a new constitution that will first, guarantee governments at all levels that are competent, honest and accountable to the people. Second, that will ensure a political system in which the legislature has the capacity to scrutinize policies of the executive in the overall interest of citizens. Third, is a political system that is truly secular and recognizes the multi-ethnic and multi-religious states of Nigeria.
What is not obvious to the ordinary citizen is that the sovereign power of the Nigerian people to call for a new constitution has been circumscribed by the 1999 Constitution in the non-provision of the referendum in it. The legal opinion is that unless section 9 of the 1999 Constitution is amended to include a referendum, the country is consigned to its sine die, with all the rigmaroles of endless amendments. Regrettably, the National Assembly has not demonstrated patriotism to act decisively in this regard. Nevertheless, the advocacy for a new constitutional order must be sustained, hopefully, to compel the National Assembly to act accordingly.
• Prof Eromosele is former Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Academic), Federal University of Agriculture, Abeokuta, Ogun State.