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Nigeria is a unitary state and not a federation

By Obi Ebuka Onochie
24 January 2020   |   3:23 am
Some Nigerians erroneously think that their country is rich and to the extent of their warped imaginations, the country is stupendously wealthy.

Some Nigerians erroneously think that their country is rich and to the extent of their warped imaginations, the country is stupendously wealthy. It breaks my heart to just re-echo a verifiable fact that Nigeria is massively poor and indeed the capital of poverty in the whole wide world. Many Nigerians who ignorantly believe that Nigeria is a rich nation often think it is patriotic to do so. It is very important to say things as they are because utopic phony patriotism does not change statistics and reality. Nigeria presently has about $397 billion GDP and almost 200 million people with $34.75 billion budget proposal for 2020. The Republic of South Africa which is like a continental rival to Nigeria has about $366 billion GDP and about 58 million people with $121 billion budget proposal for 2020. The state of New York’s budget is at $176 billion with a population of about 19.54 million and $1.5 trillion GDP and this is not even the richest state in the USA. New York is the third richest state in United States after California and Texas.

When you bring the measurement lower to what could be considered in the league of Nigeria, it is even more heart breaking. Indonesia was far poorer to Nigeria 45 years ago and today its GDP is at $1.016 trillion with a population of about 264 million people and $178 billion proposal for 2020 budget. Another discomforting truth is that Indonesia’s education ministry budget is bigger than Nigeria’s entire budget by over $10 billion. It will be further frustrating to even introduce South Korea, Brazil, India and Singapore into the comparison. These nations were playing a catch up to Nigeria in the 60s but many of them today like India are hosting Nigeria alongside other African countries under India-Africa economic cooperation.

There are America-Africa, China-Africa, Japan-Africa, and Russia-Africa economic summits. These are summits designed to continue to rip Africa off but projecting the image of help and cooperation, at best it can be called a neo-colonial round table. Russia is projecting the image of an African benefactor when in fact, Canada is richer and three states in the United States are individually richer than Russia. This is a simple fact that should tell Africans especially Nigeria that these countries are not trying to help you but re-inventing the Berlin Conference of 1884. The difference with what is going on now and Berlin Conference is simply that Berlin Conference was a European affair but today, we have the whole world having Africa for lunch in the name of economic help. African presidents and heads of governments attend all these so-called economic conferences at heavy costs to the already impoverished African countries as they attend with legion of aides, advisers, other government functionaries and patronizing the finest and costliest hotels in these countries. The question of how did Nigeria, a prosperous and promising nation at independence in 1960 become so backward to the extent of producing the highest number of poor people on earth when there are many other nations with far more population and less potentially viable to Nigeria should be asked? It all began as soon as Nigeria got independence but the official anti clockwise movement began in 1966.

On May 24, 1966, a foundation of what would become a major problem to today’s Nigeria was naively and innocently laid by Major General Thomas Johnson Umunnakwe Aguiyi Ironsi through Decree 34. Decree 34 was also known as Unification Decree by the Aguiyi Ironsi’s regime. According to the provisions of Decree 34, “Nigeria shall on 24th May 1966 (in this decree referred to as ‘the appointed day’) cease to be a Federation and shall accordingly as from that day be a Republic, by the name of the Republic of Nigeria, consisting of the whole of the territory which immediately before that day was comprised in the Federation”. This decree made Nigeria a unitary state and removed its federal structures believing that would bring unity but uniformity is no guarantee for unity.

A unitary system is one level centralized government without any semi-autonomous component units. This means that there is no state or regional government under unitary system. Any branch of government below the government at the center is an extension of the government at the center without any form of freedom to act without central government approvals. This denotes that every aspect of government including political and fiscal structures of governance is under one centralized government. Some of the countries using this system are but not limited to Ghana, United Kingdom, France, Japan, etc. This is good for small territorial countries. When Gowon took over after the murder of Gen. Aguiyi Ironsi and Lt. Col Adekunle Fajuyi in a very bloody coup, he had a very big problematic country to handle. Igbos were being slaughtered in the north with security agencies doing nothing to stop it and in fact, they participated in many areas of the north. The then Eastern government under the leadership of Col. Ojukwu saw no need to continue to cohabit with a government not ready to protect easterners in addition to the fact that Gowon was not the most ranking military officer to take over the government but Gen. Ogundipe was not willing to step up to his role. In other to weaken Eastern Nigerian government, Gen. Gowon returned Nigeria to ‘Federal system’ only on paper as he created 12 states. The fiscal composition of Nigeria remained with the federal government to this date. This is the system Nigeria has been running and as far as it remains, Nigeria will never succeed in development, economic growth and national unity.

Nigeria’s present system makes it impossible for states to control the resources in their domains, pay percentage tax to government at the center and remit percentage to national reserve just like it is done in other federal states like USA and Canada. In this backward unitary system Nigeria runs presently, state governments does not have any meaningful control on electricity, railway and other resources in their various states. There is no healthy competition among the states on development and no coherent economic drive anywhere in this unitary union. Should Nigeria be restructured into a fiscal federation, in five years, Nigeria’s economy will become a trillion dollar economy with economic miracle and explosion all over the federation. The major problem of Nigeria is the system it runs on and this is the reason both the good, the bad and the ugly that has ever ruled Nigeria failed. The governance failure will continue until Nigeria is restructured into a fiscal federal system. Fiscal federation is an unavoidable destination for Nigeria, the earlier the better.

Onochie is a political and public policy analyst.