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President Buhari and ‘true federalism’

By Editorial Board
10 September 2018   |   3:54 am
As the nation marches into another general election, we would like to draw attention for the umpteenth time to the problematic and skewed nature of our Republic...

President Muhammadu Buhari and Vice President Yemi Osinbajo.

As the nation marches into another general election, we would like to draw attention for the umpteenth time to the problematic and skewed nature of our Republic, the nature and structure of which are dubious legacies of the years of obnoxious military dictatorship in Nigeria.

It is apposite for President Muhammadu Buhari (himself a military general and a beneficiary of that era) to listen to and understand the strident calls and nationwide clamour for restructuring the nation’s political configuration. We have noted a recent altercation between the Vice President and a former Vice President on ‘true federalism.’ Their continued debate and argument have been a mere distraction. The debate should be robust on only when and how to implement ‘true federalism’ now!

Put simply, the current political arrangement has failed. Why the presidency and some forces in the corridors of power have failed to see reason is mindboggling. From all indications, the main obstacle to re-structuring is Buhari! There is no controversy about that: the President is the real trouble, not the presidency. His belief that re-structuring the political configuration amounts to geographical disintegration is highly and tragically misplaced. All the people are asking for is a return to the true practice and ideals of a Federal Republic as practised in the First Republic – the last time we saw and witnessed strong leadership and progress.

That has been part of the reasons this newspaper has been committed to this serious business called federalism within the construct of restructuring. We are persuaded that the power of federalism makes provisions for the constituent parts of the country to develop at their own pace, harness their economic and natural resources, identify and work on their deficiencies, concentrate on internal matters and pay taxes or royalties to the federal government. Besides, under this practice, the Federal Government would concentrate on defence, territorial integrity of the nation, currency, and external affairs. The states would then have enough resources and time to focus on development. What is more, no part of the federation would hold down another. Indeed, it is a system that would enable the constituent parts to realise their full potential. And so there should be no ambiguity; that is the way of progress we should all embrace, peacefully.

The current structure that burdens the Federal Government with unnecessary responsibilities has led to alienation, stagnation, and inflated bureaucracy with overhead costs. Statistically, the federal government which enjoys 52 per cent of the nation’s revenue allocation deploys over 30 per cent of its incomes to paying salaries and feeding the expensive tastes of its officials. The states get 26 per cent and the local governments get 20%. Furthermore, the federal government curiously allocates 70% of its annual budget to recurrent expenditure, leaving a paltry 30% to capital development. Is somebody thinking about the implications of this scandalous formula on national development?

As you read this, several states and local governments owe workers huge arrears in salary payments. Yet, the almighty Federal Government sustains an unhealthy bureaucracy that has minimum effects on the polity, in this same context.

It is the nature of human beings whether as individuals or as groups to occasionally review the terms of engagement, particularly if structural defects begin to affect relations. Starting from 1966 and 1967 when the Aguiyi-Ironsi and Gowon regimes respectively tinkered with the federal system by imposing a de facto unitary form of government on the nation, there has been no real development. And consequently, the political culture of allowing the constituent parts of the federation to develop their own economies was truncated. By military fiat the entire nation was brought under a Supreme Military Council that never really consulted the people on their destiny. The inefficient bureaucracy of the federal government has since filtered down the entire 36 states we now have. As a result, the states have since become beggarly, always trudging to the federal capital to receive handouts, which they never worked for. They then sit back, doing little or nothing till the next allocation at the nation’s capital. There are several states at the moment that cannot survive a month of non-allocation from the federal purse. This is the time to act because the citizens know that we cannot continue like this. Under a true federal arrangement, every state would develop its resources and contribute to the national pool. This is what Kebbi State in the northwest zone of Nigeria that has reportedly made a whopping N150 billion from rice production has demonstrated. This is what we have been preaching to rebuild our nation’s broken walls.

The leading politicians of the First Republic understood the practice of federalism. Sir Ahmadu Bello himself opined: ‘each region (should) have a complete Legislative and Executive Autonomy with respect to all matters except External Affairs, Defence, Customs’; he also wanted ‘no Central Executive or policy making body for the whole of Nigeria’. As Premier of Western Region Chief Obafemi Awolowo who thoroughly understood the practice of federalism wanted the secession clause inserted in the constitution. He (Awo) was opposed by Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe and the Sardauna of Sokoto and the minorities. But despite their differences, the regions thrived on some level of independence. Their economies were propelled by their competitive policies. The result was the successful groundnut pyramids in the then North, cocoa in the then West, and palm oil in then East. It was the military intervention that scuttled our federalist dream. In their years in power, the military regimes in 1967, 1976, 1987, 1991, and 1996 attempted to douse the federalism clamour through states’ creation. This attempt backfired. Balkanizing Nigeria increased the bureaucracy and made the centre more powerful than the federating units. This is anomalous to the true spirit of a federal state. This has been our sad story of stunted growth.

The golden years of crude oil as a major source of earnings for national governments will come to an end sooner than later. When this happens Abuja would have little or nothing to offer the states. Therefore, our call for restructuring of the federation should not be dismissed as meretricious: it is a cry to make hay while the sun shines. It is high time we started practising fiscal federalism. Fiscal federalism is a system of taxation and public expenditure in which revenue generation powers and control over the same are vested in various levels of government, from the local governments through the states or regions to the centre. The constituent parts then pay an agreed percentage of its incomes to the federal government.

The committee, which the ruling APC set up under the headship of Mallam El Rufai articulated the minds and opinions of Nigerians when it recommended among other things, “fiscal federalism and revenue allocation” and proposed “amending section 162 and sub-section two of the Constitution; as well as amend the revenue allocation of revenue Federation Account Act to give more revenue to the states and reduce the federal government’s share of revenue”. The report, a derivation from the party’s manifesto was submitted to the party’s leadership and the president in January this year. But sadly, the president and his men appear to have buried this report and its fundamental and healing recommendations in the grave of reluctance. This is a disservice to the Nigerian people.

The government should as a matter of urgency, address its mind to this patriotic call. The men and women of the ruling party along with the National Assembly owe this duty to the Nigerian people. They should be able to impress it on the president who has been rigid and uncompromising in his opposition to this popular idea: federalism. This is not a spirit of democracy. It is an anachronism in modern political practice. State police should be created as a matter of urgency. The laws governing mining of natural resources should be amended to favour the constituent parts of the federation and private enterprise.

On this, the el-Rufai-APC report recommended that, “mines and minerals, including oil fields, oil mining, geological and natural gas… should be moved to the Concurrent List. However, all offshore oil shall remain absolutely vested in the government of the federation.”

And so, as this newspaper has repeatedly noted, the president should note that if he does not review his stance about this complicated federation he inherited and is still leading after promising to restructure it in 2015, then he will go down in history as a covenant breaker, yes as a president who once deceived the people of Nigeria with ‘true federalism’ just to get (to) power.