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Restructuring and fiscal federalism

By Oluwagbenga Oyebanji
29 October 2020   |   3:30 am
The surface agitation of labour and civil society coalitions is not only cosmetic but pyrrhic. The real change will come when we renegotiate our co-existence as a people and nation.

The surface agitation of labour and civil society coalitions is not only cosmetic but pyrrhic. The real change will come when we renegotiate our co-existence as a people and nation. Fiscal federalism gave birth to Nigeria as a nation. Undermining this political heritage of our nation will cause disintegration which is an invitation to anarchy and civil unrest. Any problem could only be solved by knowing its source; Nigeria’s problems got magnified by the incessant disregard for restructuring and fiscal federalism. The military incursion into politics brought a dimension to governance in Nigeria, which jettisoned the blossoming federalism that was inherited by our founding fathers during pre and post-independence. The government is incomplete without revenue. Revenue is what the government relies on to finance the budget. The budget is the plan on how the money is spent. Democracy is the best form of government created by man because it has its root in the Bible.  The three forms of governance in Bible is the priesthood, the office of the prophet, and the king. The priesthood could be likened to judiciary; the prophet could be likened to legislative while the king the executive. Democracy and Theocracy are similar but the difference is that theocracy is the government by God and democracy is the government by man. In the Bible, Theocracy has its own constitution which is the law given to Moses by God in the wilderness. United States of America was the first country to have a democratic constitution which was adopted by the convention of states on September 17, 1789.

According to Obafemi Awolowo the sage of south-west politics in his book “My March through Prison,” “If a country is unilingual and uni-national the constitution must be unitary. He further said, “If a country is bilingual and multi lingual the constitution must be federal and the constituent states must be organised on a linguistic basis. He also predicted that, “Any experiment with a unitary constitution in a bilingual or multi-lingual or multi-national country must fail, in the long run.” The agitation we are experiencing today started in 1966 when military took over governance and made Nigeria a unitary system of government through the decree. The implication of that is that all the components that made Nigeria a federal state were abolished. The military regime thought using force could bring Nigeria together forgetting that people respond better to dialogue than force. They will resist force, and they will respond to dialogue. The rancour and agitation we are witnessing started 1966; the clamouring for justice and participatory representation will not stop until restructuring happens. The allocation and sharing formula is primitive and does not represent the true representation of Nigerians. The Federal Government gets 52.4%, the state’s 26.2% and local government 20% and the oil producing gets 13% derivation. Nigeria was created from regions before it became a nation, 1946, 1951 and 1954 constitutions all gave powers to the regions thus the nation Nigeria got independence in 1960. Our founding fathers dialogued and discussed the best suited system of government. October 1954, Lytlleton constitution gave powers to the regions and allowed the leaders of each region to determine their destinies. Surprisingly the north and west had bicameral parliaments which were houses of assemblies and houses of chiefs, while the east had unicameral which was the house of assembly.

The regions had resource control autonomy; revenue derivation existed before and after independence it was agreed by the regions at federal house of assembly to 50%. America’s democracy is a perfect example of constitutional democracy; it was created from a Latin phrase E Pluribus Enum which means” One from many”. All the States agreed on how they wanted to be governed and the States decided the power-sharing formula which made them autonomous. A multi- ethnic nation like Nigeria needs a system of government that caters for the minorities and there must be balance of power.

Nigeria at 60 spoke volume about the direction the nation is heading. The volume of discontent by Nigerians is a proof that we need a well-planned solution to the problems we are encountering as a people. Our founding fathers envisaged a nation where all tribes aggregate, and a nation where they could fulfil their potentials based on respect and consensus.  The challenges are numerous: insecurity, corruption and poverty. The issue is that the elites are not living up to expectation. The clamour for restructuring and federalism by Nigerians is the fundamental truth that our unity is not negotiable. However, the conflicts, anger and injustice have to be discussed. We need to fashion out a constitution that is affordable for governance and a constitution that contextualised the resources of Nigeria in regards to governance.

A state like California in United States has two senators constitutionally, and a geographical location that stretches from the Mexican border along the pacific which is nearly 900 miles; that is the land mass of 15 states in Nigeria. Contrary is the case in Nigeria, each a state has three senators constitutionally and lesser geographic land mass. The present constitutional arrangement is heading for chaos and doom. The 1999 constitution that brought the fourth republic is supposed to be a fiat but it’s a fiasco. The 1954 constitution encouraged negotiations and consultations among the ethnic nationals which was a precursor for Nigeria’s independence. The agitations are a testament that the present constitution does not cater for the yearnings and aspirations of Nigerians. It is obvious that creating a constitution that represents the interest of everyone is the challenge of the fourth republic politicians. The legislative arm of the government must create a law that puts the constitutional consultation in perspective. The law must empower the six geo-political zones to constitute 60-member committee; 10 each for a geo-political zone. The committees’ function is to receive submissions and petitions of all groups, tribes and organisations from each zone. The submissions and petitions shall be compressed into modules and the modules shall become the documents. These documents shall be the discussions and debates of the green and red chambers of the parliament.

The documents of the six geopolitical zones shall be the template for a new constitution. The legislative arm must be courageous and wise enough to know that the documents are real representations of the people. A referendum shall be conducted to make the document the Nigeria’s constitution. We cannot continue to dilly-dally on constitutional matters because the issue of constitution is about governance and integration of the people to forge progress and prosperity. Take a look at a country that shared the same birthday with Nigeria: Cyprus. The two of them got independence from UK on October 1st 1960. The two countries are multi-lingual nations with similar religious tendencies Christianity and Islam. Cyprus’s per-capital income is $30,000, while Nigeria is $2,200 in 2020. Leadership and taking responsibility for actions is the recipe for good governance and political stability.  Leadership is the most important ingredient in governance. It is the foundation upon which constitutional democracy is founded.

Oyebanji wrote from Lagos.

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