Revenue allocation review plans without federalism?
A recent report of plans by the Revenue Mobilisation Allocation and Fiscal Commission (RMAFC) to review the revenue allocation sharing formula would have been greeted with some exultation if there was not a better, more urgent and more decisive course of action that could be taken to achieve a fairer and more equitable Nigeria.
It is even more curious that all chief executives of RMAFC since 1999 have been announcing plans to review the revenue sharing formula, the National Assembly presiding officers have been boasting of plans and even presidents have been referring to plans to review the revenue sharing policy thrust but none has migrated from rhetoric to action. It is unfortunate for the nation.
However, the only truth about these wishful plans that will set us free is this: as long as a proper restructuring of the country along the lines of a true federalism remains a viable option (and it will always be), reviewing the sharing formula of the so-called national cake will amount to nothing more than scratching the surface of national distributive justice. And it is contradictory and very hypocritical, in any case, for the same government that has made Nigerians believe that it is seriously mulling the prospects of a proper federation structure of resource control, to now be bringing revenue sharing as an underhand part of the agenda of the national dialogue. So, why can’t they do the proper thing first?
Let it be stated here unequivocally, that restructuring, rather than the re-sharing of revenue, is the fundamental step to solving Nigeria’s socio-economic and political problems. It should also be noted that there is at least one supremely important sense in which these two approaches can be regarded as being opposed to each other or even mutually exclusive.
For in a properly restructured economy, there would be no reason or need to be sharing revenue like the Holy Communion, especially not with a Federal Government sitting at the head of the allocation table, doling out the flesh and blood of a crucified nation.
This newspaper has remained consistent and persistent about the meaning and benefits of restructuring the nation to adhere properly to the principle of federalism. However, the recent ‘throwing up’ of revenue re-allocation, probably as an alternative course of action, by the Federal Government may render a reminder perfectly justified.
Nigeria has been bedeviled by numerous problems, ranging from the annoyingly low quality of life to the life-threatening actualities of poverty and insecurity. All these problems are rooted in the negation or even destruction of the structural foundation of the country, which ought to be genuine federalism. If it is the only landmark achievement that a sitting president and his governing party will make for Nigeria, the citizens would appreciate it. So, President Muhammadu Buhari is hereby implored to pay attention to this once and for all, as doing so holds the key to removing the country from the vicious cycle of underdevelopment and conflict.
The concept of federalism has been variously defined. In some quarters, it is seen as a rallying ideology towards cooperation and unity and for overcoming separatist impulses. Others see it as embracing all the principles that are operational in a federation or a cluster of techniques to achieve a balance between mutual independence and interdependence. It is an institutional government in which sovereignty is shared among subordinate units.
These definitions are, in the end, not too far apart. They converge in the understanding of federalism as a division of power between central and regional governments in a manner that promotes independence in their respective spheres.
But in the main, the (true) federation principle is often successfully employed to organise and manage diversity. Nature, situation and human agency have so contrived to put different people with distinct linguistic and cultural inclinations together in one territory.
In cases like this, the best and most efficient polity is a federation, which is the practical realisation of the federal principles. These principles have found expression in countries like Switzerland which operates a collegiate system; Austria’s segmented autonomy and in Ethiopia’s much- valorised right to the secession of the federating units.
In the case of Nigeria, the fault-lines have been clearly defined both by nature and by the historical process of social formation. Abiding in this diversity is an opportunity for compromise and bargain and for growth and development. Federalism begins with a bargain and is sustained by a bargain. The nation’s founding fathers worked assiduously for the federation principle beginning from all Nigerian Constitutional Conference of 1950 held in Ibadan and the Lyttleton Constitution of 1954.
Another national conference was held in 2014, the results of which should be obviously more attuned to the challenges of contemporary Nigeria.
What is more, the same Buhari’s government has a report of a committee he commissioned on the same point at issue, restructuring. What is he therefore still waiting for? The government of Buhari is once again implored to begin its promise of restructuring by implementing the recommendations of not only the latest national conference and the report on his table rather than attempt to take Nigeria back to the hypocritical and unjust attitude of discussing how to share a central revenue every month. No modern federation does that in a global context. No matter how much the sharing formula is tweaked and tinkered with, equity and justice cannot be achieved by insisting on people sharing resources that they do not own. It is time to direct the attention of the people in various regions to what they actually own.
In all honesty, any discussion on revenue sharing formula is another sophistry in the service of another huge diversion at a time the nation should be making steady progress on the return journey to true federalism the nation lost to the unitary system since 1966.
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