Nigeria: In urgent need of a true Federalism
In the face of Nigeria’s persisting under-performance and failure to achieve its development potential and enduring political stability, Chief Emeka Anyaoku, Former Secretary-General of the Commonwealth delivered an address at a roundtable by the Ibadan School of Government and Public Policy (ISGPP) yesterday at the International Conference Centre, University of Ibadan.
THE central question before us as put in the first paragraph of the concept paper is: “What are the fundamental structures, institutional deficits, issues, processes and dynamics of government that have made attainment of all-inclusive development in governance, economy and democracy difficult in a manner conducive to peace and social justice in Nigeria?”
In my view, there are many aspects of the present state of the Nigerian project that require fixing: the structure of governance system, the pervasive corruption sometimes involving mind-boggling figures that undermines national efforts, the conduct of our politicians including especially in the Executive and legislatures of the Federal and State governments, the management of our national resources particularly their allocation to recurrent and capital development expenditures, the role of our media with their inadequate investigative journalism and frequent mistakes in reporting facts, and the lethargic indifference of the citizens to the performance of their elected representatives and public officials.
Structure of governance
But I shall in my presentation focus on the structure of governance because from my over 30 years experience of governance in over 50 Commonwealth countries, I believe that given its history and pluralistic character, a truer federalism is a sine qua non for Nigeria’s achievement of its development potential and enduring political stability.
I would like to begin with an assertion. Contrary to the doom sayers who predict eventual break-up of the country, I hold strongly to the view that there are inherent advantages for all its citizens and component parts in belonging to a country of Nigeria’s size and resources, and secondly, that having survived for the last hundred years, the country will continue as one political entity albeit hobbling along to cope with its myriad political and socio-economic challenges. Therefore the burden of my remarks is that if the country is to tackle more effectively the challenges confronting it, it would need to restructure its present governance architecture.
The structure and governance system in the United States of America with which our constitution is frequently compared, attest to the efficacy of federalism when properly organized. The strength of the United States federalism lies in its unity in diversity, the vitality and strength of the constituent states, which yield some powers to the federal government while still retaining their cherished autonomy. This arrangement is nourished by the country’s equally powerful institutions and generations of its committed leadership.
In his speech on June 17, 1788 in New York at the convention to ratify the constitution of the United States of America, Alexander Hamilton spoke about the invaluable balance that American federalism created and the immense benefit this balance offered to the American people. According to Hamilton: This balance between the national and state governments ought to be dwelt on with peculiar attention, as it is of the utmost importance. It forms a double security to the people. If one encroaches on their rights, they will find a powerful protection in the other. Indeed, they will both be prevented from overpassing their constitutional limits by a certain rivalship, which will ever subsist between them.
It is the absence of such balance that is lacking in Nigeria’s federal structure and which has continued to be a cog in the wheel of the country’s progress especially since after the First Republic.
Deformities in Nigeria’s constitutional arrangements
The inherent deformities in Nigeria’s constitutional arrangements began with the military coup d’etat of January 1966. The military government that arose from that coup introduced a unitary arrangement, abolishing the autonomy of the regions in a misconceived attempt to forge a greater national unity. This created increased the disaffections that led to the revanchist coup of July 1966, which was followed by the internecine civil war. It was in a bid to weaken the secessionist forces in the then Eastern Region that the General Gowon administration created more states by splitting the existing four regions into twelve states.
By the time the civil war ended, Nigeria, having been bitten by the bug of state creation, has not recovered from it till today. Several constitutional conferences have been held since the end of the civil war, from the Murtala/Obasanjo’s Constitutional Drafting Committee that was headed by the late Chief FRA Williams, through the era of states creation by General Babangida, the General Sani Abacha Constituent Assembly, the General Abdulsalami Abubakar 1999 Constitution, the President Obasanjo’s National Political Reform conference of 2005, to President Jonathan’s Constitutional Conference of 2014. In all these attempts at constitution making, the trend has always been for Nigerians to demand for the creation of more federating units.
The common reason for this persistent agitation for more states is agitation against marginalization by ethnic or sectional groups within some of the existing states. This is a clear indication that we have not yet got it right in terms of having an enduring governance structure that will ensure political stability and co-prosperity for all.
From the 12 states created in the heat of the political crisis that led to the civil war, the number has increased to the present 36 states plus the Federal Capital Territory, with 36 governmental institutions including 36 Legislative Assemblies, 36 civil services and 36 judiciaries; all adding to the cost of governance with recurrent expenditure spiralling to the detriment of capital development budgets.
It is an incontrovertible fact that Nigeria was making more progress in national development in the early years of its independence when it practiced a truer federalism with four regions as federating units that had substantial powers devolved to them from the centre.
Those were the days of significant exports of groundnuts, tin ore, and very high quality leather (marketed abroad as Moroccan leather) from the Northern region; of cocoa from the Western region; of rubber and timber from the Mid-West region; and of palm produce and coal from the Eastern region of Nigeria. They were also the days of healthy competition between the regions with the regional Premiers—Sir Ahmadu Bello in the North, Chief Obafemi Awolowo in the West, Dr Michael Okpara in the East, and Chief Dennis Osadebey in the Mid-west embarking on, and delivering manifest socio-economic projects.
Non-viability of the 36 states
Today, the relatively non-viable 36 states have become so economically handicapped that most of them now find it difficult even to pay the salaries of their civil servants and the minimum wage of N18,000 agreed with the Federal Government. Many of the states can be said to be hovering on the brink of bankruptcy.
The current 8th National Assembly has decided to resume the attempt to review and amend the country’s extant constitution. There is a universal recognition within the country that the existing constitution is neither a constitution that derived its legitimacy from “we the people of Nigeria” nor a constitution that provides adequate basis for tackling effectively our country’s two major challenges: socio-economic development and enduring political stability. I urge the 8th National Assembly to take this opportunity to effect a more fundamental change in the country’s governance architecture rather than stop at tinkering with the edges of the constitution.
In this age of rising global move away from the use of fossil fuel, and particularly in this period of continuing fall in the price of crude oil, the constitution must enable the country to plan and pursue a non-crude-oil-based economic development. It must also address the issue of concentration of power at the centre, which fuels the destabilizing competition for the control of the centre between the country’s diverse ethnic and religious groups.
Six geo-political zones as federating units
Instead of the present structure of 36 economically unviable states with concentrated political power at the centre, the National Assembly should convert the existing six geopolitical zones, which have been recognized and are being used for a number of political decisions and actions, into the more viable federating units of a truly Federal Republic of Nigeria.
The 36 states can be retained as development zones within the regions but without full administrative paraphernalia. And it would be up to the six federating regions to consider and meet any demands for the creation of new development zones within them.
It is indeed inexcusable that in a country that is endowed with so many untapped solid minerals, and such vast arable land for significant agricultural production, these resources have remained inadequately exploited for the benefit of its citizens of whom no less than 70% still live in massive poverty.
As more viable units for planning and attracting investments in larger development projects, the six regions will facilitate the necessary shift from the present philosophy and reliance by the 36 states on “sharing the national cake”, to focusing on production and internally generated revenue within the regions. In addition, internal security and crime control can be more effectively managed by the people in the regions who know and are more familiar with the local environment.
I am of course realistic enough to acknowledge that the present structure of 36-state unitarist federalism has acquired groups of people with deeply entrenched vested interests, especially in the Executives and Legislatures at the federal and state levels, and therefore that the change will not come easily.
Sustained call for restructuring
However, if the call for restructuring is widely made and sustained by the media, by the opinion makers, and by the general citizenry acting through their political parties and their civil societies, I believe that aided by the fact that there is widespread recognition that the country is not performing optimally under the present governance arrangements, those with vested interest in the existing structure will eventually be persuaded to cooperate.
And now an indication, by no means exhaustive, of how, in my view, responsibilities and the nationally generated revenue can be shared between the centre and the federating regions in the restructured Nigeria.
The Federal Government should retain exclusive powers over federal matters and related institutions including Finance and Monetary policy, Defence, Foreign Affairs, Immigration, Customs, Aviation, Maritime, Minerals (Liquid & Solid), Internal Security (but liaising with regional security agencies), Judiciary (but only the Supreme Court), Education (but only Federal Universities and supervision of standards for all tertiary institutions), Health (only Federal Universities’ Teaching Hospitals including at least one state-of-the-art specialist hospital per region), and Federal highways and railways.
The six federating regions should have responsibility over their fiscal matters, law and order (including the police), education, health, power (to be shared with the Centre), transportation (roads & inland waterways), and economic development (investments, agriculture, etc.).
The federally-generated revenue should be allocated on the following basis: 40% to be retained by the Federal Government for its substantially reduced responsibilities with up to 15% of revenue derived from minerals (solid & liquid) going to the mineral-producing areas for addressing the resultant environmental damage;
60% to be shared equally among the six federating regions;
Zeal for public service
Finally, I must stress the point that the recommended restructuring will not by itself be a panacea for correcting all the impediments to Nigeria’s political and economic progress. While it would be necessary to have the right governance structure, it would also be important that the people operating the structure are no longer imbued with the characteristics of today’s Nigeria’s political class.
For instance, our politicians should become more manifestly driven by a zeal to render public service rather than a desire for self-aggrandizement; the role of money in our politics should be checked including by more effective control of the cost of elections which is among the factors that fuel corruption; the laws governing the crossing of political party carpets by both electoral candidates and elected officials should be more effectively enforced; and the citizens, with unrelenting help from the media, should become more outspoken and more assertive in holding both their elected representatives and public servants accountable.
To conclude, I believe that if the country can recapture the zeal with which the then regional Premiers and their electorate embarked on the development of their various regions during the First Republic; if we can arrest the present destabilizing competition between our various ethnic and religious groups for the control of power at the centre by making it less attractive; and if we can successfully repair our collapsed societal value system which is at the root of the pervasive corruption and degradation of our public space, we will be better able to attain the level of political and socio-economic development which our nation with its endowed resources deserves.