Nigeria: structured to fail?

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The nation’s current political structure appears doomed and needs rethinking, writes Sunday Oguntola

Once upon a time, Nigeria was peaceful and prosperous. Its citizens walked with their heads tall everywhere in the globe. They travelled overseas without hassles. They schooled abroad and returned home immediately. There was nothing like visa scam and there was no Boko Haram. There were no bomb explosions. Nigeria had money. There was cocoa, hides and skin. Cotton was in abundance. There was groundnut, palm oil, and other agricultural products, all of which made the country one of the richest in the world. In short, Nigeria worked. And life was good.

But with the discovery of black gold, otherwise called crude oil, things have taken a full cycle. Nigerians are poorer. There is political tension. There are more bombs than foods. Nigerians fear Boko Haram more than the federal government. There is intense rivalry among the ethnic nationalities. Nigerians are fleeing the country as desperate passengers seek to get off a sinking boat. They make news for the wrong reasons everywhere in the world. No part of the country is secure and safe. The nation appears heading to disintegration. Nothing is working again.

The problem with Nigeria, political experts agree, is its faulty federal structure. Until the military struck in 1966, the nation operated a regional structure. The regions were viable. The Western region thrived on cocoa. Proceeds from its export built skyscrapers. The region offered universal free education and built the first TV station in Africa. The Eastern region worked wonders with palm oil. The North relied on groundnut and its vast agricultural products, which bought prosperity and contentment.

The premiers avoided the centre. The late Alhaji Ahmadu Bello was reported to have once wondered what he was going to do in Lagos, the nation’s capital then. But now, the centre has become the centre of attraction. This, according to Senator Chris Ngige, is because “it is the only place where there is money’’. The federal government currently takes 52% of the nation’s resources. States settle for 26.72% while the local councils make do with only 20.62%.

Insolvent states

This, Ngige said, is killing the states. “Most of our states are not viable at all,’’ he stated last week at a public lecture in Lagos. “Without the federal allocation, they cannot survive. They rely on the crumbs from the federal government’’. Aliyu Musa, a human rights activist concurs. “States are nowhere to be found financially. All that accrues to them from the federal government goes to overheads and recurrent expenditures. If you minus these from what most of the governors pocket,  there is little or nothing left for developmental projects’’.

This is why borrowing has become the order of the day in many states. Investigations revealed most states in the federation are heavily indebted to banks and other financial institutions. These loans come at heavy interest rates, which leave many states stranded financially. A top official in one of the affected states confided last week that allocation from the federation account is emptied as soon as it comes every month. “Before it even comes, the money is finished. That is why we are not doing much now in terms of infrastructural and developmental projects’’.

Our correspondent observed that project execution has been dismal across the states in the last few months. This, sources said, is due to cash squeeze.  Senator Ngige declared, “Our states are broke.’’ According to him, this is because most of them rely on federal allocations. “They have abandoned manufacturing and agricultural sectors. All they wait on is what comes from Abuja,’’ he added. 

Internal revenue generation has been anything but impressive in many states. This is not helped by the closing down of the few operating companies and industries. Oversized civil service made up mainly of party faithful further complicate the situation. 

Moses Ogunleti, a financial expert, said “once you generate income from one source, you are bound to be broke and needy. And that is what we are witnessing in many states’’. Their lean resources are expended among the army of ever increasing political appointees. From commissioners to special assistants and advisers, government officials continue to increase even when resources are dwindling.                

Crippled councils

 Things are worse off in the nation’s 774 local government councils. Most of them only appear in paper. There are nowhere in terms of impact and effectiveness. Funding has been at the whims and caprices of governors, some of whom behave like some imperial lords. What the local councils get depends on the mood and needs of their governors. “Personally, I don’t believe they (local governments) exist at all. Yes, you see their signpost and vehicles but what do they do? They only collect market and shop rents. When all is said and done, they contribute nothing to people at the grassroots,’’ Razak Baruwa, a community leader said.

Investigations revealed that the allocations of most local governments are deducted by states. “By the time, they deduct whatever they want, we are barely existing again,’’ one aggrieved chairman said. He disclosed that aside from the deductions, most of them are mandated to make monthly contributions in support of party activities.

 He added: “You have to give a determined amount to your party otherwise you are disloyal. You have to give whatever the governor or commissioners demand for. If you subtract these from what we get, there is nothing again for governance. You only pay salaries and wait till the following month, hoping there is a little left over for one or two projects’’.

This perception is reinforced by the fact that most residents appeal to state governments to mend some roads that are the responsibility of local councils.     

 

More states, more developments?

Insolvent states and crippled councils make delivery of democratic dividends almost impossible. Nigerians continue to feel alienated from governments. Failing infrastructures and worsening standards of living make them restless and disillusioned. Disenchantment sets in, forcing many to agitate for more states. Most minority groups in the country have inundated the National Assembly with demand for their own states. This stems from fear of domination by major ethnic nationalities. In 1963, there were only four regions. Twelve states were created in 1967. They increased to 19 in 1976; and grew to 21 in 1987; and by 1991 it blew up to 30 states and 36 in 1994.

Of recent, demands for new states have resurfaced. Some of the proposed new states include Ibadan and Oke Ogun states (from present Oyo); Yewa (from Ogun); Adada (from Enugu); Orashi (from Anambra/Rivers). Others are Aba (from Abia); Njaba (from Imo/Anambra) and Igboezuo (from each of the existing states in the South East) and Apa (from Benue).

Senate President, David Mark, said the demand for new states is “right, legitimate and desirable.’’ Last year he promised that new states will be created. Already the National Assembly has constituted a joint committee for constitutional amendment. State creation is expected to be a key component of the exercise. Mark said at the inauguration of the committee “should we allow state police? Will it enhance policing duties and reduce criminality in the country?

“Is the current revenue formula equitable? Will a change in favour of the States enhance the deliverables to the people?

“Should power distribution be on the exclusive legislative list? Shouldn’t states that invest in power generation be allowed to distribute? Is it necessary to create new states? Will it bring government nearer to the people and address cries of marginalisation?

“How effective are the local governments? Should they be made to function independently of the states? Is the Joint State/Local Governments Account still necessary?”

But development experts agree that creation of new states will not necessarily lead to real development. They said new states will not eliminate fear of domination. Rather, new minorities will emerge from the new states. Few connected politicians will pocket the states and call the shots, thereby replicating the current scenario.

The restructuring Nigeria needs

According to Ngige, the way forward is true federalism through restructuring. Nigeria, he said, must rethink its current structure. He said the federal government is too powerful. “We need devolution of power because the centre is too strong,’’ he reiterated. Auwal Raffayani, Executive Director of New Nigeria Front, Abuja, agrees. “We need to restructure. We have not moved forward with what we have so we must rethink our federation,’’ he restated.

He called for regional autonomy as expected in a true federation. This, he said, will create healthy competition and make the federating units viable. Ngige said the current revenue formula is not development-friendly. “Allow the states to retain 50% of whatever they make and contribute 50% to the centre. You will find out they will become viable and prosperous’’.

He said the exclusive list is currently too strong, wondering why states cannot operate their own police and generate power. According to him, “The federating units should be equal partners with the centre. To diffuse power in the centre, there should be rotation of the Presidency among the six geo-political zones with two vice presidents, one from the zone of the incumbent who can take over in case of death, impeachment or incapacitation’’.

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