- Category: Opinions/Interviews
- Published on Saturday, 16 July 2011 20:59
- Written by Austine Avwode
- Hits: 734
The chorus is increasingly gaining ground. And the push to revert to the status quo ante and make Nigeria live the true meaning of a federal state, the way things were in pre-1966, is gathering momentum. Among politicians, labour leaders, lawyers, businessmen, human rights activists and other professionals, the clamour is the same.
There is a sudden awareness that ensuring fiscal federalism would be the game changer Nigeria needs, not only for socio-economic and political stability, but for the much sought after rapid development.
The argument has been that the system, as it is now, not only stifles development initiatives at the state and grassroots levels, but actually encourages laziness and corruption. It has been described as foisting a schoolmaster-pupil relationship instead of co-ordinating partnership on the Nigerian project.
Such a lopsided arrangement, it has been argued, has reduced the federating units to mere servants ever looking up to the federal body for direction and salvation, particularly in terms of revenue for the projects and programmes they have to execute. But even at that, the shared revenue leaves the states unable to do what they ought to do as the lion share is retained at the centre.
Blaming military legacy
The concept of fiscal federalism was first introduced in Nigeria in 1946, following the adoption of the Richards Constitution. The period 1947-52 marked the beginning of the recognition of sub-national governments during which financial responsibilities were devolved to the three regions-North, West and East.
At independence in 1960, these three regions were clearly autonomous and controlled large chunks of the revenue they were able to generate individually. From 1960 to 1966, the constitution gave the federating regions such enormous power that the central government had only 15 per cent of the nation’s revenue.
It was this system and provision in the nation’s constitution that provided the foundation for the rapid socio-economic development witnessed during the first republic. Unfortunately, that giant stride, which if maintained, could have put the country firmly in the league of developed nations of the world, was tinkered with as soon as the military took over the reins of governance. The civil war was used to justify the revision of that fiscal formula.
And so when in 1966, the era of military rule effectively started in Nigeria , the structure changed from four regions to 12 states that were created in 1967 by Gen. Yakubu Gowon. Ever since then, more states have been created with military fiat. Today, there are 36 states and the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) with a near status of a state and 774 local governments recognised by the constitution of the federal republic.
In place of the smooth running federal government that was in operation in the country before came a mock federal arrangement which has been variously and derogatorily described as ‘lopsided’, ‘quasi’ federal structure.
With the abolition of the initial principle, the country’s political, social and economic development has been the worse for it. And as the military firmly centralised and concentrated the country’s revenue in the hands of the Federal Military Government, such giant strides made by the various regions in the days of Chief Obafemi Awolowo, Sir Ahmadu Bello and Chief Mike Okpara in the West, North and Eastern regions respectively became a thing of the past.
And with the war over, a systemic rot in national life called briery and corruption emerged. This gradually gave way to a full blown practice of plundering of the national coffers and gross abuse of public office.
The military government had simply taken the funds that rightly belonged to state and local governments into the coffers of the federal military government. The implication was that these two tiers of government were denied the wherewithal to carry out their functions for the progress and welfare of their citizens. And before long, infrastructure decay all over the country became a common sight, even refineries were so badly affected that it has since resulted in avoidable endless importation of fuel with scarce foreign exchange, among many other social side effects.
The new thinking
The new thinking today, however, is that there should be a reversal of the order of fiscal transfer in the country to adequately reflect the federal norms as envisaged by the founding fathers of the country.
The current fiscal arrangement which leaves 52 per cent of the nation’s revenue in the hand of the federal government has been described as “oppressive.”
The fact that it makes it practically impossible for states and other component units to flower and bloom has made the call for a review of the country’s principle of federalism more trenchant.
After the April general election, the main opposition party in the country, the Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN) ,in May at an interactive session with ACN National Assembly members-elect at the Yar’Adua Centre, Abuja made it clear through its national leader and former governor of Lagos State, Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu, that the party would fight for true federalism which will lead to a change in the revenue allocation formula.
The party’s thinking, according to the Asiwaju, is that only fiscal federalism can accelerate Nigeria ’s development. Tinubu declared that the Federal Government does not need more than 25 to 30 per cent of the nation’s resources, yet it collects 52 per cent.
Tinubu said then that: “We are the largest opposition party in the country. What we are saying is a controlled mechanism that will ensure a better and more assured free and fair elections. We have Federal Republic of Nigeria and we are running a federal constitution. Then we are here to ensure true federalism and I hope I am clear. Now fiscal federalism is mandatory for us. It is only the legislature that can effect the change in the revenue sharing formula.
“In the last 12 years, I have not heard that the revenue allocation has been reviewed and implemented. We have a lopsided revenue sharing formula.
“Critical to that, you have a lopsided revenue formula giving the Federal Government 52 per cent of the commonwealth of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. It is not acceptable. The real people are there in the states and local government areas. The Federal Government should not take more than 25-30 per cent of the revenue.”
He went on: “In the federal principle under the constitution, it is the states which ceded power and trust to the Federal Government to hold certain aspects in trust on behalf of the states. Without the states, there is no federal. The situation is sad. So, we have not been running an effective federal system; it has been a unitary system and it has to stop. And we have to work hard on that.”
The ACN is not the only body that feels that the federal principle in operation in Nigeria should be looked into with a view to correcting the lopsidedness in it and more importantly ensuring that the component or federating units play their roles in a way and manner that will engender visible development for in the country.
Former president of the Nigeria Bar Association and a Senior Advocate of Nigeria, Chief Olisa Agbakoba SAN, has also demonstrated his concern and determination to see that a balancing is quickly effected in this regard by sending a bill to the National Assembly.
With a title: “An Act to Alter the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999…” actually brought in more things than just the ensuring of a fiscal federalism.
Agbakobah appealed to the Seventh Assembly to ensure that the constitution is amended to reflect true federalism. He suggested that a slim federal government with limited functions is the best for ensuring national development.
Other Nigerians of repute have been quoted as supporting the idea. The current controversy surrounding the payment of the minimum wage of N18,000 has also brought to the fore the need for an urgent review of the document from where all governments at all levels in the country derive their powers. Early in the week, the Chairman of the South East Governors Forum, Peter Obi, the Governor of Anambra State, was quoted as saying that states in the region would be able to pay the money provided there is a review of the revenue formula.
A member of the House of Representatives on the platform of the ACN, Hon Adeyinka Ajayi, who was a former Coordinator of the Millennium Development Goals for Osun State, recently told The Nation in an interview that without changes in the polity that will ensure fiscal federalism, development will be hard to achieve in the country. According to him, fiscal federalism and strengthening of democratic institutions are issues critical to development.
“These are critical issues that need to be addressed, if we are to move forward together as a nation. People have been talking about fiscal federalism for a long time, but we need to adopt a different approach to it because fiscal federalism is the way out of Nigerian problems. The earlier we understand that, the better. Respect of the sovereignty of the federating states. The idea of the federal ceding power to the state is an aberration. The states that are sovereign in a federation cede power to the federal. Such states are sovereign and own all that is within their jurisdictions. The present situation is that the federal government has between 50 to 53 per cent of national income, a practice that is against the concept of federalism.
The states and local governments combined should earn more than the federal government because that is where the power and some of the resources reside. That is fiscal federalism”, he stated.
The political will
Political analysts are, however, not sure if the country and the political class as currently constituted will be able to muster the political will to effect the needed change.
The thinking is that the political elite, who are in more ways than one benefiting from the current warped arrangement, will make it impossible for such a change to take place notwithstanding the fact that it will be like setting the nation free from the crutches to which it has been condemned for the past 38 years.
Speaking on condition of anonymity, a chieftain of the ruling party from the South-South, said political actors will not want to upset the apple cart for reasons of self- preservation.
“The issue at hand is not new. Were you not in this country when at a time resource control was on the lips of everybody. At the Calabar gathering of the South-South People Assembly in 2005, what was the demand of the region? Was it not true federalism? We all went to the charade Obasanjo called the National Political Conference and instead of addressing the issue, he attempted to use it to legitimise his fancied Third Term gambit. You recall that we all staged a walk-out. Today, the region, I mean the Niger Delta, is in a position to, once and for all, effect a change in the system that has enslaved them for decades. But what do we see? Nobody is talking about it and we are all pretending as if we have arrived. We have not arrived; four years are a definite tenure; it will soon end and we will all be back to square one. I only hope that it will be taken care of now, other wise, forget it”. (The Nation)