Towards Restructuring of Nigeria (2)
The following recommendations covering the structure, power sharing and resources and revenue allocation are offered for further reflection.
Nigeria should revert to the two-tier system: Federal and States (Local Government Areas (LGAs) as subsumed under the states).
It would be unrealistic, if not impossible to revert to a regional structure similar to what was in Nigeria’s past history. The pressures that led to the creation of states would not tolerate collapsing or regrouping those states to regions.
Nigeria is probably the only federal system with constitutionally recognized three tiers: Federal, State and Local Government Areas. This aberration was created under military rule. We should revert to a two tier federal system, with LGAs subsumed under states or regions.
Nigeria should have a short federal exclusive list, consisting of Foreign Affairs, National defense and security, Commerce and Currency. We should have a short concurrent list, consisting of Policing, taxation and tertiary education/health. Whatever isn’t listed belongs to the residual powers of the states, on which federal government would have only broad regulatory and incentivizing roles.
Specifically, certain powers and responsibilities, which in most stable federations are invested in the federal government, should continue to be retained by the Nigerian federal government.
These are in respect of national security, defense, armed forces, foreign affairs, currency and monetary policies and commerce (banking, inter-state economic relations, etc.).
All others, except a few like policing and tertiary education/health, which can be on the concurrent list, can be consigned to the states, with regulatory and incentivizing responsibilities reserved for the federal government.
Henceforth, no creation of additional states should be entertained. And no merger of existing states, except by referendum in which two-thirds majority have voted yes. The question of unviability of some of the existing states can be redressed by the decrease in federal revenues, the increase in the share of federally collected revenues to the states; diversified revenue base for the states, good accountable governance and increased capacity and competence by the states in collecting taxes and levies in their jurisdiction.
Local government, structure, processes and funding, should be the responsibility of each state. A state can have power to create more or merge existing local governments, through a referendum in which two-thirds majority have voted yes. But the local government system must be democratic in form and in content, with constitutional guarantees for this.
Under no circumstances should the merger or reconfiguration of existing states into regions as federating units, akin to what obtained in the past, be contemplated. If that is what some romantically refer to as “true federalism”, it is just that: romantic and idealistic and terribly unrealistic in this age and time. Adding regions to the existing components would be unwieldy, expensive and operationally complex if not disruptive; and merging or converting existing states into regions would be even more problematic operationally and politically, and would essentially revive claims and perceptions of marginalization, discrimination and domination, which creation of states had hoped to redress.
Making revenue generation and distribution more judicious and equitable would solve the current challenges of fiscal federalism in Nigeria and make creation of regions unnecessary.
To strengthen the efficacy of the Nigerian federal system, revenue sources need to be diversified; the sharing formula need to be reviewed to devolve more resources to the states; federal tax base should be reduced and that of the states increased; and a more equitable and judicious formula should be introduced in respect of petroleum and solid mineral resources, which should be in favour of the producing states; and also in favour of the states viz-a-viz the federal government.
States should diversify their revenue base, and should pursue other, additional, sources of taxation, especially tenement and property taxation, levies on cigarettes, environmental pollution/degradation, etc., to expand their revenue base. The porous and unaccountable nature of revenue collection at the state and local levels also needs to be sanitized and made more transparent and accountable.
Some percentage increase to petroleum and other minerals’ producing states can be accommodated, up to a maximum of 5%, bringing the total on account of derivation principle to 18%.
The sharing formula between the federal and states governments should be reviewed in favour of state governments. States (inclusive of local governments) should be entitled to a maximum of 60% and the federal government no more than 40%. This is taking into account the recommendation that power and responsibilities be devolved from the federal to the state governments.
Equitable access to services by federal establishments (spread) as well as to employment/recruitment by federal establishments (access) must be guaranteed by policies and in practice to bring to the barest minimum feelings and perceptions of exclusion, marginalization and discrimination on account of region, religion and/or ethnic and communal identities.
The federal character principle needs to be retained and strengthened. Identified challenges in its implementation must be redressed. Other global good practices in affirmative action and securing equality of opportunity, which drive inclusiveness and address marginalization in diverse societies should be identified and adapted (not wholesale adoption!).
Ways and means of making Chapter Two of the Constitution, on Directive Principles of State Policy, justiciable should be explored and entrenched in practice.
Ultimately, we need to realize that mere constitutional provisions do not by themselves ensure a stable and efficacious federal arrangement. These have to be backed by good leadership and good, accountable, responsible and responsible governance, that is guided in practice by the rule of law enshrined in the Constitution.
Therefore, the challenging task of nurturing a democratic political culture and electoral integrity has to be pursued vigorously accompanying the processes of restructuring the federation.
Addressing the imbalances and inequities identifiable in the current Nigerian federal system is long overdue. Better late than never and the time is aptly now. In doing this, we must discard both the wishful thinking that “Nigeria’s unity is non-negotiable” and the idealistic and romantic notions of “ Only on True federalism we stand”.
No federal arrangement is perfect and accepted by all in it. For countries, which are diverse in complex and intricate ethno-religious mosaics, such as Nigeria, federalism is the only game in town, which can be continuously improved upon.
We can do this by removing all the distortions, which have accumulated in our short history, and by bringing and adapting, as value-additions, global good practices from other relatively more stable federal systems.
Learning how countries with more complex diversity than ours, such as India manage to stabilize their federal arrangement, can help us in no small measure to address our own challenges.
By working hard and rationally, scientifically, to remove all the distortions in our federal system we would have a better functioning federation, with only the states as federating units; with local governments subsumed under the states; without creating regions (either in addition to states or by merging states); with substantial devolution of power, responsibilities and resources from the federal government to the states; and with mechanisms of ensuring greater equality of opportunity for all and affirmative action for inclusiveness of the marginalized, minorities and discriminated against groups in the country.
Professor Jega is of the Department of Political Science, Bayero University, Kano.
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