Low-hanging fruits of restructuring

The current election campaigns do not seem to be addressing Nigeria’s priorities or harping on the most significant needs of the nation at this moment.

Therefore, it is important to remind all those running around for election that they should not lose sight of the fact that the exercise is just a minute part of the politics of nation building. They need to be told that unless even the governing party and authorities are faithful to their covenant with the people about restructuring the nation to run as a proper federation, we will not be able to face the stark reality of nation building. And so election campaigns at this time should revolve around the expediency of restructuring the country.

This is without prejudice to the campaigners who have made restructuring their dominant issue. The nation is not interested in the best campaigner anymore.

The nation needs leaders who can adhere to the discipline of execution – of their action plans.

Which is why this newspaper supports a significant view by some key stakeholders that restructuring need not be a complex political affair: It can begin with low hanging fruits, which can be done administratively even before legal amendments of the organic laws.

In other words, we would like to reiterate the point that if the Federal Government summons the necessary political will, the first step to restructuring the nation’s polity can be undertaken without constitutional changes.

Under this arrangement the Federal Government will be expected to administratively devolve some responsibilities to the states in order to free itself from the burden of inefficiently administering a huge centralised federation.

This simplicity could provide us with the opportunity of harvesting the low-hanging fruits in the restructuring process. That is the only way to extricate the nation from the quagmire it has found itself.

Specifically, we should pay attention to what senior citizens of significance are saying in this regard.

A good example emerged the other day when Olisa Agbakoba, a senior advocate of Nigeria, suggested that the Federal Government should concentrate on ‘administrative devolution of powers’ to the states as an interim measure.

This, the former Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) president opined, would be different from ‘power transfer from exclusive federal list to concurrent state list’ that would require an amendment of the constitution.

The framers of the constitution made the process of amendments very long, tedious and challenging.

Since this cannot be achieved in the short run, the urgency of things in the country requires a pragmatic approach to stabilise the polity. This is where progressive thinking is necessary and indeed required.

The tension in the country is palpable. The inefficiency of the federal bureaucracy stares us in the face. We cannot repeat a process and expect different results.    

Restructuring is not synonymous with dismembering the country. Those who understand it know that it would strengthen the bonds of the multiethnic peoples of Nigeria.

A restructured Nigeria will give room for the federating units to achieve their full potential. Such expressions as devolution of powers, delegation of powers and decentralisation of powers are crucial to this discourse.

As this newspaper has repeatedly noted, by delegating powers in a temporary arrangement, the Federal Government would strengthen the states.

For example, if the Federal Government delegates power to the states to mine natural resources within their territories, through a joint venture agreement, we would stimulate growth in a sector that is a goldmine waiting to be tapped.

This should be a prelude to devolution and decentralisation of powers.

Our federal system, inherited from our romance with military dictatorship invests too much power in the centre, thereby weakening the states. This is wrong and contrary to federalist principles. 

Any government that takes restructuring seriously should have enough material to rely on for direction.

The 2014 National Confab made far-reaching recommendations that could have altered the political equation of the country if the government at the time had summoned the will to consummate the process of adoption and ratification.

The Buhari administration and whoever wins the 2019 election should take this as a national priority. 

The ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) subcommittee’s report on devolution of power is another important reference material.

It is curious why the authorities in Abuja have been complacent about their own document. These documents indicate that no state will suffer when we restructure the country.            

It is our considered view that the state governors and the Houses of Assembly should be interested in the restructuring struggle.

Why they have been virtually silent beats the imagination. As the states are currently configured, they cannot take and achieve their full growth opportunities and potential. They cannot explore the mineral resources with which they are endowed. Nigeria is a mono-product economy.

As a result the vagaries in the international oil market always have severe consequences on our economy. This is the time to diversify sources of foreign earnings.

A situation in which the states are compelled to travel to the federal capital every month for handouts is unhealthy.

This, as we have often noted, has encouraged indolence and over-reliance on oil proceeds. Most of the states do not have enough resources to meet their obligations to the citizenry because what comes from Abuja monthly is barely enough to pay salaries of civil servants.

They also have not made serious efforts to expand their revenue base. The governors are not really in charge of security in their states.

Whereas they are referred to as chief security officers of their states, they are not given the means to check insecurity. They depend on the Federal Government, which is bogged down by the minutiae of everyday challenges. It is for this reason that we call for state police.

In terms of policing, we are federal only in name. This has led to serious security breaches in the country to the extent that a governor has called on the president to declare a state of emergency in his domain (Zamfara).  

The National Assembly ought to be interested and drive the process of restructuring. They should remember that they are the elected representatives of the people. We expect legislators to expedite action on the amendment processes they have begun.

Sadly, although the National Assembly made some moves on state police during the year, the matter was soon shelved once politicking and deadly intrigues took over the chambers of the legislative arm.

If we need a constitution review, as indeed we do, the National Assembly has to be fully involved. The Houses of Assembly in the states also must be carried along.

Indeed, we cannot delay this because the false foundations of our federation will not allow full development of the country.

The economic potentials of the nation are locked in the rigid approach to inter-states and states-Federal Government relationships.

We therefore call on the Federal Government supported by the National Assembly to start the process of devolution of powers to the states. There should be joint venture projects on mineral resources in the states.

The revenue sharing formula should be revisited and a higher allocation should go to the states and the local governments.

The Federal Government does not really need 55% of the nation’s income to meet its obligations. Education particularly at the secondary level is not the business of a Federal Government.

There should be no new federal universities as the existing ones are poorly funded. The whole policy of free tuition should be revisited with a view to improving the economic base of the universities.

This can be done after the Federal Government has removed its hands from running universities. Where in the models we copied federalism from does this exist?

For the umpteenth time we reiterate the point:  We need to revisit the terms of the union and determine where the ‘rain began to beat us,’ if we may appropriate the words of the late iconic Chinua Achebe.

A short-term measure is possible through mutual understanding between the Federal Government and the states. Let all stakeholders wake up from their slumber and do the right thing to guarantee Nigeria’s economic independence and prosperity for all.  

         

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