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Nigeria: Restructuring battle

Restructuring battle

The  pro-restructuring crusade may have started achieving results. The ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) may have endorsed the agitation by
setting up a committee to collate views of stakeholders across the six geo-political zones. Political leaders appear to be unanimous that the resolution of the contentious national question is germane to peaceful co-existence among the diverse ethnic groups cohabiting in the highly heterogeneous nation-state.

At Ibadan, the capital of Oyo State, Yoruba leaders maintained during their recent conference on true federalism that disintegration could only be averted by the redesign of the defective federal structure. They merely echoed the puzzle raised by the slain deputy leader of Afenifere, the pan-Yoruba socio-political group, Chief Bola Ige, almost two decades ago. “Do you Nigerians want to live together in the same country?, Ige asked at a political meeting in Lagos. “ The audience answered ‘yes.’ Then, Ige asked: ‘How; on what terms?’ The Ohaneze Ndigbo, Southsouth Assembly, and Middle Belt leaders are now singing the same chorus. Prominent Northern leaders, including former military President Ibrahim Babangida and former Vice President Atiku Abubakar, have also echoed the popular view that restructuring is the answer.

The APC Committee on True Federalism, led by Kaduna State Governor Nosim El-Rufai, has a mandate to review all the ideas on the resolution of the national question. The elements include true federalism, restructuring, devolution of powers, regionalism, resource control. The committee is mandated to articulate and align the public opinion with the party’s campaign manifesto and campaign promises. The stakeholders and interest groups that have submitted memoranda to the committee include individual Nigerians, political parties, professional associations, faith-based groups and civil society organisations.

The committee has raised posers on these elements to guide the submission of memoranda. These have been outlined by the secretary of the committee, Senator Olubunmi Adetunmbi from Ekiti. During the deliberations in the Southwest and Southeast and Southsouth, participants have reiterated their support for national unity. However, they pointed out that there should be equity, justice and fair play in a united Nigeria. There is no consensus on the major elements of restructuring and there are indications stakeholders will abide by the majority opinion on the fundamental issues being canvassed.

The issues put on the front burner by the committee are not different from the ones canvassed by the eminent lawyer, Kola Awodein (SAN) almost 12 years ago at a lecture in Lagos. He noted that central to the preservation of unity and corporate existence of Nigeria are certain unresolved issues. In another paper titled: “Restructuring and Constitutional Review”, delivered at the ‘Yoruba Retreat’ held at Ibadan, Oyo State capital, by the legal luminary, he identified 18 issues and concerns critical to the consolidation of federalism in the country.

These are: religious crisis and the secularity of the state, restructuring of Nigerian Federation, return to true federalism as embodied in 1960 Independence Constitution, marginalisation and rotation of the

Presidency, traditional rulers and stability of the nation, ethnicity and need for mutual existence, resource control and revenue allocation, and inconsistencies in the 1999 Constitution.

Others are abolition of the Land Use Act, repeal and abolition of Petroleum Act, inclusion of the powers of the National Judicial Council, inclusion of national debt in the constitution, adoption of six zone structure, reforms of electoral laws, reform of the civil service, fiscal federalism, definition of true democracy and its implications and the challenge of globalisation and technology.

Many political scientists agree that the military intervention wrecked havoc on the country. At independence, the founding fathers resolved to operate a federal principle to guarantee unity in diversity. In his book, “Path to Nigeria’s Freedom”, Obafemi Awolowo, identified federalism as the form of government that would be suitable for the geographical expression. Thus, at independence in 1960, Nigeria was a truly federal state hoping to build on its delicate ethnic balance. The military intervention aborted the dream through the imposition of unitary system, which subsequent constitutions failed to properly address. As posited by frontline politician, Chief Bisi Akande, unity in diversity is given an expression when there is a division or sharing of powers in a federation between the central and regional or state governments without creating a lopsided arrangement that permits the usurpation of state powers by the federal authorities. “A totally centralised authority over all functions is not a federal system; it is a unitary arrangement.” he stressed.

Military intervention led to what the foremost legal scholar, Prof. Itsey sagay (SAN), described as ‘federal absolutism.’ He lamented that the lopsided federal/state power sharing affected seven items. They are the operation of the police, census, mineral resources, labour, trade and industrial relations, registration of business names, electric power and local government funding.

The flawed federal posturing has persisted, 18 years after the restoration of civil rule. At a lecture in Ibadan in 2008, a political scientist, Prof. Dipo Kolawole, observed that it has been compounded by all manners of injustice by the Federal Government. The former Vice Chancellor of Ekiti State University, Ado-Ekiti said: “Nigeria is a federation of an excessively strong central government, supposedly partnered by ridiculously weak 36 states with a Federal capital Territory supported by obviously ineffective 774 local governments. All other 801 governments combined are  weaker than the Central Government.”

Frowing at the distribution of appointments, hee added: “A situation where there is glaring lopsidedness in sensitive federal appointments is antithetical to true federalism. In Nigeria today, with specific reference to the centre, who dominates the Presidency, the Senate, the judiciary and the military? Is there any pretext to federal character principle?

Creation/merger of states:

Should Nigeria create more states or not; should states be merged? If so, what should be the framework and guidelines?

State creation has often reduced to the struggle of the elite who want more access to state power and resources. But, there is an evidence that some towns, communities and villages may involve in the agitation for state creation because they want separate local governments. The reason is that council creation is preceded by state creation.

Although there is a popular argument that state creation should not be considered because many states are not economically viable, the argument has not suppressed the clamour for more states. The agitation is being fuelled by the feeling of marginalization. For example, the Ekiti people in Kwara State who occupy two local governments have not relented in their desire to opt out of the state and re-unite with their kith and kin in Ekiti State, or a separate state is created for them and other Yoruba people in Kogi. Also, the people of Ibadan and Ijebu have been calling for separate states. Ijebu’s and Remo’s claim is that it is the only province that has not been upgraded into a state in the country. However, state creation process is tedious under the 1999 Constitution. Unlike under the military, the procedures are very difficult.

Derivation principle and Resource control:

What percentage of federal collectable resources should be given back to their sources, for example, crude oil, solid minerals and Valued Added Tax (VAT)? Should states, regions or zones be allowed to exclusively or personally own, exploit and tap the financial benefits of natural resources in thei domain and just pay taxes to the Federal Government?

Currently, Item 39 of the Exclusive Legislative List gives the Federal Government the sole and exclusive power to legislate on mines, minerals, including oil fields, oil mining, and natural gas. The picture contrasts sharply with the provisions of the 1960 and 1963 constitutions, which described the three, later, four regions, as “self =-governing regions of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.” Sagay recalled that Section 140, which made provision for the sharing of the proceeds of minerals, including mineral oil, stated that “there shall be paid by the Federal Government to a region a sum equal to 50 percent of the proceeds of any royalty received by the Federation in respect of any minerals extracted in that region and any mining rents derived by the Federal Government from within the region.” Also, 30 percent went into the distributable pool ( for all the regions, including the producing region), 20 percent went to the Federal Government; 30 percent of import duties went to the distributable pool; and  import duty on petrol and diesel consigned to any region was refundable to that region.

What are the proposed changes in the current revenue allocation formula? What should be the new sharing formula among federal, state and local government that will reflect their share of constitutional responsibilities? Should the Land Use Act be part of the constitution or not and what should be the right of states in the ownership and control of mineral and natural resources on an underground?

Usually, there is agitation in the oil-producing region. At issue is the lack of a just procedure for sharing the national cake derivable from the coastal region. The founding fathers of Nigerian Nation subscribed to a revenue allocation formula based on principles of derivation (50 percent), need and national interest. It was turned upside down by succeeding regimes, which reduced it, right from the period of the civil war.

Devolution of powers:

What items on the Exclusive Legislative List should be transferred to the Concurrent List to enable states have direct responsibility on state police, community police and prisons?

Over time, calls for devolution of more powers from the centre to the federating units have preoccupied the advocates of true federalism. One of the questions begging for answer is whether the distant federal government, the sole distributor of national revenue, should continue to exercise direct powers over the local governments. Many Nigerians are of the opinion that the power-loaded federal government should shed its weight. Many have also asked: what is the role of the Federal Government in agriculture? Who owns the land?

Also, opinion is divided on state police. This is due to the likely abuse of the institution. However, majority of Nigerians agree that maintenance of public order and public safety in a federal country is a huge task that has made the decentralisation of security more compelling. In Nigeria, governors who are chief security officers lack control over the Commissioners of Police in their states. They rely on the distant Inspector-General to maintain law and order.  In countries like Australia, Canada, United States of America, and India, policing is decentralised, with functions allocated to the tiers of government. Adducing reason for state police, former APC Interim National Chairman Akande said: ”We ought to have even moved from state police to community police by recruiting policemen from the ethnic groups to be served so that they live in the community, speak the language of the people and understand their culture and environment for effective policing.”

Federating units:

Should the Nigerian federation be based on regions or zones as units or maintain the current 36 state structure?

Despite the collapse of the regions into states, there is the retention of loyalty to the regional arrangements that formed the federal union at independence. The clamour for regional economic integration by contiguous states sharing common identities, cultural values and aspirations is a fall out of the internalisation of regionalism without compromising the federal health of the heterogeneous entity. Thus, Awodein canvassed two options, which are focal points of federalist persuasion in contemporary Nigeria. He called for the organisation of the six zones as federating units while retaining the present states as units of government within the zone.

He also said: “The states should remain as federating units and that the six geo-political zones should be enshrined in the constitution and states within each of these six zones being constitutionally empowered to create a zonal organisation for the management of common services, interest and promotion of economic and political cooperation”.

But, there are indications that while states prefer regional economic integration, they tend to loath a return to the old political and administrative region. Shouts of gedegbe l’Eko wa has deep meaning. Lagosians do not want to return to Ibadan. At the Southwest stakeholders meeting where the APC Committee collated views, majority rejected the push for regionalism, contrary to the suggestion by the Yoruba Assembly which had held a conference on restructuring at Ibadan. They called for the preservation of the 36 state structures.

Form of government:

Should Nigeria continue with the presidential system o return to the parliamentary system as practiced in the First Republic or develop a hybrid of the systems?

The presidential system is expensive and it permits wastage of public resources. In the view of Governor Rauf Aregbesola of Osun State, it may lead to doom. Under the system, electioneering is also expensive, unlike in a parliamentary system, where costs of administration and seeking office are comparatively lower. Many advocates of good governance have contended that a system of administration that does not provide for adequate measures to curtail executive excesses is prone to abuse and corruption. That is the dark side of presidential democracy in Nigeria. Also, Aregbesola pointed out that party supremacy and party discipline can only be maintained under parliamentary system.

Independent candidacy:

Should there be a constitutional provision for eligible citizens to contest elections without being members of registered political parties?

Every politics, as it is said, is local. A community that has confidence in the ability of an individual may become a beneficiary of independent candidacy, if the individual is edged out of the party’s nomination process.

Local government autonomy:

Should local government areas be independent of states and have direct revenue sourcing from the Federal Government as the third tier of the federation or should they be administrative units of states?

In Nigeria, states are at liberty to create and dissolve local governments, but the National Assembly reserves the right to list the newly created councils in the constitution. Many were taken aback when President Olusegun Obasanjo stopped allocations due to local councils in Lagos State for three years. The move crippled effective grassroots administration; local councils being the closest tier of government to the people. The push for autonomy of local government has polarised the polity. But, there are puzzles: are councils not administrative units of the state at the grassroots? Is council a third tier in Nigeria? What remains of the state when the local governments are taken away?

Power sharing and rotation:

Should Nigeria have a policy of rotation of key elected positions on regional o zonal basis for national offices and by senatorial districts for state offices?

If this is adopted, what will be the place of merit, competence and credibility? Should all these virtues be sacrificed on the altar of zoning?

Type of legislature:

Does Nigeria need a bi-cameral or uni-cameral, part-time or full-time parliament?

In the First Republics, legislators served as part-time members of the parliament. They held on to their professions while serving as in the legislature. They were also not collecting bogus salaries.

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