Nigeria: The myths and realities of political restructuring By Mujib Dada-Qadri Esq
The mantra “restructuring” is outrightly the most debated amongst Nigeria’s intelligentsias and on the other hand a tool of veiled selfish interests, political relevance, political correctness, blind sloganeering and intellectualism, a sort of “multi-purpose vehicle” for different interests.
Restructuring now wears a robe of “rainbow colours” and sometimes confusing innocent students of political philosophy and observers. The absence of “common and consistent consensus” on what restructuring totally entails makes it more theoretical and complex. Issues like true federalism, devolution of power, resource control, derivation formula, regionalism, con-federation, revenue allocation formula, unicameral legislature, deletion of Sharia from the Constitution, creation of more states, parliamentary system of government, State police and many more are what constitute the “rainbow” befittingly describing restructuring. Obviously, there is a regional dimension to the clamour for restructuring with elements of paranoia and misunderstanding between North and South corrupting the intellectual sanctity of the topic. Restructuring has been posed as a “magic wand” to the problems of Nigeria many times and this notion calls for intellectual questioning.
How true is federalism in United State of America?
It will be fascinating to note that the most sophisticated brand of democracy was crafted in USA 232 years ago and federalism was birthed as one of the most necessary ingredients of America’s democracy. James Madison and John Jay were the forerunners of modern federalism attesting to it’s necessity in their documented presentations called “Federalist Papers”. The duo rendered intellectual sacrifice by consuming the voices of “anti-federalists” with rationality. The “anti-federalists” promoted a confederation of states with decentralized power concentrated at the state and a weak central government. James Madison a “Federalist” craved for a “balanced share of power between the Central government and states. He stated thus “one could hardly expect the state legislatures to take enlightened views on national affairs, a stronger central government was necessary.” Hence, United States is a product of the backlash against the Articles of Confederation ratified in 1781, which established a very weak federal government with the powers to declare war, make treaties, and maintain an army. Fueled by Shays’ Rebellion and an economy shivering under the inability of the federal government to pay the debt from the American Revolution. Apparently, America’s foundation is built on a political philosophy that allows “cooperative federalism”, balance of functions between central government and states and not stronger states are the expense of weaker central government. It must also be noted that America’s federalism lacks independent local government administration, it’s local government administration is subsumed under control of states.
How old is Nigeria’s federalism and political restructuring?
The journey started with colonial era the era attested to the following constitutions; Clifford Constitution in 1922, Richard constitution in 1946, Macpherson constitution in 1951 and Lyttleton constitution in 1954. These colonial constitutions experimented regional and centralized system of government on different occasions. Lyttleton Constitution of 1954, 1960 Constitution and 1963 constitution all solidified regional system of government and 1960 cum 1963 constitution respectively gained the highest input of Nigeria’s founding fathers in total favour of strong regional government along ethnic lines. It was argued that the financial stability of the federal government was necessary for the stability of the regions. Following from this, the 1960/63 constitutions provided for 50 percent derivation in respect of revenues from all minerals.
Interestingly, the “green boys” struck in 1966 in the heat of internal fracas in Western Nigeria and ethnic driven political tensions sabotaging the economic prosperity of that era. Many don’t seem to care about evolution of laws, the history, jurisprudence and intentions, for example, 1979 constitution was birthed for a reason and the reason was simply to accommodate a presidential system of government and fiscal federalism that will not “empower the regions” at the expense of fragile Federal Government or the Nigerian State. A Constitution Drafting Committee (CDC) was appointed in 1975 under the chairmanship of a leading lawyer, Rotimi Williams and in 1977 a Constituent Assembly (CA) composed of both elected and appointed officials examined and ratified the draft constitution. In fact, the ruling military government discouraged sectional parties with names projecting ethnic nationalism, so we had NPN, UPN, NEPU etc. We had controversies of whether the matter of sharia law, which Muslims argued should be given appellate jurisdiction at the federal level and some Christian members of the Constitutional Assembly opposed this and only the intervention of the head of state resolved the situation. Although the sharia clause was thus deleted from the constitution. Minority report on the 1979 constitution was also submitted by Chief Olusegun Osoba and Dr Yusuf Bala Usman protesting some of the resolutions of the Constitution Drafting Committee involving 49 selected members with rigours of engagement for 3 years before final ratification in 1979. 1979 constitution captures my interest most because it inspired 1993 Constitution and current 1999 constitution and facilitated presidential system of government.
Is political restructuring Nigeria’s fundamental problem?
It will enrich the knowledge of open minded readers to note that despite the similarities of 1979 constitution with 1999 constitution, the democratic dispensation of 1979-1983 offered Nigeria progressive and frugal administrators compared to current crop of governors. 1979 UPN administration of Oyo State and Lagos State for example rendered more egalitarian services in education, mass housing, health care, road infrastructures and transportation compared to current democratic dispensations. One will wonder if the political system of the 70s was the inspiration behind their fair achievements or more of discipline, ideologies and vision. Other states in the North and Eastern part of Nigeria also had their fair share of progressive leadership in the 70s. Albeit, in my comparative Political analysis, i discovered that countries like Malaysia and Indonesia run model of Federalism very similar to that of Nigeria and enjoy more progressive economic performances. In fact, Malaysia’s federalism is the most related to “Unitary federalism” due to over-concentrated functions in the central government but the country remains one of the most progressive Asian countries. The representation of federalism as “true federalism” is strange in my study of Political philosophies behind federalism. The popular notion suggesting that “original or true federalism” as fondly called by Nigerians is never about empowering the states or regions and rendering the Central Government less stronger or weaker. The spirit of federalism as presented by John Jay and James Madison is to strike a balance between the powers/functions for Central Government and States. The case study of Ethiopia will also be relevant considering the population, ethnic tensions and military history very similar to Nigeria’s experience. The country runs regional system of government like that of Canada but it has rendered the country more politically fragile leading to regions posing secessionist tendencies more inspiring secession of Eritrea coupled with latest pulses of secession from regions like Oromo and Tigray. Lately, the frictions between TPLF (Tigray People’s Liberation Front) a regional/ethnic nationalist Government and Ethiopian Central Government has caused another brewing civil war despite history of over ten years of civil war.
Frankly, the most fundamental concerns of Nigeria should be “economic restructuring and judicial restructuring”. The most demanding social problems include food insecurity, chronic of unemployment, growing numbers of out of school children, inadequate health facilities, poor credit facilities for SMEs, poor shelter, poor social amenities, one of the lowest tax to GDP ratio in Africa, GDP per capita less than $3,000 etc. These problems are the biggest worries of average Nigerians and not over-experimented political systems. The judicial system deserves restructuring and sanitization too because it serves as the last “hope” of common man and “bus stop” of corrupt elites. Federal appointees and State Governors within the current political system have embezzled more than enough without consequences and it conflicts with logic to validate introducing fresh political system without an active and sanitized judiciary to deal with elites that are determined to always beat the system for selfish advantages.
Any compromise on political restructuring?
Apparently, we will always see need for political restructuring as the country evolves, there are ongoing clamours in USA for amendments of right to own arms, reformation of electoral college system etc and even opportunities for several amendments in Nigeria’s 1999 constitution. Hence, i adduce to compromises allowing for some necessary political restructuring which in my opinion are not the reasons why Nigerian State is not efficiently working. I will recommend that Federal Government of Nigeria should increase federal allocations to states, increase derivation fund to states contributing any resources whether oil or non-oil or in the absence of these two allow for total resource control and lastly shift control of railway provided in exclusive list to concurrent list. There are other needs of political restructuring that will arise in future and inherent in the Constitution currently which to me are “natural imperfections” peculiar to any constitution but the structural deformities mentioned above are deformities that deserve “necessary compromise and attention”.
However, there are existing logical questions confronting the justification for increase in federal allocations, derivation fund and devolution of functions. It will be beneficial to explore how State Governors clamour for more functions have failed in functions in concurrent list and residual list within their purview such as collection of property taxes, personal income taxes, efficient management of basic primary schools, tertiary institutions, waste management, transport management , primary health care, water supply etc. State Governors that have assessed loans worth billions of Naira at the expense of failing states without nothing to show for it. Also, the oil rich states that have benefitted from the existing oil derivation formula which is 13% are nothing but home of economic vampires with exception of few oil rich states. Despite oil derivation worth trillions of Naira, states like Bayelsa, Delta cannot boast of standardized primary school education or encouraging infrastructures.
Despite these failures, i am forced to recommend these views on political restructuring as a compromise because Federal Government of Nigeria has also failed largely despite having the lion share of the country’s revenues since 1999. Federal Government should compromise the convention by giving more share to states but with “administrative checks”, the kind of Federalism that allows for “easy share and lazy work” by states must be reformed. Proposal during the regime of President Olusegun Obasanjo which was submitted to National Assembly from RMAFC had this proposal for example: FG 41.3%, States 31%, LGCs 16% and Special Funds 11.7% (i.e. FCT 1.2%, Ecology 1%, Natural Resources 1%, Agriculture and Solid Mineral Development and basic education 7%. A Supreme Court verdict in April 2002 on the Resources Control Suit which nullified provision of Special Funds in any given Revenue allocation formula. In light of this, i am comfortable with a new revenue sharing formula increasing share to states and derivation to resource contributing states but with “administrative checks and regulations”. Federal grants to States in America have regulations attached to grants despite non-existence of independent local government administration in USA.
In conclusion, it is my opinion from well researched political philosophies that nothing like “true federalism” exists. There are derivatives of Federalism in different countries of the world with different political peculiarities, i am also of the conviction that Federalism is not necessarily and fundamentally about empowering states or regions more and having a weak central government. Federalism as established in the philosophies of James Madison is balancing of power and functions between Central Government and states allowing for “dual federalism or cooperative federalism”. The clamours for less stronger Central Government and stronger states or regions by some Nigerian elites is more of nostalgia for old good days or regionalism without considerations for the legal history, political history, political complexities and discouragement of divisive ethnic nationalism that ushered us into bloody 1966 coup and 3 years of civil war. Our fundamental problems are more economical than political as countries with less democratic political institutions like Saudi Arabia, Qatar, UAE, China are progressing rapidly while we remain in abject poverty despite over-experimented political systems. obviously, 1999 constitution is not perfect nor the political system but they are not necessarily our fundamental problems.