Still on the elusive quest for true federalism…

Femi Orebe

 

DESPITE the fact that Nigeria prides itself as a federal state, it is sadly evident that is far from what federalism entails.

“Some have stated that our federal system is more unitary than federalist, especially with the number of items on the Exclusive Legislative List where the Federal Government regulates even simple items, like primary education and agriculture. Hence, there has been clamor for more devolution of powers from the centre to the states in order to make the states more viable and economically sustainable.”- Ahmed Idris Wase, Chairman, Adhoc Committee on constitution review.

In a very fundamentally different way, some eminent Nigerians intervened in the restructuring debate this past week. They did so, this time around, fulfilling  the one condition President Muhammadu Buhari seems to have prescribed as the ‘sine qua non’ for restructuring Nigeria,

By doing so, I am sure we can now believe that they have removed the last cobweb militating against our achieving this critical milestone as  their request  is contained in a memorandum they submitted to the National Assembly Joint Committee on Constitution Amendment.

One hopes that with the current Nigerian realities, the 9th National Assembly will not see this new attempt as another avenue for graft like when a whopping N8B was spent by an earlier session of the Assembly with hardly anything to show for it. This hope is bolstered by the sound bites we have been hearing from the leading lights of the House.

Apart from Hon. Wase, quoted above, the House Speaker, Femi Gbajabiamila, was also reported as saying the following: “When you ask me what the state of our nation is, the honest answer is this: we are in a fight for the very survival of our country and the continuation of the Nigerian project”. “Recent global developments have exposed all our systemic weaknesses so that we can no longer pretend to ourselves that things are on an even keel…”

So may be, just may be that those who have rubbished the exercise, suggesting  that it shouldn’t even  hold, yours truly inclusive, acted in haste.

That, indeed, will be good news for traumatised Nigerians who have watched in horror as our diversities are daily being eggregiously mismanaged to our chagrin.

I digress.

The patriots who we hope have now helped us cross the last huddle to restructuring Nigeria have put proposals before the National Assembly which, if  approbed, would guarantee that:

“States can operate in a democratic manner and be run by chief executives that are accountable to the people, and legislators that are independent”

Other proposals are:That states should have both constitutional and legislative powers to determine their internal structures such as the number of local governments.

That they  must be allowed to determine their own framework and mechanism for the choice of their leaders, at all levels – a choice that will recognise, and combine, both merit and the need for fair representation of the broad diversities that make up each state, i e geography, ethnicity, religion etc.

They must balance the distribution of power, and fiscal resources, between the states and the federation to address the desire for local resource control and the viability of the federation as a whole.

They also proposed  the following constitutional amendments:

A return to the 12-state federal structure of 1967.

The 12 states, to be called regions, should be the federating units. They shall have full control of their resources and pay appropriate taxes to the Federal Government.

The regions shall have power to create and administer local government Areas as they may deem necessary,  overhaul the legislative list  and transfer Agriculture, Education and Health to the residual list.

Mining, they recommend,  should  be on the concurrent list with on-land mining under the federating units and off-shore mining under the control of the government of the federation.

Policing should be on the concurrent list with only inter-state, cyber-crime and international crime, coming under the jurisdiction of the federal police.

Taxation, they say,  should remain concurrent while the

They want the current Senate, and the House merged under a unicameral legislature”.

Underlying their proposals is the key principle that : “States must be economically viable and should rely on fiscal resources they generate by  themselves rather than relying on  handouts from the centre”.

One needs no robotic science to appreciate the fact that these proposals are coming from a group that truly loves this country  and want the best for her.  They did not  only identify the demons that have been tearing at the  country’s very heart for a long  time, they  made specific proposals to correct the obvious anomalies.

Among them: a manageable structure of 12 regions as against the present  36 states, many of which are  financially unsustainable;

a bicameral legislature, unlike  the present two chambers  which are merely repetitive  and consume a disproportionate  portion of the nation’s  resources.The group  also presented  clarity on the  creation, function and status  of Local Government Areas which they propose should belong, exclusively, to states, rather than have  an overbearing Abuja breathing down the neck of council areas in the remotest corners of the country. The same goes for  the “federal character principle which they want to see retained, and be strictly observed.

Their proposal on federal character is particularly gratifying because even though almost all consequential appointments in this administration have gone  to their part of the country in total breach of this  principle, they still have the good conscience to propose equity in its execution.

From their contribution, it becomes crystal clear  that if a group of individuals could do so much,  nothing ought to have stopped the APC  from doing much more  since it included Power Devolution in its manifesto on which it campaigned for both the 2015 and ’19 elections which swept it to power.

On the contrary we saw the 8th National Assembly, dominated by the APC, vote down Power Devolution, while the report of its own El Rufai committee on the subject was, after its approval by the party’s NEC, kept in the cooler for over a year, gathering dust.  Happily, we have now been told that the party’s governors have remitted it to the National Assembly, complete with appropriate bills.

But if the party is serious  how can the government be sponsoring a nebulous Water Resources Bill in the National Assembly, which bill was rejected by the 8th Assembly but we now hear was allegedly smuggled into the current Assembly?

Can’t they see the contradiction

Apart from achieving nothing substantial, or concrete, on restructuring, the  government has, rather than being  inclusive in its policies, been trying  to take over the little that belong to the other federating units  – state and local governments –  a good  example being the control of internal water ways which Lagos state has won for states at the appellate court but they are now trying to use a Water Resources Bill to kill.

Rather than see the government  encourage power devolution by whittling down its grabbing propensities, the news in town is that the Water Resources Minister is all over the place, relentlessly trying  to get the  bill passed. So determined is he that, even where he has self- confessed that the bill “erodes his powers”, he is still stopping at nothing to see it through because the federal government is not swayed by the massive rejection the bill has been subjected to.  This has led to the fear that the Water Resources bill is nothing  but a serpentine attempt by government to, coyly gift Fulani herdsmen, other peoples’  ancestral lands, all over the country, even when, nearer home in Kano state, the governor has  formally extended an invitation to the herders  to relocate to a no less condusive area; an offer they apparerently rejected, fuelling the continuing pressure to get the bill passed, regardless of the the consequences. If government  means well, and if it has no ulterior motive, what stops it from investing in ranches on which the herders could be asked to pay some subsidised annual rent. These are, after all, private multi- billion naira private businesses, a move that could readily, and  within a very short period of time, turn the North  to a huge meat processing and exporting region of the country.

This will augur well for the country as it will reduce to the barest minim7um, the very unfortunate herders/ farmers clashes all over the country.

This done, government will be able to concentrate more on defeating Boko Haram and banditry, two nefarious enemies consuming billions of naira of  funds that, rather than going a-borrowing, would have enabled government to effortlessly fund its annual budgets.

It will also help her face up to the general insecurity which, unlike at any other time in our recent history, is daily mushrooming in all parts of  the country aside Boko Haram in the Northeast and banditry in both the Northwest and the Northcentral.

All that these require is justice and fairmindedness in the management of the country’s affairs.

Nigeria needs peace, uninterrupted peace, to develop and take its place in the comity of civilised nations. We need peace to be able to rapidly increase  our infrastructure stock, an area where the President has scored spectacularly, and to develop our human capital for a world that is becoming highly competitive and will be more so in the post pandemic era. Our leaders must, therefore, deliberately work towards national inclusiveness in addition to devolving power to the constituent parts.

“Hence, there has been clamor for more devolution of powers from the centre to the states in order to make the states more viable and economically sustainable.”

 

Before you Run (1)

“Whatever political level you have laced up to run for: presidential, governorship, senatorial, house, local government, or ward, before you run, hear now what you are coming in to run or govern.”

 

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