In April 2021, Wole Olanipekun, a senior advocate of Nigeria, continued his clarion call for true federalism, lamenting that the country was running a hydra-headed unitary constitution.
As expected, some political apologists, especially beneficiaries of the present order, countered the eminent lawyer.
But the countering did not take away the need for decentralisation of power and the truth that the country is not practising true federalism as Aso Rock is firmly in charge and controls even in areas the states have jurisdictions, while states in return, turn local government areas as their puppets.
These all point to the fact that the country needs restructuring across the board.
Reality of true federalism
Christian Okeke, a political lecturer at the Nnamdi Azikiwe University, Awka, said Nigeria is in dire need of regional restructuring.
Okeke in an interview with BusinessDay said: “Regionalism has multi-dimensional benefits, including cutting down the huge cost of governance and strengthening the bonds among nations. Powers and responsibilities need to be devolved to the regions in order to hasten even development.
“Of course, the political elites understand this fact. It is, however, a disservice that they choose to pay lip service to the things that can develop the country in practical terms.
“This is the reason candidates of the various political parties need to be scrutinized on their restructuring agenda”.
“It is time we go back to what we had in the first republic, let go back to that system that worked for us”, Eddy Olafeso, former national vice chairman of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP), said.
In recent years, leaders of pan-Yoruba socio-cultural organisation, Afenifere, have consistently argued that a return to true federalism in which the country is restructured along regional lines, would help to ensure equity, justice, peace and elusive development in Nigeria.
Speaking recently, leader of the organisation, Ayo Adebanjo called for the replacement of the 1999 constitution with a truly federal constitution, which gives each region of the country freedom and autonomy.
Adebanjo noted that a true federal constitution would give power to the federating units and proper development, adding that a truly federal constitution would give power to the federating units and proper development.
According to Adebanjo, “truly federal constitution would give power to the federating units and propel their development.
“Anybody opposing restructuring or a federal constitution wants to break the country. We are worse than we were before the civil war. The only thing that can bring us back is to scrap this constitution, which is skewed against the South.
“This constitution must be changed now. Let us persuade President Buhari to restructure the country now. The way we are going, I don’t believe in 2023. The question should be how to keep the country together. Something must be done now.”
Similarly, Kunde Okunade, political analyst, noted that it had become inevitable that the country needs to be restructured to enhance development and political balancing, stressing that It is also necessary for political administrative strategy towards solving the governance crisis in the country.
He, however, added that restructuring has become political rhetoric in our political system that politicians conspicuously use as an instrument of persuasion and deceit for the electorates during elections.
In a recent published article by Akin Osuntokun, a Nigerian political scientist, strategist, researcher, administrator, the columnist, while responding to a statement credited to one of the vice presidential candidates, explained the importance of restructuring and why Nigeria desperately needs it at this time.
Osuntokun said: “For good and for bad, laws especially the constitution, are a prior category to leadership and governance. And we have the case study of Nigeria to prove the point. Who can entertain any doubt on the self-evident predisposing facility of regional federalism to the development heights attained by the three comprising regions of the West, East and the North in the first republic?”
According to him, “Attitudes toward the restoration of federalism have spanned the gamut of genuine ignorance, feigned ignorance, paranoia and political arrogance. Whosoever is wilfully condemning restructuring especially those who do so in foul and obscene verbiage should know that he is implicitly attacking the founding fathers of Nigeria namely the British colonialists, Chief Obafemi Awolowo, Dr Nnamdi Azikiwe and Sir Ahmadu Bello.
“These were the leaders (who acting with the political legitimacy reposed in them by the peoples of Nigeria) prescribed and gave us federalism as encapsulated in the 1960 independence constitution. To be clear, once again, the meaning of constitutional restructuring advocacy is the restoration of the principle of federalism employing the independence constitution as role model.”
Need for fiscal federalism
However, while decentralisation of power has become a big challenge, fiscal federalism seems the worst hit.
At present, the revenue sharing formula does not encourage development as it offers the Federal Government more than a lion’s share of the country’s revenue, as the federal gets 53 percent (including special funds), state governments get 27 percent and local governments get 20 percent. The huge disparity, according to some economists, is a stamp for centralisation and bane of poor economic developments across the country as the states and local government areas, which need more funds for development, are left with insufficient funds.
Magnus Ideri Ntia, an economist with African Renascence, explained the need for true fiscal federalism saying that since 1992, six additional states were created and that ballooned the number of local governments from 589 to 774, which is nearly one-quarter increase.
He argued that while the creation was meant to take development to the people, the reverse has been the case since then because the increase in the number of political-administrative offices came with disproportionate burden.
“We now have more states and LGAs but resource allocation has remained constant. How do you explain that you hired a teacher and there is no class and students to teach? So, there is a need to review the revenue allocation policies for equity and impact,” he said.
He also decried that 13percent derivation for oil producing states has not been equitable judging by the degradation faced by the communities, though states shamefully cannot account for the fund since many years of collecting it.
On his part, Jude Ebereonwu, a former senior staff of the Federal Inland Revenue Service (FIRS) Abuja, who is now a tax consultant, blamed the skewed federalism being practiced in Nigeria today on long years of military reign, saying this has further reversed the nation’s progress in all spheres.
Citing the Rivers State and FIRS VAT imbroglio, the tax consultant noted that the lacuna in the fiscal policy gave rise to the contest as the Rivers State has right to collect tax that the law gave it jurisdiction to collect.
“If the fiscal policy has been equitable enough, the FIRS would not have locked in a contest with the River State government over which entity has the right to collect VAT. Again, the states have been complaining that the federal government keeps going beyond its jurisdiction in revenue collection despite having 57 percent of the sharing formula”, he noted.
He insisted that the only way to avoid frequent contests between the federal and state governments on revenue issues is to review the fiscal policies in favour of the states and LGAs because they have more development-oriented projects than the federal government.
“I support those calling for the review of the Constitution, review of our political system and remodeling every lopsided policy that impacts on fiscal autonomy of states and LGAs because they need the funds more than the federal government”, he said.
Furthering the call for fiscal autonomy of states, Ntia noted that such development would grant states opportunity to source and manage funds, while the biggest gain for the country is that it would be a huge relief for the federal government, who will comfortably collect royalties from states.
“Imagine if the federal government allowed private investors in the power sector to generate and distribute electricity without sending it to the national grip, more investors would flock to the sector and relieve the country of the mess of epileptic power supply. What if the states are allowed to build seaports, airports and railway lines and handover to efficient managers, that will be win-win for all as transport infrastructure will improve, states will make huge profit, and the federal will collect royalties. But the fiscal policy will not allow that, there are no-go areas in investment and only the federal can play there”, he lamented.
Pointing to a good case study and the essence of true federalism and fiscal federalism, Sam Onikoyi, a Nigerian researcher in Belgium, and a visiting lecturer, noted that the United States of America is still the excellence of true federalism because of many successes the country has gained by insisting and upholding true federalism.
“Imagine the fact the economy of California, a state in USA, is the largest in the country, with a $3.4 trillion gross state product (GSP) as of 2021, with its Los Angeles metropolitan area grossing over $1.0 trillion, making it the city with the third-largest GDP in the world, after Tokyo and New York City. The feat is only possible because of fiscal federalism and Belgium is doing the same. Nigeria should copy good examples”, aggrieved Onikoyi said.
“Most of the presidential candidates may find it hard to restructure the country because it means different things to different ethnic groups in the Nigeria state.
“The agitations for restructuring would continue in Nigeria beyond 2023 because the political parties and their candidates are used to using it for campaign and so if any of them wins, he would not carry it being that it was a mere rhetoric to them”, Okunade said.
Moreover, Okeke is worried that the political class will still pay lip service to restructuring. “Do they even believe in restructuring? Are they committed to it? And can they commit to leave office if they backtrack after assuming office? Salvaging Nigeria now is a must, and 2023 holds the key.
“It is sad that the APC made phantom promises on restructuring. It is in the light of this that a serious commitment needs to be extracted from the presidential candidates,” Okeke said.
In some quarters it is presumed that Northern Nigeria would oppose any move to restructure the country, but speaking in a recent interview, Abdul Azeez spokesman of the Coalition of Northern Groups, said that the North had nothing to fear from any restructuring process provided the region is involved not as a problem, but partners.
According to him, “The North too has many issues with the operations of the Nigerian state, the only difference is it does not routinely insult and blame elites from other regions for them.
“What we are not comfortable with, is the manner in which the current agitations for restructuring, true federalism and resource control are being conducted by other regional agitators that smack of a hidden agenda.
“We see these renewed clamour strategies employed to achieve the results that the architects of the coups of the First Republic failed to realise, namely increasing the weight and relevance of the regions to the detriment and expense of the central government, thereby gradually paving the way for complete separation from Nigeria.
“We also believe that the above strategies are aimed at diminishing the viability of the North and rendering it incapable of standing on its own two feet and competing favourably with other parts of the country.”
Recent attempt at federalism
Olafeso noted that Goodluck Jonathan, former president of Nigeria, convened a constitutional conference; whose recommendations would put the country into that pact, but regretted that the elites refused to develop the country despite the resources that we have.
Also, the All Progressives Congress (APC) has provisions in its Constitution to promote and foster the unity, political stability and national consciousness of the people of Nigeria, and to promote true federalism in the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
The party had soon after winning the 2015 general election set up a Committee on Restructuring/True Federalism headed by Governor Nasir El- Rufai.
The El-Rufai committee had submitted its report to the APC leadership since January 25, 2018 but the party appeared not to have put any mechanism in place to implement or transmit the same to the National, which has already embarked on another Constitutional review exercise.
The report made key recommendations concerning resource control, making local government an affair of states, constitutional amendment to allow merger of states, state police, state court of appeal and independent candidacy.
El Rufai while presenting the report had said: “We articulated only 13 issues from the various opinions expressed by Nigerians in our engagement, identified these 24 issues for which the committee deliberated and has made recommendations in the report.
“We went ahead to look at these recommendations to convert them into concrete actions that the party, government and the National Assembly can take to re-balance our federation”
The 13 items articulated by the Committee include, merger of states, delegation principle, fiscal federalism, devolution of power, food and drugs, fingerprint identification of criminals, registration of business names, mines and minerals, revenue allocation among others.
But as campaigning for the 2023 general election is yet to formally start one cannot tell whether it is going to be a major campaign agenda of the APC and its presidential candidate, Bola Tinubu.
Ahead of next year’s presidential election, some of the candidates have promised to restructure the country if they are elected president.
Atiku Abubakar, presidential candidate of the PDP, has made restructuring one of the focal points of his agenda.
Atiku has also promised to focus attention on the unity of the country, insecurity and education.
“Atiku played a key role in Olusegun Obasanjo’s administration, the formulation of the constitutional conference of that era and repositioning of the country then. He can do it if he wins; it is something that is achievable,” Olafeso said.
Olafeso, however, added that the next administration must implement the recommendations of Goodluck Jonathan’s constitutional conference report on restructuring to solve Nigeria’s problems.