The recent call by former Vice President, Atiku Abubakar, for a restructuring of the country along regional lines has again highlighted the structural imbalance in the administration of the country.
Atiku, who re-opened the age-old debate on the structure of the Nigerian polity at the 2012 Leadership Conference and Awards Ceremony in Abuja on September 18, said the country’s current governance structure which concentrates too much power and resources in the central government is inimical to the development of the country. He said that since the States are too materially and politically weak to provide good governance, the country should be restructured along the extant six geo-political zones as regions, with the current states existing as provinces of the six regions.
He insisted that the regions have the wherewithal to survive and prosper even without oil as they did in the past.
According to him: “The immense development strides achieved by our First Republic leaders were achieved without oil revenues, yet we have for over 40 years now been behaving as though nothing can be achieved without oil revenues.” Atiku advocated redesigning of the nation’s skewed federalism and advised Nigerians to think more about production rather than distributing and sharing of revenue.
He told the gathering: “I do not know of any country in the world that has developed just by its leaders gathering in their capital city every month to share revenues from rent.” We find merit in Atiku’s recommendations.
There is no arguing the fact that the present structure of Nigeria is inexpedient to the country’s quest for national development. Nigeria is supposedly a Federation, yet there are no true federating units. Revenue sharing formula is sharply skewed against the federating units to the advantage of the federal government. As federating units, the states ought to have co-ordinate powers with the federal government to which they, under a true federation, should grant certain powers to co-ordinate the country. But under Nigeria’s peculiar federation, this is not so. Our federation bristles with inconsistencies, both fiscal and structural. The Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, instead of rightly positioning and empowering the federating states that make up our federation, is an amalgam of federalism, unitarism, secularism and theocracy at the same time.
This is not how federations are run, as can be seen with administration of other federations such as the United States of America (USA) where each federating unit is autonomous with its own constitution and certain other paraphernalia of self-administration. Under a true federation, federating units agree on the powers to allocate to the central government. These powers are used by the centre on behalf of the units that ceded powers to it.
The implication of this is that it is the units that create the centre, not the other way round. Political power will, therefore, be centripetal, and not centrifugal. In the first Republic, Nigeria had semi-autonomous federating units in the regions, each with its flag, insignia, courts of appeal and police. There was also fiscal federalism, with the regions committing only certain portions of their revenue to the centre. But our federation, today, is more unitary then federal.
The Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria says that no state shall adopt state religion. Yet, the same constitution provides for sharia courts. This is contradictory under an arrangement that is not truly federal. Instead of promoting production and autonomy of the federating units, all the 36 states go to Abuja monthly to collect doles from the Federation Account.
The result is that there is no attention to agriculture, production and other efforts that could make the states self-sufficient. Nigeria, consequently, has a mono-product economy based on a finite resource, oil.
This is the gargantuan problem confronting the nation that makes Atiku’s call for a return to strong regions attractive, because the states are definitely not strong enough for the challenge of autonomy and self-governance. The states, weakened and atomized as they are, lack the capacity to meet the challenge of autonomy.
Regionalism, as Atiku has suggested, can provide the platform for stronger federating units that can exact autonomy in most sectors of national life, including policing, and fiscal independence, from the centre. Strong, self-governing regions with states as their provinces can devolve powers for defence, foreign affairs and other mutually- determined sectors to the federal government while pursuing their destinies in an atmosphere of competitive fiscal federalism as Nigeria had in the First Republic.
Under this arrangement, the items on the Federal Government’s exclusive legislative list will be significantly reduced, while giving more power and responsibilities to the regions. This is the kernel of Atiku’s proposal, which we find worthy of consideration in Nigeria’s quest for a strong and prosperous nation.