Ngozi Okonjo Iweala
By Uche Anichukwu
The breast milk is so central to child survival that the world set aside a week to mark it. Yet every breastfeeding baby knows it is only enjoying a rented facility. Beside the fact that it gets to a point when either the mother or the “landlord” begins to grumble, there also comes a time when even a bucket-full would not quench its hunger. The feeding bottle comes handy, followed by solid food as the child is eventually weaned off.
Unfortunately, the irony in Nigeria’s case is that ever since Gowon’s Regime threw away the core federal principle of fiscal federalism and replaced it with what Senator Ekweremadu correctly described as “feeding bottle federalism”, our states have become overindulged adults permanently on exclusive breastfeeding. The Federal Government became the “Big Daddy” who confiscates all that belongs to his children and doles out to all, the hard working and the indolent alike. Therefore, we are left with states in the mould of what Ndigbo call “Agadi ekwe nka” (every-year-young) and “Nwakpuda” (a child that refuses to grow despite adequate nutrition).
However, it was never the design of our founding fathers. Their reasons for opting for federalism cannot be faulted. To Chief Awolowo, “the constitution of Nigeria must be federal...any other constitution will be unsuitable and generate ever-recurring instability which may eventually lead to the complete disappearance of the Nigeria composite State”. Dr. Azikiwe opined that Nigerian’s prosperity lay in the heterogeneity of both the composition and endowments of a federal structure for the unleashing of the energies of the federating units for national development. Sir Ahmadu Bello reasoned that federalism provided the “only guarantee that the country will grow evenly all over. We can spend the money we receive, the money we raise, in the direction best suited to us”. True to their collective dreams, those days of true federalism up to the fall of the First Republic have remained reference points in massive development across the nation as the regions sort to outdo one another in human capital, infrastructural and industrial development serviced by proceeds from palm produce in the East, cocoa and rubber in the West and groundnut in the North.
Therefore, contrary to the usual proclivity to blame the discovery of oil for our woes, I beg to argue that our trouble actually began when we enthroned “feeding bottle federalism” by cutting down on the percentage of accruals to federating units on the basis of derivation principle. As we moved from 50% derivation at independence to 45% between 1969 to1971, 45% (excluding offshore proceeds) from 1971 to 1975, 20%(excluding offshore proceeds) from 1975 to 1979, 0% (zero percent) from 1979 to 1981, 1.5% from 1982 to 1992, 3% from 1992 to 1999, and 13% from 1999 till date, we created more shareable/free monies for all, irrespective of their inputs into the economy/federal purse. That explains why the component states could afford to abandon agriculture.
In his back page piece (Thisday, March 4, 2012) entitled “Federal Allocation and Our Future”, Simon Kolawale laments that “eternal reliance on oil revenue has done a lot of damage to the federation”. He asks: “Why do we need to stretch our brain to dream of building our own Microsoft and Apple when we can look up to Abuja for the flow of petrodollars every month? Why should Bauchi bother to tap its tourism potential? Why should Bayelsa dream of feeding Africa with its FADAMA rice when there is a fat FAAC cheque to be collected in Abuja monthly? Why should Aba be developed into our own Taiwan or Japan? There is no such incentive. The only incentive I can see in Nigeria is Federation Account”. So, we can now understand why a state governor that should be a chief wealth creator for his state can afford to throw away his thinking cap and sleep for a whole moon only to complain that the free money he is getting from a self-imposed Santa Claus at the centre is not enough.
In particular, I read an interview granted by a Governor who claimed that enthroning fiscal federalism in the ongoing constitution amendment would further impoverish his region. I laughed because his region fared much better under fiscal federalism in the First Republic, but has retrogressed gravely since the coming of free oil money that only oiled a few elites and abandonment of agriculture that provided both mass employment and foreign exchange for the entire region. The same region he was talking about had so many bourgeoning industries and remained West Africa’s textile headquarters for long owing to the foundations laid in that golden era of our federalism. Today, the factories have parked up under “feeding bottle federalism”, while the warehouses now mostly serve as worship centres.
I will only agree that fiscal federalism will put some states, including my own State, Enugu, through temporary crucibles. But it will certainly challenge the federating units to put on their thinking caps, mobilize their abundant resources and unleash quantum potentials. I always marvel at the data on the nationwide distribution of mineral resources once published by the Raw Material Research and Development Council. I summarised the number of mineral resources in each state as follows: Abia-19, Adamawa – 13, Akwa Ibom - 11, Anambra – 8, Bauchi- 35, Bayelsa - 4, Benue- 32, Borno- 23, Cross River - 28, Delta - 12, Ebonyi - 8, Edo- 11, Ekiti - 13, Imo - 8, Jigawa - 10, Kaduna - 13, Kano - 20, Katsina - 23, Kebbi – 10, Kogi – 14, Kwara -12, Lagos - 6, Nassarawa - 15, Niger -17, Ogun - 11, Ondo - 6, Osun -10, and Oyo- 13. Others are: Plateau - 16, Rivers -5, Sokoto -10, Enugu - 11, FCT - 10, Gombe - 11, Taraba – 18, Yobe - 15, and Zamfara - 8. These are exclusive of our rich farmlands and tourism potentials. Now, show me which state is poor. Yet everything lies prostrate or illegally exploited.
Even at that, I would advice those who think the wellbeing of their people, North or South, depends on the quantity of oil or other mineral resources to think twice as modern economies are knowledge-driven. For instance, bereft of oil and other mineral resources, South Korea is the World’s 13th largest economy and 3rd in Asia. Without a single drop of iron ore, Korea’s steel company, POSCO, has risen to the top of global steel industry. Korea’s GNI per capita of almost USD20,000 is poles apart from Nigeria’s GNI per capita of USD1, 180 (World Bank, 2010) despite our plenteous oil resources.
Indeed, oil and mineral resources can only be blessings if well and competitively managed. The UAE is an example of an oil rich nation that has prospered through competitiveness fired by fiscal federalism. Dubai, just a federating emirate (like Osun state), accounts for an infinitesimal quantity of the UAE oil output compared to the heavily endowed Abu Dhabi Emirate. Dubai’s oil is also running out. But don’t worry for them because rather than begrudge sister emirates, Dubai’s leaders have built it into the beautiful financial, commercial, and tourism bride of the Middle East, with suitors flocking in from all parts the world to indulge in her bubbling business and tourism capacities.
Therefore, I think that our enemy is not the fiscal federalism many seem paranoid about. Rather, it is “feeding bottle federalism” that erodes true federalism and national prosperity, allowing the Federal Government to confiscate and share our resources in manners that promote laziness among component states, enthrone bad and uncreative governance, massive corruption, underdevelopment, poverty of the masses and opulence of a few. I see no reason we should not seize the opportunity of the ongoing constitution review project to break the curse.
• Uche Anichukwu is a public affairs analyst