Abiola Ajimobi looks at the skewed features of Nigeria’s federal system
Nigeria is a country with an estimated 350 ethnic groups which have largely contiguous territories. It is therefore a natural candidate for the federal system of government. However, in spite of these federal properties, Nigeria has been grappling with a struggle between forces in support of true federalism and its antagonists. To be sure, the struggle for true federalism began even before the independence of Nigeria in 1960. The failure of all pre-independence constitutions, beginning from the Clifford Constitution of 1922, up to the Macpherson Constitution of 1951, was largely due to their shortcomings in meeting the federal expectations and agitations of Nigerian nationalists. Although they differed in the specifics of their federal expectations, the cream of Nigerian nationalists, as represented by the late Chief Obafemi Awolowo, Sir Ahmadu Bello and Dr. Nnamdi Azikwe, all of blessed memories, advocated the federal system for Nigeria.
For instance, while Chief Awolowo contended that “the constitution of Nigeria must be federal …. any other constitution will be unsuitable and will generate ever-recurring instability which may eventually lead to the complete disappearance of the Nigeria composite State”, Sir Ahmadu Bello contended 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”. Dr. Azikwe, on his part, was insistent that the strength of Nigeria as a nation lies in its heterogeneous composition and the potentials that a federal structure possesses for the release of the energies of these component parts for national development.
As I noted before, these founding fathers of Nigeria, in spite of their unanimity on the appropriateness of federalism as a form of government, differed on the specifics of such system. This lack of consensus persists to date in the struggle for the enthronement of true federalism in Nigeria. It is noteworthy that the positions that advocates and opponents of true federalism take largely depend on how advantaged or disadvantaged they think they are in the operations of the extant system of federalism in Nigeria.
For a proper appreciation of the debate, it would be appropriate to highlight what I believe are the elements of true democracy. From literature on federalism and practice, the core element of federalism is the existence of a system based on the sharing of power between at least two levels of government (federal and state) that allows each level to make final decisions on matters concurrently and exclusively. The core federal principle has the following core characteristics (Osaghae; 2012): No level of government is subordinate to the other; The two or more levels of government operate directly and simultaneously upon the citizens; There is a written constitution which is supreme – amendments especially on matters related to the formal division of power should not be the exclusive preserve of one level of government; There is an independent and supreme court which serves as final arbiter in constitutional disputes; The levels of government, especially state governments, should have reasonable levels of viability and relative economic autonomy both to ensure that they are able to perform their constitutionally assigned functions and that they are not subordinate to the other level; and the constitution does not contain a secession clause that allows federating units to secede at will and does not also grant the federal government emergency powers that can make the states subordinate when used.
One major element of federalism is that it can only thrive in a democracy. This explains why in spite of spirited efforts by successive military governments in Nigeria through what Prof. Isawa Elaigwu calls “military federalism”, they fell short of appropriating true federalism in Nigeria.
This is because of its very nature as a constitutional system characterized by relative autonomies, rights and freedoms and contiguous bargains, a federal system requires thorough going democracy as represented by elements like rule of law, separation of power, independent judiciary, multiparty politics, participation and representation to thrive (Osaghae, 2012). I wish to note that it is possible to identify four (4) phases in the struggle for the democracy in Nigeria. The first was under colonial rule when Nigerian nationalists struggled for the enthronement of a federal system as an integral part of the political independence agenda.
The second phase of federalist struggle was immediately after independence when the political class debated the political architecture bequeathed by the departing colonial power. Again, the dramatis personae differed on their preferences and made requests that sought to enhance their hold on power in their respective regions (and at the national level in the case of the Northern Peoples Congress (NPC) and reduce the viability of opposition parties.
The third phase in the struggle for true federalism in Nigeria was under military rule when Nigerians rose against elements of military unitary system that ran contrary to their federalist expectations. These agitations reached a crescendo with calls for confederacy under the regimes of Generals Muhammadu Buhari, Ibrahim Babangida, Sanni Abacha and Abdul-Salam Abubakar. The outcome of this struggle is the 1999 Constitution.
The fourth phase began immediately the present democratic dispensation began in 1999. The reason for such spontaneous agitation under the present dispensation is attributable to the authoritarian origin of the 1999 Constitution. Although the Constitution is supposedly the cumulation of agitations under the military regimes, most especially under Generals Babangida and Abacha, the Constitution was an imposition of the military which merely incorporated the provisions that it was comfortable with.
Since 1999, the struggle for true federalism has been evidenced by agitation of AD (later ACN) controlled South-West for greater state autonomy; the enthronement of Sharia Law by many Northern States which was a test of constitutional provisions on the extent of the power of States; the agitation for State Police; agitations, litigations and administrative policies on control of local governments; agitation for resource control in the Niger Delta; the agitation for the convocation of Sovereign National Conference and the Boko Haram Insurgency in Northern Nigeria. These are reactions to many elements of the 1999 Constitution that are considered antithetical to the federal system of government.
Without pretending to have an exhaustive list of such anti-federal elements, may I list the following as among these elements: (Osaghae, 2012): Large number of matters on the exclusive legislative list; Limitations to the competence of States in matters on the concurrent list (by which state laws are constitutionally rendered null and void to the extent of their inconsistencies with federal laws); Provision of emergency powers that allow the federal government to take over the affairs of states; Over-centralization of control of the police; Provisions on local government that allow federal interference.
Extant laws that are anti-federal include the Land Use Act; the Laws on Petroleum and Gas that give these resources to the federal government; the Federal Inland Revenue Act of 2007 which empowers the Federal Inland Revenue Service to collect revenue for the three tiers of government, the Monitoring of Revenue Allocation to Local Government Act of 2005, which compels states to set up joint local government account committees and empowers the federal government to deduct from funds allocated to States money they failed to pay to local governments in the previous year.
Against the background of these anti-federal laws, it is understandable why there has been heightened agitation against the present federal system. As Nigeria ponders another review of the 1999 Constitution, arguments and counter arguments are being advanced for the change or retention of these anti-federal provisions.
From my experience as a Senator of the Federal Republic of Nigeria between 2003 – 2007 and governor of Oyo State since last year, I make bold to say that there are too many responsibilities and resources at the federal level to allow for efficiency. The federal government has become so big that it is theoretically and practically impossible to guarantee efficiency. For instance, a report has indicated that the federal government is executing over 1,000 projects at a time. There is no way, given the capacity of the bureaucracy at the federal level, that efficiency can be guaranteed in the deployment of resources in this circumstance.
Besides, Nigeria is too far-flung for a central authority to effectively perform some of the duties ascribed to the central government. These include agriculture and food security, provision of water and management of water resources, policing, maintenance of roads and provision of tertiary education, to mention a few.
As a governor of the oldest state in Western Nigeria, we are faced with challenges in the area of public infrastructure, security, food security, tax collection and provision of educational services. Many of these functions are jointly performed by the federal and state governments, with the bulk of resources needed to perform them residing in the federal government.
Our experience has shown that there is no way the federal government can effectively maintain urban roads - a role which has been ascribed to it under the present constitution. First, it is too far removed from the locations where such services are needed and the bureaucratic process of meeting such needs between the federal capital and under-funded state-based federal agencies are cumbersome and long. More importantly, with an estimated 50,000 km - long federal roads, it is logically impossible for the federal government to promptly respond to infrastructure challenges as they emerge in the states. This explains why pot holes that emerge on federal roads grow into craters unattended to, while files move from federal highway offices flung across the expansive country and the Federal Capital of Abuja. The solution to this malaise is to grant the responsibility of all roads within a state to the state government with the complementary resource allocation to maintain them.
To cite just one more example. The Federal Government, under the present Minister for Agriculture, has embarked on many initiatives to improve food production and guarantee food security. But the laudable exploits are structurally hampered. Food production takes place at the local level and the states are better placed to oversee agricultural services.
Even in Oyo State which is only one of the 36 states, we have had to devolve power to the local government councils and use extension officers to reach farmers in the quest to enhance food production. It is therefore unimaginable that a far-away federal government would be saddled with the responsibility of managing this critical aspect of national life.
For me, the federal government should be limited to setting policies – after consultations with the states – on areas like road, agriculture, sports, etc. while the states are granted the powers and resources to manage these responsibilities that affect the lives of our people at the grassroots. In the last 16 months as the governor of Oyo State, our emphasis has been on the restoration of the glory of Oyo State as the cradle of development in Nigeria.
To this end, our development agenda include: (i)Infrastructural development and environmental protection; (ii)Education, Health and Social Services; (iii)Reform of the Civil Service; (iv)Promotion of investment and expansion of economic activities; (v)Youth development, employment and empowerment; (vi)Peace and Security.In the last 16 months, we have created 20,000 intervention jobs for our youths, rehabilitated over 200 roads, constructing a major flyover in the state capital, constructing over 10 major bridges, empower 3,500 agriculture extension cadets, introduce over 1000 tricycles to ease urban transportation, treated almost half a million patients in out mobile health initiative, rehabilitating over 300 blocks of classrooms etc.
The accomplishment of our vision for the state requires enormous resources. Today, Oyo State receives monthly federal allocation of N4.1 billion while it generates N1.1 billion internally. This is a far cry from the needs of the State which devotes about 92% of its revenue on payment of salaries. While we emphasize improvement in our Internally Generated Revenue (IGR), Oyo State deserves better resource allocation from the federal government. Many of the services that are supposedly performed by the federal government are in the real sense, performed in part by the State. For instance, all federal agencies including security agencies depend on the State for their routine needs like accommodation, electricity supply, transportation etc. It is therefore illogical that allocations for these services are given to the federal government when in actual fact, it is the state that perform these functions or maintain these agencies.
A recourse to true fiscal federalism will ensure that states benefit from resources in their territories. For instance, proceeds from the Value Added Tax (VAT) are distributed on principles that defy logic. Consumption is a reflection of the population and the pressure they exert on the infrastructure and social services in the States. The proceeds of Value Added Tax (VAT) should therefore go to the State who bear the burden of such social activities and consumption rather than be distributed otherwise.
With a population of 7 million people and harboring the largest city south of the Sahara, i.e. Ibadan, Oyo State deserves more resources than it presently has. This will be achieved when the present allocation formula is reviewed to stop the Federal Government from receiving 58% of federal resources while 36 states and 774 local government councils share a paltry 42%.
The Way Forward for Nigeria
1.The way forward for Nigeria is evident in the foregoing. For Nigeria to achieve its manifest destiny as the leader of Africa and hope of the black race, its Constitutional order must be such that its component units can release their energies for national development.
2.The elements of true federalism that Nigeria needs to enthrone include the following:
· A review of the 1999 Constitution to grant more responsibilities to the States;
· A review of the Constitution to reduce the responsibilities of the federal government to common services like Foreign Affairs, Currency, Immigration and Defence;
· Review of the Revenue Allocation Formulae to emphasize the Derivation Principle and allocation of larger percentage of resources to states;
· Provision for State Police with necessary inter-state and federal checks and balances to prevent or reduce abuse; and
· Removal of Local Government from the Constitution to make it a residual responsibility of the State.
• Governor Ajimobi delivered this keynote address at the Town Hall meeting held at DuSable Museum of African-American History, Chicago, United States.