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Prof. John Ayoade: Nigeria Should Scale Down Federal Powers

23 Dec 2012

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Professor John Ayoade


Professor John Ayoade was a director of the Centre for Democratic Studies and a member of the National Political Reform Conference in 2005. In this interview with Gboyega Akinsanmi, Ayoade speaks on the country’s security challenges and advises on various aspects of the polity that require reform, especially, in the ongoing constitution amendment exercise. He says there is an urgent need to prune the powers and resources of the federal government in favour of the federal units, explaining that the lopsided allocation of resources on the side of the federal government has merely encouraged colossal corruption at that level. Excerpts:

Since 2009, the spate of terrorist attacks in the country has been on the rise. Both police and military solutions are not yielding the desired result. What options do you think Nigeria is left with?

Violent sectarian attacks have become the defining character of Nigeria since 2009. It started from Yobe, Borno and Bauchi as local issues and spread gradually to Kano, Niger, Abuja and Sokoto with heavy casualties attracting international attention. The police and military solutions have not been immediately successful. The reason for the persistence must be sought in the nature and causes, nature of the solution proffered, and cooperation or lack of cooperation of the general public. The violence is in the form of urban guerrilla attacks propelled by lethal weapons ranging from AK 47s to IEDs mounted in cars and motor cycles. The strategy has been in the form of surprise attacks, making it difficult to pin down and cordon off the attackers. The attackers therefore have an edge because they wear no uniforms and have no barracks but have cells in nooks and crannies of different towns. On the other hand, the law enforcement agencies have strict rules of engagement and compliance with that is meant to respect the rights of combatants and non-combatants among whom the combatants take shelter.

But do you think the communities have the power to prevent insurgents from settling in their midst?
Unfortunately, prominent members of the host communities are passive belligerents. They are not in active support but they are not against the violence. The attackers have a strategic advantage as they operate clandestinely, sporadically and in disregard of any regulations. The violence started as reprisals against the police and government institutions but later developed into an attack on the general population. The law enforcement authorities are handicapped in their response for two reasons. First, they cannot isolate the attackers and any seeming error results in domestic and international protest. Second, the host communities, either out of fear of reprisals or for political reasons, cannot offer assistance to law enforcement agencies. The absence of adequate intelligence, therefore, plays to the advantage of the attackers. Counter attack in a guerrilla situation can neither be on target or effective where the host community withholds information. As the situation played out, the host communities either tacitly supported the attacks or suffered the ordeal of silence.

Don’t you think this “ordeal of silence” actually helps to lionise insurgents within the communities?
It has also been difficult to stamp out because it is wrapped up in faith, which allegedly holds out a reward for the action. Faith is a final argument which non-believers cannot win. It, therefore, becomes the impetus and sustainer of action as well as the clarion call for the recruitment of people of like faith. The situation is exacerbated by the ravaging poverty in the land. Young people are already softened by poverty to accept the gospel of violence. People traumatised and deprived by a system are prone to antagonise the system. This is why the fire-for-fire approach cannot ultimately resolve the issues. Basically, violence on either side is undemocratic and serves only a limited purpose. It addresses the symptoms and so even when one side overpowers the other the issues are not yet put to rest. All wars must end at the conference table. The only functional use of violence, therefore, is to facilitate and expedite the convening of the conference. The success of a conference is a function of the extent to which negotiators are able to disentangle the maze of Principles, Interests, and Needs (PIN) and address needs rather than superficialities.

The issue of restructuring Nigeria’s current pseudo-federal system to make for a truly federal state is on the front burner in the ongoing constitution amendment process. How do you think the desired can be achieved?
Two fundamental issues are currently being raised about our operational practice of federalism. The two of them arise from dictatorial centralising tendency and the preference for form rather than substance – federalism without federal practice. The first problem is the disjunction between functions and funding. It is a truism that all government is local. Retaining the bulk of federal revenue at the federal level is assigning great disposable resources to a level which is outside the action place. Most of the functions at the federal level need not have been assigned to that level. The unfortunate effect of this is that there is excess liquidity at the federal level, resulting in colossal corruption. That is why in spite of huge financial haemorrhage, the federal government remains “big, strong, and reliable (BSR)”. I do not need to remind you of the institution that used to boast that way. The federal level will find it more and more difficult to win the war against corruption, which it cannot have the political will to fight, as long as it controls so much resources in search of few functions. That explains the flamboyant extravagance of the federal government, for example, establishing new universities where viable primary schools are non-existent.

What is your take on the issue of equity?
The second issue about revenue allocation in Nigeria is the political equity problem. The critical question we run away from is equilibrium between contributions to the federation and benefits from the federation in order to resolve geo-economic disparities. The fair relationship is to ensure that certain part or parts are not financiers of the federation while others are free riders. It is normal for such financiers to feel hurt. The financiers have asked the legitimate question whether the political majors would have been that magnanimous if the geo-economic topography had been in reverse. In order to resolve that dilemma of equilibrium, either side of the equation could be adjusted to advantage. We can reduce contributions while we hold benefits constant or we can increase benefits while we hold contributions constant. Unfortunately, we have been moving around in circles over this dilemma. We have been asking aggravating and irrelevant questions about what is being done with what they have now. That is untenable paternalism in federalism

What is your opinion on the calls for state police?
The issue of state police is an obvious and direct sequence to state law powers. It is only logical that the power to enforce law follows from the power to make laws. The rebuttal is based on the misplaced fear that the states may abuse police powers. This is the proverbial pot calling the kettle black. The federal gGovernment is as capable of such malfeasance as the states. The abduction and detention of Dr. Chris Ngige by the Nigeria Police is still fresh in our memories. Only God spared his life. Abuse of powers is possible and real and the solution is to strengthen our judiciary to check the power mongers. A state that can be trusted to make laws can be trusted to enforce laws. An argument against that logical symmetry negates the constitutional logic.

Given the current predisposition towards zonal political forums among state governors, do you think regional integration can be a way out of the country’s security and economic malaise?

Regional integration is an attempt to correct the political folly of the balkanisation of yesteryears. Years ago, we had suggested that the constitution should have a clause to enable the reversal of the creation of states, thus, making states that feel so inclined to opt for reintegration. It is commonsensical to be able to reverse an error. Regional integration under the present dispensation will work best under the following conditions: ideological symmetry, consensual political programming, adequate funding and emphasis on comparative advantage. Regional integration must maximise the resultant synergy and avoid unhealthy leadership competition.  They must develop a memorandum of understanding to which all must subscribe.

As a political strategist, do you see the merger arrangement among the opposition parties, especially, that between the Action Congress of Nigeria and Congress for Progressive Change as capable of succeeding?
The ACN/CPC can succeed only if the negotiation is not tied to the dramatis personae conducting the negotiation. Such negotiations should be objective, neutral, prospective, and depersonalised. It will succeed only if the negotiators are not writing themselves into the alliance. What should drive an alliance is the mission and vision rather than the persons who, to me, are mere instruments, and expendable at that. Negotiations are best governed by mission not persons.

Is Nigeria, as currently constituted, equipped to wage a successful anticorruption war?
Corruption is basically a public sector phenomenon. Since it falls on the public sector to eradicate it, there is a dilemma. The difficulty is that we expect the active practitioners of corruption to deal with corrupt people. It is most unlikely to succeed. The anticorruption agencies must be independent in fact and not just in theory. They must be excised from the schedule of the Minister of Justice. Better still, the Minister of Justice must be separate from the Attorney-General. Separating the political officeholder from the professional might give more bite to the anticorruption agencies. The Ministry of Justice, as presently constituted, will be hard put to approve the prosecution of the political giants and bosses.

With the billions of naira injected into the power sector in the last decade that appear to go down the drain, do you think the ongoing privatisation exercise can restore efficiency to the sector?

The crisis in the power sector will be complicated by the ongoing privatisation. The sale of the generation stations to quasi-political businessmen and women is likely to have a political backlash over time. I am thinking in terms of possible political asymmetry and the security of the power zones. Power is too critical and can be manipulated in a partisan manner. I have two main suggestions. The first is the privatisation, decentralisation and delegation of power to the zones. Power is being privatised and decentralised. Rather than sell them to these public “private companies”, I will propose they are delegated to the geopolitical zones so that the zones become functional and they are not just divisions for elite sharing. The second suggestion is that national grid system is a security gamble that creates a strategic nerve centre that is beyond our executive managerial capacity. We should return to the era of small hydro-power generation.

How can the decline in the education sector be halted?
The answer is difficult. In the past education was a door-opener, a means of social upward mobility, a meal ticket, etc. Today it is a demobiliser and a visa to unemployment. Is anybody still surprised why the standard of education has fallen? Teachers are badly trained or even mis-trained through sandwich or postal tuition courses. The curriculum no longer pays attention to ethos and code of conduct, continuing education, in-school and external supervision, record-keeping, etc. The tone of schools has dropped abysmally. Staff and students look frustrated and dejected. Education has become a political pawn. Government allocates little to education and the little allocation is cosmetic and politicised. The popular propaganda is every state must have federal presence in the form of universities, polytechnics, and Colleges of Education. At the minimum, after the first degree, it will take about six years to earn a PhD. Few students now enrol full-time, and for part-time, it will take about nine years. With more than a hundred universities in the country the PhD lecturer/student ratio has won very thin, the extension of retiring age notwithstanding. Discipline in educational institutions among staff and students is at a low ebb. Students photocopy lecture notes in lieu of attending lectures. There are very few academic bookshops as book prices are beyond the reach of unemployed or de-motivated parents. Sandwich courses mushroom because those who have jobs are afraid to go for fulltime training for fear of becoming qualified for unemployment. The system requires radical restructuring. I suggest a national examining body for all Bachelor’s degrees in federal and state universities. A similar body should be established for all private universities where we are hearing rumours that proprietors believe you cannot pay such fees to fail or earn a Third Class.

How best can Nigeria burnish its image that has been battered overtime before the world?
The recent deportation of Nigerian women from Saudi Arabia is, perhaps, an error in communication. Nigeria is not a shareholder of the Holy Land. Saudi Arabia decides the acceptable rules of decorum and comportment in the land. If the rules are unambiguously communicated, non-compliance is a misdemeanour. The question is whether the rules were communicated to Nigeria. We cannot flex muscles if we violate the rules of other lands.
This leads us to why Nigerians are manhandled in other countries. There is no single or simple answer to this. First, the behaviour of some Nigerian nationals, including governors, first ladies, public servants and even ordinary Nigerians, render the Nigerian suspect at first sight offshore. Random selection at entry points is not that random. Perhaps, they become random after Nigerians. Who do we blame if Nigerian Excellencies or ‘Distinguisheds’ jump bail or dress like women to escape where their business card does not exempt from the law. However, some countries operate on the basis of stereotypes and not of science, perhaps, out of vengeance or, at other times, out of hate. The sad thing in all these is that the offshore Nigerian does not have enough protection from his country.

Tags: Politics, Nigeria, Featured, Federal Powers

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