When an organisation becomes unwieldy, inefficient, corrupt, wasteful and incapable of delivering on its mandate or bringing value to its stakeholders, one of the accepted solutions is to unbundle it. That would mean the creation of smaller, more efficient organizations with greater efficiencies of scale. It would also imply specializations in the different organizations so that one mammoth entity is not saddled with the responsibility of doing everything.
In Nigeria, we are already applying the unbundling principle to some of our public corporations: the Power Holding Company of Nigeria (PHCN) is being unbundled, the Nigeria National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) is facing the same fate in the Petroleum Industry Bill (PIB). However, the entity that is most in need of unbundling is the Nigerian Federation. It is more unwieldy than NNPC, more inefficient than PHCN and more corrupt than both put together.
The Nigerian federation is not working and cannot work in its present form because we have a sharing federation. A lorry cannot fly, for the simple reason that it is not designed to fly. In the same vein the Nigeria federation cannot succeed as a productive nation because it is not designed to produce. Nigeria needs to be unbundled to create a productive federation where all parts can produce and contribute not equally but in equal strength.
The argument has been made that the present structure of Nigeria was necessary to curb the strength of the regions, and ensure the stability of the country. The result has been an overkill. We now have states that are clearly incapable of meeting even the elementary requirements of organised modern government, and not to mention preparing its citizens to compete in the global economy. Every federation succeeds on the strength of its federating units, to create a federation where the federating states have no capacity, authority or freedom to deliver is a tragedy.
We must never make the mistake of thinking that Nigeria is more important than its citizens; the future of Nigeria as a united country is meaningless and unachievable except it guarantees the safety, security and prosperity of its people.
The problem is that the federation in its present structure is designed as a sharing unit. Every action and evaluation in the federation is guided by the philosophy of sharing. As a sharing structure Nigeria has actually performed well. Nigeria has 36 states and a federal capital territory, 774 local government areas, hundreds of useless federal and state ministries, agencies, committees, parastatals, commissions etc. spread across the land. All these bodies are in a fierce competition to draw resources from one source. The nature of this competition is responsible for the rot that is Nigeria, it promotes deceit, that is why we lie about every thing from our census to school enrolment figures. It promotes disunity; that is why our country cannot be united.
In other to justify their share or demand for a greater share, politicians and other leaders are compelled to exploit differences between peoples to demand for an increase in the allocation of resources or positions. All offices are calculated in the sharing arrangement, and must be used to the advantage of whatever interest was able to capture them.
“Juicy’ offices are regarded as another legitimate way of sharing the national cake. Nobody can be successfully punished for corruption in this sharing structure because the idea of eradicating corruption is a parody in a sharing federation. People are appointed primarily to “take”, “collect”, or “settle” themselves, and “carry along’ their people, or interest group. Corruption in office begins from the day of appointment, when the villagers abandon their farms to celebrate their good fortune.
The most important tool in the fight against corruption is the disapproval and opprobrium of the society and your peers. We will never get that in our sharing federation because every means that you employ in getting something out of the system will meet the approval of your community and your peers who are similarly engaged, in an equally desperate quest for any advantage in getting a share of the national cake.
The sad reality of our situation is that the population has clearly overtaken the entirety of available resources, and everything is now stretched to breaking point.
This is the end of the road. Everything that can be shared has been zoned and shared. With nothing left to share, and the vast majority of our population still mired in hunger, poverty, illiteracy or half- baked education, unemployment, and anger, our natural reaction is to believe that the reason for this is because there are corrupt leaders in charge who are not sharing things equitably enough, or that if we have our own state or local government, we will be able to get our share. The sad truth is that the poverty index in Nigeria in 1974, when we had 12 states was less than 40 percent, today with 36 states poverty is up by more than 70 percent. More unproductive states may deliver a few more dual carriage ways, loads of government houses, commissioners quarters, federal secretariats and other ill maintained structures of government presence but it has clearly not delivered on the promise of a better life and greater opportunities for the broad majority of our citizens.
Solution? Let us unbundle Nigeria, let us restructure the country to create more efficient units in the states with true freedom and the resources to mobilise their people and plan for the future. We will then have a federal government that will be smaller, more efficient and more effective in its more limited functions as a regulator and enforcer. Taking more resources to the states creates an immediate advantage. Contrary to the fears being expressed in non- oil producing states, unbundling will not affect current revenue profiles, on the contrary, all states will get more from our oil revenues because along with the transfer of several federal functions to states will also come a massive reduction in the federal share.
But more important than money, is that the state will actually be given freedom to plan. If you then choose to lie about your population, it will be your choice, if you prefer to have a hundred local governments it will be your choice, if you elect to pay what the federal government pays its civil servants it will be your choice. States can actually determine their own priorities, compete, learn and cooperate with one another.
States should run their own criminal justice system, build and operate their own prisons, airports etc. States should determine their own system of local government administration, accredit and brand their own education, health, and legal systems, and also license their own practitioners. The federal government will remain the guarantor of our common freedoms ensuring that no state is allowed to discriminate against any Nigerian within the republic. Maintaining our common defence, providing a more effective federal police that is respected as an unbiased umpire in disputes between states and within states as it affects the fundamental rights of citizens under the federal constitution.
In such a federation, states will get oil revenue, but they will realise that they either utilize every kobo prudently and productively or they will be left behind. In this race no one will stand still once the starting short is fired. This competition and freedom will convert our sharing federation into a productive federation that will bring out all the hidden strengths and advantages in every part and every individual. It will unleash the full energy of our sleeping giant.
The greatest argument against giving power to the states is that it will make the governors too powerful. The governors already have power, what this change will do will be to give them real responsibility, and transfer to them the actual burden of governance. It will humble the governors. The size of your allocation will cease to count and the number of your civil servants will cease to matter. What will count is the quality of life under your watch. To crown it, let us give every chief executive one single term of five years. Do your best or do your worst and step aside so that Nigeria can keep moving. I rest my case.
• Senator Abe represents the Rivers South East Senatorial District in the National Assembly.