Ambode: Without True Federalism, Nigeria Can’t Grow

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Gboyega Akinsanmi
Lagos State Governor, Mr. Akinwunmi Ambode, on Tuesday lamented Nigeria’s lopsided federal structure, noting that it had been the bane of national development and peaceful co-existence among Nigerians.

Ambode, however, noted that any structural reforms might face the tendency of being distorted to serve the purpose of those who favour concentration of power, thereby canvassing equitable fiscal federalism.

These positions were contained in the text of a convocation lecture he delivered at the University of Lagos yesterday, re-emphasising the need for Nigeria “to implement the federal system as originally intended.”

The lecture, which attended by Pro Chancellor of the institution, Dr. Wale Babalakin and Oba of Lagos, Oba Rilwan Akiolu, among others, was organised alongside investiture of the 12th Vice Chancellor, Prof. Prof. Oluwatoyin Ogundipe.

At the convocation lecture, the governor lamented that the federal government was burdened with tasks beyond the reach of its best competencies to the detriment of states, which are the federating units.

Ambode, therefore, noted that the country’s present political structure was seriously affecting the efficiency of both state and local governments.
For states to give optimal service to their citizens, the governor proposed the principle of inclusion as being practiced in Lagos where anybody irrespective of race or creed can rise to the pinnacle of their chosen career.

He noted that the principle of inclusion should be applied “to the division of power between the federal and state governments. There recently has been clamour for devolution of power and true federalism.”

Although much of the talk on the devolution of power was good intentioned, he observed that it missed the linchpin of good governance, which was not found in the system deployed but in the quality of its administration.
He said: We must implement the federal system as it was intended to be. Heretofore, too much power has resided in the national government. This has been to the detriment of the authority and efficiency of both state and local governments.

“This has caused a governance vacuum of sorts. The federal government is burdened with tasks beyond the reach of its best competencies. The states and local government are dissuaded from treating many matters of a local nature that are better left in their hands due to their greater knowledge of local conditions.
“We need to shift some functions from the national government to place more of it in the hands of the states. This is how we give federalism the best chance to work. Until we do this, calls to abandon the current system serve not to fix the underlying problem.”

Ambode said any structural reform might face the tendency of being distorted to serve the purpose of those who favour concentration of power, adding that clamour for total change to the political architecture would be time consuming and expensive.
He posited that what the nation should do was to first attempt a more equitable level of fiscal federalism before adopting drastic alternations that may likely plunge the country into uncertainty.

According to him, such attempts at enormous and rapid political change cause economic uncertainty and dislocation. Given our tenuous relationship to prosperity, Nigeria cannot afford this self-affliction.
“There is widespread consensus that too much power sits in the center. We can correct this imbalance by reallocating power and responsibilities between the states and federal government by amending the list of exclusive and concurrent powers and duties of these governments to reflect current realities in the country.

“These changes will have beneficial impact visible within a short amount of time. The impact of these changes, though political in origin, will be economic in nature and it is in our economic life where the nation needs the most help.”
Specifically, the governor noted that resolving the problems regarding federalism and the herdsmen attacks, as with so many other problems, required the political leadership to look beyond prejudice and hatred.

Ambode noted that exploiting fear and bias “is easy and sings well in the short-run. Over the longer-term, it is a bitter cup that cures nothing but ferments greater hatred and larger problems.”
He cited the example of Lagos State, noting that former Governor, Senator Bola Ahmed Tinubu and his immediate successor, Mr. Babatunde Fashola moved the master plan of Lagos from concept to concrete reality.

He said his administration was building on their achievements “to move the state to a smart city. In every way, our infrastructure is improved. Our roads are better, our mass transportation has expanded, hospitals give better care to the sick and afflicted and education is improving.
“The face of Badagry is changing. The makeover of Oshodi will cause you to marvel at the transformation that can take place even in densely populated urban space when there is the political will and determined creativity to give the people the infrastructure they deserve.

“We are improving and expanding the Airport Road so that a trip to and from the airport no longer takes more time than your flight itself. The Lekki-Epe axis was once an isolated, inactive tract of land. Now, it bustles with energy, activity and prosperity due in large measure to the roads and other infrastructure our State has constructed.

“We have and will continue to build bridges linking parts of Lagos that have not been linked before so that commerce, transport and communication among Lagosians will be facilitated,” the governor said.
In his speech, Ogundipe commended Ambode for his commitment to the education sector, saying the institution, where the governor himself graduated from, was proud to associate with his achievements.
He, also, commended him for granting 75 per cent waiver on revenue payable by the institution to the state government, saying the gesture, among other laudable initiatives, were worth commending and shows his passion for the development of the education sector.