There is no other place in the world our kind of unitary federalism is being practised: where all the presumed federating units (the states) and the non-federating units (the local governments) are mandated to send all their revenues (tax revenues and natural resource revenues) to a special account known as “the Federation Account”.
This is with the exception of proceeds from the personal income tax of the personnel of the armed forces of the federation, the Nigeria Police Force, the ministry or department responsible for foreign affairs, along with residents of the Federal Capital Territory. Then, every month members of the Federation Account Allocation Committee sit to allocate the gathered revenues on the basis of population, equality of states, internal revenue generation, land mass, terrain and population density.
In creating states, the military, starting with the General Gowon government, did so without due consultation and fairness to the four federating regions existing before the 1966 coups that led to the dissolution of the regional federal system in 1967 and its replacement with the unitary federal system made up of 12 states on May 27, 1967, which were subsequently further subdivided into 19 states (and a federal capital territory) in February 1976, and later into 21 states in September 1987, and into 30 states in August 1991, and finally the present 36 states in October 1996.
To see how unfair and unjust the state creation has been, let us take a look at Sokoto and Lagos states. In 1976 both Lagos and Sokoto were among the 19 federating states. But by 1996 the 1976 Sokoto had been broken into four states of Sokoto, Niger, Kebbi, and Zamfara, while Lagos of 1976 remained the same in 1996.
What this means is that when it comes to revenue allocation during a FAAC meeting, based on the equality of states, one of principles of revenue allocation, Sokoto having been broken into four states gets four times whereas Lagos gets only once. Also, during allocation to the 774 local governments in the country, the old Sokoto from 20 local governments in 1976 to now 83 local governments will get allocations for 83, while Lagos still with only 20 local governments will get allocation for only 20.
This demonstrates how unfair and unjust our so-called unitary federalism has been. Also bleeding anger is the fact that with more local governments unjustifiably created in some states and unjustifiably fewer in some other states, some states have unjustifiably more representatives at the Federal House of Representatives than other states, notwithstanding their population densities. And it is these representatives that have, since the return of democracy in 1999, been making laws on how the federal revenues should be allocated, how the overall annual federal budgetary allocations should be apportioned as well as projections to be allocated and funded across the nation.
Not only that this has made Nigeria ungovernable, it has also made it corrupt like no other nation. It is also this unitary federalism that has caused the country’s economic stagnation, since it doesn’t matter whether a state or a local government generates revenue or not (or how viable a state or a local government is): all the 36 states and the 774 LGs will always get their monthly revenue allocation from the federation account. Since our unitary federalism pays states and local governments whether they work or not, understandably, in this feeding bottle monthly allocation arrangement, there is no incentive to work hard to generate revenues that after all will end up in the federation account.
It is as a result of these distortions that there is an unending battle over which ethnic group or region will produce the president of Nigeria, since it means that during the period of that presidency, the ethnic region or group will be more favoured with federal projects and appointments, especially given the kind of monarchical president our constitution has given birth to.
This is breeding corruption, since the primary goal of capturing federal government is to be able to hijack the centre and the portion of the revenue accruing to it. And since more than a half of the entire revenue in the federation account goes to the federal government, plus the federal government’s ability to borrow both externally and locally, and spend it as and where it likes, the battle to occupy the federal government has become ferocious among the old federating regions.
Those who are fiercely opposed to the restructuring of Nigeria are not actually those in charge of our present big and inefficient bureaucracy that is only kept as alive as it feeds fat on our national patrimony.
So Buhari and Osinbajo are only fighting for their political lives. Unknown to most Nigerians, actually, it is the overbearing international oil companies (IOCs) and their big-time gold, diamond, uranium and other precious metal mining counterparts in Nigeria that are fiercely opposed to restructuring. It is our unitary federalism that hands them the weapon with which they steal the country blind, sometimes with the help of those in charge of the centre, so they don’t want to be dismantled and replaced.
They can’t be more opposed to restructuring because if we restructure and hand over the ownership of oil and precious minerals to their rightful regional and state owners, then, it will be difficult, if not impossible, for these foreign imperialists to continue stealing and exploiting our vast natural resource wealth. This is because once the resources are in their rightful owners’ hands; these owners will definitely take full charge of protecting what belongs to them.
And by fully controlling what belongs to them and monitoring how they are explored and exploited, these foreign thieves will lose, since they can no longer connive with some politicians and top security men and women in faraway Abuja to steal these resources; these new owners will be the ones calling the shots by making sure that they maximise the benefit from the resources that are in their backyard. In addition, they will also ensure that it is the best environment-friendly processes that are adopted during exploration and mining of these resources of theirs.
Understandably, these foreign imperialists cannot tolerate presidential candidates like Atiku Abubakar who are patriotically advocating for the restructuring of the country so that Nigerians and their politicians will get back to work, as is the case in all federal systems around the world. But no matter how powerful they are, it is in our power – using our PVC – to remove their agents in government by electing patriotic leaders like Atiku, the champion of restructuring. This way, he could begin the process of dismantling this imperialist system that has been used to fully exploit our vast natural wealth, thanks to their cleverness in plotting the 1966 coups.
Our philosopher-king Vice President, Professor Yemi Osinbajo, who should know better and who should be bold to speak in favour of restructuring against unitary federalism, has become an advocate of anti-restructuring because of political exigency. It is mind-boggling that a man of his knowledge and associated patriotism is openly and shamelessly canvassing that our bizarre unitary federalism is not the problem but rather good governance.
But how can Prof. Osinbajo talk about good governance in isolation, without making efforts to recognise that there is no way we can ever have good governance in such an unfair and unjust federal system? How fair and just should he judge the present system where the president has been borrowing trillions of naira and billions of dollars on the basis of the South-South oil, and then uses the loans to develop some sections of the country with the exclusion of the same South-South?
If it was not as a result of regional economies keeping 50% of their regionally generated revenues, how would Western Nigeria led by Awolowo, his grandfather-in-law, have built the best infrastructure with free education enjoyed by the people of Western Nigeria before the collapse of the economic regions in 1966? No doubt, Awolowo in his grave should be crying bitterly that it is his beloved grandson-in-law who is today advocating anti-restructuring of the country!
In the meantime, going back to our awkward unitary federal system that has cost the Niger Deltans over $2 trillion oil revenue, which the federal government has squandered since the dissolution of the regional economic system based on a 50-50 revenue-sharing fiscal federalism, it is understandable why the regions with more population not more endowed with the resource being shared are more politically savvy and are doing everything to ensure that power remains in their regions and not in the less politically powerful regions.
Even when political parties have decided to rotate power among the six geopolitical zones, the northwest, particularly Katsina, has been the one keeping the power coming to the north, with Yar’Adua doing one term and Buhari, after completing another a second term, which would make Katsina produce president for three terms.
Funny enough, there is already a growing call by some north-western PDP presidential candidates who are openly advocating that the next PDP presidential candidate must come from the same northwest, without considering the northeast that has never produced either a military dictator or a civilian president since 1967. Are those advocating another four years for northwest aware of how unjust and unfair they are on insisting that it’s should be the right of the northwest Muslims to be producing presidents for the north and Nigeria?
Had Nigeria since been restructured, there wouldn’t have been any such call for Biafra, Arewa or Oduduwa republic. That is why we must all agree that restructuring and fiscal federalism can no longer wait. Why should any section of this country or any progressive politicians be happy with where the country is today? Are they happy that we are worse off today than we would have been if we continued with regionalism?
Are our northern politicians opposing restructuring not aware that the north would have today been competing with the likes of California, Brazil and Australia as the food baskets of the world, earning over $500 billion from cotton, banana, grains, tomato, orange, ginger, garlic, beef, cheese, processed fruits and vegetables exports and having over 50 million northerners directly and indirectly involved in agriculture, mechanised farming, and industrial food processing?
If we are patriotic and truthful enough we should all be championing the restructuring of this crippled giant of Africa so as to create a new Nigeria of our dream – a Nigeria that is accountable and less corrupt, a highly productive Nigeria based on a win-win agenda for all its regions and ethnic groups; and, above all, bequeathing a Nigeria our children will be happy and proud to inherit.
That is why restructuring Nigeria into six economic regions is going to be the best thing ever to happen to Nigeria since independence, to the extent that it will trigger such an unprecedented economic growth driven equally by such an unprecedented fierce but healthy economic competition among the competing six regions. If each of the six economic regions becomes responsible for its own development, irrespective of what happens in other regional economies, definitely their regional leaders will be forced to waste no time in putting on their thinking caps.
I will suggest that upon being sworn in as President, Atiku Abubakar should sign an Executive Order officially renaming our six geopolitical zones as the “Six Economic Regions”. The said Executive Order should insist that each Economic Region should send in its preferred new regional capital. If desirable, each Economic Region would also be at liberty to create an entirely new economic capital different from the existing capital. Also, regions could decide to create regional economic capitals to be separate from their regional political capitals.
Since there is nothing new to invent in restructuring Nigeria, he would do an excellent service to Nigeria by just following the already well-known pathway of giving regions the economic independence and political freedom to accomplish them. That is why the best way to pursue Nigeria’s restructuring is for a President Atiku to establish a “Presidential Restructuring Advisory Committee” (PRAC) and a “Nigerian Economic Region Commission” (NERC). Both PRAC and NERC should be mandated to come up with the most suitable Federal Regional Economic and Political Systems, after considering the existing ones across the world.
The NERC should be divided into sub-committees comprising the six Economic Regions, with the mandate of coming up with the best economic plans for each region. Looking at the six Economic Regions, one sees the inevitable healthy competition.
While, initially, the Southwest Economic Region would emerge as the largest in regional GDPs, followed by the South-South, North-Central, North-West, South-East, and North-East, as fierce competition goes on, the regional economic map would begin to change. Even though the South-West could still lead and the South-South still the next, the South-East could overtake the North-Central, and the North-East would also overtake the North-West. There would be massive investment in the development of the Nigerian side of the Lake Chad Basin. And, as time goes on, North-East would replace North-Central as the country’s food basket, making it the leading region in the export of fruits, vegetables, rice, fish, beef and processed foods.
As each of the six Economic Regions begins to brainstorm on best ways to reposition its economy, each will begin to do everything humanly possible to attract both local and foreign investors. This will mean that the region that is more attractive will be the one to attract more investors.
Because of this, there will be a new map of investment flows, to the extent that each region will endeavour to develop their infrastructure if they want to become more attractive for investment.
Should big business-owning indigents operating outside the regions begin to be lobbied by the economic champions of their regions, regions like South-East would definitely witness such unprecedented business relocation from around the world and particularly from other parts of Nigeria to the South-East?
Also, because of the huge fertile land in the North-East coupled with its vast marine wealth in Lake Chad, there would be thousands of foreign investors, mostly from China, who would be interested in investing in the North-East Economic Region, to the extent of helping to develop its transportation and other infrastructure to make the region secure and safe, and make movement of agricultural products and solid minerals faster, easier, and less costly.
Enwegbara, an Abuja based development economist, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 07038501486