Chuks Okocha and Deji Elumoye in Abuja
The federal government may have commenced a subtle move to cede the control of solid mineral resources to states.
The government has also constituted a committee led by the Chairman of the Nigerian Governors’ Forum (NGF), Ekiti State Governor Fayemi Kayode to commence work on an arrangement that would enable states to enjoy full control of the solid mineral resources in their respective states.
Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Finance, Mr. Ernest Umakhihe, unfolded the federal government’s plans yesterday in Abuja during panel discussion at the joint retreat organised by the Senate Committee on National Planning and Economic Affairs and the Federal Ministry of Finance.
Umakhihe, who is also a member of the panel, was responding to a demand by panelists at the technical session, who condemned the current overbearing influence of the federal government on the nation’s resources and called for an arrangement that would make states to generate revenue to meet the needs of their people.
The panelists included Fayemi; his counterpart from Kebbi State, Alhaji Atiku Bagudu, and a former Chairman of the National Planning Commission, Prof. Ode Ojowu.
In their contributions at the forum, the panelists called for robust, inclusive and sustained national policy that would involve active participation of government at all levels, adding that it was necessary to tackle the various social and economic challenges confronting the nation.
Umakhihe noted that the era where states would rely on the monthly allocation from the Federation Account to meet their needs would soon be over as the federal government was already addressing certain aspects of resource control.
He said: “State governments should get their priority right. Planning should not be purely based on revenue allocation. States should device better ways of generating revenue to meet the basic needs of their people.
“The emphasis at the National Economic Council is the diversification of the economy such that the states would become on their own self-sufficient without relying heavily on the allocation from the Federation Account before they can execute some of their agenda.
“At the NEC level, a committee chaired by Governor Kayode Fayemi is already working on how the states can key into the exploration of solid mineral resources in their states. By the time the report of the committee would be ready, we would have states that would be able to exploit the solid mineral resources in their states and this would shore up their revenue profile.
“The federal government would be able to concentrate on critical national issues if there is no much pressure for allocation from the states. The states and the federal government are already partnering on a number of areas to ensure that the states are self-sustaining. When this is achieved, it would be easier to integrate the local, state and regional modular plans into the national plan for rapid economic growth and development.”
In his contribution, Fayemi said the National Economic Council had not been functional until a few years ago, hence it created a gap in synergy between the federal government and the states in terms of economic planning.
He said: “During my first tenure as governor, the council hardly ever met. It was meant to be a monthly meeting but those of us who are supposed to be members of the council up to 2015 are aware the meeting was hardly ever summoned. But in my second tenure, I met a different arrangement.
“Every member of the council knows when and where the meeting will take place. Governors now organise their meeting around the National Economic Council meeting in order to take a position as governors before the NEC. “
He said that during his first term as governor, “we operated a democratic socialist agenda, with free education programme, social investment programme and we operated the budget from the grassroots but my successor did not continue with the programme and it affected the people. School fees were introduced and enrolment went down in the state, social investment programme disappeared and the poverty rate heightened.
“What we now did was to put in place a transition law, the first of its kind. It is not a unique law, other countries have it. It binds a departing and incoming government to stick to the fundamentals. The new government is not expected to deviate from anything that promotes development.
“This is something that can come up at the national level. Members of the National Assembly can come up with a transition law that would really help to deepen our development process because whatever resources that are expended by the departing administration is the resources of the people. The National Assembly should pay attention to it.”
The governor also stressed the need for key representatives of the National Assembly to be members of the National Economic Council because they are not members at the moment.
He also lamented that Nigeria’s development indices remain low as over 60 per cent of the population are poor.
He identified policy environment and implementation of policies and budget as major causes of poor development, adding that “we must marry policy making and implementation strategies.”
On his part, Bagudu said there was the need to evolve a mechanism that would popularise an inclusive development plan, which would adequately take care of the need of poor and vulnerable Nigerians in the remotest part of the country.
At the panel retreat, the India’s High Commissioner to Nigeria, Mr. Abhay Thakur, who delivered a goodwill message, listed key priority areas like agriculture, industrialisation, affordable health care and food security as the focus of Nigeria’s national planning.
The Senate President, Dr. Ahmad Lawan, also said the retreat came at the right time when “we need to prepare ourselves for the task of legislative and executive collaboration for good governance propelled by well planned economy and development.”
Represented by Senate Deputy Minority Whip, Sahabi Yau, Lawan stressed the need for consensus, which he noted “helps to build common grounds that Nigeria needs for development.”
Chairman of the Senate National Planning Committee, Senator Olawunmi Adetunbi, who convened the retreat lamented that the urgency for national planning became clear when there were weaker economic signs, adding that the committee is determined to work with stakeholders to bring about necessary development.