Wednesday, June 21, 2017
My stand on restructuring of Nigeria
For quite some time now, there has been clamour for restructuring of Nigeria. Not a few people, I inclusive, believe that the solution to the heightening socio-political tension currently being experienced in Nigeria lies in making our federal system of government work better. Since the June 6, 2017 provocative Arewa youths quit order to Igbos to vacate the 19 northern states within three months, many observers had called on the federal government to dust up the 2014 National Conference report for implementation so that the brewing tension can be doused.
One thing most Nigerians agreed on is that our current federal system is fundamentally flawed and skewed in practice. It does not guarantee equity, justice and fairness. There are ample evidences to cite about the marginalisation, discrimination, criminal neglect and domination of one ethnic group against the other. The federal character principle which was designed to address the fears of the minorities and promote inclusive governance has been grossly abused by the operators of the system. Appointments and citing of projects are being done with heavy dose of politics and nepotism. These are what have led the Igbos to demand for sovereign state of Biafra or self-determination. The major beneficiary of the status quo is northern Nigeria and it is not unexpected that its elites do not want restructuring.
Whether we like it or not, the salvation of this country lies solely on changing the current order of doing things. Like I said in my opinion on this page last week, there is need for inclusive governance, justice and development. In contributing to the ongoing debate on what needs to be tinkered with to make our federal system work better, I have decided to highlight a number of things. To my own mind, there is need for restructuring of our politics, governance and economic structures. How do I mean?
In terms of politics, there is need to sanitise our electoral process and political system as a whole. Multiparty system is best suited for us and that should not be compromised. However, a scenario where about 90 applications of political associations wanting to register as political parties after the Independent National Electoral Commission recently licensed five new political parties to the hitherto 40 worries me. Because the conditions for registering political parties are not very stringent, all Tom, Dick and Harry want to register one. My take on this phenomenon is that INEC should go on to register as many political associations as may want to become political parties. However, there should be condition precedent to having such parties been allowed to field candidates at elections. I shudder at a situation where we would have over 100 political parties by 2019 and all of them being allowed to field candidates and present party agents at the Polling Units. This will make voter education and election security very tasking. I believe in independent candidacy but there should be stringent conditions stipulated to be met by anyone who wants to run as independent. If this is not done it will create a logistic nightmare for the election management bodies.
As part of the wider political reform, there should be amendment of the relevant legal regime for elections to guarantee electronic voting, out-of-country voting (Diaspora voting), early voting as well as affirmative action for vulnerable groups such as the youths, women and Persons with Disability. Establishment of electoral offences commission to deal with infractions and violations of electoral codes has also become imperative.
I don’t believe in regionalism in the sense of scrapping the states to now go back to the pre-1963 status of having three regions. Rather, there should be no more state creation. We should maintain the 36 states structure for now. However, States should be the federating units while local government should be delisted from the Constitution and made to be subject of states. In this sense, revenue allocation should be between federal and state government while States are now at liberty to create the number of local government they desire. I am of the opinion that there is need for State Police and Prison just like we have State High Court. This will fasten the justice delivery system. State Independent Electoral Commission need not be scrapped but granted financial and administrative autonomy just like INEC currently enjoys.
Part of the restructuring I am advocating should also see to the inclusion of power rotation and zoning clause in our Constitution for key leadership positions at all tiers of government. The rationale behind the strident call for self-determination by the Igbos is the allegations of being alienated from the presidency. If there is formal power rotation arrangement among the major ethnic groups it would help douse tension of political marginalisation. However, for there to be quick rotation, executive positions should be for one term of six years at the level of president and governors while it could be single term of three years at the local government levels.
I am a strong advocate of devolution of powers from the current omnibus exclusive legislative list to the concurrent and residual list. At present, there are 68 items under the exclusive legislative list while the concurrent list has only 12. Issues like prison, police, railway, electricity should be devolved to the concurrent list. Concomitant to the devolution of powers is the need for the review of revenue allocation formula in favour of states. At present, the Federal Government takes 46.5 per cent of the revenue while the states take 26 per cent and local government 20 per cent while 7.5 per cent goes to special fund. Given my advocacy for the local government to be subjected to state control, therefore allocation due to them should go to states.
In restructuring Nigeria, there should also be fiscal federalism or resource control. This ‘suckling federalism’ where states and local government come to Abuja every month for allocation is wrong. Each state should be allowed to explore and control all natural resources found in its environment be it oil and gas, solid minerals or agricultural resources and retain 50 per cent of the accrued revenue while the remaining fifty per cent should be paid to the coffers of federal government to run its administration.
It is also imperative that the economy is diversified so that the country is weaned off over dependence on oil and gas for its national income. Other areas that need to be full explored by all tiers of government to boost their revenue include sports, entertainment, tourism, agriculture, and solid minerals. There is also the need to come up with tax friendly policy that will make people to voluntarily pay tax. With more people paying tax, there will be more money available to government for development.
What needs to be done now? All the aforesaid are contained in the plethora of conferences and presidential committee reports currently gathering dust in the presidency. At least, we have among them the 1995 Abacha Conference report, the 2005 National Political Reform Conference Report, the 2008 Justice Muhammadu Uwais Electoral Reform Committee Report, the 2011 Sheik Ahmed Lemu Electoral Violence Report, 2014 National Conference Report and the 2017 Senator Ken Nnamani Electoral Committee Report. I suggest that the Acting President Yemi Osinbajo should set up a technical committee to operationalise some of the key recommendations of these reports and start to implement those that have to do with policies while those that need constitutional amendment should be sent to the National Assembly as Executive Bill without any further delay. This technical committee should not be more than 15 and should sit for not more than three months. While this is going on, the Acting President should intensify his dialogue with different ethnic groups; start to correct the perceived injustices in terms of appointments and provision of infrastructure while ensuring that security agencies are on high alert to deal with any acts of internal insurrection.