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A PLEA FOR COMPASSION FOR STATE GOVERNMENTS BY THE ‘BIG BROTHER’ –As States Groan Under the Yoke of Minimum Wage

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”The national assembly needs to wake up to address this problem. It is incredible that an ordinary review of the revenue allocation formula would take more than fifteen years to address. Adams Aliyu Oshiomhole will confirm that labour movements could be most unreasonable, obstinate and ruthless when it comes to the pursuit of their interests. It is better we don’t get to that stage that the hungry masses on the streets will start chasing those of us who have on the streets” This is why I say it is our common problem that could negatively impact the society”

HOW WE COLLECTIVELY CAUSED THE PROBLEM —- An Irish proverb asserts that: ‘’A small debt makes a man your debtor, a large one your enemy’’ Elsewhere, another post on an online publication Moneycrashers counsels against lending money to family members because ‘’The uncertainty can lead to stress as the borrower may worry that the lender expects payment and the lender worries about when he or she will be repaid’’ In the context of the usage of these two comments, Federal and State governments in Nigeria are regarded as members of the same family as bound by the Constitution of the Federal Republic.  Two days ago, the Federal Government referred to as the ‘big brother’ demanded the repayment of a loan of N614bn secured by 35 states under the National Budget Support Loan Facility.

UNCOMFORTABLE POSTURE: State governors were reportedly jolted by the decision coming at a time many states had yet to comfortably pay the new National Minimum Wage of N30, 000. Each State is reportedly indebted to the Federation Accounts to the tune of N17.5bn. At the last National Economic Council meeting, governors decided to constitute a team from the Nigeria Governors’ Forum to meet with the Central Bank of Nigeria and the Ministry of Finance, to finalize modalities for commencement of repayment. But it is certain they are very uncomfortable given the likely negative effect of repayment. This development forms the bedrock of this analysis that examines how and why this situation got to a seemingly irredeemable condition, and the possible steps that could be taken to avert future occurrences of over-reliance on Abuja for monthly sustenance by States and local governments.

GENUINE FEARS: Understandably, a loan is not a grant; so it must be repaid. It is to be noted that state governors have genuine fears. One could hazard a prediction that it will take not too long for several states to crash, given the state of their finances and economy, especially considering the payment of a new minimum wage. We must approach this issue cautiously in order to avert possible prolonged industrial crises and a lock down of the economy that may be provoked by industrial disputes. Nigeria’s search for political stability has been long and tortuous. Yet, the Promised Land appears far. The country has had a wonderful history of agitation for self-determination. The issue of independence was one which clearly united the protagonists and agitators for freedom from colonial rule. Brilliant and spirited moves were made by the early nationalists to free the country from the shackles of colonialism. It is evident that the colonialists came simply to be able to boost their country’s economy. The history of political development in Nigeria is traceable to the colonization of this country, through the annexation of Lagos colony by the British in 1861. Before the advent of the colonialists, the system of government in the area that was later known as Nigeria was at best oligarchic and tyrannical, as managed by highly oppressive traditional institutions that trampled on the rights of the citizenry with impunity.

POLITICAL DEVELOPMENT: The acquisition of Western education contributed to the advancement of the nation, and the ultimate feverish struggle for independence by early Nigerian nationalists and pressure groups that had benefited from exposure abroad. From the Lugard Constitution of 1914, the nationalists had dialogue over the Clifford Constitution of 1922, the Richards Constitution of 1946, the Macpherson Constitution of 1951 and the Independence Constitution of 1960. The country has also had constitutional reviews in 1963, to usher in its Republican status, and the 1979 Constitution, to usher in the ill-fated second Republic.  There were other reviews in 1989, to cater for the Third Republic that was terminated in 1993; the 1995 Constitution ordered by the Gen. Sani Abacha regime, that was never made public; and the extant 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (as amended) that many have declared a document for the thrash can, on account of the fact that it contains serious inconsistencies.

The 2014 National Conference made far-reaching recommendations to the Federal Government on some parts of the extant constitution that the body believes needs to be reviewed or modified. The arrangement of 1914, cited above gave birth to Nigeria, and eventually led to the country’s first experiment with a unitary constitution 1946, when the Richards Constitution was birthed.  Independent Nigeria adopted the operation of a parliamentary system of Government that was truncated in January, 1966.  The presidential system of Government was imported wholesale from the United States, through the 1977 Constituent Assembly, that drafted the 1979 constitution of the Federal Republic. The 1989 constitution was drawn to serve as the guide for the third republic which partly took off in a form of diarchy, with the legislature in place at the federal and state levels. The interim head of state, Chief Ernest Shonekan was shoved aside for General Sani Abacha to commence another leg of military rule that lasted from November 17, 1993 till his death in 1998, with the mantle of leadership falling on General Abdulsalami Abubakar. The Fourth Republic ushered in the regime of Chief Olusegun Obasanjo, who handed over to late President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua.  President Goodluck Jonathan handed over to President Muhammadu Buhari.

THE CONSTITUTION OF THE FEDERAL REPUBLIC: A prominent Nigerian, Chief Richard Osuolale Akinjide saw these coming over ten years ago. Akinjide had argued that there is nothing wrong with the constitution but Nigerians themselves and the military that he accused of creating and fostering what he called ‘’centrifugal constitutions’ on the nation.  He asserted that: ‘’No amount of amendment of the constitution can help us.’’ We’ve already had about five constitutions and the problem has not been solved. When America had its constitution about 235 years ago, the population of America then was about three million people, now they are over 250 million and they are still using the same constitution. So you will see that the problem is not the constitution; management is just the people. Britain has no written constitution and yet, the system is working very well. Look at China with a population of 1.4 billion people. Look at the size of the constitution; it is less than that of Nigeria. So the problem here is that we have got a country not a nation. The Ibos see themselves as Ibos, not Nigerians. The same goes for the Yoruba and Hausa people. The Deltans also see themselves as Deltans. Lord Lugard did this deliberately as Lugard said: “Amalgamate the country, but not the people.” That is the cradle of the problem of Nigeria till today.”

CREATION OF STATES & LOCAL GOVERNMENTS: The Mid-West region was carved out of the defunct Western-region in 1963, to satisfy the interests of the minorities. The regime of General Yakubu Gowon increased the number of states to twelve (12), thus abolishing the four regional structure. General Murtala/Obasanjo regime increased the States to nineteen (19) based on agitations, groupings in accordance with the wishes of the people of the areas and for administrative convenience. General Ibrahim Babangida embarked on States creation exercises twice to bring the number to thirty (30) before vacating office in 1993. General Sani Abacha increased the number to thirty-six. The intriguing scenario is that demands and agitation for more states continue to be made with reckless abandon and without very salient positive considerations and without due regard for their viability. Even as the economy took a downward plunge, persistent calls for states and local government creation continue to ring out from virtually all sections of the country. Most of the pressure came from the elite who had vested and selfish interests.

FEVERISH STRUGGLES:  In all these the hands of those who argued fiercely for self-determination were visible. People agitated for creation of States and local government selfish reasons, rather that basing their agitations on motives. Elites who are indigenes of defined territories trooped to Abuja to pledge their support for the military and ask for creation of States and local governments. One heard strident calls emanating from those who should know the implications argue for creation of States and local governments, without any due regard for viability. Practically all towns were involved in the struggle to become local government headquarters, while big settlements mounted campaigns to be named State capitals. Some exercises attracted loud protests, and even violence, as was recorded in 2003, when the Warri local government was created: ‘’What we have witnessed is the abysmal failure of the Local Government system. It is on record that at no time in the history of the country has there been the current level of funding accruing to the Local Governments from the Federation Account, yet the hope for rapid and sustained development has been a mirage as successive Councils have grossly under-performed in almost all the areas of their mandate….The number of Local Government Areas (LGAs) had also risen steadily from 301 in 1976 to 774 currently listed in the First Schedule, Part I of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999, yet the clamour for the creation of more LGAs has not abated. Indeed, as of date, a total of over 500 new LGAs are in the process of being created by various State Governments. At the same time, the number of States has tripled from twelve to thirty-six since January 1976 without addition of land area to Nigeria (Obasanjo 2003)

THE ELITE AS CAUSE OF PROBLEM:  It is evident that most of the problems confronting Nigeria today have been caused by the elite and political class who manipulate the poor and masses. The struggles for states creation were championed by the elites, without due regard for economic and political viability. Anthony Hamilton Millard Kirk-Greene (A.H. Kirk-Greene) wrote about these. It is true that there is no society without its own measure of tribalism and regionalism; even in the developed world. In Nigeria, the problem of state or place of origin, religion, ethnicity, tribalism, nepotism and related ills, have combined to constitute formidable barriers to development.

DO WE REQUIRE MANY STATES? The pertinent question remains: Does Nigeria truly require the additional States and local governments as still being canvassed? Would these proposed states and local governments be viable, taking into consideration the anticipated revenue and expenditure pattern and the amounts that would go into servicing overheads?  The answer to this poser, going by the extant socio-economic and political conditions of the country is provided by Luke Onyekakeyah, a columnist in the Guardian newspapers: “If anything, the existing state structure has done more harm than good to the socio-economic and political development of the country. We are worse off belonging to states rather than to Nigeria as it were. It is a fact that most of the landmark developments found in different parts of the country were accomplished under the former regional government. Agriculture that thrived and placed the country on the world economic map disappeared with the creation of states. ‘’Basic amenities like good roads, healthcare centres and schools that worked under the regional government disappeared with the creation of states. Besides, most of the states are destitute, depending practically on the monthly allocation shared from the federation account’’

STATES MAY FIZZLE OUT WITHOUT ALLOCATION FROM THE FEDERATION ACCOUNTS: Without these allocations, they will fizzle out on their own and would even seek to be re-merged with other viable states. Why then should they create states that are not viable?  As a society, we have no prospect of developing except our common policies, programmes and plans are executed in accordance with modern established principles of governance. One could foresee very dreadful situations where states are unable to fulfill their obligations to citizens. As the saying goes, a hungry person would never listen to any sermon. If the federal government is not financially tight, it would seem appropriate to evolve ways of ensuring that the incidence of the deductions from the three tiers is not on-passed to the public. In the meantime, efforts could be scaled up to work out plans for refund. The ”awuff” syndrome as highlighted by that great Nigerian, Prof. Akin Mabogunje has to be discouraged. States and local governments must look inwards,

SOLUTIONS: One of the solutions is definitely the need for Nigeria to embrace economic and political reforms periodically. Given the fact that adjustments are painful and take time to work, the society must be ready to bear and endure for policies and programmes that are introduced to bail the nation out of its predicament to bear fruits. Policy somersaults and reversals on account of flimsy excuses cannot be tenable and would do the polity no good. The 1963 Republican Constitution provided for separate governors, premiers, cabinets and legislatures, separate judiciaries, separate development plans, Public Service Commission  and civil services. It is evident that the arrangement which granted a considerable measure of autonomy to the Regions promoted healthy rivalry among the constituent parts of Nigeria.  The North, West and East had greater say in the management of their own affairs than hitherto.  The economies of the regions supported their growth to the extent to which managers of resources could harness their human and financial potentials. It was apparent that Nigeria ran a loose federation, which allowed for concentration of powers in the regions, while the Federal Government handled issues such as national security, defence and foreign affairs.

SECURITY IMPLICATIONS: The unrests and widespread disturbances in many parts of the country are attributable to the issues of fiscal federalism, ethno-religious matters, citizenship, indigeneship and related issues, which must be thoroughly and critically examined within the context of federalism. Fiscal autonomy and self-reliance must be granted to state governments, as was the case under Nigeria’s independence and republican constitutions of 1960 and 1963 respectively, both of which stipulated sizeable percentage derivation from the regions’ contributions to the Federation Accounts. However, there is the need for our people to be moderate in their demands in order to allow for a gradual development of democratic process. This move will undoubtedly propel the constituent units to look inwards for development as well as give the people the true sense of belonging. It will furthermore assist the nation greatly in its quest to diversify the economy and reduce over-dependence on revenue from the oil sector. Tackling the problem of structural imbalance and endemic socio-political problems involves considering common goals, aspirations, identities, languages and ethno-religious factors.

ISSUES TO BE ADDRESSED:  There are long standing issues that have to be addressed.  For instance, the Colonial Secretary, having considered the deep realities of the situation arising from the Constitutional Conference of 1954 wrote in his diary “If Nigeria was to be a nation, it must be a federation with a few subjects reserved for the Central Government as would preserve national unity.” (From: Lord Chandos, Memoirs quoted in Mackintosh, op. cit., p.27)  Historical accounts indicate that some items were drawn up to be on the Exclusive List of powers exercised by the federal government and a substantial part on the concurrent list was to be administered by the regions.

Subsequent modifications adopted at later constitutional conferences arrogated wide powers to the regions, thus emphasizing the separateness of regional governments, which stood at four in 1963, with the creation of the Mid-Western Region.  Nigeria must rise up to the occasion by continuing to take measures that would make our country attractive to capital inflows without necessarily making life too difficult for the masses to bear. It is appropriate, therefore, for the nation to review the constitution in a manner that would make it fulfill the objective of guiding relationships and conducts. One highly contentious development that has to be accorded particular attention is fiscal federalism.

THE WAY FORWARD — GOOD GOVERNANCE & REVIEW OF THE FEDERATION ALLOCATION FORMULA: Part of the solutions appears to be the need for us to evolve and embrace economic and political reforms in our country. We must rise up to the occasion by continuing to take measures that would make our country attractive to economic development without necessarily making life too difficult for the masses to bear. Unfortunately, poverty, hunger, and uneven development, easily pose the most serious threat to peace all over the world, including our nation.  I wish to also make a passionate case for the granting of fiscal autonomy to and self-reliance to state Governments, as was the case under Nigeria’s independence and republican constitutions of 1960 and 1963 respectively, both of which stipulated sizeable percentage derivation from the regions’ contributions to the Federation Accounts.  The three tiers of government must have roles ascribed to them by the constitution whose provisions must naturally be supreme. It is equally time for our country to return to the true practice of fiscal federalism as practiced during the first republic but with modifications.  The centre as at now takes a hefty 56 percent of the collectable revenue, which leaves the 36 federating states and their local governments to share 24 and 20 per cent of our revenue respectively.

THE NATIONAL ASSEMBLY: Creation of additional states based on sentiments would invariably hurt the economy, with the possibility of the nation producing failed states. It is even better we reconfigure the nation and merge several states so that resources could go to the provision of amenities rather than servicing huge overhead bills of elected and appointed public officers. We must resist the tendency of taking decisions simply because we originate from certain locations, as only a few stand to benefit from such actions. Besides, if every town or hamlet is given its own local government in the country today, there would still be more protests and demands for more, to cater for selfish interests and other matters that are not really in public interest. It is, therefore, necessary, for the society to eliminate myopic views and considerations which would not be in the interest of the overall majority. The national assembly needs to wake up to address this problem. It is incredible that an ordinary review of the revenue allocation formula would take more than fifteen years to address. Adams Aliyu Oshiomhole will confirm that labour movements could be most unreasonable, obstinate and ruthless when it comes to the pursuit of their interests. It is better we don’t get to that stage that could negatively impact the society. The recent incident in Germany is a wake-up call to our politicians. May it never get to a stage that it would be only Mr. President and the Vice-President who would dare travel abroad and be free from embarrassment from the Nigerian Diaspora because they are statutorily entitled to official security.

NO ALTERNATIVE TO GOOD GOVERNANCE:  Emotions have run high several times leading to loss of thousands of precious lives and property on account of religious, ethnic, tribal and political differences. And most of these problems have been caused by illiteracy and the elites in the society, who have successfully led the largely illiterate and poor population by the nose. Highly sensitive issues such as fiscal responsibility and sharing of political offices in a federation are some of the knotty issues that would demand paramount attention. The pattern of resource allocation should give greater resources to the states thus making the centre less attractive. This measure, if adopted, should lead to healthy competition among the constituents of the country. Another constitutional review is in progress. Amendments should still be entertained from time to time in public interest. There can be no alternative to good governance.

DEMOCRACY & REFORMS: For a meaningful growth of good governance and democracy, there is evidently the need to develop and strengthen the institutions of democracy; including the legislature, executive, judiciary, political parties, security agencies, civil society organizations and the press. We have to ponder and reflect on both our successes and failures from time to time. It is imperative for the general citizenry, indeed all of us, to therefore, imbibe positive values and attitudes that are required for attaining the desirable goals that are set out in the Nigerian constitution. And of course, one of these steps must be our ability to rise above situations in our growing democracy. We must of course recognize the fact that the people themselves perhaps form the strongest point that would make democracy endure, by their conducts and their ability to organize themselves. Thirdly, I am convinced that for our nation to properly chart an enviable course of development, we must thoroughly educate our people on their rights and obligations to the State while also ensuring the delivery of sound education to the growing ones in our institutions.  In addition, those who lead and govern must be ready to be transparent in their actions, while also demonstrating commitment and dedication to the growth and sustenance of our dear nation.

USING THE BEST HANDS:  Political actors and the general citizenry must continue to learn,  until they are able to build enduring democratic structures. It is highly imperative that Nigerians should adopt whatever political system that is most suitable to our peculiar circumstances. It is important for the nation and its people to embrace a system that throws up the best in the society for leadership roles, if our society must experience the desired development. This thinking is in tandem with the position of a Nigerian expert in International Relations, Akinjide Osuntokun, who has posited that “there is a correlation between democracy and development. Democracy means the Rule of Law. Laws must therefore be ultimately sovereign, apart from the people. It is apparent that there is too much of regional tendencies with shouts of marginalization here and there, leading to centrifugal forces.”

DEFEATING POVERTY:  Poverty has been identified as one of the greatest banes of political development in Nigeria, with the affluent dominating directly and indirectly  the political arena and sometimes, control the political class.  Prof. Tunde Adeniran, in the book referred to earlier pointed out that “when citizens are subjected to the pangs of hunger, when they have no access to education as a right and means to self development, when they lack basic means of livelihood and they can be pushed around with ease and at will for the sake of survival, they can hardly be relied upon to promote or defend a democratic culture. Poverty must therefore be tackled for democracy to be. With this should be instituted the rule of law, due process, transparency and accountability without which no democratic culture can be sustained”. A recap of our past experiences would enable us reflect properly on how to attain the goal of entrenching an enduring democratic culture.

A RECAP TO MAP OUT THE FUTURE: Events of the last few decades have indicated that there are critical and challenging socio-economic problems that must be addressed for people to enjoy better standards of living. The fight against poverty and unemployment must therefore be seen as a central plank of developmental planning. More importantly, Education should be regarded the greatest investment in humanity. It is evidently the surest foundation of the populace. Those who are ignorant have to be enlightened and exposed to ways and means of enforcing their fundamental human rights and holding governments accountable for their actions or inactions. Nigeria has come a long way since independence. Singapore got its independence in 1965, and has progressively moved from the Third to the First World. What has gone wrong? What is the problem and what is the way forward? Apparently, the question of leadership has been the bane of Nigeria.

THE CIVIL SOCIETY, OUR VALUES & NORMS: These must change radically if the society must witness the desired development. Government has  obligations to the citizenry, The common people too must play their parts well, On the whole, it is suggested that the process of evolving a new revenue allocation formula be attended to and concluded speedily. Otherwise, let us consider a home grown solution to all these political problems,

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