It is not difficult to see prominent citizens from certain divides of the country claiming they do not understand what ‘Restructuring’ means. One also suspects that there are proponents of Restructuring who may not be able to defend their position well for the simple reason that their appreciation of the subject matter is vague; or, maybe, they are just suffering bandwagon effect.
A cause may not be so imperiled from its enemies as from its injudicious defence by its friends. One therefore feels compelled to simplify and summarise what ‘Restructuring’ means despite the facts out there, even from the ruling party, the APC, which set up and received the El Rufai Committee on Restructuring.
Sometimes, one has the sinking feeling that it is those who used the term ‘Restructuring’ that brought the devil into it. What’s appropriate as a term, in my reckoning, ought to be: ‘Restoration’ (of Federalism).
Nigeria has practiced federalism and reaped bountifully its benefits. Why the First Republic collapsed had nothing to do with federalism but insincerity and greed, and desire of each Region to annex the country to it and enslave the rest. It had everything to do with the First Republic leaders who did not approach affairs of the country from nationalistic perspective.
Two historic mistakes that could have perfected the nation’s federalism: the failure of the Willink Minority Commission to recommend the creation of Minority Regions before the exit of Britain; and the ruling coalition creating Mid-Western Region without doing the same for the minorities of Northern and Eastern Regions. While the ruling coalition of NPC and NCNC held their own Regions as indivisible, they went ahead to create Mid-Western Region out of Western Region.
If the ruling coalition had acted more patriotically and did the needful, Nigeria would have arrived at 6 regions in 1963 when Mid-Western Region was created and at a balanced federation. If that was done, there is only little doubt that the Nigeria Biafra war could have been averted.
Nigeria had several conferences with the British colonial authorities to decide how best to structure the country and, instructively, the founding fathers of Nigeria anonymously agreed with the departing British colonial authorities that federalism was best for keeping Nigeria together and progressive.
Then, all the constitutional powers needed for development were also made available to Regions and this included fiscal federalism. For the avoidance of doubt, this was how fiscal federalism was practiced before the civil war. Regions had the control of their natural resources and retained 50% of what they made and remitted 50% to the federal government, which in turn retained 20% of the 50%, received from Regions and redistributed 30% to the Regions.
The Gowon regime changed fiscal federalism, took over 90% of the nation’s resources and distributed what they pleased, thus ending true federalism in Nigeria, claiming they needed money to prosecute the war. The war ended 50 years ago.
Since the war ended, nothing has significantly changed in terms of restoring Nigeria to federalism. On fiscal federalism particularly, the much conceded is 13% derivation to the 10 oil producing States, which is haphazardly implemented to the exclusion of the communities ravaged by oil exploration and excavation. A federal agency, the Revenue Mobilisation, Allocation and Fiscal Commission, on behalf of federal government, is told what share between federal, state and local government areas by the President, the sole approving authority. Though there are State representatives in the Commission it is mere symbolic gesture since they are direct appointees of the President to whom they owe allegiance as their appointor.
Since the Gowon regime, federalism has been systematically destroyed by the variegated military regimes, culminating in the 1999 Constitution, which the country operates as of today as handed over by the military. For the avoidance of doubt, the 1999 constitution gave the federal government right and powers over 68 areas and granted the States the rights and powers in only 16 areas. What’s more, the key areas needed for development are all held by the federal government. I will illustrate with just a few.
Electricity is on the Exclusive List. You hear there has been privatisation in the sector but it is all a ruse. The sector is divided into three, namely: generation, transmission and distribution. Standing between generation and distribution is transmission and the federal government is holding unto transmission hundred percent. What’s more, federal government is holding unto 40% of equity in generation. Where then is the privatization trumpeted to have taken place in the power sector?
It is also important to note that since no State has the constitutional power to transmit electricity, whatever a State generates in excess of 5 megawatts has to be pumped into the national grid for Abuja to decide who gets what.
There have been repulsive and convoluted arguments about power privatization. Let it be known that what we need in the power sector is not privatization. What has to be done is: move power to the Concurrent List, which will make the so-called National Grid optional. This will make the States with capacity to generate, transmit and distribute to generate, transmit and distribute and even sell the excess to the federal government and to the States needing it. That’s what obtains in a federation. That is Restructuring.
Like electricity, other key sectors of the economy are also held by the federal government. State Police is another example. One IGP sits in Abuja and commands a single Police Force to secure 200m Nigerians. This is impossible and it has shown in the escalating fault lines across the country… Boko Haram terrorism, bandits, militancy, kidnappings and the like.
Restructuring means States being able to secure themselves as obtains in all federations. That’s why governors are called chief security officers of their States. Without being able to command, one cannot be said to be chief security officer of a State properly so called.
Let it also be known that the Community Policing being proposed cannot suffice or cure the security anomaly in the country because it is not the same thing as Community Police. Community Police is owned by the community to which it is accountable, while Community Policing operators are foot soldiers of the same IGP who is sitting pretty in Abuja and pretending to be on top of the security of 36 States and FCT, 774 LGs, over 10000 wards to say nothing of establishments, structures and even VIPs that all need to be secured.
Despite the obvious glitch and its dangerousness, ask any IGP what he thinks. He retorts that Nigeria is not ripe for State Police. Yet, Regions had their Police, which functioned fantastically before the war. One may then ask: if Nigeria was ripe for regional police in the sixties, why is the country now unripe for State Police in the year 2020?
The same thing applies to ports, which are also all in the Exclusive List. No State or zone can construct a sea port or an airport without federal government approval. This has forced importers and exporters from South East and South South to use only Lagos ports since those are the only approved ports for now. All other ports even those already constructed, for political reasons, are left to rot away. Railways, Solid Minerals and others are also in the Exclusive List.
Those claiming they do not know the meaning of ‘Restructuring’ can plainly see that the 1999 Constitution, which gave powers to the federal government in 68 areas and only 16 to States never envisaged federalism but a unitary system.
One therefore cannot but align with Alhaji Tanko Yakasai who recently called for reverting to the 1963 Constitution. My modification however is that Regions may not be able to easily return as political structures. But regional economic integration is possible constitutionally if we are sincere about building a nation based on federalism with Britain.
Those who are insisting that Nigeria must remain unitary state, should note that even stronger unions held together by force still broke up. Ironclad USSR, Yugoslavia, Bosnia and Herzegovina and even our neighbouring Sudan were not spared. May our nation make hay while it’s still daylight.
• Dr. Law Mefor is an Abuja based Forensic/Social Psychologist; e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org