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UNENDING QUEST FOR FISCAL FEDERALISM AND RESTRUCTURING

By NBF News
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•Kanu &•Gbajabiamila & •Ositelu
It is another season of calls and campaign for the country to practise fiscal federalism, restructuring and amendment of the constitution. At a recent lecture held in honour of Dr. Rufus Okikiola Ositelu, the Primate and Metropolitan Archbishop of the Church of the Lord, Aladura with the theme: 'Fiscal Federalism is Possible: The Nigerian Context', the issue of restructuring was debated on. CHINELO OBOGO reports.

The agitation for restructuring
For some time now, there have been persistent calls by notable personalities for the country to convene a Sovereign National Conference and if possible return to a federating unit where each zone in the country will have autonomy and the over dependence at the center will diminish.

Many conferences have been held by elder statesmen, different geo-political zones in the country, human right activists, lawyers and notable personalities to that effect, but considering the stance of the Federal Government and the Senate, it is yet to be seen if this agitation will be given consideration.

Those in support of the return of the country to federating units and the call for a Sovereign National Conference base their arguments on the fact that the country prospered economically when it was truly a federal state than with the present structure that is obtainable.

In separate interviews with Daily Sun, former Military Administrator of Lagos State, Rear Admiral Ndubuisi Kanu (rtd) and the former Secretary of Afenifere, Ayo Okpadokun supported the calls saying that the over dependence on the center has made many states in the country very weak and are hardly self-sufficient. They also posit that the 1999 constitution is a military decree which has inadvertently metamorphosed into a constitution and should be discarded.

Okpadokun said: 'What we have is not really a people constitution but a military decree which was handed over to us and has metamorphosed into a constitution. We need to sit and discuss Nigeria and come up with a constitution approved by Nigerians because as far as I know, sovereignty lies with the people and they are the ones that should decide what to have and what not to have.'

In the past, clergymen seemed to have treated the issue with apathy. But recently, they seemed to have joined in the agitation for a restructuring of the country and the writing of a totally new constitution. At a colloquium in Lagos held in honour of the Archbishop of the Church of the Lord, Aladura, Dr. Rufus Ositelu, the issue was on the front burner.

The guest speaker at the event, Femi Gbajabiamila, minority leader of the Federal House of Representatives supported the calls for a Sovereign National Conference saying that the sovereignty of the country rests with Nigerians and if what they seek is the writing of an entirely new constitution then they should be listened to.

He stated that the powers of the National Assembly as regards the agitations on the nation's constitution, stops at amending the present one, saying only Nigerians can write a new constitution for themselves.

According to him, 'If what we are looking for is to make adjustments here and there in the existing constitution, I make bold to say that it's only the National Assembly that can do it, that is the mandate that was given to the National Assembly, but if what we are asking for is a brand new constitution to be written all over again, I make bold to say again and I've told my colleagues, it is not in our purview, we have no business or power to make any new constitution. Sovereignty belongs to the people.'

The Surulere Federal Constituency representative who delivered a lecture on the topic 'Fiscal Federalism is Possible : The Nigerian Context' urged the National Assembly to respect the mandate given to them by the people to represent them, however saying that if the consensus by Nigerians is to have a constituent assembly to write a new constitution, the NASS should not stand against it.

'My mandate which I sought during the elections did not include writing a new constitution, it is the people that will write their own constitution and in writing the constitution, either way it goes, whether writing a new one or amending it, what is fundamental is that the structure has to change', he stressed.

He also blamed the present security challenge on the faulty federal structure saying that the nation will continue to battle with social and political issues if the current political structure is not amended to represent true federalism.

'If we do not want the labour of our heroes to die in vain, it is time for us to begin to practise true federalism. Shrinking of the government at the centre is paramount. Our constitution has to be based on equity and fairness and these two find roots in fiscal federalism', Gbajabiamila added.

Another Speaker at the event, Jokotola Pelumi who is a former Speaker of Lagos State House of Assembly was of the opinion that returning the country to a federating unit will not be of benefit to the nation.

According to him, 'Yes I agree that we can have partial federalism, but not true federalism because it cannot work in this present dispensation. That is the truth. Nigeria is one unit that broke up into different parts. Are we going to tell the states to merge? Will not some zones feel marginalized and oppressed? We have too many states to start going back to a federating unit and it cannot work now.'

On his part, Rev. Ositelu stressed that fiscal federalism is indeed the strength and consolation in a multi-lingual, multi-ethnic and multi-religious country like Nigeria, saying the lack of it will only breed disaster.

He proposed a revenue sharing formula which will see the 36 states take a lion share of 54 percent, the 774 local governments getting 22 percent, 20 per cent for the Federal Government and 4 per cent for special funding.

'The 54 per cent proceeds to the 36 states should be shared among them using their population as the parameter for sharing(formula), since the governments are to provide social amenities for their populace', Ositelu said.