NATIONAL CONFERENCE: A DEMAND FOR FISCAL FEDERATION
For ages, outcome of conferences have always been bellwethers or peep into the future of a people which always birth decisions that affect the people under the jurisdiction covered by the decisions. We can still remember the Berlin conference of 1884 where the present direction Africans are towing was gainfully shared and tailored by European imperialists who still enjoy that leverage over Africa today. Berlin conference also known as scramble for Africa was called for by the Portuguese but was organized by Otto Von Bismark, the first German Chancellor at the time Germany was emerging world power just as conference of 1945 threw up United States as world power.
Various conferences at various times such as Malta conference of 1945, Moscow conferences of 1945, Potsdam conference, Yalta conference, etcetera all produced decisions that shaped the future. National conference that is on going in Abuja is one that the outcome will either unite Nigerians and set us on the route to prosperity or one that will leave us wider apart than we were. The future of Nigeria was entrusted to the hands of delegates the day President Goodluck Jonathan commissioned them for this national duty. At this point, we can not say it is a call to serve as remuneration doled out to delegates is enough financial lure to bring even people without direction or idea to the table of discuss. As they always say, 'the end justifies the means' and it is only in the end that we will evaluate the outcome of the conference and place it side by side with the financial payment to see if the conference was actually a call to serve or to eat. If many of their decisions go down well with majority of Nigerians, then it's a call to serve but anything short of that makes the conference a summer job for our senior citizens who incidentally by their actions and inactions brought Nigeria to its present predicament.
The conference was set up to discuss everything but the unity of Nigeria just as God told Adam to avail himself the enjoyment of every fruit in the Garden of Eden except that which stood at the centre of the garden. The people of Nigeria are set to take their destiny into their hands but not to tamper with the status of indivisibility of Nigeria. Abuja appears to be in the middle of Nigeria which also is hosting the conference and habours the symbol, power and authority that binds Nigeria together. The question is, can the delegates avoid the temptation in the middle of Nigeria that Adam could not avoid in the middle of garden of Eden? The answer was in the news not long ago as Lamido Adamawa pointed to that fruit as Eve did to Adam and Nigeria who are against 'no go area' await to see if Nigerian Adams will bite the fruit. Our president charged the delegates to go to the conference with Nigeria at heart but from what has transpired even as the conference has barely started, one cannot be crucified to say that delegates came with six geo-political zones and two regions at heart and not Nigeria. We are unceasingly hoping that the turbulent start of this conference will not hobble a desirable outcome.
Excluding the unity of Nigeria, there are a number of critical areas the delegates has and must look into with a view to reconstructing, reconstituting and restructuring. One of them is fiscal federalism where the component units of the federation will control their resources and government at the centre will have taxation power. This is one area the conference must not fail to vote into their decisions. If they succeed in everything but fail to entrench fiscal federalism, they have failed. Fiscal federalism will solve more than half of the problems we are facing at the moment as a nation. Dr. Azikiwe, Chief Awolowo and Alhaji Bello were able to achieve meaningful success in the early times of our independence because we operated it to a certain extent at their time, but who, when and why it was changed still remain questions no satisfying answers have been given. Every reasonable Nigerian should discountenance the present structure of Nigeria's so called federalism. Deputy senate president in far away Canada once called it feeding bottle federalism and he was right. Nigerians have also variously called it 'amala', lousy, centralized or hand out federalism and they are all right. How can we say we have federation when our governors converge in Abuja every month to share money? How can we say we have federation when federal government have kill-power over states and states in turn over local governments?
The economy of every component unit of the federation (state) should shape their destiny by allowing every state the control of their resources and business environment and pay agreed percentage to the government at the centre as it is done in Germany, USA, India, Australia, Canada and even in Brazil. It is misleading when some people say that some states will be unsustainable if fiscal federalism is reintroduced in Nigeria. There is no state in Nigeria that has no resources especially human resources which when developed can take advantage of their environment to produce and multiply wealth. This will fasten development of this nation as states will engage in healthy competition for development, taking advantage of the resources and their locations just as Ogun state is taking advantage of its nearness to Lagos population. If we fail to establish fiscal federalism with this opportunity, then the prosperity we hunger for will remain century away from us.
Fiscal federalism will domesticate our ever roaming and nomadic governors who have virtually moved their offices to Abuja where each picks up financial hand out monthly like civil servants. Fiscal federalism will bring growth in the whole of 36 states that will collectively increase Nigeria's GDP. Devolution of power which is crucial to new Nigeria, can only be implemented soundly in a fiscal federation. Recent events in Nigeria especially as it relates to security have eerie echoes of Nigerian security situation in the 60s and delegates should keep this in mind as they approve and disapprove resolutions especially with the idea of fiscal federalism. Having something less than confederation and something more than the type of federation we have currently is the ideal thing for a new Nigeria.
Obi Ebuka Onochie