Bulletin #33: To Hakeem Baba-Ahmed, Northern Elders Forum

Hakeem Baba-Ahmed
Hakeem Baba-Ahmed

In your most recent interview as the Spokesman for the Northern Elders Forum, you expressed your expectations from the Tinubu Administration on good governance, secure country, and compassionate government. You went on to advocate “restructuring” as a necessity, saying that “The North can’t carry 19 governors, 19 legislatures, and 19 judiciaries. When people talk about the cost of governance, it is a mistake to talk about the size of civil servants. We have 19 governors, including the weight of the Federal Government. So, governance alone just takes a huge part of the resources of the North, and until we can find a solution to that – common policies, common strategies, an awareness of their own worth to the North, an awareness of their value to the rest of the country and an informed strategy forengaging the rest of the country”.

The Yoruba Referendum Committee condenses your response into two broad categories, to wit: cost of governance and the method of achieving Restructuring as the preferred answer to the cost of governance while venturing into issues about faith and corruption.

Hence, we say as follows:
(i) As it is now clear, the current economic state of the country brought about mainly by the removal of fuel subsidy as well as the merging of the foreign exchange regimes show that the “cost of governance” is central to the Nigerian economy, where the government admits over 50% of Nigeria’s revenue is used to service debt—external and internal. Although the government also says this implies a “revenue problem,” meaning the more the revenue, the less the percentage used to service debt, the issue cannot be limited to servicing the debt without addressing the type of debt, such that servicing it does not become the majorpursuit of the Nigerian Government.

(ii) This is because the debts incurred by the government leave no room for any trickling down of investable funds by which the cost of production and consumption, including taxes, are reduced to such an extent that Nigeria’s reliance on oil exports for almost 70% of her revenue will be drastically reduced. This is further buoyed by the central government’s reduction of allocation to the states, with the aim of ensuring savings, as a distinct measure from the previous allocation regime, without negatively impacting on the operations of the central or state governments, thereby providing additional savings towards investable funds that will be released to the economy.

(iii) Yet, Nigeria cannot continue with this type of reduction in allocations mainly because these options are anchored on keeping existing architecture of governance, which is the problem that must be resolved via restructuring. Furthermore, the state governments will also have to cut their costs of governance, to be able to adjust to the new reality of reduced allocations. The conclusion from the above is that the cost of governance is the fundamental question that must be addressed if restructuring is to be meaningful.

(iv) While these may be considered temporary or initial steps, a permanent approach to drastically reduce the cost of governance is a desirable goal of economic restructuring. This will lead to an economy and governance anchored on the principle of Derivation, which places the exploitation and development of mineral and land resources under the auspices of the Federating Units with an agreed Tax schedule with the Central Government. With this, there will be no need for an increasing reduction of allocations based on any parameter.

(v) Furthermore, questions about remuneration for public and elected officials, the type of political representation (parliamentary or presidential), taxation in both local and central governments, economic philosophy, cultural imperatives, transparency, accountability, reduced monetization of politics and elections, as well as other existential questions will be embedded in the Derivation regimen.

(vi) This is more so in your placing the fight against corruption in its real context, to wit: “it is about societal corruption which percolates down to every other sections of governance”. It is well known that each society/nationality already has its shared values, regardless of the individual profession of faith and which mediates and modulates social relationships, and which affects its leadership. To “drastically remove corruption” must therefore entail and embrace the particular social values of each Nationality. Hence the emphasis must be on arriving at inter-Nationality shared values, which can only be achieved by recognizing the realities of current Intra-Nationality shared values whose relevance will be brought onto the sphere of the architecture of the Nigerian State, thereby enhancing Inter-Nationality shared values which also forms the bedrock of Federalism, without which the contest for power pits these values against each other.

(vii) The question now becomes how to achieve the above. For you, it is by way of convening “some kind of forumthat will genuinely look at what Nigeria needs to be, either incrementally or in one gulp, including changing the Constitution.

(viii) The Yoruba Referendum Committee takes the opposite view, to wit: what is needed are Nationality Referendums as the “informed strategy” because (a) various governments in the past convened forums for Restructuring and nothing came out of them. (b) The APC Government and party also set up the El-Rufai Committee on Federalism and, so far, nothing has come out of it. (c) Yet, it is possible that the Tinubu Administration will be different, that is, it can convene such a forum, and something will come out of it. (d) The problem with this is that we cannot afford to rely on such an assumption, mainly because such forums become substitutes for the People. Despite the characterization of such representatives as representing the people, the people, i.e. the citizens are prevented from exercising their veto power on decisions that may negatively impact them. (e) The answer is not in convening any forum as a first step but in ensuring that the wishes of the citizens are made manifest through the Referendum process after which any negotiations would commence. (f)The “Referendum Process” is what we call, for the Yoruba, the Yoruba Referendum. (g) These Referendums will result in a new Constitution and the composition of the Center, which the Yoruba Referendum Bill has defined as “a central Legislature made up of an equal number of representatives from the Federating Units(Nationalities) and superintended by a Presidential College consisting of one representative selected or elected from each Federating Unit and from which a “primus inter pares” will be selected/elected to hold the office of the President on a rotational basis. (h) This will permanently alter the over-reliance on the Center, thus reducing inter-Nationality conflicts and thereby making Nigeria become the expression of African post-colonial aspirations for functioning multinational federal democracies.

(ix) The Yoruba Referendum is predicated on a “Yes” or “No” question as to the desirability or wish of the Yoruba in Lagos, Ogun, Oyo, Osun, Ondo, and Ekiti States to govern themselves under one regional government, with adequate provision for the Yoruba in Kogi and Kwara States to determine by which values they want to be governed. The Regional Government will decide the organization of the Region into a desired number of states.

(x) Therefore, when you stated the undesirability of a 19-state structure for the North, the reduction or abolition of which will drastically reduce the cost of governance in the North, the onus is on the North to prepare the grounds for their Nationality Referendums to decide how they want the North to be governed. This will aid the efforts towards not only Restructuring but also reducing the cost of governance for Nigeria.

(xi) For the Yoruba, the Yoruba Referendum Committee not only started a Petition to the Lagos, Ogun, Oyo, Osun, Ekiti, and Ondo State Houses of Assembly (which is to be found here: http://chng.it/ybwX2ZR6Tt ) but has also sent a Bill for a Referendum to each of the states. The Northern Elders Forum can join the process within the context of their realities.

Editorial Board,
Yoruba Referendum Committee