BUILDING BLOCKS OF TRUE FEDERALISM
Yes, I lavishly concede that Nigeria is a unique place in God’s universe; unique because virtually every endeavour is turned into a massive joke. Our census’ over the years usually produce Alice-in-wonder-land figures; our elections are like a kalukalu affair; our banks operate like casinos, and the Nigeria Stock Exchange was turned into a Russian roulette. Our politicians who make real mockery of democracy while our federalism is a ferocious desecration of the practice. Our law enforcement agents are very unique indeed. The scores of unresolved murders are investigated ad infinitum; and our police check points are akawo centres where commuters pay compulsory tithes or risk the butt of the gun. Nigeria is a risky nation.
In Nigeria, the physically challenged feel obliged to control traffic on our major roads while lepers come out of their colonies to fill the pot-holes on our highways so that the able-bodied men with their SUVs could drive safely. There is a paralyzing suspicion that our leaders do not only bother about the welfare of the masses; they don’t even contemplate it. It is a world of paradoxes and contrasts.
A fortnight ago, a concerned Nigerian in Diaspora sent me a mail titled ‘Nigeria’s Federalism, Made in Heaven”. His contention is that Nigeria’s federalism is an aberration, with the centre exercising near omnipotent powers over other tiers of government. He further argued that the unitary federalism we operate is skewed in favour of dictatorship at the centre. I pondered over this assertion and came to the conclusion that Nigeria is a pseudo-federalism, without a profound willingness on the part of the people to federate. This is why odd vocabularies such as federal character, zoning, quota system, catchment areas have been mindlessly and infused into the body politic of the nation.
Unlike Australia Canada, India, USA, Germany, and Switzerland which were brought together by compelling circumstances, the case of Nigeria is different. From the onset, Nigeria lacked the building blocks of true federalism. The system we operate does not meet Robert Garran’s definition of federalism as “self-rule and shared rule in a pluralistic society, which emanates from a peoples’ desire to form a union to compromise without necessarily losing their identities”. In Nigeria, ethnic identities and sectional interests are pre-potent, and even the leadership at the highest level succumbs to this blackmail.
Federalism is the political system in which local units of government and a national government make final decisions with respect to at least some governmental activities and whose existence is specially protected; both local and national forms of government have their own sovereign powers and some powers that overlap, thus making the two share authority. Surely, Nigeria lacks the building blocks to erect a solid superstructure for the flourishing of civilized values. Nigeria is a place where the citizens are starved of good governance, but the masses do not deserve this quantum of injustice and unimaginable deprivation.
In the United States, federalism is considered the perfect way to protect personal liberty, since concentrating all power into one hand might prove to be tyrannical. The Founders envisioned federalism as a system in which both national and state governments would have certain powers, but neither would have supreme authority over the other. Madison argued that state and national governments were simply different agents and trustees of the people, who held the ultimate power.
The 10th Amendment of the constitution of the United States avers that all power not given to the national government are given to the States. The doctrine of Dual Federalism provides that though the national government was supreme in its sphere, state governments were supreme in theirs as well, and that these two spheres should be kept separate. In our own clime, depriving federalism of this singular ingredient smacks of hypocrisy, which is capable reducing the practice to a footnote of heresy.
It is a settled that federalism places premium on initiative and autonomy, as it provides effective mechanism for effecting changes, without the autonomous units overwhelming one another in size, population and political power among other variables. At independence, however, the ‘Un-federal’ nature of Nigeria’s federation evoked fear, suspicion, mistrusts and conjured a general atmosphere of cynicism which boded-ill for the stability of the nation in her formative years. The wobbling tripod we inherited from Britain provided a fertile ground for the germination of ethnicism, religious bigotry, and political marginalization. Fifty years down the line, Nigeria has not produced a national leader, hence we conceive federalism in terms of how much each section of the country can slice from the national cake.
One of the vital principles of democracy is that a just government must derive its powers from the consent of the people, and that this consent must be regularly renewed at free and fair elections. Thus democracy thrives on the quality of candidates, the policies and programmes they can sell to the people and how well these programmes can be articulated to maximize the happiness of the greater number of people. Constitutionalism is a general label we apply to arrangements such as checks and balances, federalism, separation of powers, rule of law and due process. Granted that it took several years before a national constitution could be written even in the United States of America, yet at every turn, the American people never lost track of democratic institutions such as free and fair elections and equal protection of the laws in the United States and other basic human rights.
In Nigeria, the colonial policy of divide et impera reinforced the security of communal identity thus making the task of tribal integrities more complex. No doubt, politics was seen as a struggle among the various factions first to establish regional dominance as a spring board for the acquisition of national wealth. We have been forced to believe that unless our own people are in power, we cannot secure those amenities that are disbursed by the government. What resulted from this belief was dirty politicking in revenue allocation, the sitting of industries, building of roads, and quota system of admission into Universities, award of scholarships, and statism in appointments to the federal public service.
From the Willink Commission in 1958 to the Irikefe Commission in 1975, the vast increase in bad government with its attendant proliferation of states has been seen as a way of diffusing economic and political power. As early as 1943, Dr. Zik suggested the creation of eight states. In 1947, Late Awo argued for a federal constitution based on the ethnic factor. Ostensibly, the impetus for this agitation was the desire to minimize inter-ethnic tension.
The most fundamental issue in State creation is fiscal autonomy. Nigerian federalism has shunned fiscal autonomy or what may be referred to as resource control. The calculation has been for the majority to create States and LGAs based on population so they can share from the common pool of oil resources. As new States and LGAs emerge so does a complex calculus of resources distribution, which of course must be based on justice, equality and fairness. But the Nigerian situation is anomalous. Most of the states can hardly generate 10% of the annual revenue from internal sources. States depend almost solely on statutory allocations from the Federal Government. Thus, most states are no better that glorified local governments as they lack the capacity to generate income.
In 1960, largely autonomous regions possessed the residual powers in the federation and functioned almost independently. Even before the First Republic collapsed, the federal government was asserting greater powers. In particular, it controlled the national economy and possessed emergency powers to intervene in any region where law and order had broken down, as it did in the Western Region in 1962. The federal government took over state and local government functions for a variety of reasons: the transfer of legislation and administration of mining rent and royalties to the federal government; centralisation of the marketing boards, fixing of producer prices; right to revenues emanating from company income tax, import, export, petroleum profit (PPT), introducing of uniform rates in personal income and sales taxes while the states were to administer the taxes.
The Okigbo Commission report in 1980 made it mandatory for all for all federally collected tax to be paid into the Federal. Consequently, the vertical distribution formula was adjusted in 1980 to 55: 34:6: 8: and 2.5 per cent while in 1993, the formula was changed to 48:5: 24:20: and 7.5per cent for federal, state and local governments and special funds, respectively. The horizontal distribution formula had remained stable since 1981, except, for the increase in derivation principle for mineral revenue to 13 per cent since 1999. Even the derivation monies are subjected to reckless spending by the States, and in spite of agitations that the 13% be upped to 25% and progressively to 50%, the Federal Government has been foot-dragging in implementing such recommendations because it would be in the interest of a section of the people.
The Local Government System is another casualty of the “un-federal” federalism in Nigeria. Since 1976, the powers of the third-tier of government have expanded but in spite of the increasing powers of LGAs they have remained subordinate to the state and federal governments. In Rivers State for example, Local Government Chairmen get sacked anytime the State Governor has a nightmare about them; and this is sometimes done without due process. In Kwara State, there is a petty oligarchy foisting mal-governance on the people. Civilian federalism entails government based on a constitutional sharing of power between the federal and state governments using the principle of decentralization of powers. The power sharing element, which is a major building block of federalism was lost to military federalism, and we continue with a system that tend to promote the near-total arrogation of power by the centre.
Our federalism faces the challenge of lack of resource control. While the choruses are getting louder on State and Local Government, the agitators have not considered how to diversify the economy to fund these tiers of government. Whereas political gladiators are trumpeting zoning as a leeway for ethnic balancing in the geo-politics, we have not spared a thought about how to harness our potential for greatness. While other progressive nations hanker after good governance, we allow people who have destroyed the nation to pose as statesmen - people who in decent societies should be permanently domiciled in the gulag. Yogi Berra said sometime ago “If you don't know where you are going, you will wind up somewhere else!" Will Nigeria’s federalism wind up someday? How long shall we wrestle with the crisis of legitimacy in our federalism and when shall we resolve these knotty contradictions?