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FEDERALISM AND QUEST FOR REGIONAL INTEGRATION

By NBF News
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The fact that a country with such a vast land mass and consisting of ethnic nationalities with disparate backgrounds, languages and cultures could not live under a unitary government for too long was not lost on the British Colonial Administration, especially from the time of Governor Arthur Richards.

At the various consultative forums, especially the Ibadan General Conference of January 1950, preparatory to the promulgation of Macpherson Constitution of 1951, the question on the structure of Nigeria was pointedly asked and discussed: 'Do we wish to see a fully centralised system with all legislative and executive powers concentrated at the centre, or do we wish to develop a federal system under which each different region of the country would exercise a measure of internal autonomy?'

But it was not until 1954. Following the crises generated by the motion for self-government by Anthony Enahoro in 1953 and the constitutional conferences that resulted from them (London Conference of 1953 and Lagos Conference of 1954), the inevitability of a federation or federalism finally dawned on everyone.

And so there is no gainsaying that the federal arrangement bequeathed to Nigeria both by the Lyttleton Constitution of 1954 and Independence Constitution of 1960 was a compromise between the centrifugal and centripetal forces that inhabited the disparate regions of Nigeria. Our founding fathers like Nnamdi Azikwe, Obafemi Awolowo and Ahmadu Bello settled for a full-fledged federation as the basis of our existence as a nation in 1954. In 1954, the Federal Republic of Nigeria was born.

It is most regrettable that today, Nigeria seems to be a federation only in name, as all powers appear to be concentrated at the centre, thus making all roads lead to Abuja. Governor Ibikunle Amosun, for instance, cast a reflection on the current state of affairs while declaring open the recent Zonal Advocacy Workshop on Economic Diversification and Enhanced Revenue Generation, organized by the Revenue Mobilization, Allocation and Fiscal Commission (RMAFC): 'Without doubt, this issue has brought to the fore, once again, structural weaknesses in our federation, particularly fiscal federalism…'

Indeed, I find it very odd, just like Senator Amosun, a revenue allocation formula that gives 52 per cent to the Federal Government, 26 percent to the 36 states and 20 per cent to the local councils. What this means is that each of the 36 states collects 0.7 per cent from the Federation Account while the Federal Government collects a whopping 52 per cent! Haba! Is this federalism or unitarism. All over the world, regional integration has gained currency. Nations are collaborating, so are states within federations in order to derive maximum benefits from the power of synergy and economies of scale.

The South West of Nigeria is doing everything within its power to integrate and re-enact the development witnessed in the Western Region of the pre-independence and immediate post independence era. The South East, South South and North are on the same path. But there are serious challenges to be overcome in order to see the lofty dreams come to fruition.

The South West states, for instance, may wish to embark on a railway project to connect the region - and this is key to any industrialization programme. But Railway is on the Exclusive List (Item 55) of the 1999 Constitution. Today, there is a President Jonathan that may encourage such a project since it's ultimately in the overall interest of the entire country. But a myopic central government may wake up tomorrow after billions of taxpayers' funds must have been sunk into such a project and invoke the constitutional provision to force it to halt.

There are also federal roads which are key to development but cannot be constructed or rehabilitated by willing state governments, even though the state of such roads impact heavily on the socio-economic lives of the people of those states. The Benin-Ore Road and Lagos/Ibadan Expressway are good examples. The state governments of Ondo and Edo, for example, would certainly have prevented the daily traffic snarl on the Benin-Ore Road and the attendant socio-economic losses. Ogun and Oyo could certainly make the commercially-vital Lagos/Ibadan Expressway a model, at a lower cost than funds that will move first from Abuja, to a regional office, to the states and from there to the roads. Governor Amosun, for instance, said recently that Ogun, in partnership with the private sector, could make the highway a model in a record time and end once and for all the miseries of commuters and humongous economic loses to the state and Nigeria. There's need to accord a serious thought to this offer from the government of Ogun State.

We need to make Nigeria a truly Federal Republic. In a proper federation, all roads cannot lead to Abuja. The centre cannot collect so much as revenue to the detriment of the states. For a start, I personally recommend a revenue formula that will give at least 1.5 per cent to each of the 36 states.

Proper federalism will promote regional integration, which will lead to healthy rivalry among the regions – the type witnessed in the 60s. Let's recall that Nigeria was on the path of an economic medium power before the brutal termination of the First Republic by the military on January 15, 1966. This happened because Nigeria was a federation both in word and deed. It is time for a true Federal Republic of Nigeria.

Soyombo writes from Oke-Mosan, Abeokuta.