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Niger State Governor asks for more from the national treasury. The government at the centre may soon add ‘Oliver Twist’ to His Excellency’s name, Babangida Aliyu. His state gets one out of twenty of what some other states get from the federation account, he says. Now he demands for more of the cake if Niger State’s growth must not be stunted. Babangida Aliyu sometimes makes one wonder each time he ruffles feathers, feathers of the North’s Establishment, that is. Some of his comments are the reason. They are somewhat progressive for the image of the conservative northern elites that is known in the public space.

This Chairman of northern Governors’ Forum once said at Arewa House, Kaduna, for instance, that the North should sit up and confront its problems, rather than blame them on power that has shifted to other parts of the country. Some of his other recent comments are missiles by any standard. But on this occasion he speaks for the nineteen northern governors. They are with him on the demand for more from the federal government. “The revenue allocation formula should be looked at,” Aliyu says, “we are hoping that within 2012, there would be discussions and review of the allocation formula. But there would be other issues that would come.” Then he mentions oil well, offshore, but which revenues go to contiguous states, in addition to the 13 percent derivatives. He states a fact, and the rest of the northern state governors must have smiled that they have a bold spokesperson. In that case, the only segment of the society that the Niger State governor must have ruffled are critics who say His Excellency, as well as the rest of the thirty six state governors should look inward rather look up to the federal government for funds to take care of their states. But there are more fundamental issues, other angles to this call for a new revenue sharing formula than what Aliyu has said.

The call by the Niger State governor has a background, maybe several backgrounds. Sanusi Lamido said something about what the North gets, too. He is the Central Bank Governor, and he spoke in an interview recently. The spate of terror attacks in the North is a fallout of how little, compared to the South-South states, that northern states get from the federation account, and if there should be long term stability, funding imbalance should be corrected so as to regenerate other parts of the country as well, he posited. At an event in Lagos lately, Rivers State Governor, and Chairman of Governor’s Forum, Rotimi Amaechi, said the National Assembly should give Nigerians a peoples’ constitution. He meant that the current one is a part of the problems of federalism in practice. For some time, also, National Democratic Coalition, NADECO, has been calling for Sovereign National Conference, SNC, with a view to talking about the form of federation that Nigerians really want; this, in order to address current challenges that are rooted in its constitution, and which have negative effects on national development. And there were the minority members of the National Assembly, who, the other time, addressed the press and said the national assembly is yet to take a decision on whether to oppose or not the call for a conference where the defects in the nation’s federal structure and practice would be addressed. That was after a member went on air to make pronouncements to the contrary. As far as the minority members were concerned, flaws exist in the federalism that the nation practices, and flaws must be addressed by all means possible.

When, the other time, someone mentioned that diverse segments of the nation make too much noise, calling for all sort of things, and that it heats up the polity, this writer’s reaction was that democracy is a market place where all sorts of noise must be made, diverse ideas must necessarily be canvassed, and as such the calls are good for the development of the nation’s democracy. That is the reality. Development comes when the existing regime doesn’t work, and people come up with better ideas, or suggestions on how to move forward. Now, there was a time calls to re-negotiate a better way to structure and govern this nation was tantamount to treason, seen as a call from a disgruntled few, a few that lost out in the power game. But those in the corridors of power as also saying practically the same thing those outside are saying, maybe in a milder form. Yet a call for change is a call for change, though the likes of Babangida Aliyu, and Sanusi said it in the form of sorting out a disadvantaged north. With that scenario, what was once regarded as a call basically from the Southern part of the country has caught fire in the North. That is good for the country. The more noise from every corner the better, because that will galvanize the nation into action. Northern governors may not say SNC yet, but the line between reviewing the revenue sharing formula is not so thick, not so far away from a call to review fiscal federalism which, in the first place, is informed by the manner power is distributed between the federal government and the states.

With the northern governors speaking out so unequivocally, there are reasons to suspect that a grand plan is afoot, that a step by step approach is in the offing to get relevant voices to speak up, and thereby gather momentum that will send Nigerians to a round-table and renegotiate the nation’s federal arrangement. The overall effect is that pressure would be gathered such that no one, not even lawmakers, would be able to stop it when the time comes to re-negotiate. But if this is not the case at the moment, then it should be. Every effort should be made by groups that champion the call for discussing the future of the nation though SNC, or any other form it may take, to reach out to other parts of the country and allay the fears of those who are yet to have a proper understanding of the matter at hand. And this, with a view to generating consensus in order to move the discuss forward. If there is any group that is saying anything faintly close renegotiating the federal arrangement at the moment in the north of the country, it is the northern governors. That may be where the consensus building needs to start, and then down to the grass root. A call to give more fund to the North must not be mistaken as the whole solution to the problem of lack of development that is not limited to the North, but is nationwide. A man such as Babangida Aliyu understands this, It is the more fundamental issues he should therefore lead his fellow governors to address. That way, he would have made significant contribution in moving the nation forward as a whole, rather than just a section of it.

Written By Tunji Ajibade
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