When the former Vice President and presidential hopeful on the platform of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Atiku Abubakar, recently addressed the London’s Royal Institute of International Affairs (Chatham House), on the importance of strengthening the economic management system of the federating states in Nigeria, the major takeaway was that we have lived on a dangerous structural fault line for too long and pretended all was well.
Though the former vice president used the auspicious opportunity of his speech at the Chatham House to harp on some of his economic programmes and policies as a presidential candidate, the emphasis was heavily on the ills of our defective federal system of government.
First, we can no longer afford to keep promoting, or rather tolerating a defective political structure as it has become obvious that the federalism we practice is at best not smart and at worst a complete negation of what it should be. How long can we continue to deceive ourselves that the present relationship between the centre and the federating state are sustainable?
After nineteen years of uninterrupted democracy, it is now an indisputable fact that today’s Nigerian states have essentially been reduced to parastatals of the Federal Government and have become dangerously addicted to the monthly “handouts” (allocation) they receive from Abuja.
We politicized the creation of states and local governments over the years. States and local governments became too weak to meet their constitutional responsibilities and consequently the Federal Government emasculated them and took away those responsibilities which belong to them. It is therefore very attractive for these states and local governments to become addicted to revenues from federation accounts and to care less about their internal revenue opportunities.
If we accept the wisdom behind calls for a restructuring of the economy, we must be ready to build a foundation for its success: we must, in other words restructure the polity.
True federalism ensures that a strong federal government guarantees national unity while allowing various parts of the country or the federating units to set their own priorities.
As a consequence, the Federal Government appropriates, along with these responsibilities, huge resources. For example, in the allocation of revenue from the Federation Account, the Federal Government is unduly favoured at the expense of the States and Local Governments. Out of every Naira in the Federation Account, 56k will go to the Federal Government and four other ‘special accounts’ which it manages! This is neither efficient nor equitable.
We can no longer afford to keep promoting, or rather tolerating a defective political structure as it has become obvious that the federalism we practice is at best not smart and at worst a complete turnaround of what it should be.
Beyond the healthy competition among the federating units which a restructured Nigeria would engender is the unique opportunity for the retooling of the leadership recruitment process in the country. Governance would be elevated to a serious business manned by equally serious-minded people. The attraction to power would no longer be a chance to stumble upon privileges not worked for. But a carefully calibrated move to demonstrate ingenuity and quality in creating wealth for the country.
The restructured Nigeria is a Nigeria that will not only provide opportunities for everyone to work but even more specifically is one that will challenge the leadership to demonstrate capacity to create wealth for every layer of governance.
Does anybody dispute that it is time for serious-minded people to get involved and take the lead in making our country work? It is time for citizens to demand from people aspiring to lead them as a matter of right, a plan on not just how to manage their wealth but most fundamentally how the wealth is going to be created. We should not continue to allow political slogans take the place of cogent plans and propagandas substitute clear-cut agenda.
For long, our leadership has been pampered. They work into managing a wealth they have little input into how it is created. And because they are not involved in the creation, they rarely appreciate it. Hence, they turn out as either bad managers or killers of the greater Nigerian dream. How long can we continue like that?
Nigeria needs a leadership that can create wealth for the country and make it work. Every part of Nigeria has enough wealth to sustain it. What is lacking is the leadership with the required capacity and vision to tap and manage the wealth on behalf of all. Anybody who cannot tell Nigerians at the State level how, he/she is going to generate the required resources to run the State he/she is aspiring to govern is not worthy of the electorates’ votes.
Restructuring is not just about the devolution of powers to the states, it is about transforming the role of the federal government. In matters of territorial governance, the federal authorities must learn to cooperate with, and in some instances defer to state authorities; in matters of economic governance, the federal authorities must learn to cooperate with, rather than displace or ignore, the private sector.
We need a Nigeria that challenges our leadership to create wealth in every layer of government and make it work for our citizens. Only restructuring can make that happen and any skeptic of restructuring Nigeria is merely submitting to continued leadership indolence we have in our country today. Was this not the takeaway in what Atiku said at the Chatham House London? God bless Nigeria!
Ifeanyi Izeze writes from Port Harcourt and can be reached via email@example.com or 234-8033043009