Nigeria @ 53 and the Agitation for a Political–Fiscal Federalism in the 21st Century: Myth or Reality?

by Benjamin Ogbebulu

Nigeria is 53 years as a nation on 1st October 2013. This writer joins millions of Nigerians both at home and in the diaspora to mark the occasion with sober reflection, to salute our president, Dr Goodluck Ebele Jonathan and the good people of Nigeria both at home and abroad for their indomitable will and optimism for a united classic federation and their yearnings for a prosperous and developed country under the visionary leadership qualities of president Goodluck Jonathan. However, proponents for a new Nigerian constitution argues that the present Federalism system as practised in the country is flawed and not in realities with today’s Nigeria. Hence, the need for a “21st century People’s constitution” becomes imperative.

Also, there are well-meaning ordinary Nigerians, writers, Historians, academicians/scholars like P.C Asiodu, who are of the view that our previous and present constitutions were imposed on us as a nation, in the sense that the 1960 “ independence constitution and indeed, the 1963 Republican constitution were effectively “ brokered” by the departing colonial power[ Great Britain]. Yes, the preambles of the 1979 & 1989 and the current yet to be amended constitutions begin with the following words : WE, the people of the Federal Republic of Nigeria ,having firmly and solemnly resolved to provide for a constitution for the purpose of promoting the good government and welfare of all persons in our country, etc . These constitutions in question are documents brokered by and decreed into law by strong Federal military Governments without active participation of Nigerian people it meant to serve.

On the contrary, supporters of our current constitution are of the view that there is nothing wrong with our constitution but rather, lack of political will by our parliamentarians charged with such responsibilities to carry out letters and spirit of our constitution accordingly . Nigerians awaits the report of our National Assembly having consulted widely with Nigerian people on this germane issue.

Yes, more states were created under the military with the view of fast-tracking development in the country. Alas, the country witnessed low pace of development and corruption became endemic in the country to the extent, Nigeria as a nation before the international community, was perceived as a pariah state to the disappointment of Nigerian people both at home and in diaspora. PDP the ruling party, in 1999 having won the election under EX-President, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo cleared all Nigeria’s debts the party did not incurred, established government agencies like Economic Financial & crime commission [EFCC] to tame corruptions and with visionary leaders within the party, laid a solid foundation for our present nascent democracy which oppositions are now enjoying and opponents of democracy hell-bent on thwarting. Today, despite our domestic challenges, Nigeria under president Goodluck Jonathan with his strategic political [politics of inclusiveness ] and Economic[ prudent fiscal economic policy] of transforming the country, is marching on slowly but steadily towards becoming a nation to reckon with globally .

What are the Causes/s of Nigeria underdevelopment since independence in 1960 despite the nation natural and human resources?

It could be argued that corruption ,lack of patriotic visionary leaders[ leadership deficit], Weak institutions and Monolithic economy are some of the reasons for Nigeria’s underdevelopment before now . The historical realities according to historians, writers and scholars is that the process of decentralization which had been foisted into three semi- autonomous Regions { Macpherson] 1951; then three autonomous regions [ Robertson ] 1957 ; then three regions at independence 1960 [ Zik-Balewa] ; Twelve states [ Gowon ] 1967. Nineteen states [ Murtala Mohammed] 1975; Twenty –one states [ Babangida ] 1986 ; and now thirty –six states and one federal capital territory [ Babangida] 1991 where some of these regimes introduced some draconian policies not good enough to fast-track the much needed development in terms of provision of the social amenities like energy, durable infrastructural projects and building strong institutions to curb the endemic corruption in the country which today Nigerians as people and country are still suffering from.

It is interesting to note that out of the 53 years of Nigeria as a nation, the military had ruled Nigeria for 34 years, of which majority of these leaders without prejudice, are from the North. Also, economically, from the very beginning, all the regions depended on distributions from federally collected taxes for the bulk of their revenues . Historians and writers are of the view, that even at independence and during the time of the Revenue allocation commissions headed by Sir Jeremy Raisman [1960] and Mr.K.J Binn [ 1965] the overwhelming proportion of the funds period into the Distributable pool were customs duties and exercise taxes collected by the Federal Government . Distributions from the pool accounted for about 80percent of regional revenue and consideration was given to the principle of derivation ,but more weight was given to the principle of not allowing too wide a gap or disparity in economic development attainments to arise between the regions then.

The unfair principle was very clearly enunciated in the Binn’s Report” particularly ,weight must be given to the necessity to preserve continuity ,including the provisions of funds sufficient to meet the minimum responsibilities of government. But it is equally important, that the revenues available to a less developed region shall in part, at least ,help to redress the inherent imbalance in the federation as a whole. In this respect ,it seems important that the Northern Region be enabled to provide social services to a greater number of its population and to a standard now generally accepted as proper in the three southern regions “. Applying the principle mainly in favour of the Northern Region, Binn arrived at the following rations for sharing out funds in the distributable pool: Northern Region – 40 percent ; Eastern Region – 31 percent; Western Region – 21 percent ; and Midwestern Region – 8 percent.

Political observers, theorists and academicians argued that in giving to the Federal government exclusive rights to company taxation , and to petroleum profits , the fiscal dominance of the federal government becomes overwhelming. Consequently, if the military rule had not replaced Civilian rule ,the situation would have with time evolved very differently from what exists today. Since oil was discovered in the Niger –Delta region , government then did not need to raise taxes from people and unfortunately money accruable from oil was not adequately re-invested within the economy or effectively used to develop the country before now. With corruption associated to the creation of more states in Nigeria in the past, Well-meaning progressive patriotic Nigerians both at home and in diaspora are questioning the rationale behind the agitation for more states in the country today.

What are the direct consequences of this development of states creation in Nigeria in the pas,t and if Nigeria parliament gives the go ahead for more states creation, would they be sustained ?

The following are some of the consequences of past states creation:

– It has produced relatively weak federating units.

– With their small sizes and today’s much greater country wide mobility of persons and more trans- state economic enterprises and activities ,it is virtually impossible to give practical meaning to the principle of derivation which today is 13%; or even to attribute equitably the proceeds from consumption –based taxation .

– The Federal Government has been the creator an

d source of substance for states of federating units without states looking for ways to boost their internal generated revenue/s, hence the clamouring for power from the centre even from governors and those who had once ruled the country at one point or the other now resurfacing and overheating the polity . While it could be argued that it is the constitutional rights of every qualified Nigerian to aspire for elective positions in the country, Nigerians wondered what values those that had in the past, once ruled the country but could not achieve meaningful development and after so many years, suddenly realised they have the leadership skills and qualities to bring about transformation that have eluded the country for years which our calm ,cool, patriotic and visionary president Goodluck Jonathan is progressively pursuing .

It is fair to say without any fear of contradiction that with the Revenue allocation arrangements, The Niger Delta people [ oil producing states ] before now, have been unfairly treated in governance and economic share out of revenue, mainly derived from exploiting oil resources found in states like : Edo, Delta , Ondo, Akwa-Ibom, Bayelsa, Rivers, and Cross-River. unlike in many other oil areas of the world , the regions where oil is found in Nigeria, are very inhospitable; they are mainly in swamps and creeks. These regions require massive injection of funds and investment, if people’s conditions and standards of living are to be compared with what is obtainable else where in the world. Comparatively, it could be argued that other regions that constitute today’s federation before now had not witnessed the level of development Nigerians hoped for and Nigeria under president Goodluck Jonathan [PDP] from one of the deprived oil region, is prudently steering the wheels of the country towards a unified, diversified economy ,modern and 21st century developed country.

As Nigeria marks her 53rd year anniversary as a nation with its surmountable domestic political-economic challenges- positively, optimist Nigerians believe in the “ Nigeria Project” of a new ,democratic and developed country under iconic visionary leadership qualities of President Goodluck Jonathan . Forward looking people for the “ Nigeria Project “appreciates the fact that some level of developments are unfolding in some states like AKwa-Ibom, Cross-River ,Edo, Ondo,Rivers and Lagos to mention a few in the country but citizens of these aforementioned states expect more democratic dividends from their respective Governors .

As the country marches on optimistically towards the future, it is the responsibilities of all well –meaning ,patriotic progressive Nigerians both at home and in diaspora to ensure our evolving nascent democracy is not truncated by any organization/s or enemies within or from outside, who may want to cause political mayhem to destabilize the country. Nigeria is our country and can only be developed by Nigerians, let us all work together with president Goodluck Jonathan in moving the country forward. God bless Nigeria

Long Live Federal Republic of Nigeria , may our expectations for a 21st century virile and prosperous nation becomes a reality .

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