Nigeria’s federal system impedes optimal development — Atiku

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[Enugu]–Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, Nigeria’s former Vice President on Wednesday declared that the nation’s federation, as presently constituted, impedes optimal development and the improvement of peoples’ aspirations.

Atiku spoke at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka, UNN, in a lecture series organized by the Senior Staff Club of the University.

In the lecture that centres on restructuring, Atiku stated that the agitations and propositions for restructuring are fueled by feelings of historical wrongs, marginalization, being short-changed, resentment, envy and because fear of domination by a particular region.

He went further to say that those opposed to restructuring capitalise on the differences of opinion and so dismiss it on the ground that the agitations pointing to what they regard as the imprecise nature of the definition of restructuring and that the proponents want to dismember the country.

He argued, “listening to some people, even those who seek to dismember the country, you would think that once their dream is achieved their part of the country or the country as a whole will become paradise. But as we all know, life is not that simple. We need restructuring in order to address the challenges that restructuring can help us address, and which will remain unaddressed unless we restructure. Period. This also answers the cynics who question whether restructuring is even important since it won’t solve all our problems. No system would.

“To me, restructuring means making changes to our current federal structure so it comes closer to what our founding leaders established, in response to the very issues and challenges that led them to opt for a less centralized system. It means devolving more powers to the federating units with the accompanying resources. It means greater control by the federating units of the resources in their areas. It would mean, by implication, the reduction of the powers and roles of the federal government so that it would concentrate only on those matters best handled by the centre such as defence, foreign policy, monetary and fiscal policies, immigration, customs and excise, aviation as well as setting and enforcing national standards on such matters as education, health and safety.

“Some of what my ideas of restructuring involve requires constitutional amendment; some do not. Take education and roads for instance. The federal government can immediately start the process of transferring federal roads to the state governments along with the resources it expends on them. In the future if the federal government identifies the need for a new road that would serve the national interest, it can support the affected states to construct such roads, and thereafter leave the maintenance to the states, which can collect tolls from road users for the purpose. The federal
government does not need a constitutional amendment to start that process”.

On Education, Atiku advised for the reversal of “the epidemic of federal take-over” of state and voluntary organizations’ schools and hospitals which began in the 1970s. And those established by the federal government should also be tranferred to the states. This he said, requires no constitutional amendment.

He later listed areas in which he thinks needed urgent attention to achieve the restructuring agenda:

“1. Creation of and Funding of Local Governments by the Federal Government. Few things illustrate federal overreach into state matters than the creation of direct funding of local governments by the Federal Government. As I have said on numerous occasions, this makes a mockery of the word “local.”

“No good evidence has been produced to show that our local governments are now doing better than they were prior to federal intrusion. That intrusion must stop. Local governments are not federating units. State governments should have the freedom to create as many local governments as they wish or not to have local governments at all.

“Citizens at every locality would then know that it is the responsibility of their states to provide services for their welfare. A possible compromise to help reduce opposition to this needed change is for the existing number of local governments to be maintained during the transition with the federal funds going the respective states as part of devolution of resources. Henceforth local government administration should be the responsibility of state governments. Period.

“2. A constitutional amendment allowing for the establishment of State Police is another critical element of the required restructuring. With that, the Federal and state governments should be able to decide on jurisdictions and which matters would fall under federal statutes and which under state statutes, and where there would be joint jurisdiction (in which case the federal government can take over in cases of conflict). One thing about federalism that we seem to have forgotten is that it is about freedom, autonomy and choice.

“State police would not be mandatory for every state. Those states which, for whatever reason, prefer federal police would work out arrangements with the federal police on cost-sharing and other matters related to policing their jurisdictions.

“3. Reduction in the Number of Federating Units. I strongly believe that we need to reduce the number of federating units. The decades of excessive reliance on oil revenues and the relative neglect of other revenue sources as well as our near addiction to states-creation mean that even the increase of the resources transferred to the states may not make many of the financially non-viable states to become viable.

“Those calling for new states seem oblivious of the fiscal crisis the existing states are in and how dependent they are on transfer payments from Abuja. If we are to maintain the current state structure, how do we ensure their financial viability? Obviously they would have to diversify their economies and revenue sources, but what happens to those unable to do so? One option that I have suggested is a means-test requiring states to generate a specified percentage of their share of federal allocations internally or be absolved into another state. Or we may revisit Chief Alex Ekwueme’s suggestion that we use the existing geopolitical zones as federating units rather than the current states. Using the zones would ensure immediate financial viability and scale and also address the concerns of minorities about domination by our three major ethnic groups.

“4. The issue of Resource Control is perhaps the most contentious. It is the big elephant in the room but the one most proponents and opponents of restructuring prefer to dance around while often throwing insults at each other. Fear, greed, envy, and resentment are at the centre of our disagreements on resource control. On the one hand, those who feel they are better endowed with the currently important or exploited national resource, oil, express some level of greed and resentment and a desire to monopolize those resources. On the other hand, those who feel less well-endowed express some degree of fear, envy and resentment. We must start from the point of view that no country’s regions or localities are equally or uniformly endowed. Diversity is the norm, and often the strength. And there are also historical swings or changes in fortune: the well-endowed areas of today may become less so tomorrow. Sharing is part of human existence and part of what makes human societies possible. I have consistently advocated for local control of resources but with federal taxing powers to help redistribute resources and to help address national priorities. Local control will encourage our federating units to look inwards at untapped resources in their respective domains and promote healthy rivalry among them.”

He added, “I must point out that all of these do not have to be done in one fell swoop. Change is often difficult, especially for those who feel that they are beneficiaries of the status quo. We can start with the less contentious ones, including state police, and returning jurisdiction for local governments to states.

“Discussions and negotiations among leaders from across the country can be speeded up to ensure timely resolution of these contentious issues. Our generation cannot afford to be the one that is unable to negotiate and bargain for a workable federal system that truly serves our peoples and enables them to live in peace and harmony with mutual respect.”

“The Nigerian federation is a work in progress. We just have to continue that work, a truly serious work, to build bridges across our various divides,” he advised.

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