“Only a fool never changes his mind’-Anon
Federalism in its essence connotes many meanings. In our context and according to the 1999 Constitution, Nigeria is a Federation consisting of 36 States and a Federal Capital Territory.
Quite agreeably, the writers of our current constitution – originally Decree 24 promulgated on 5 May 1999 by the Federal Military Government of General Abubakar Abdulsalami- sought to promote fairness and unity but were lacking in explaining their concept of the word, ‘federalism’ as it applies to the Nigerian.
The result has been the perpetuity of an overbearingly expensive central government supporting economically weakened states with revenues from the Federation and Excess Crude Accounts. It is safe to aver that allocations to states from these accounts since 1999 have been in excess of N19.6trillion- a proof of moral decadence of the kind of political system we run from Abuja.
However, it was not always so. The British, upon their departure in 1960, left us with a different constitution that allowed the country to practice a different kind of federalism- a federalism that allowed the federating units (Regions at that time) a fair degree of economic independence. Each region had its own economic relevance to the country and could create employment for its citizens without placing much burden on the centre. There was groundnut in the North, cocoa in the West and oil palm in the East; produced and exported at commercial quantities enough to sustain the livelihood of people in their respective regions.
The accursed coups of 1966 took away two freedoms; the freedom of democracy and the freedom of true federalism. The military abrogated the Independence Constitution of 1960, temporarily adopted a unitary system of government under Maj. Gen J.T.U. Aguiyi-Ironsi and reverted to the distorted federal system we have today under General Yakubu Gowon. At the Aburi Conference (convened by Ghanaian leadership to try to save Nigeria from civil war), General Gowon inadvertently refused to recognize regional autonomy (as was proposed during the parley) and later created 12 states by fiat to try to break Biafra. All states were to be administered from the capital in Lagos without recourse to the economic viability of each state or taxation because oil revenues now allowed Gowon and his many successors to undertake such a reckless enterprise.
The federalism we failed to borrow correctly from the Americans took root in 1785, four years after the American Civil War when representatives of the thirteen newly independent states met in Philadelphia to try to resolve problems arising out of the Articles of Confederacy, the nation’s original founding document. This meeting evolved into a two year constitutional convention that sought to answer many questions: What are our highest aspirations as a people? What rights as a people do we value the most? What would we lay down our lives for? What legacy and identity would we bequeath generations unborn? In 1787, a federal constitution was signed and later ratified by its original thirteen founding states. The US Constitution in essence became the mission statement of American people.
Today, each state in the United States stands for something. Each state pursues its economic potential with consideration to its competitive advantage. Whether it is the automobile industry in Michigan State or the movie industry in California or the Maritime Industry of New York State or the Agro-based Industries of Texas, Mississippi, Kansas and Arkansas; each American state stands for something.
Over here in Nigeria, we have resource-rich states waiting for allocation from the Federal Government. States with large rubber deposits like Edo State ought to be able to woo tyre makers across the world to set up shop and create jobs if local entrepreneurs are unwilling to venture. States like Abia ought to be able to secure private equity financing for Aba’s shoe producers to become the Aldos and Steve Maddens of Africa. But for the constitution we operate, Lagos could comfortably begin to invest in power distribution that could see to steadier electricity supply to its almost 22 million residents.
The era of state governments waiting for allocations to pay salaries instead of using those allocations to create industries that will produce more jobs and social amenities and even help pay better salaries to civil servants should not have to continue if we all insist on amending our fiscal policy laws.
It is my belief that each state within the Nigerian Federation can be self-sufficient if their politicians and entrepreneurs realize the opportunities that lie beneath their noses in their states. But first, we must take this case to the National Assembly and push reforms in fiscal policy. Our states should not be mendicant but economically independent.
God bless the 36 states of Nigeria!