Opinion: A case for the devolution of power to Nigeria’s federating units

by Ugochukwu Amasike

Recently a bill seeking to grant states control over mineral resources within their domain passed the second reading in the House of Representatives. The bill titled “A Bill for an Act to alter the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999, to vest the control of the revenues derived from minerals, mineral oils, natural gas in, under or upon any land In the States of the Federation and for Other Related Matters” seeks to give much needed realism and impetus to Nigeria’s quest for economic and revenue diversification. The truth is that if Nigeria is to make progress economically and achieve its goal of a sustainable diversified economy and revenue base, then it must reform its political-economic institutions in order to reflect its socio-economic realities and the legitimate aspirations of the different ethnic nationalities that have voluntarily congregated to constitute the Federation known as Nigeria.

The current quasi-unitary system we currently practice is essentially a system of bondage that has shackled Nigeria’s economic potentials, via the subjugation of its federating units nay states, which otherwise should be the engines and propellers of Nigeria’s march to economic development. Nigeria is currently enmeshed in a recession for which many reasons have been adduced to explain the cause. Of all reasons so far adduced, the most factual and resonating has been that aside from the mismanagement and corruption of past thieving administrations, Nigeria remains unhealthily saddled with a deleterious mono-product economy, which is a result of the stifling political and economic system we currently practice. A system that places a premium not on productivity and innovation, but on doctored population figures and other Machiavellian schemes designed for the purpose of securing a larger chunk of revenue from the corruptly-termed and dwindling “national cake”.

The reasons for this distasteful state of affairs can be traced to the fiscal provisions contained in our military dictatorship-authored 1999 Constitution which created an anti-development framework that unhealthily endowed the government at the center with all economic power, in direct contravention of the most basic tenets of federalism, which presupposes the broad distribution of economic rights and powers within a federation. Thus, by virtue of the provisions of the 1999 Constitution, the government at the center, otherwise known as the “Federal Government”, which was intended to be an agency of the Nigerian people, assumed the status of a patronizing feudal overlord, and simultaneously rendered Nigeria’s constituent nay federating units redundant, transforming them into dependent serfs who depend on Abuja for their subsistence.

It is this aberration and legacy of despotic military rule that the proposed bill currently before the National Assembly seeks to remedy, by seeking the devolution of economic powers to Nigeria’s federating units to enable them to harness their varied comparative advantages for the overall benefit of the Nigerian economy, as was obtainable under the Republican Constitution of 1963. The 1963 Constitution being a true people’s constitution provided for the healthy and broad distribution of economic power to then regional governments and provided incentives that encouraged the active participation of the then regions in the task of bolstering and sustainably expanding the Nigerian economy.

An example of an incentive the 1963 Republican Constitution provided can be found in Section 140 (1) of the 1963 Republican Constitution which reads thus:

there shall be paid by the Federation to each region a sum equal to fifty percent of the proceeds of any royalty received by the Federation in respect of any minerals extracted in that region; and any mining rents derived by the Federation from that region.”

The incentive of retaining 50% of ‘any royalty’ received by the federation in respect of any mining rents or minerals extracted from a particular region, amongst other incentives, and the equitable distribution of economic power engendered the active participation of the regions in growing the national economy via the harnessing of their comparative advantages. This ensured that the Nigeria of 1963 had a substantially diversified economy and revenue base that was not susceptible to the vagaries of the volatile and cyclical energy market on which present day Nigeria depends.

It is pertinent to also note that the 1963 Constitution aided in ensuring social cohesion. There were no “resource-control” agitations, no attacks on mining facilities, no pipeline vandalizations, no militancy, and this was simply because the equitable fiscal provisions of the 1963 Constitution gave the regions and their people a sense of ownership, of both the resources and the facilities domiciled in their region. This is in stark contrast to the provisions of the 1999 Constitution which makes the government at the center the “feudal lord and owner” overall resources located upon and beneath the ancestral lands of societies that pre-date the “Federal Republic of Nigeria”, and this, as we all know, has led to unrest and agitations that have continued to hamper our quest for a truly united and prosperous Nigeria.

It is interesting to also note that in spite of the glaring flaws of our current political-economic system, there are those who opine that Nigeria’s underdevelopment has little to do with the unjust and tragically flawed nature of Nigeria’s political-economic system. They insist that our problems are essentially a function of “poor leadership”. They further assert that all Nigeria needs to reach the Promised Land is “repentance and a change of heart” on the part of our political elite and the people. The proponents of this school of thought have however failed to ask themselves WHY Nigeria has continually been afflicted with “poor leadership” over the years. Is Nigeria and are Nigerians accursed of God? Are all Nigerians avowed corruption-lovers? The answer to this question is rather obvious, Nigeria’s corrupt political-economic system, as a matter of course, births “poor leadership”, in the same manner as a goat cannot give birth to a lion, neither can an unjust and flawed political-economic system give birth to responsible and accountable leadership.

The few instances of good governance Nigeria has recorded since the coming into force of this present political-economic system have been nothing but anomalies, this is because the Nigerian State does not have the required mechanisms needed to incentivize or replicate such isolated and rare instances of good governance. There is nothing that incentivizes responsible and accountable leadership in Nigeria. For an average Nigerian elected or appointed public official to muster the will to do the right things he or she must be somewhat of a zealot, with significant political leverage and a singular determination to do what is right and legal, in spite of systemic limitations.

Whilst appreciative of the critical need for good and purposeful leadership, it is humbly submitted that the long-suffering people of Nigeria can not continue to depend ad infinitum on the emergence of anomalies. We must as a people, nay as a Nation, create the requisite political-economic institutions and systems that incentivize good governance, engender social cohesion and advance the economic well-being of all our people, irrespective of the political party or person in power. We must design a system that makes it impossible or at least extremely difficult for the lowest denominators in our polity to emerge as our leaders, and only the reformation of our current political and economic systems will enable that.

Sadly, the twin reasons of greed and fear have been the primary motivations for the reluctance to reform our political-economic systems, and devolve power to the federating units. Greed on the part of the corrupt vested interests in Nigeria who profit from our flawed political-economic system, and thus seek its perpetuity; and an irrational fear on the part of Nigeria’s self-appointed Praetorian guard who imagine that the emergence of economically liberated and empowered federating units will lead to the lead to the disintegration of Nigeria. What these groups seem not to appreciate is that nothing threatens Nigeria’s corporate existence today, more than our strife-generating, flawed political-economic system, which has severally lent itself to the service of ethnic-champions, and highly-placed kleptomaniacs, and has consequently ensured the widening of our fault lines as a Nation, as exemplified by the growing lack of social cohesion in Nigeria. The separatist agitations, ethnoreligious conflicts that dot our landscape are all testaments to the failure of our current systems and glaringly illustrate the need for urgent reforms.

It is the humble submission of this concerned Nigerian that a further and better amendment of the 1999 Constitution, as typified by the current Bill before the National Assembly which seeks the just and equitable devolution of power to Nigeria’s federating units is a very necessary course of action, if we are to make real and sustainable progress. It is submitted that the devolution of power to the federating units will signal the rebirth of Nigeria, resolve most of the social stresses we are experiencing and unleash Nigeria’s much-touted potentials, whilst ensuring the sustainable diversification of Nigeria’s revenue base.

May God Almighty bless and keep the Federal Republic of Nigeria.

Op–ed pieces and contributions are the opinions of the writers only and do not represent the opinions of Y!/YNaija

Ugochukwu Joseph Amasike, a lawyer, writes from Lagos State.

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