Written by the Editorial Board of The Guardian Newspaper
Incredibly, restructuring and federalism have become the most misrepresented words even by those who should understand and work for their actualisation in the interest of peace and progress of Nigeria.
To some political commentators, it is an idea whose time has come. To some others, it is a secret weapon by a section to break up the country so that others would not have access to the oil and gas resources, invariably the mainstay of the economy, available only in one part of the country. This is so very sad.
It must be stated unequivocally, however, that the honest pursuit and enthronement of federalism in its true meaning will be hugely beneficial to all Nigerians from all the geo-political zones.
The first and the most fundamental point is that there is a common denominator, poverty and mass illiteracy, all over Nigeria.
The effects of those decades when the military overthrew the finesse as well as practice of federalism are still being felt nationwide. In other words, the real trouble with Nigeria is not just poverty nurtured by corruption and illiteracy but lack of understanding of the impact of the overthrow of the principles of federalism, a system that once triggered rapid growth of Nigeria.
The first military Head of State, Lt-General Thomas Aguiyi-Ironsi thrashed federalism through a Unification Decree No.34 in 1966 before he too was killed in a counter coup that did not restore federalism.
In fact, successive military governments, beginning from General Yakubu Gowon’s through General Murtala Muhammed’s to General Sani Abacha’s kept creating states that have become mere administrative capitals and peripheral beggars instead of federating units of development. The states have since 1966 been depending on crumbs from the centre.
Since a proper federalism that triggered exponential growth of the Northern, Western, Eastern and Midwestern Regions was destroyed by military politicians, Nigeria has not recorded any tangible growth in any economic or political sense.
The selfless leaders from the North and South of Nigeria in the first republic were arguably the last of the great men this country has had. Since federalism or regionalism that propelled them to greater heights collapsed, crass opportunism and enlightened self interest have given birth to small minds as ‘Big Men’ who have led the country to the nadir of reproach.
It is, therefore, time to tell all Nigerians, including those who profit from misleading the people about the many benefits of restructuring that, just as there was oil in the South, cocoa in the West, rubber and timber in the Mid-west, the North of Nigeria used to play host to most of the best textile companies in the country and indeed West Africa. The same North used to be the home of the famous groundnut pyramids in Kano and a place where cotton, millet, among numerous other economic crops were grown. It is a shame that Nigerian leaders would not be eager to harness these vast mineral, agriculture and water resources in the area from North central to the North West within the context of a truly federal Nigeria.
Kogi State, for instance, can go to Nasarawa State and invest in some mineral resources and employ the people there. Just as Lagos State is currently doing with Kebbi State in rice production. It is Kebbi’s citizens that will be employed and taxes will be paid to the state, after all. That way, there will be a balance of opportunity to exploit what is available in all states.
Therefore, instead of shooting down and foreclosing discussions of opportunities that abound in fiscal federalism, all Nigerians should encourage their representatives to take another look at the recurrent and exclusive legislative lists. The exclusive list that gives too much power to the Federal Government in exploitation of mineral and water resources should be relaxed and the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) should begin the process of devolution of powers to the federating units for the rapid development of the country.
Besides, those who wield federal powers now should seek to renew their minds and be persuaded that Nigeria cannot be broken or hampered by the practice of federalism as some have mischievously submitted. Indeed, federalism will even strengthen democracy and make the country grow economically.
If the 36 federating units are not allowed to exploit all the natural endowments in their states and develop state policies based on priorities and then pay their workers according to what they can afford, development even at the centre will be a mirage. At the moment, poverty in the federating units which keep asking for bailouts from the centre before they can pay even basic bills is shameful, and unacceptable.
In the context of competition which used to exist when Nigeria was a really federal entity, Lagos and Kaduna states are now setting some instructive examples. Just as the Western Region did in those days, the Kaduna State government, for instance, has decided to invest heavily in compulsory and quality education as a matter of priority. This is how a good federation should be. And it is hoped that other states will follow this example. Lagos too continues to invest heavily in education and to enhance its status as the economic capital of West Africa. Both states parade the best civil services in the country at the moment and are restructuring their operations according to their vision and resources.
Therefore, the time has come for Nigeria’s leaders at all levels and from all regions to remove politics from discussions of the many benefits of fiscal federalism and focus on how ventures such as cattle rearing, grains, gum Arabic, tomatoes, sweet potatoes, rice production, etc in the North can be exploited for the glory of the region. This does not remove any steam from the efforts at finding oil in the North East, which may just be some added value.
The Eastern Region, comprising the present South South and South East, is already show-casing the gains of self-dependence as Anambra State, for instance, is gradually finding its groove in agriculture and industrialisation.
Against the background of diversification, with emphasis on agriculture and mining as central elements in the political economy, that all things are available in every state but not exploited till now is the shame of a nation. Governments should step forward and remove obstacles to these resources and the value that would accrue to all citizens therefrom.
No doubt, the country is already factionalised over this matter. The elite caused the division which Nigerians do not need. And the country was not always like this. In 1993, this same country organised a presidential election in which a political party fielded a Muslim-Muslim ticket that no one complained about anywhere. It was a pan-Nigeria mandate which Chief MKO Abiola won convincingly before the military cancelled the result. The same obtained in the election that brought President Muhammadu Buhari to power in May, 2015. It was a popular mandate that was not disputed. Now, history beckons on Buhari to see this popular mandate as one to be exploited to listen to what Nigerians are saying and implement true federalism.
Nigerians, especially members of the elite, must show an understanding beyond the dubious position of those who associate true federalism with the balkanisation of the country.