By Muyiwa Olayinka
I will start with an analogy.
A house was built by a loving father and as he was getting old and about to die, he bequeathed the sprawling estate to his 6 children that will survive him.
It was a sprawling mansion that could accomodate all the six children and their families.
The house was beautiful with vast expanse of lands containing farmlands, mineral deposits, bringing forth produce at its due seasons.
The family kept expanding but the produce was not growing proportionately with the size of the family.
They started having issues because some were producing more than others but unfortunately, they had to bring their harvest to the central table and shared it equally.
Some were working hard to contribute to the progress of the family but some were laid back, not contributing much, but were satisfied with the equal sharing of the harvest.
It became a thorny issue that the head of the family had to intervene.
They had an enlarged meeting with the head of the family.
For peace to reign, it was however agreed that every one must work harder, keep about 70% of your harvest to yourselves, and bring 30% of it to the central table, partly as savings, and also to take care of extended family members on visits and other sundry matters.
This analogy captures how Nigeria was operating in the early sixties. Then we had 3 regions, namely, the northern region, the western region and the eastern region.
We had a parliamentary systems and a weak center. The regions were controlling the resources within their domain and bringing a fraction of produce to the center. The center was in charge of the foreign affairs and the defense.
Regions were developing at their pace and there was healthy competition among the regions. It brought economic prosperity.
The military interregnum of 1966 put a stop to this workable arrangement and introduced a unitary system of governance that made the center to be stronger.
The successive military regimes continuously and deliberately balkanised the regions and replaced them with states. They did this to satisfy their selfish agenda of ease of administration and put Nigerians under the command and obey structure.
The military using the power of coercion and force, suspended the rule of law, created lopsided sturctures in forms of state. The cultural affinities and boundaries separating communities were not taken into consideration. It created bad blood and conflicts among the communities that were initially co existing peacefully.
Many constituent assemblies, national conferences in a cosmetic manner, were organised not to solve the problems but rather it strengthens, excacerbate and aggravates an already the bad situation.
Instead of strengthening the regional system they were deepening the unitary system.
The national constituent assembly of 1978, that ushered in the second republic advocated for the presidential system and a federal state. The federalism existed on paper but never practised.
Unfortunately for Nigeria, we fought a civil war that claimed millions of lives on both sides for almost 20 months. Shortly after the civil war, we discovered oil in commercial quantities.
We suddenly became rich overnight without planning for the future of Nigeria.
The western world called it overnight success.
Oil came with its challenges. It brought corruption, nepotism, unfair distribution of resources, kickbacks maladministration and other vices you can think of.
The area where oil was discovered was left to rot away leading to environmental degradation, despoliation and pollution. The inhabitants were left unattended to. As a result of drilling activities and oil exploration, the aquatic lives were destroyed, flaring of gas contaminated the air. Power projects and gas pipelines passed through these areas, but sadly, most areas were not connected to the national grid so they had no electricity.
The Niger delta contributed about 80% of the national revenue yet they were left at the mercy of buccaneers and rapists called the oil conglomerates operating in the area
Oil that is supposed to be a blessing became a curse.
Government did not fulfill its responsibility to develop the Niger delta. They allowed the oil companies to take the people for granted and operated at will. They did not care about the area. Corporate social responsibility was jettisoned
Many leaders from the region exploited the loose and nebulous arrangements. They pretended to be fighting for the interest of the people but were busy lining their pockets. It became a win win arrangement between the leaders from the zone and the oil companies.
Instead of the international oil companies IOC to develop the area holistically according to international best practises, they encouraged rent seekers, bribery and corruption.
The youths were knowledgeable about these sharp practices but did not know the extent of these collusions and the nefarious activities until when some of these youths were among the 1 millon march rally, invited to Abuja to persuade Late General Abacha to succeed himself.
It became an eye opener when they visited Abuja and marvelled at the beauty of the city.
It brought about the restiveness in the niger delta. Miltancy, kidnapping, bunkering insurgency became new terminologies in our criminal legal system.
This is the situation of how Nigeria operates. The federal government takes but they don’t replace.
Some northern states introduced sharia laws in their domains. The law bans alcohols, cigarette smoking and other commercial activities. But the value added tax generated from areas that do not practice sharia generate revenues collected through the Federal Inland revenue and paid into the federation accounts.
The revenue shared from the account are remitted to states that are practicing sharia, revenues they did not contribute.
The system we are practising is not sustainable. It is a feudal system copied from the north.
Feudalism is a social system based on personal ownership of resources and personal fealty between a suzerain (lord) and a vassal (subject). Defining characteristics are direct ownership of resources, personal loyalty, and a hierarchical social structure reinforced by religion.
The presidency is high up there as the lord, dictating to the states the revenue to be shared, according to sharing formula determined by the Federal government and can be changed as it pleases it.
He had his subjects as the 36 governors at the state levels and they are the semi gods.
They inadvertently lord over 177 local governments whom they handpicked as loyalists to fill these positions.
The chairmen of local governments are appendages of the governor. He supervises them through the state of assemblies, while the members are also the subjects of the governors.
The councillors dare not impeach the chairman of local governments because their power had been taken away from them through the joint accounts of the state and local government, and for the fact they are under the supervision of the state assemblies
The revenues are shared in Abuja accorrding to whims and caprices of the feudal lord.
Any mineral deposits found in any area of the country automatically belongs the federal government because the constitution empowers it.
The recent slump in international oil spot prices have exposed that this system is not sustainable.
With the oil slump, apart from the activities of the Niger delta avengers NDA, revenues had fallen to an all time low. The states are not viable to meet their responsibilities. There are crises everywhere.
Governors are owing workers and there are industrial strikes everywhere. Government’s activities have been paralyzed. Revenues coming shared Abuja is becoming smaller and smaller.
This government had to bail out states shortly when it was in augurated. Another round of bail out is expected but this time, federal government had to look towards the private sector, through the bond market.
Today, the federal government has facilitated a loan of N90 billion for 22 states. It was raised from the bond market at 9% interest rate annually. It is going to be disbursed in two tranches i.e N50 billion in the first instance and N40 billion at a later time after fulfilling some conditionalities.
The minister of finance said it’s not a bail out but a loan from the private sector.
For how long are we going to continue to bail out states when they do not have the revenue base to pay back.
Is it not high time we start thinking of true federalism and fiscal measures of how we are going to restructure this enterprise.
The Six Geopolitical Zones in Nigeria is a major division in modern Nigeria, created during the regime of president Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida . Nigerian economic, political and educational resources are often shared across the zones.
My analogy is clear. The six sons are the six regions that were bestowed by the head of the family, the estate to manage is Nigeria Are they contributing equally to the central table: Abuja.
If no, what should be the way out?