ANALYSIS: A renewed call to the restructure debate

 

  • By Remi Adebayo and George Onmonya Daniel

 

Recently the national leader of Nigeria’s ruling All Progressives Congress, APC, Senator Bola Ahmed Tinubu made a renewed call in support of the restructure debate. Speaking in proxy through the Governor of Osun state, Rauf Aregbesola, Tinubu made the call at the 91st Anniversary of the Daily Times newspaper and Times Heroes Awards held in the capital Abuja.

Making reference to the success that was 1960s Nigeria, Mr. Tinubu said, “We still grapple with the vestiges of our past under military rule. In many ways, we still function like a unitary state despite the constitution. More powers and resources need to devolve to the states. The Federal Government is taking on too much. We cannot flourish with over concentration of powers at the centre.”

Tinubu is not the first to claim that Nigeria’s economy would better develop if the country adopts the regional system of government in practice in the 1960s. Many Nigerians propose that Nigeria do either a political or fiscal restructuring, or both, and their reason is simple: the regional system of the 60s, allowed for competitive development between Nigeria’s various regions.

Over the years, there have been calls to restructure Nigeria. Although many Nigerians don’t like to talk about it, current debates to restructure, like others before, exposes the disunity that has for decades tainted relationships among the different ethnic groups that make up the union. Rarely is there any ethnic group that doesn’t feel marginalized, which is why any talk of restructure always assumes three angles: political, fiscal and outright secession.

Former vice-president, Atiku Abubakar, at a public function last July, said that since the 1914 amalgamation that created Nigeria, “different segments of Nigeria’s population have, at different times and sometimes at the same time, expressed feelings of marginalisation, of being short-changed, dominated, oppressed, threatened, or even targeted for elimination.”

One issue that set the tone for the first military coup of 1966, which led to the civil war of 1967 to 1970, was said to be this same feeling of marginalization. These events questioned Nigeria’s claimed unity, one notion which according to Atiku, the country is yet to attain. “As a country we have struggled to live up to this ideal. We have obviously not done enough to realise national integration, and the survival of our democracy is still a work in progress.”

The solution Atiku says is for Nigerians to “Resolve today to support calls for restructuring of the Nigerian federation in order to strengthen its unity and stabilize its democracy. I believe that restructuring will eventually happen whether we like or support it or not.” The north that was thought to be opposed to the idea recently appears to be changing its stand on the issue.

After one of its meeting in May held in Kano state, the Northern Elders Forum, NEF issued a communique wherein one of their highlights was that the northern region was ready to engage any group to discuss the issue of restructuring Nigeria. This was revealed by the NEF spokesperson, Prof. Ango Abdullahi.

Several Nigerians advocating for restructuring regard the 1999 Constitution as the problem with the country’s present structure. Lawyer, Mr. Ugochukwu Amasike, sees something being fundamentally wrong with a constitution that begins with “We the people”, but purportedly claiming to be the document adopted for a federal system of government that prevents Nigeria’s 36 component states from harnessing natural resources within their domain.

Section 44 (3) of the 1999 Constitution provides that, “…‘the entire property in and control of minerals, mineral oil and natural gas in, under or upon any land in Nigeria…shall vest in the Government of the Federation’ and shall be managed in ‘such manner’ as may be prescribed by the National Assembly.” In theory Nigeria runs a federal system but unitary government in practice.

No other document makes this distinction better than the 1963 Republic Constitution, where Section 140 (1) provides that, “There shall be paid 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 clamour to restructure Nigeria is divided into three. One group wants the country to go back to regional government; the second is not too particular about regions but that each state should be allowed to control the resources deposited in their domain while paying taxes to the central government. There is the third group that wants an outright dissolution of the Nigerian union, as being championed for by the Indigenous People of Biafra, IPOB.

Those who clamour for fiscal federalism favour a sharing formula that cedes more revenues to the states. Last April, governors of Nigeria’s 36 states pushed for a new fiscal restructuring plan, asking the central government to review the monthly allocation formula. Presently the central government gets 52.68 per cent of the monthly generated revenue, remaining of which is shared 26.72 per cent and 20.60 per cent between the 36 states and 774 LGAs respectively.

Governor Akinwunmi Ambode of Lagos state, Nigeria’s economic capital which recently discovered oil, is asking that states control the resources found in their domain. “Governors are the owners of the land in their states,” he said. A likened a situation where the state governors go to Abuja every month to share federal generated revenue as akin to “spoon-feeding”.

Ambode’s request is more ambitious than what was proposed by delegates to the 2014 National Conference. The delegates had recommended a new revenue sharing formula that if implemented would see revenue being gotten by the central government shrink to 42.5 per cent, while the states and LGAs will each start receiving 35 per cent and 22.5 per cent accordingly.

It remains to be seen if the incumbent government of President Muhammadu Buhari would set the wheel rolling and push to restructure Nigeria. For a man who fought Nigeria’s civil war to keep the country one, Buhari sees the idea restructuring Nigeria as akin to the agitation for secession. MA

 

  • Additional reporting and editing by Ojo Maduekwe