Who is afraid of restructuring?

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IN recent times, the very topical issue of discussion in Nigeria has been “restructuring”. While many believe that this is the only panacea for saving the country from imminent breakup, others are not so keen on restructuring based on some contentions. First, they argue that the term is vague as it means different things to different people. Some others have preferred that it is not the country that has to be restructured, but the attitude of Nigerians.  Going by my interactions with some ardent proponents of restructuring, they feel that those who are asking:  “what is restructuring?” are just not sincere and that they are saying this because they are opposed to the concept. Their view is that these people are benefitting and enjoying the present structure and so will do everything to maintain the status quo or merely effect some adjustments to the present structure. The only point of agreement among the two sides to this proposition is that the country is in dire straits and that something has to be done to forestall anarchy or outright break up of the Country.

No doubt, this is a very trying time for Nigeria. In fact, we have never had it so bad. There is hardly any aspect of Nigeria that gives one joy or hope for a better future. I fully endorse the position that some things have to be done soonest to stem the ongoing morass in the polity. We cannot continue as we are if we have to remain a united entity much further. This is why I support this idea of “restructuring” but I am of the strong view that what it entails has to be clearly spelt out. To start with, I want to offer a very simple definition in my mother tongue to be “ki onikaluku ma dari ile baba re” i.e. Let everyone be the controller of his immediate family. In this wise, I want to conceputualise Nigeria as a large family where there are many children. While all the members of the family bear the same surname, they have their own separate families within the larger clan. These individual members manage their own domestic affairs on their own terms without renouncing the family name while subscribing to the norms of the larger clan.

Having given my own understanding of this concept of restructuring as above, I want to highlight some aspects of our life as a country that have to be “restructured” with utmost dispatch. First, the revenue allocation formula among the three tiers of government has to be reworked. At present, the Federal Government takes 52.68 per cent allocation, the 36 States and the FCT, Abuja take 26.72 per cent while the 774 Local Governments take 20.6 per cent. The allocation to the Federal Government is no doubt unjustifiable even with the powers vested in it by the constitution. Concomitant with a drastic review of the allocation formula is the issue of streamlining their responsibilities. For example, the Federal Government should only be responsible for Foreign Policy, Defence, etc. At present, most of the discernible activities of Government are carried out by the States. To me, local governments should be like “parastatals” of the state governments. I am reliably informed that Nigeria is perhaps the only federation in the world that has three tiers of government. With the present revenue allocation formula, we are virtually running a unitary state. The Federal Government has too much resources at its disposal and this is the major reason that corruption is highest at this level. It also dabbles into various projects that can be better and more effectively handled by the states. Another aspect requiring immediate attention is the decentralisation of the police. In essence, the creation of State Police is an immediate need if we are to stem this worsening insecurity in the land.

The argument that the state governments will misuse their police formations for partisan purpose does not hold water. Is the Federal Government not using the Nigeria Police for its partisan interests even now? Under the present arrangement, governors are only the Chief Security Officers of their states merely in name. The de facto Chief Security Officers in the States are the Commissioners of Police who take their instructions from the Inspector General of Police, who in turn takes his order from the Federal Government. With this arrangement, the Federal Government had been using the Nigeria Police to serve its partisan interests. The cases of governors being impeached by minorities of the states legislatures, some at ungodly hours readily come to mind. Once such impeachments are supported by the Federal Government,  the impeached governors will be subsequently ‘forced’ out of office by merely withdrawing their security details on the orders of the Federal Government through the Inspector General of Police.

On this issue of revenue allocation among the three tiers of Government in the Country, there is an erroneous impression that the Federal Government gives allocations to states and local governments monthly. The funds that are shared every month are from the Federation Account and are shared on the formula backed by law. The funds in the Account are generated by the various tiers of Government and then pooled and shared monthly. The funds do not belong to the Federal Government. So, the idea of the Federal Government being the “big brother” dolling out funds to the states and local governments is not correct. For example, substantial portions of the revenue in the Federation Account are from the sale of crude oil and the returns from Value Added Tax. Crude oil is produced in some states while VAT is generated by the states. As earlier stated, the present formula for revenue allocation is most lop-sided in favour of the Federal Government. Incidentally, the Federal Government, with the least territory, generates the lowest revenue. No wonder, many people are clamouring for the introduction of Fiscal Federalism whereby the revenue sharing formula will be rearranged in such a way that the States and Local Governments, which have more responsibilities, get more funds. The Federal Government should limit itself to the “commanding heights” like defence, foreign relations, etc. This may involve tinkering with the Exclusive and Residual duties in the constitution.

It is becoming apparent daily that unless Nigeria is restructured soonest, the centre may not be able to hold much longer. We should, therefore, embark on the restructuring of Nigeria without any further delay.

Osunro, a retired Permanent Secretary, writes in from Ibadan.

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