Lecture Presented to the APC Committee on True Federalism by Tony Osborg

Lecture presented to the APC Committee on True Federalism by Tony Osborg
Before I proceed, I wish to inform everyone seated here that our memorandum on true federalism can be downloaded from our website. Kindly visit www.restructurenigeriaa.ng/memorandum
The Restructure Nigeria Community is an online community of Federalist oriented Nigerians who believe there is no other time but now to come together and demand for the most important change that Nigeria truly needs and which we believe is the restructuring of Nigeria to reflect true federalism.
We exist to achieve three objectives.
1. To sensitize and educate Nigerians as to why the country is not working and might never work, and to illustrate to them how the root cause of this failure is linked to the skewed defective unitary system which we operate.
2. To mobilize the now enlightened Nigerians towards demanding for a restructured system based on the principles of true federalism.
3. To participate in the restructuring process through policy formulations, bills sponsorship, participation in constitution amendment process, etc.
To achieve our objectives, we have built a resource centre where Nigerians can visit and learn about the issues which we believe restructuring will address. We encourage all Nigerians to visit our resource centre (website) to have an in-depth understanding of the issues. The website address is www.restructurenigeria.ng. A dedicated page is also available for a detailed and historic understanding of federalism in Nigeria at www.restructurenigeria.ng/federalism
After a critical but brief research into the challenges facing Nigeria, we as a group, have come to the firm conclusion that the problem with Nigeria is not squarely a problem of leadership but more a problem of structural defects inherent in our incompatible unitary political structure. We have come to the firm conclusion that the problem with Nigeria is not necessarily the politicians and their political parties but the defective unitary system which we falsely call a federal system.
First, we believe that a heterogeneous society like Nigeria cannot and should not be administered in a highly centralized manner like we currently do. We believe the local people and governments should have a degree of control and autonomy over the most basic issues that affect their existence and as such, there is an urgent need to devolve certain responsibilities not just from the federal level to the state but also from the state to the community levels. We believe governance must begin from the bottom and move upward, not the reverse like it currently is in Nigeria. This, we believe will introduce a true sense of local participation, accountability, transparence and mutual respect between the people and their leaders, especially at the local level. We believe governance must begin from the local community levels and as such, restructuring for us, simply means, giving back constitutional powers to the local people to be in charge of their own destinies.
We believe, the system of government we currently operate puts too much powers in the hands of our leaders, thereby making them become emperors, and this has led to leadership bias arising from prebendalism, nepotism, corruption, marginalization and underdevelopment. There is therefore an urgent need to devolve powers from not just the federal level but also from the state level and in the interest of the local people. Our desire is to empower local communities and local people into having control over the development of their respective communities, irrespective of the religious, tribal and regional bias of their state or federal leaders. True federalism, for us, simple means, giving the local people the constitutional power and authority they need to under develop or develop themselves.
We strongly believe that corruption is not the biggest problem we have in Nigeria. The biggest problem we have is the unitary system which is incompatible with our heterogeneous nature. Corruption is merely a symptom of a bad government structure. The root cause of corruption is the system of government we have operated. Attempting to fight corruption while still operating a corrupt unitary system of government is like taking paracetamol to treat malaria. The headache will reduce for a while, but the malaria parasite will remain. You do not treat symptoms, you treat causes. Nigerians need to stop falling for the propaganda that corruption is our biggest problem. Corruption, likewise nepotism, prebendalism, are all grandchildren of a bad system of government. If we are serious and sincere about the fight against corruption, then we must approach it heads-on; restructure Nigeria and return power away from Abuja to the local people. It is easier for a state governor to steal funds belonging his state than for a community leader to steal funds belonging to his community. The reason is obvious.
As long as we continue to operate a highly centralized system of government that puts too much powers in individuals rather than institutions, the fight against corruption will remain elusive.
There is a lesson from Ethiopia and their recent attainment of federalism that we should learn from. Let us put it here in verbatim.
…Politically, the era of centralization seems to have come to an end, and this is as it should be. A multi-ethnic, multi-lingual and multi-religious society such as ours (Nigeria) cannot and should not be administered in a highly centralized manner. That people in their respective localities have the right to administer themselves, exercise a degree of command over their own resources, and develop their own cultures (places), and languages must be taken as axiomatic…But there must also be unity within diversity. In the past we emphasized unity at the expense of diversity, and we have paid dearly for it. Let us hope that now we will not move to the other extreme and emphasize diversity at the expense of unity.
[Eshetu Chole, “Ethiopia At the Crossroads…”, DIALOGUE, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia].
Federalism brings competition, competition drives productivity, productivity inspires innovation, innovations drives development. This is exactly what Nigeria lacks; competition, productivity, innovation, efficient and sustainable development.
The present unitary system has not only distorted the necessary ingredients for growth but it has also entrenched an entitlement mentality in the populace and among the federating units, making them less aggressive towards self-sufficiency. Recent statistics has shown that the bulk of the federating units (states and LGAs) are not sustainable and viable without federal allocations. What this basically implies is that if the federal government suffers a major economic sabotage in its revenue generating base, the entire country will likely run into crisis. These are all signs of a collapsing system.
What we are asking the federal government to do is quite simple; save the presidency from receiving all the blames about Nigeria’s failure, push those responsibilities to the locality governments and allow the local people deal with their locality governments. Why should the federal government hold exclusive rights to electricity distribution and transmission? Why should a state like Lagos be denied it’s right to transmit and distribute electricity to Lagosians even when it has the resources to do so? Why should the people of Kano city witness black out each time a gas pipeline is blown up in Bayelsa State by Niger Delta militants? Must we have a national unitary grid even when decentralized grids have proven to be more effective and cost effective? Why has the 1999 Constitution become an obstacle to states with capacities to provide 24/7 electricity to its people. Why can’t my state House of Assembly have the authority to make laws allowing my state issue out driver’s license to motorists in my state, petrol station permits, inland water way permits, basic education policy and access to directly benefit from the resources of the localities? Why are we running a big country like Nigeria in a unitary manner?
Why should revenue from VAT be brought to Abuja to be shared by all tiers of government? Why should the federal government continue to steal resources from the federating units and act as if it is doing the states a favor in return by giving them allocations? Why should the federal government operate, manage and fund universities? Why are there no state prisons, state police and state constitutions? Why is there no democracy in our state and local governments levels?
Why should the IGP sitting in Abuja decide for my community whether we need a road block or not. Why is the federal government sending in strangers with no historical ties to police our localities? What is wrong in we having a community police system, funded by community, managed by the community and operated by the community? Why is the federal government afraid of we having our own community and state police structure? Why should federal budgets contain issues like boreholes, primary schools, street lights and even roads? This is not how a federation works.
These and many more questions are issues we believe restructuring will address. In summary, Nigeria is in crisis because it was built on a faulty foundation whose existence is now threatened. There is now need to rebuild this foundation by restructuring the political system and entrenching true federalism.
The understanding of federalism varies from country to country; however, there are certain basic principles inherent in all federal systems that make it easy to identify a country that practices federalism.
The basic tenets of federalism are as follows: In a federal system of government,
1 There must be at least two levels of governments and there must be constitutional division of powers among the levels of governments.
2 Each levels of government must be co-ordinate and independent of each other.
3 Each levels of government must be financially independent. This will afford each levels of government the opportunity of performing their functions without depending or appealing to the others for financial assistance.
4 There must be Supreme Court of the independent judiciary. In terms of power sharing, there is likely to be conflict hence, there must be independent judiciary to resolve the case between each feerating unit.
5 In terms of the amendment of the constitution, no levels of government should have undue power over the amendment process.
From the above principles of federalism, we can see that Nigeria is not a federal republic because first, the federating units are not independent of each other and constitutional division of powers do not guarantee the autonomy of each tier.
Some other of the most basic features of federalism is as follows;
1 The federating units (states and community governments) maintain autonomy over the most basic issues that affect their people. From security to education, resources, taxes, infrastructural developments, elections, judiciary, health care, etc.
2 Powers are shared between the various tiers of government in a manner that unnecessary interference becomes unnecessary.
3 The government (tier) closest to the people is more empowered to meet up with the needs of the local people.
4 The federal national government is usually a creation of the sub-national (state) governments.
5 The federal government responsibility is usually limited to just foreign affairs, monetary policy, immigration, customs, defense and related matters. All powers not expressly given to the federal government by the federal constitution is reserved for the state governments.
6 Governance is run in a bottom-up approach.
7 There is a federal and state constitution.
A Nigerian Professor, Itsey Sagay, also gives us an interesting understanding of federalism as a concept. Prof. Itsey Sagay rightly stated Federalism as;
… an arrangement whereby powers within a multi-national country are shared between a federal or central authority, and a number of regionalised governments in such a way that each unit, including this central authority, exists as a government separately and independently from the others, operating directly on persons and property with its territorial area, with a will of its own and its own apparatus for the conduct of affairs and with an authority in some matters exclusive of all others. In a federation, each government enjoys autonomy, a separate existence and independence of the control of any other government. Each government exists, not as an appendage of another government (e.g. the federal or central government) but as an autonomous entity in the sense of being able to exercise its own will on the conduct of its affairs free from direction by any government. Thus, the Central Government on the one hand and the State Governments on the other hand are autonomous in their respective spheres.
the fundamental and distinguishing characteristic of a federal system is that neither the central nor the regional governments are subordinate to each other, but rather, the two are co-ordinate and independent.”
In short, in a federal system, there is no hierarchy of authorities, with the central government sitting on top of the others. All governments have a horizontal relationship with each other.
The most important question before us is envisaging what a restructured Nigeria would look like. We have agreed that Nigeria needs restructuring based on the principles of federalism. The next big question should be; what should a restructured Nigeria look like? This is what we have set out now to answer in this chapter.
How should responsibilities be shared between the federal and state governments? To answer these questions, we have drawn up twenty rules that should guide us in our debate.
The first rule towards restructuring Nigeria is to allow the peoples, ethnic nationalities and communities come together and create their own autonomous state governments as they please. It is only after the various ethnic nationalities have created their own autonomous state governments that they can then come together to create the federal government. There is nowhere in the world where the federal government creates the state governments, rather it is the pre-existing autonomous state governments that come together to create the federal government (country) and decide what and what political and economic powers should be given to the federal government and which should be retained for itself. This is the first principle of federalism.
These twenty rules highlight the basic principles of true federalism.
1. There should be two tiers of government recognized by the federal constitution; a federal and state government. Each of them should have a separate constitution. The state government should have the exclusive right to create another tier of government as it wishes. We suggest that a community/city based government be recognized and established by the state as the last tier of government in replacement for the present local government system. The constitutions must guarantee the autonomy of each tier of government. The community based government should have full control over the most basic things that affect the community and the local people. Issues like basic education (management and funding of basic schools), security (community police), water, maintenance, health care, etc., should be the responsibilities of the community based governments. Community Based Governments should also have the right to raise its own revenue through taxes to fund its needs. The community based government should be the most empowered tier of government.
2. The federal constitution should limit the federal government responsibilities to only defense, monetary policy, foreign policy, immigration, customs and such related matters. All duties not given to the federal government should become the duties of the state governments and should be contained in the state constitutions.
3. The federal constitution should be written by the representatives of the already existing autonomous states that now wish to federate (create) a federal government. In the same manner, the state constitution should be written by the representatives of the people, ethnic nationalities and communities that would make up the state.
4. Ownership of all federal owned assets and institutions that are no longer fall under federal jurisdiction should be transferred to the states where they are located. Arrangement should be made to ensure that there is a fair balance of payment for the transferred assets. Where the states fail to offer a fair bargain for the new assets, the general public (private sector) should be invited to take ownership of the assets. Federal institutions (i.e federal universities) capable of being autonomous should be declared as autonomous institutions and free from federal interference and management.
5. The federal government will no longer build hospitals, universities, rail lines, refineries, power stations, etc. These shall become exclusive duties of the state governments and the private sector. The federal government duty shall be limited to the items listed in number 2.
6. The federal constitution shall forbid both the federal and state governments from embarking on business ventures and shall limit their sources of revenue to only taxation and royalties.
7. The federal constitution should recognize the right of ownership of land and natural resources as belonging to communities and individuals and should therefore forbid both the state and federal governments from upturning this inalienable right. The implication of this rule is that resource control will now be in the hands of individuals and communities and not the state or federal government as it currently is. However, the federal constitution must guarantee the right of the state and federal government to benefit from such resources through taxation.
8. The state and federal governments should have two independent judiciary with each having up to its own Supreme Court.
9. Right to self-determination (including secession) should be enshrined in the federal constitution. Communities/towns should have the right to secede from a state and seek membership of another state within Nigeria while states should have the right to secede from Nigeria and seek membership of another country or form an independent country of their choice. The process of doing this must be by referendum and subject to federal confirmation. If Nigeria is not working for some people, we should not force them to stay. This is an inalienable right of federating units in a federation.
10. State governments should be entitled to receive irregular annual grants from the federal government on specific needs (capital projects), and in the same fashion, communities/town governments should be entitled to receive regular grants from their state governments upon meeting certain conditions. There should be no more monthly allocations.
11. Parliamentary democracy should be adopted to replace the present presidential executive system. The present House of tribes (House of Reps) and Senate should be abolished and a single parliament (House of tribes) retained comprising of tribesmen, professionals, and town/city/state representatives.
12. The federal constitution shall guarantee the decentralization and autonomy of the civil service, judiciary, and other arms and institutions of government.
13. The federal constitution shall recognize indigeneship and residency as qualification for occupying public offices in both state and federal offices.
14. Taxation shall be the major source of revenue for both the federal and state governments. Federal taxes shall be limited while state government taxes shall be unlimited. There should be federal crimes and state crimes, federal criminals and state criminals, federal prisons and state prisons. This we believe will make crime management more effective and efficient.
15. Both basic and tertiary education shall be the exclusive rights of the states and community based governments. The federal government shall have no business with building and managing basic or tertiary institutions. Power generation, transmission and distribution shall also be the exclusive right of the state and city governments.
16. The federal constitution shall guarantee the autonomy and need for federal, state, community and institutional police system. Federal regulations should be unlimited on matters of security, environment, economy, etc.
17. Issuance of licenses (whatever kind be it exploration or social license) should be the exclusive right of the state governments while regulations of such licenses should be jointly done by both the state and federal governments.
18. The federal and state constitution shall guarantee the autonomy of every tier of government in conducting their own elections. Each tier of government shall be solely responsible for the conduct of its own elections without external interference. The people of the communities, towns and cities that make up a state shall be solely responsible for electing the state government officials in the same way the people of the state governments shall be solely responsible for electing the officials of the federal government.
19. The federal constitution shall separate religion from the state and state from religion.
20. The federal parliament shall be structured in such a manner that a bill can only become law if and only if it receives support from a minimum of 1/3 representatives from each state and not a 2/3 of the general House.
The above twenty rules are what we consider as fundamental principles of true federalism as may be applicable to the Nigerian society. Once we are able to establish these rules in Nigeria, Nigeria has become a true federal state! The rules will expand as time goes.
The beauty of federalism is that once we properly restructure and handover power back to our localities, the President and the Presidency will no longer be blamed for all the problems in Nigeria. We want a Nigeria where, if electricity goes off for a day, the local people can walk up to thier state governor’s office and shut it down until electricity is restored. We are tired of operating a system of government where our state government have no control over basic issues like security (police), educational policies, management of resources and critical public infrastructures. We are tired of operating a system where we do not fund our state governments therefore we do not seem to have a right to hold the state accountable. Nigerians want a system where the state government derives its existence from the people and not from Abuja. We want a locally driven tax based society.
Nigerians must be prepared for this change we are advocating for. Nigerians must come to realize that governance is not charity and that governments can therefore not continue to offer free roads, cheap electricity, subsidized petrol products, free education and even free pilgrimage sponsorship, all at the detriment of critical national infrastructures. Nigerians must understand the implication of restructuring because when the chips are down, we and we alone must fund our various government and this do through paying taxes. The era of free crude oil money is over. It is time to build a real country, funded by the local people, owned by the local people and controlled by the local people. It is time to restructure Nigeria.
The National Assembly should not make the mistake of devolving powers to the states as it is planning to do under the ongoing constitutional amendment. We must not mistake devolution of powers as same for true federalism. We must first of all democratize our states before giving them more powers. Giving the states more powers under the present arrangement without first democratizing the states is like giving an Emperor absolute power to become a full blown dictator. The 1999 Constitution already gives the state governors (not state) too much powers, until we are able to neutralize those powers and democratize the states, we should not contemplate giving the state governors more power in the pretense of restructuring Nigeria.
How do we democratize our states? First, we must take a critical look at the federal constitution and remove all areas that dictates how the states should be governed. The federal constitution has no right to dictate how the states should be governed. The power to dictate how a state is governed should be exclusive to the people of a state. For example, the federal constitution has no business as to the creation of LGAs, structure of state legislature, duties of the state government, funding of the states, etc. The people of the state should decide all these through drafting of their own constitutions.
Today, we have state governments and governors all over Nigeria who do not practically need their people for the state’s survival. The funding of the state comes from Abuja allocation, how then do you expect the local people to hold their leaders accountable when they contribute nothing to the monies been wasted by their leaders? For Nigeria to work, we the local people must own our government, fund our government and manage our government by ourselves. This is the only natural way we can hold our leaders accountable. As long as we do not fund them, they owe us no obligation to be accountable! We therefore call on the federal government to amend the constitution, open more avenues for states to raise funds internally, abolish monthly allocation and introduce an annual grant system to state on conditional specific needs. Monthly allocation is evil and it has to stop. State governments should be funding the federal government and not the reverse.
Also, we must remind the federal government that its major duty is to protect our rights not just as individuals but as ethnic nationalities and federating units. The use of force by the federal government on legitimate and extreme agitations further confirms the hypothesis as to how illegitimate the Nigerian state has become. In a federation, the federating units have inalienable rights; one of such is the right to self-determination, and even secession. If the federal government in all honesty, is not willing to restructure Nigeria and give the local people and their government the power to develop or underdevelop themselves, then it should at least be honorable enough in allowing those who which to leave the union have their way. Nigeria is not working and we cannot continue to pretend about it.
A National Coordinator,
Restructure Nigeria Community
Mobile; +234 81 34941730
Email; tony.osborg@restructurenigeria.ng
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