Delivering a sustainable Nigeria III

Infractions are normal human frailties. Even in the most loving relationship, causing offence to ones friends and family is expected let alone to those with whom we have less emotional ties. There are people that go out of their way to willingly upset another, whereas there are others that cause offence based on actions they thought would be pleasing to those they’ve now offended. What can be difficult to forgive is when the offender, in hindsight, has been made aware of why and how his or her action caused another to be offended regardless of the innocence of their original intention but still refuses to apologise. This is what, in my opinion, General Buhari is most guilty of. I haven’t read anywhere or heard the people’s General, as his voltrons choose to call him, apologise for the coup he organised or benefitted from. It does not matter whether or not military regimes were popular then, now that you know better, an apology to the nation is proper. It is what the father of a nation (or one that hopes to be one as that is what he’ll need to be if he wins) will do, one that hopes to inspire healing, reconciliation and bridge class, ethnic and religious divides.

In my last opinion piece, I mentioned that APC had excelled in the current presidential campaign. By that I meant relative to the PDP. APC have on the most part managed to stay on point, avoid any gaffs and more importantly keep the illusion that General Buhari has more to offer than just be the poster person for anti-corruption. PDP’s persistent “unforced errors” has done the rest of their campaigning for them. Besides that, they have offered no real solutions to our teeming problems. I know there’s a manifesto, but that document is too expensive considering our falling revenues and weak currency. We can hardly benefit from exports as we don’t have the production/industrial base.

Anyway, back to delivering a sustainable Nigeria. If nothing at all, we all know common sense tells us that we can hardly build a strong structure on a faulty foundation. Our current democratic sojourn is built on the foundation of a Constitution handed to us by the military. 16 years on, most Constitutional amendments have been laughable at best. Our Constitution is first and foremost fundamentally flawed. Fundamentally flawed in that the only thing that attempts to be proportional in the document is the Federal house of representative where Federal constituencies are linked to size/population of States. Every thing else in the document is very top heavy. In a country where mismanagement is its biggest problem, we don’t only have an implementation problem we also have a structural one.

One of the main effects of the structural problem is that it gives public officers like LG Chairmen or State Governors a ready excuse when it comes to revenue generation, control and dearth of any meaningful implemented public project. Because most of the revenue is fed top down, those at the bottom are at the mercy of those at the top. If a citizen complains to his LG chairman about lack of say functioning street lights, the chairman can simply say, the State governor hasn’t released any money to them or what they expected to get has been halved so they can’t afford their projects/policies. Question is, can the LG chairman ask the governor why money isn’t forthcoming or why what was released wasn’t what was expected? Do governors offer any explanation to LG chairmen when they do as they will with LG allocation? Your guess is as good as mine. So on what reasonable basis can a LG chairman propose a budget and can such be realistic? Aren’t LG chairmen then just governor’s errand boys? Further, let’s consider State revenues. The main source of revenues for most States is allocation from the federation account (read this as oil revenue). Only a handful of States can survive without ‘hand me downs’ from the FG with Lagos being the most resilient. If and when Federal allocation tightens, then most States will be buggered. Right now, we have States that owe up to five months in salaries and some that are already technically insolvent. They are technically insolvent because they generate little to no internal revenue.

So let’s personalise this argument. Can you, yes you reading this, survive or plan for your future based on decisions made by someone else? Won’t you at least want influence if not control over decisions that directly impact on what your aspirations, hopes, desires are and how best you can fund/achieve them?  So why then shouldn’t our Constitution reflect what is the most basic of human tendency – the need for influence/control over ones affairs?

Our utopia should be a Constitutional and political reform that fully embraces proportional representation from top to bottom, guarantees complete autonomy among levels of government, concentrates majority of political and Constitutional power with Local then State governments with commensurate devolution of control over revenue and resources. I would advocate for a 42.5%, 30% and 27.5% of revenue/resource control devolution to Local, State and Federal governments respectively.

The first thing to note about this utopia is that it wouldn’t deliver a perfect democratic system as such doesn’t exist. What it could deliver is a structure that localises all issues and or differences of opinions. Debate of how to move governance and related social issues forward will mostly be between neighbours rather than between members of a cabal over a drink or two in a hotel in Abuja. Our nation is a multi ethnic and multi cultural one. Therefore it isn’t unreasonable to expect that our local needs and priorities will be equally multifaceted. Further, the capacity and pace with which we can meet our local challenges will also be diverse. With every region being blessed with one natural resource or the other, each State should be given the power to chart its own course. States should be able to issue exploratory licence to businesses, set corporate tax rates or determine where within the economic value chain it wants to position itself, be able to compete fairly with other States and enter into developmental cooperative agreements. For example, with increasing population a cause for concern in Lagos, the Lagos State government could enter into a cooperative developmental agreement with say Ogun State on improving transportation infrastructure so that persons living in Abeokuta could be only an hour train journey away from say Victoria Island where their job is. The possibilities that such an agreement could bring will be a great multiplier of economic productivity for both States. At the moment, Lagos is forced to go it alone on such projects because neighbouring States can’t even begin to contemplate embarking on such as their economy/revenue base is too fragile.

So why aren’t governors making judicious use of current federal allocation to deliver the above and why is devolution necessary? Answer is simple, government revenue isn’t majority funded by tax payers but by resource revenue. Think about it. Which State is the most advanced (relatively) in governance and development in Nigeria? Lagos. Which State has the highest generation and collection of IGR? Lagos. Which State does its residents question and demand accountability the most from its governor? Lagos. So if all Local and State governments stop looking to the FG for allocation money and rather within, it will be far easier for residents to demand accountability and expect good governance from their LG chairman and governors as they currently do with Lagos.

The way to look at it is this: if you know that the person (LG chairman) in most control of the public policy and implementation that directly affects your life lives in the next street from you, do you think after 16 years of this type of governance structure, Nigeria will still be the way it is today? If there is no Abuja, just you and your neighbours, would you allow it?

So, how can these changes be implemented? Well, we currently have a governance structure and the changes will have to be implemented within it. Besides en-masse citizen advocacy, these suggested changes will need a NASS sponsor – someone or some people to be its champion. Further, there will be a need for at least one State assembly from each of the six geopolitical zones to be in support of devolution of power and political reform to help accelerate public interest. There will also be a need for citizens to be fully engaged with their legislative representative’s right from ward councillor all the way up to the senate representative.

There’s little we can do without the support of our legislators.

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Delivering a sustainable Nigeria III

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