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Begging for a federation

BY Owei Lakemfa
EVEN in the heat of the Boko Haram conflagration in which about a thousand Nigerians were killed, the issue of the  new local governments  in Lagos State continued to take centre stage. In one breath President Umaru Yar’Adua talked about the religious uprising and in another the war with Lagos State.

Ministers and stalwarts of the ruling Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) are rooting for the President to use force on the state and force it to reduce the local governments or local government development agencies from 57 to the original 20.

In a normal federal system, there is no boss or big brother. The federating units are supposed to be equal, and they relate as equal partners with the centre, not as surrogates. This was the basis of our independence, and how the First Republic was run.

If we are a Federal Republic as the constitution proclaims, what then are the federating units?  In  pre-independent times, and in the First Republic, the federating units were the regions. Although, the federating regions have today been split into 36  states, the federating units have not disappeared. So the states are the building blocks of our current federal structure.

In all federations, the building blocks are autonomous. Except specific powers are given to the centre, which under the 1999 Constitution are called Exclusive Legislative list, each federating unit or state should have the powers to run its internal administrative machinery the way it thinks best.

Local governments are constitutionally speaking, administrative units of a state. Their  functions, according to the 1999 Constitution, are “… to participate in economic planning and development” of their particular areas (Sec 7:3).

The expatiation of this in the Fourth Schedule states that the functions of the local government is in “the consideration and making of recommendations to a state commission or economic planning or any similar body” on matters like collection of rates, running cemeteries, markets and parks.

Its other functions include participation in matters such as the provision of primary, adult and vocational education, health services and “such other functions as may be conferred on a local government council by the House of Assembly of a state”.

So if we run a federal system, the number of local governments a state wants to create should be the business of that state and its people not the headache of the central government. In other words, if Lagos State wants to create a hundred local governments, that would be its business, on the other hand, if Kano or Enugu want to merge their local governments, that should be entirely their business.

Running the federation as a unitary nation and regarding the constituent states as appendages are the causes of the brewing Fasola-Yar’Adua face-off.

The journey to unitary administration began in the First Republic when the ruling Northern Peoples Congress (NPC) wanted to break the opposition Action Group. This snow-balled into a coup. With the emergence of General Aguyi Ironsi, his fellow soldiers and some civilians talked his government into enacting the unitary decree.

Although that decree was said to be his undoing, succeeding military regimes built on it and civilian administrations since then have in practice, tried to run a unitary system.

The discovery of oil in the Niger Delta fully consolidated the unitary system as all states stopped being productive and became completely addicted to the free oil revenue. Due to this, more states were created; the number increased from a dozen to the current three dozen. With states being so insolvent, local governments cannot but be in a worse condition.

Those who collated the 1999 Constitution were torn between giving it a semblance of federalism and running the unitary system. So while Section 8(3) gives states the power to create local governments with a mere concurrence by the National Assembly, Section 3(6) states categorically that, there shall be 768 local governments in the country.

This means that for every local government created, there must be a constitutional amendment. So both sides to the controversy have the backing of the Constitution.

But the main problem is, being a vehicle for revenue sharing, every state wants more local governments. Thus, states like Kano, Oyo, Jigawa and Enugu that contribute little or nothing to the national cake get a better share of the national cake through their  local governments than say Bayelsa with nine.

If local governments were truly units of administrative governance that have to fend for themselves, almost all states would want fewer local governments than they currently have.

The irony is that with the popular perception that Fashola unlike most governors in the country, is delivering dividends of democracy, any arm-twisting by the Presidency can increase his popularity ratings. So, the solution is not threats.

In the collective interests of our citizenry, we need to return to the path of federalism.

The existing states are neither autonomous in the context of federalism nor are they economically or financially viable.

They are a drain pipe. Our best option is to bunch these unviable states to form regions or sub-federations along the lines of the widely accepted  six geo-political zones. Each of these should be free to create as many states or local governments as they desire provided that such entities would not be a basis for revenue allocation.

That means that each region or sub-federation would fund its internal administrative machinery whether they be states or local areas solely from its equitable share of revenue allocation and internally generate


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