By Innocent Anaba
Prof Julius Ihonvbere, former aide to former President Olusegun Obasanjo, in his
presentation at the just concluded ‘5th International Conference on Federalism’ in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, strongly spoke out against African leaders, who ascend to power, only to exploit and impoverish their people.
He particularly spoke against the looting of resources from the continent by its leaders, which are stashed in European banks, while Africa and its people wallow in abject poverty, need and all manner of sickness. His presentation drew repeated applause from participants, drawn different countries of the world.
The conference on federalism, was hosted by the Government of Ethiopia in collaboration with the Forum of Federations. The theme was, ‘Equality and Unity in Diversity for Development.’
The five topics discussed at the conference were Federalism and the Democratization Process; The Impacts of Regionalization and Globalization on Federations; Unity and Diversity Through Federalism; Federalism and Conflict Prevention, Management and Resolution Mechanisms; and Fiscal Federalism and Equitable Development.
A total of 45 cases were presented from all corners of the world while on each of the three days, specific question for each topic was treated.
Over 600 participants including heads of government, ministers and legislators from different levels of government around the globe as well as academics, civil society leaders, journalists and young practitioners attended the conference, which provided an interactive learning environment for sharing of experience on federalism and ultimately contribute to better governance.
It was agreed by participants that there is no water-tight federal system any where, as each was peculiar on its own.
Former President Olusegun Obasanjo, who spoke on “Federative ideas and institutions in the functioning of Nigeria’s federalism,” also noted that the federal system a country operates, was always peculiar to it, saying “I am sure you all have already established the fact that federations or the practice of federalism differ from nation to nation.”
He added that the practice and structures as well as the challenges they throw up are often shaped by historical experiences, resources, the balance of political forces, the pressing need for a firm political arrangement, and the premium placed on unity, accommodation, stability and collective progress. “In other words, one can say with some certainty, that federalism in practice is always a work in progress.
Being a work in progress, it means that we can never underrate the importance of “comparative federalism.” Lessons drawn from other experiences, especially on best practices, can always enrich and strengthen the practice of federalism in other social formations,” he said.
Speaking further, he said, “I must hasten to add that such lessons or experiences must, at all times, be related to the specificities and defined objectives of the nation so as not to complicate existing contradictions and contestations.”
Solomon Benjamin, who spoke on “Federalism and the Democratization Process,” noted that “Nigeria’s federal democracy has witnessed constitutional conflicts since 1999, due to inherent flaws in the Constitution.
The country-wide conflicts in the areas of Governors and their deputies, president and vice, security, local government creation, and fiscal federalism have yet to be resolved.
However, these issues, including the recent president’s absence from the country due to ill-health, have some times caused fears, controversies and tension in the diverse polity of Nigeria.
“Nigeria’s constitution was designed by the military, which makes the democratization process a problematic one. It calls for ongoing constitutional review, which continues to dominate the polity. Since 2000, several constitutional committees have been created at huge cost, but not much had been done by the lawmakers, their promise notwithstanding.
Rather deliberate impediments are created to make the exercise a mirage of inter-chamber politics, while procedural issues and the personal ego of the leadership almost stalled the exercise.
“On fiscal responsibility, the budget amendment power, Section 88(1) of the legislature, has been called into question, as the executive believes that the section does not grant the legislature the power of budget amendment.
This has been the cause of conflict between the executive and the legislature and caused annual delays in passing new budgets into law. Conflicts in Federal Government resulted in the withholding of funds meant for states and councils, and security problems between the Governors and the Police Commissioners in the states have generated controversies across the board.
The constitution makes it impossible for Governors to act swiftly in the case of conflicts within their domains because they have no control over the Police.”
On what he felt was a faulty constitutional arrangement, he said, “the prevailing situation is such that the state Police Commissioners are answerable only to the Inspector-General of Police, who is at the Federal Capital, which presents challenges regarding security matters.”
Mansur Muhtar, another Nigerian, who spoke on Fiscal Federalism and Equitable Development, said, “as part of wide-ranging economic reforms embarked upon by the Obasanjo administration in 2004, it became imperative to enact fiscal responsibility legislation, whose primary objectives were to address critical development challenges associated with the management of huge oil revenues. Historically, oil revenue management had generally been poor.
Public expenditure closely followed oil revenue inflows, which resulted in expenditure volatility.
“The legislation was also considered desirable as a means of securing greater accountability, transparency and efficiency in the utilization of scarce public resources, as well as in fostering better inter-governmental fiscal coordination.
Over a prolonged period of time, fiscal indiscipline, exacerbated by weak institutions and poor governance and accountability, had resulted in the mismanagement of the country’s resources and the accumulation of unsustainable debts. Increased emphasis on fiscal decentralization since the advent of civilian rule in 1999 also introduced new challenges in macroeconomic management, as fiscal decisions taken at the lower tiers of government created difficulties in achieving macroeconomic stability.
“The main components of the Fiscal Responsibility Law, which drew substantially from Brazilian Law, included rules and procedures for a comprehensive budgetary process and for incurring debts. It also included arrangements for management of oil revenue to reduce volatility and measures for improving reporting, enhancing transparency and accountability.
“The process of enacting this legislation was initiated in 2005, culminating in the passage of a Fiscal Responsibility Bill by the National Assembly in May 2007. However, this was in a diluted form, due to certain constitutional constraints.
The jurisdictional scope with respect to the majority of the provisions for budgeting and reporting was limited to the Federal Government, as constitutionally, the national government lacked authority over the other tiers of government in fiscal matters.
As a means of addressing this lacuna, the law encouraged other tiers of government to enact Fiscal Responsibility Laws, with the Federal Government providing incentives and other support as required.
“I had assessed the progress made in implementing the legislation, the initial constraints relating to capacity, as well as the challenges in maintaining political commitment.
I touched on efforts made at circumventing the inadequacies of the legislation, with respect to jurisdictional scope, by continued recourse to the use of informal arrangements for achieving fiscal responsibility across the tiers of government.
As would be highlighted, this has not been without its own challenges, especially given the limited leverage enjoyed by the Federal Government. State Governments in Nigeria have significant independence regarding their expenditure decisions, and the Federal Government’s weak resource base limits the degree to which it could leverage conditional grants/transfers to states to influence spending patterns,” he added.
He stressed the need to make progress in enacting complimentary legislation at state level.
On his part, Habu Mohammed, who spoke on Federalism and Conflict Prevention, Management and Resolution Mechanisms, noted that “in Nigeria’s multi-ethnic federation, ethnic conflict is deeply rooted in the historical formation of the country as a nation state.
The perennial conflict in Jos, the Plateau State, is political-cum-ethnic in character, arising from long established, inter-group relations. The crises also combine the threads of political, religious, and economic undertones, which have threatened peace and raised a question mark over the Nigerian federation.
“The unitary federal system operated in the country for over 30 years. This military authoritarian rule has negatively affected the process of nurturing democratic federalism at different tiers of the federating units.
Instead, the central government reduced the scope of public participation in decision-making processes, leading to dire consequences on intergroup relations and national integration.
The return to civilian rule in 1999 has further exposed the fragility of the Nigerian federation, largely due to the spate of ethno-religious, communal and political conflicts in the country. Jos, Plateau has been embroiled in violent confrontations between the Hausa/Fulani settlers” mainly Muslims and the Afizere,
.Anaguta and Berom who are indigenes” or natives” (mainly Christians). In Nigerian parlance, a native” of a specific ethnic group is synonymous with an “indigene;” a sonjdaughter-of-the soil.” Thus, regardless of being a citizen of Nigeria, any person who has his ethnic genealogy elsewhere, even if he was born in a particular state or lived all his life there, is regarded as settler.”
“Conflict between the two groups has, since 1994, becomes dreadful and irresolvable. A recent report (2010) by the Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect put the death toll in the Plateau State conflict since 1999 at 13,500. Each time conflict erupts in the area hundreds of thousands of people are rendered homeless.
Global Internal Displacement of Persons, estimates that the number of internally displaced persons caused by the 2004 crisis in Yelwa and other parts of Plateau State range from 40,000-258,000.
The conflict is also capable of derailing the process of nurturing a virile democratic culture, which aims to be based on a mutual social network, equity, political participation and tolerance as well as compromise. Conversely, if effectively managed, the multi-ethnic composition of Jos, and indeed other cities in Nigeria, is likely to become a model of development through integration and national development.
“Over the years, the government’s setting up of various Committees of Inquiries, at the end of each crisis in the area, leaves much to be desired in reversing the deep-seated identity question.
After all, the reports of such committees have never been implemented quickly due to over politicization of the conflict in the arenas of the state and civil society.
Therefore, the Truth and Reconciliation, TRC, model as practiced in South Africa after a prolonged period of racism is needed in Plateau State. This can be conducted when mutual trust is entrenched, injustices of the previous conflicts have been addressed and massive campaigns by the government, the media and non governmental organisations, particularly the faith and community based organisations, have been carried· out, because it is necessary that the two antagonistic social groups bury their hatches.
Therefore, how the Nigerian federal system can resolve these dilemmas and implant confidence in multi-ethnic states is a major concern, which must be addressed,” he added.
While it was the conlusion of these speakers that Nigeria must practice a federalism that best meet its challenges, speakers from other parts of the world, also stressed the need for the adoption of a system that would best serve the peculiar need of a people, irrespective of the continent and system government practiced in that country , whether unitary or federal, as every country has its challenges, which must be surmounted for the benefit of the people.