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Tinkering with the constitution

By Adisa Adeleye
Perhaps one of the most important topics that tend to touch the minds of local politicians of all shades this year is amendment to the 1999 Constitution which the country is operating now. Politicians talk glibly about true federalism which reminds us of pre-Independence era. The three regions – North, East and West – each had its own Constitution, had its own civil service and its own judiciary.

It has been a long time from the regional independence of the 1950s and early 1960s, where the Regions were ruled as fiefs of the warlords by the dominant tribes – Hausa/Fulani, Ibo and Yoruba. The reality of today (2009) is that Nigeria has been carved into 36 states with Abuja [a mini-state] as the capital. Though a Federation in name the country is being run like a unitary State with states as its satellites.

This is so because none of the 36 states (except one or two) could survive without monthly allocation from the Federal Government. The monthly subvention is made of mainly crude oil sales and VAT (Value Added Tax) on locally manufactured or imported commodities.

The monthly distribution is based on agreed formula by the Revenue Mobilization and Allocation Committee which gave the Federal Government about 52 per cent of all federally collected revenue. Of late, the Chairman of that body has denied any validly legal formula.

The denial [if it is true] itself forms the basis, if not the justification, for a review of federal allocation of funds. Many Nigerians believe, and perhaps justifiably too, that the monthly allocation to Federal Government, States and Local Governments negates the principle of true federalism which expects each federating unit to source for its own revenue independently.  While this may be so theoretically, the reality of the present situation complicates the situation.

The first problem is that the creation of States has been the prerogatives  of the various military administrations and their civilian collaborators in Civil Service. It is certain to us now that Economic Viability did not rank high in their various calculations which seemed highly political.

The first test for genuine advocates of true federalism is their willingness to submit the interests of their various states [as they stand now] to that of a compact Zone, more economically viable and politically stable, e.g. South-West, South-East, South-South, North-East, North-West and North-Central.

If it is possible [as it is advisable] to agree on manageable entities within a Zone, the huge expenditures on array of Commissioners, legislatures and legislators, etc could be diverted to social service and economic development. Apart from the calls by politicians for true federalism, none of the present ruling governors would subscribe to that idea, even if it is the Ideal.

Another salient point is what is loosely termed FISCAL FEDERALISM. To the advocates of this principle, each state should be allowed to source for its revenue and manage it in the interest of its citizens. The beauty of this argument is that it does not recognize the reality of the present situation where the Federal Government is trying through the Constitution to finance the existing states and local governments.  Unless there is an agreed restructure of federal, state and local governments, this fine principle of Federalism would continue to remain a political slogan for the gullible masses.

Another salient point on the Federalism debate is the decentralization of the Police. There is no reason why each state should not have its Police Force, adequately equipped to deal with security of life and property.

The argument against State Police is the fear of its use to intimidate political and personal opponents of the authority controlling the Police. They always remind us of the terrible days of the old local Native Authority Police and their use by Native Authorities (including  Obas,  Emirs and Chiefs). This argument does not remind people of the use by the present ruling party of the police force.

If the people could tolerate the ruling party at the Federal on the use of the Nigeria Police, the same people would tolerate State Police under any ruling party. The State Police being desired is the trained force that would ensure SAFETY and provide security for the people. The assumption is that no ruling party would like to use police to terrorize its own citizens. Under a credible electoral system, a bad ruling party could find itself in opposition at the next election.

Any system of government, whether Federal or Unitary could function effectively if the electoral system is adequate to ensure that the periodic election reflects the wishes of the people. Fortunately, the Justice Uwais Commission has examined the issues and handed in its report. The unfortunate aspect of it is the unpardonable levity with which the present legislators are treating the serious matter.

A lot of Nigerians see it as waste of time to expect the present legislators to be serious on electoral reforms since some of them might have perhaps  benefitted from faulty electoral processes.

The present Nigerian situation calls for a total review of our political system – a review of the distribution of power between Federal authority and the federating States and the local governments. It is nothing short of a round-table talk on our past, present and the future. No constitution is perfect in that it could not provide for everything or give answers to every problem when the attitudes of the people remain unchanged or primarily fixed on personal or ethnic considerations.

Perhaps one of the advantages of Parliamentary system of government as practised in Britain is continuity of administration under any circumstance. If the Prime Minister could not effectively discharge his responsibility, one of his own lieutenants carries on like when Harold Macmillan replaced Eden when he was ‘sick‘. Also, under any emergency, a National Government is put in place.

However, we operate a federal system of Government which has its own rules.


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