By Omoh Gabriel
Northern governors under the aegis of the Nigerian Northern Governors Forum last week unveiled the Northern agenda which is now being seen by discerning minds as the smoke screen for the activities of Boko Haram in recent time. It is fast becoming a trend that any section of the Nigerian society that needs to extract some favour from the federation does so by means of arms, violence or intimidation.
The Governors bemoaned what they described as the “inequality” in the allocation of federal revenue, demanding for a review of the federal revenue allocation formula this year to address the inequality in sharing the federally collected revenue.
They claimed that “The North today is in a very grave situation where illiteracy, poverty and general backwardness are on the rise in the face of unfavourable federation allocation structure in which the Northern states are at a great disadvantage.”
The Northern governors’ call was followed by that of Arewa Consultative Forum, ACF, almost immediately. The ACF, which spoke through its National Publicity Secretary, Anthony Sani, said the ‘huge allocation’ to the South-South, home to Nigeria’s vast oil resources, was injustice.
The call by these highly placed individuals in the north speaks volumes. It is an indication that leaders in this country are insensitive to the need for social integration of a highly fractured nation that is on the brink of collapse. Revenue allocation has no direct relationship with performance in government.
Before the political solution of increasing derivation to 13 per cent, the military that were in power who shared the nation’s revenue with a rule of the thumb were northerners. Those who dominated the oil business, who shared the oil blocks, were northerners. Those who presided over the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation, NNPC, were mainly from the north.
What did they do with the resources that accrued to them? While in some of the southern states, they developed an enabling environment for learning and for mass literacy, the northern oligarchy openly promoted the feudal system and allowed the almajiris to reign supreme.
These same leaders in the north in the name of religion were sponsoring their own people to Mecca. But unknown to many, while they bought tickets for pilgrims, they collected their basic travelling allowance for their personal gains. Up till now, 90 per cent of allocation to local governments in the north does not get to the people.
It is shared among these groups now crying wolf where none exists. Analysis of the federation account allocation shows that what states in the north get from local government allocation is far more than what others get. The military deliberately created more local government areas in the north than in the south.
Will the governors and their Arewa co-travellers tell Nigerians how many local government areas are in Kano and Lagos for instance. How much these two states get in local government allocations? Nigerian leaders instead of thinking creatively to break the poverty trap that the nation is in, resort to whipping up emotions and fanning the embers of sectional sentiments to cover their misdeed.
The North should hold their leaders accountable for the lack of development in their states. The poverty indices released by the National Bureau of Statistics, NBS, showed that all the states across the federation have not fared better than they were in 1980.
Is this not alarming enough to stop the current deceit and fight for political power and position among the ruling class? Which of these governors and the Arewa officials have not benefited from the system unduly? Are these new apostles and high priests of revenue allocation formula review being altruistic in their call?
What have they to show for the revenue they have been collecting over the years? Can these governors give their score cards in the open for Nigerians to appraise? What effort have they made at internally generated revenue? How have they developed the natural resources in their domain?
Are these governors not aware of the fact that the entire north can become an industrial area for light industries that process agricultural produce currently wasting away as a result of lack of processing and storage facilities? What conscientious efforts have these governors made to assist local farmers’ access to markets?
Nigerians across the divide have come to depend only on oil revenue. Each level of government has in the last 30 years or so, depended solely on revenue from sale of crude which is monetized every month and shared.
States and local governments in the federation have abandoned their responsibility of generating and developing their internal resources and only depending on the federal allocation for payment of salaries. This aberration arose from the incursion of the military into the polity that allocated resources based on its concept of command structure.
In an established federalism, the principles of public finance, particularly of taxation, have received attention from the earliest days of economic analysis. The question is: What are the sources of revenue in public finance in Nigeria? Up till now, about 90 per cent of public finance is from oil.
What about other natural resources that are said to abound in the country? In every state of the federation, there are large deposits of mineral resources that when developed, can earn the country more money than oil, yet, nothing is being done. All you hear is sharing, more sharing. Nobody is talking of growing the revenue base.
It should not be that every now and then the clamour for a new revenue sharing formula begins to disturb the polity. As it is, the Federal Government has become the big Father Christmas who collects all the money and doles out favours to states and local governments. The question to ask is, which of these levels of government is closer to the people and is entrusted with services that are of immediate benefit to the masses.
Economists have long argued that resources available to the various levels of government in a federation must be adequate, as far as possible, to meet the needs and responsibilities of each government. It is desirable to allocate sources of revenue to every unit of government in order to achieve stability. It is more important for local revenue to be stable than for state revenue, and even more important for state revenue to be stable than federal.
In an emergency, the Federal Government, with its greater recourse to internal and external borrowing, is better able to bear financial shocks and strains than the state governments. Here is why every state must begin to call for control of its resources and pay tax to the Federal Government, period!