By Omeiza Ajayi
ABUJA – Former vice president and a chieftain of the All Progressives Congress APC, Atiku Abubakar has restated his call for a restructuring of the federation, saying states that are not financially viable should be collapsed into those that are viable.
“There is no doubt that many of our states are not viable, and were not viable from the start, once you take away the federal allocations from Abuja. We have to find creative ways to make them viable in a changed federal system.
Collaboration among states in a region or zone will help. We can examine the possibility of using the existing geo-political zones as federating units. We can also find other ways to determine the viability of states, for example by introducing a means test such that a state that is unable to generate a certain percentage of its expenditures internally for a specified period of time will be deemed unviable and collapsed into another or a group of states.
“We can constitute a body of non-partisan experts to suggest other ideas. But in all, we must devolve more powers and resources from the federal government and deemphasize federal allocations as the source of sustenance of states. We need to start producing again and collecting taxes to run our governments in a more sustainable way with greater transparency and accountability”, Abubakar submitted.
The former vice president stated this on Monday at the annual Prof. Ademola Popoola Public Lecture, at the Faculty of Law, Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife.
Explaining his own concept of restructuring, Abubakar said local government councils cannot be seen as federating units.
“The restructuring that I have been calling for involves changes to the allocation of powers, responsibilities and resources among the states or zones and between them and the federal government.
I do not see local governments as federating units and, therefore, they should not derive their powers from the constitution. Likewise ethnic nationalities are not federating units and any attempt to restructure the country along those lines will be unworkable. Some of our roughly 300 ethnic nationalities are big enough to constitute independent countries while some are too small to even constitute local government areas”, he added.
He said though many of those against restructuring are his own kinsmen, the major factors against the change are issues of dependency, fear and mistrust.
He said; “If we cut out all the sophistry, posturing and pretensions, it is clear to me that the resistance against restructuring is based on three interrelated factors, namely dependency, fear and mistrust. Dependency of all segments of the country on oil revenues, fear of loss of oil revenues by non-oil producing states or regions and mistrust of the motives of those angling for restructuring. This can be seen in the regional patterns of the advocacy for and opposition to restructuring. The bulk of the calls for restructuring comes from the south while the bulk of the opposition to it comes from the north. This tells me that it will be critical for all parties to put their cards on the table, give one another the necessary reassurances and make the necessary compromises in order to secure a restructuring deal. Denials and insults by both sides are not a substitute for these.
“Although arguments against restructuring come mostly from the North, there are, however, elements from the other regions who are in government and who argue against restructuring, claiming that it is only good leadership (ostensibly theirs) that is needed to resolve our nation’s challenges. Opponents also argue that restructuring is a ploy to break up the country.
They insist that national unity is non-negotiable and claim that the matter has been resolved by the civil war. How the current structure is the only guarantee of unity is never really explained, neither is it demonstrated that devolving more powers and resources to federating units would lead to a breakup of the country.
“Only our First Republic Constitution came close to the US’s Constitution in terms of the process of federal constitution-making and allocation of powers between the federating units and the federal government.
Subsequent efforts have been ones where military leaders amended the constitution through decrees, and, when our peoples’ representatives were involved, set the parameters and redlines that could not be crossed by “we the people.” With eyes firmly set on oil revenues rather than diverse economic activities, and a mindset that saw any push for greater autonomy for regions as a threat to national unity, the efforts resulted in excessive centralization of power and concentration of economic resources at the federal level.
For as long as oil flowed and revenues remained high, few people seemed to mind. Thus, our governments walked away from preceding sources of government revenues. Rather than clamour for more productivity and improvements in human resource development, we clamoured for and got more states and local governments.
“We even had the awkward situation where the federal government created local governments and continues to allocate resources directly to them through so-called joint accounts with state governments. The result has been that local governments have ceased to be local, and they are also not national or effective.
Rather the state governments essentially confiscate the funds and expend them as they wish. Thus the division of responsibilities for local government administration has killed the responsibilities. Put another way, the intrusion of the federal government in local government administration has virtually destroyed local administration”.