Restructuring: ‘FG should take only 20% of the Federation Account, not 52%’

Alhaji Olufemi Okunnu, SAN, CON, a Federal Commissioner for Works under the Gowon administration, takes a position on the restructuring of Nigeria and what the status of Lagos State should be under the arrangement.

Okunnu spoke as guest speaker at the 2nd independence roundtable on national development organized by the Ile Bintin Social Club, Lagos. Extracts from his speech…

The term “restructuring” means different things to different people.

To some of us, it means transfer of certain “functions” from the Exclusive Legislative List assigned to the Federal Government to the states’ Houses of Assembly

“Restructuring” to some others denotes political division of the country into “states” or “regions” or “zones”. Some sections of Nigeria prefer the federating units (states) to remain as they are now – 36.

The National Conference reluctantly put together by President Jonathan recommended 18 new states in 2014. There was no agreement about how to meet the high cost of governance now that at least 30 out of the 36 current states cannot pay salaries.

The two largest political parties have also joined the great debate from two different positions.

In the last two years of his tenure, Jonathan suddenly found the necessity to summon a National Conference to consider the issue of “restructuring”. His People’s Democratic Party (PDP) participated fully at the conference and the party is now calling for the implementation of its report. The opposition parties, now merged as the All Progressive Congress, refused to participate in the conference.

The APC, the party of President Muhammadu Buhari now, says it is in favor of “restructuring”. The party is now holding town hall meetings all over the country to determine the views of the people. PDP has refused to take part in the exercise.

There are also some influential voices who, while acknowledging the existence of the Federal Government with defined powers, nonetheless, advocate the establishment of a government in each of the so-called six geopolitical zones, while retaining the existing 36 states as the federating units. This matter featured very prominently at the 2014 National Conference. This idea turns “federalism” or a Federal Government on its head!

One of the leading British authorities on constitutional law in the last century, Prof. Kenneth C. Wheare, defined it as follows: “Federal Government consists in a division of the functions of government between an independent common authority for the whole country and independent authorities for the constituent parts of the country”.

And Prof. Ben Nwabueze puts it in “Constitutional Democracy in Africa”: “Federalism is an arrangement whereby governmental powers within a country are shared between a national, country-wide government and a number of regional (i.e. territorially localized) governments, all equal in status as governments in such a way that each of the national and regional governments exists separately and independently from the others and operate directly on persons and property within the territorial area of its jurisdiction, with a will of its own and its own apparatus of the conduct of its affairs, and with an authority in some matters exclusive of all the others”.

We must not ignore the views of two of our largest ethnic “nationalities” in this debate.

A few years ago, “restructuring,” to a large section of our Igbo-speaking Nigerians, centered on their demand for “Ibo” presidency and complaint on “marginalization”. That was the stand of Ohanaeze, a cultural group but now a political force. This was followed by a demand for a Republic of Biafra.

We now come to Yoruba Summit attended by delegates from Ogun, Oyo, Osun, Ekiti and Ondo States.

At a conference held in Ibadan, the Yoruba resolved, among others, that Nigeria must return to a proper federation as obtained in the 1960 and 1963 constitutions, saying the country shall be a federation comprised of six regions and the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja while the regions shall in turn be composed as states.

The position of the Yoruba is very confusing. The call to return to 1960 and 1963 constitutions is very clear. Both provide for “regions” as federating units, along with Lagos. Both contain 43 items on the Exclusive Legislative List. Both are federal in content. And they provide for regional constitutions.

The recommendation that “each region shall have its own constitution containing enumerated exclusive and concurrent legislative lists regarding matters upon which the regions and the states may act or legislate,” however, completely contradicts the principle of federalism as propounded by Wheare and Nwabueze.

It also contradicts both the 1960 and 1963 constitutions, it portends a confederation. It is wholly unacceptable.

Finally, a suggestion that there should be an intermediary level of legislative and executive authorities (regions) between the federal and state governments is repugnant to common sense and financial prudence. Where will the money (supply) come from, with 30 states now unable to pay salaries?

Okunnu, former Federal Commissioner

The position of the Ijaw and most Nigerians from the oil producing states in the Niger Delta on the issue of “restructuring” requires no elaboration.

To them, “restructuring” means “resource control” – full control of their oil wealth. Each oil producing state shall give the Federal Government a certain percentage of its profit from oil.

In the long conflicting debate on “restructuring”, the old Northern Region as a block remains silent. The fact on the ground is that the region died in 1966/67. And since the death of the Sardauna of Sokoto (Sir Ahmadu Bello), the voice of the North has been silenced.

The Arewa Consultative Assembly remains a “sounding board for old friends” to protect perceived northern interests. The northern voice on “restructuring” may be what APC pronounces it to be as a political party at the end of their present exercise. Majority of the states in the former Northern Region may prefer the “status quo” to any “restructuring”.

WHAT DOES “RESTRUCTURING MEAN?

I   see “restructuring” in three senses:

  1. The number of the federating states (or units) in the Federation. How many?
  2. What powers or functions should be vested in the Federal Government under the Exclusive List?

And what functions should be in the Concurrent Legislative List?

Residual powers will always be retained by the States.

  1. Resource Control.

What constitutes the Federation Account?

And what is the sharing formula between the Federal Government and the States?

Should there be a “Federation Account”?

I must admit that the 12-state structure as agreed under the Gowon administration after some intensive consultation on the 27th of May 1967, 6 from the North and 6 from the South, is my ideal structural division for the Federal Republic of Nigeria.   They are as follows:

  1. North East
  2. North West
  3. Kano
  4. Kwara
  5. Benue – Plateau
  6. North Central
  7. Western State
  8. East Central State
  9. Lagos.
  10. Mid – Western State (Bendel)
  11. Rivers
  12. Cross River.

It restores the old Western Region, shorn of Mid-West and Colony Province. All Yoruba speaking Nigerians are in the State.

Some of the new states (Kano, Western State, East Central State) are mono ethnic States. The others are multinational in population but who have been in the same political divisions for many years.

The 1960 and 1963 constitutions, provide for distribution of Federation Account as follows :

  1. Region of Origin   –  50%
  2. Federal Government  –  20%
  3. Distributive Pool among the Regions      –      30%

General Gowon’s government kept faith with that formula. The 1979 Constitution abandoned the formula.

General Abacha agreed to a grant of 13% of the Federation Account, on the principle of derivation which is now part of the 1999 Constitution. Today, the Federal Government takes 52% of the Federation Account instead of 20% under the 1963 Constitution.

That is the reason oil producing states want to control their oil wealth. And that is why they demand “restructuring”.

And I say that besides the issue of creation of state, “restructuring” of the economy must be a serious matter of debate.

The Federal Government should take only 20% of the Federation Account as in 1963, and not 52% it takes today.

That should be enough to service the government, besides its other sources of revenue.

The third area where I demand “restructuring” is in the Exclusive Legislative List.

Besides Section 7 of the 1999 Constitution which provides its creation under a law enacted by the House of Assembly of each State, all references to Local Government in the Constitution should be expunged. This includes First Schedule, Part 1 to the Constitution which describes each State.

“Local Government” is a residual matter or function. It is for State Governments alone to determine.

WHAT SHOULD BE THE STATUS OF LAGOS?

GE DE GBE L’EKO WA.

Let us go back to Memory Lane.

The Aworis were the original settlers in Eko, called “Lagos” by Portugese adventurers. The “Idejo” class of chiefs – Olumegbon, Oluwa, Oniru, Onisemo, Oloto Aromire, Eleguishi, Ojomu, Onikoyi, Onisiwo, Ojora, Onitolo, Onitana are the landowning chiefs. They are the original land owners of Lagos. The Bini invasion. All the Oba of Lagos, starting from Oba Ado, were of Bini origin. So is Oba Alaiyeluwa Akiolu I.

The Binis (Edos) who accompanied Ado to Lagos, settled in Isale Eko, especially at Iduntata, Idunmagbo, Idunshagbe, Idunmota, Idunmaigbo – “Idun” means “areas”. The Akarigbere class of chiefs are of Bini origin. They are: Eletu Odigbo, Eletu Iwashe, Eletu Tka Ologun Agbeje, Ologun Adodo, Eletu Awo, Ologun Agan, Ologun Atebo, Ologun Igbe sodi, Ologun Okoro Ide. So also were the Abagbon class of chiefs – war chiefs : Ashogbon, Bajulaiye, Saba, Bajulu and Bashua. Another of original settlers in Lagos were the “Nupe” or “Tapa” from Niger state. They settled at Idunshage, Ita Agarawu, and most especially Epetedo, popularly called Ita Oshodi. The Oshodi Family are of Tapa origin.

And Brazilian Quarters! The Perera, Marinho, Da Silva, Sho Silva, Salvador, Peregrino, Ferera, Agusto, Da Rhocha, Alakija families – all returnees from Brazil.

There are the Saros – from Free Town – Savage   and Cole , et al. They settled at Olowogbowo.

There were waves of Yoruba settlers also as “Ijaye”, Ijesha Tedo, Agodo Egba, Agidingbi, Shomolu will testify.

And of course, the Ijebus at Epe and Ikorodu. And the “Eguns” at Badagry. All these, and more, make up Lagos. They are “Lagosians”.

As stated earlier, Lagos State was the first British colony (1861) in modern Nigeria followed by the Protectorate of Southern Nigeria and the Protectorate of Northern Nigeria (1900). Lagos remained under separate administration until 1951. The last British Commissioner for the Colony I can recall was Mr. E.A. Carr under the Richards Constitution (1946). And his deputy was Major J.C. Allen.

Lagos was the centre of Nigerian politics until 1950 – 51. Lagos was Nigeria! Herbert Macaulay, Nnamdi Azikwe, Ibiyinka Olorunnimbe (from Democratic Party / NCNC) and Kofo Abayomi, Akinola   Maja, H.O. Davies (Nigeria Youth Movement) dominated the political scene in the late 1940’s. Then Obafemi Awolowo entered the scene, with the demise of NYM.

In 1950, the Action Group succeeded with the merger of Lagos with Western Region at the Ibadan conference. The result was the merger of Lagos Colony with the Western Region under the MacPherson constitution 1951 – 54.

But Lagosians fought back.

H.M. Alli-Balogun, Prince Ibikunle Akitoye (Black Prince) and   son of Oba   Akitoye II, Kasali Aremu Kotun (K.K), T.O.S. Benson, and others founded Lagos State Movement, with the slogan “Ge de gbe ni Eko wa”.

In 1954, under the Lyttleton Constitution, Lagos City regained its independence as the Federal Territory until the creation of Lagos State in May 1967 when the colony province (Epe, Badagry and Ikeja) rejoined the city to constitute the new state.

Let it be on record that Alaiyeluwa Oba Adeniji Adele II who provided a platform for Action group in Lagos by creating (area council) in various wards in the city also joined the struggle for the independence of Lagos. In a letter to the British Colonel Secretary about 1956, Oba Adele pleaded for the creation of Lagos Region.

One other matter about the difference between Lagos Colony, now Lagos State, and the rest of Nigeria.

After the Treaty of Lagos in 1861, all persons born in Lagos, and until mid-night on 30th September 1960 were fully – fledged British citizens, with all the rights enjoyed by Britons all over the world

And all those born in the rest of Nigeria were British subjects.

As British citizens, Lagosians held British passports.

All other Nigerians, born outside Lagos, carried “British subjects” on their passports.

The fact of history shows that though many Lagosians have Yoruba blood, we also have Bini (Edo) blood. We have Tapa (Niger State) blood. We have strands of blood from other indigenes of Nigeria.

The battle for the independence of Nigeria was fought on the streets of Lagos, by indigenes and non-indigenes alike.

Let Lagos State be.

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