By Afe Babalola
“There is the urgent need to restructure the framework of the Country so as to make the centre and political offices less attractive. This is the surest way to curb the menace of defection by politicians”.
A few days ago, in confirmation of the need to tackle once and for all the phenomenon of defection across political parties in Nigeria, hundreds of politicians in one of the northern states performed yet again a public show of massive defection from one party to the another. While I identified an urgent need to amend the law relating to defection so as to curb the menace, it would also help if political offices are made less financially attractive for politicians. The main reason many Politicians go to great lengths to win elections, is to enjoy the financial ‘rewards’ that come with occupation of public office and no development brings this to the fore more than the recent revelation that members of the senate earn 13.5 Million Naira as “running costs”. Regrettably it is not limited to the highest level of government as even local government officials now enjoy ‘jumbo’ financial packages contrary to the practice in the 70s when all we were only entitled to were sitting allowances. Today it is not the same. Local Government officials and councillors almost compete with State Governors and State House of Assembly members in flaunting the status of their political offices. However, the position of Local government councillors should be reserved for retired and much experienced people like teachers, professors, other professionals and clergymen. The way we have made it a salaried position in Nigeria is inappropriate. In fact, some councillors are advocating that it be pensionable.
The local government, state and national assemblies have too many members. If we cannot return to our old regional government, then we should do something about our present structure. We do not need the large number of legislators at different levels.
Today, too much power is concentrated in the Government at the centre. Too much of the revenue of the federation is allotted to the government at the centre.
The 1963 Constitution made revenue allocation derivation based. Section 140(1) and (2) of that constitution provides:
“40(1) There shall be paid by the Federation to each Region as sum equal to fifty per cent of-
- The proceeds of any royalty received by the federation in respect of any minerals, extracted in that region; and
- any mining rents derived by the federation from within that region;
(2) The Federation shall credit to the Distributable Pool Account a sum equal to thirty per cent of-
(a) the proceeds of any royalty received by the Federation in respect of minerals extracted in any region; and
(b) any mining rents derived by the federation from within any region”
As a necessary consequence of these provisions, each region substantially owned the proceeds from its territory. The people in each state or region were very productive and we all acknowledged money earned from our labour. Now the focus is essentially on Oil based revenue. The oil boom has become oil doom.
The 1979 Constitution and 1999 Constitution established Revenue Mobilization Allocation and Fiscal Commission.
It provides in section 32 of 1999 Constitution:
“The commission shall have power to:
- monitor the accruals to and disbursement of revenue from the Federation Account;
- review, from time to time, the revenue allocation formulae and principles in operation to ensure conformity with changing realities”.
The above provisions altered completely the provisions of Section 140(1) and (2) of the 1963 Constitution earlier referred to. As a result, the revenue from mineral belongs to the Federal Government. Fortunately or unfortunately the money is so much that all other sectors of the economy have been neglected. Everybody left the farm and each state now looks unto the federal government as the big brother. Worse still, the bulk of the money now goes to political office holders at different levels.
In the sixties, the West had cocoa which the people cultivated with diligence. There was also coffee. In the North there were cotton and groundnut and the East cultivated palm trees, rubber etc. All these have been abandoned. Most of the economic trees are dead. The farm is deserted. In the process of exploitation, the Niger/ Delta suffers serious ecological problem.
The neglect of the Niger Delta brought about the problem of security of its own. There was and perhaps still is a proliferation of militant groups all professing to be fighting the cause of the neglected people of the Niger/ Delta. Kidnappings and destruction of oil facilities are no longer strange events.
Yet the founding fathers had agreed on derivation principle in Lancaster House, London having taken into consideration the differences in culture, religion, philosophy of life, attitude to work, languages etc . One who believes that his father is a fool would sooner than later regret his foolishness. There is urgent need for a new and realistic constitution.
Total devolution of power
There is need for total devolution of power to enable each state or geo-political zones in place of former region to effectively administer its resources and social/ political needs. The Federal Government should only be concerned with the management of common national affairs like currency, foreign affairs etc. There will be less crisis and quarrels or inordinate ambition to become President, Federal ministers and Federal legislator. The late Sarduana found the regional premiership more prestigious than being the Federal Prime Minister.
So in the end, this is probably the best way to solve the Niger/ Delta problem. In my own state, we are not oil-rich but we know that with devolution of powers, we can make it. All states can make it. Reasonable shares of revenue generated in the states can still be made to go to the federal government in form of taxes imposed on the states on minerals derived therefrom.
The American presidential constitution that we borrowed has been bastardized in that the military only copied areas that suited it. In America, the states are still very largely masters of their socio-economic matters.
The present system encourages Politicians to do everything and anything to attain power. The Politician sees attainment of power not as a means to an end but as the end in itself. He will bribe, corrupt, intimidate, coerce, browbeat and indeed resort to every trick in the book to be a Senator, Governor, Minister, Commissioner, Local Government Chairman, Member of the House of Assembly and even Local Government Councillor. This has a direct effect on the quality of Leadership available to the Country. On their part, members of the electorate many of whom have been affected by the downturn in the economy of the country will easily be bought over with the huge resources available to the corrupt politician.
Humans will continue to be humans. As a specie we will continue to exhibit the character traits and weaknesses which are inherent in us. Thus bad leadership may continue to be a constant occurrence in some parts of black Africa and even in Nigeria. However every effort must be made to put in place constitutional and legal framework that will reduce, discourage if not totally eradicate the factors upon which bad leadership thrives.
There is the urgent need to restructure the framework of the Country so as to make the centre and political offices less attractive. This is the surest way to curb the menace of defection by politicians. Whichever way one looks at it, the issue is the lopsidedness of the Constitution which cannot be cured by mere amendment. They can only be waved aside for so long as the patience of the people whose lives are directly affected holds. It is in the interest of all that any imagined impediment towards the implementation of the recommendations of the last Constitutional Conference be urgently put aside and a legal framework to bring it to reality be put in place. I am confident that many Nigerians across all the geo-political zones in the country would support this. I believe that Nigerians should have the ultimate say as to whether the recommendations see the light of day or not. It is only by the means of a referendum that a proper determination of this can be made.