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The anatomy of restructuring (3)

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By Douglas Anele

Meanwhile, despite the fact that the NCNC led by Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe partnered with the majority NPC, the government of Alhaji Tafawa Balewa deployed federal revenue as an instrument for the north to “catch up” with the south. So, after NCNC’s influence at the federal level was whittled down considerably by December 1960 when sixteen independent members of the federal parliament defected to the NPC, the Prime Minister and his cohorts became even more brazen in the northernisation of federal revenue, which aligns with Lord Harcourt’s theory that Nigeria is a marriage between the “well conducted youth” representing northern Nigeria as husband and the “southern lady of means” as the wife.

For instance, consider the Six-Year Development Plan of 1962-68: more than half of the 29.7 million pounds and 39. 2 million pounds earmarked for defence and education and health respectively were intended to be spent in the northern region. Of the 10 million pounds set aside for agricultural expansion, the first 4 million pounds disbursed between 1963 and 1964 were distributed as follows: the north 2.2 million, east 1.1 million and western region 0.7 million, which was higher than the sum of what was allocated to the two southern regions.


In addition, 12 million pounds were spent on the Borno railway extension without a corresponding investment in the south. From the foregoing, is clear that in many aspects of federal expenditure in the years immediately after independence, the northern-led NPC government at the centre ensured that the north got more than its fair share of federal revenue even though it contributed less than the south to the national treasury.

In a thought-provoking paper entitled “Federalism, the Constitution and Resource Control,” Prof. Itse Sagay, before he joined President Buhari and other APC leaders in pretending that restructuring is not our main problem, highlights some of the critical interlocking issues regarding effective federalism in Nigeria before it was abrogated by the tragic military coup of January 15, 1966 and replaced with a highly inefficient and unjust centralised system. An important feature of the 1963 constitution, he says, was the extensive powers it granted the regions that made them largely autonomous federating units, and a revenue sharing formula which provided the financial wherewithal for the regions to carry out their responsibilities without depending on the central administration.

The constitution which redefined Nigeria as a republic was almost identical with the 1960 version. The major differences between the two were that the ceremonial role of the Queen of England provided for by the earlier constitution was given to a ceremonial President in the 1963 version, and the judicial appeals structure that hitherto ended at the Judicial Committee of the British Privy Council (1960) terminated at the Supreme Court in the latter. At that time, each region had its own constitution, coat of arms, and motto, separate from those of the federal government. Again, each region established a separate semi-independent Mission in the United Kingdom headed by Agents-General. As already noted, the regions had residual powers too, that is, any matter not allocated to them or the federal government automatically became a matter for regional jurisdiction.

It is important to observe at this point that the 1963 constitution permitted the regions to legislate and handle issues such as arms and ammunition, bankruptcy, census, commercial and industrial monopolies, combines and trusts, higher education, industrial development, the regulation of professions, maintaining and securing of public safety and public order, registration of business names, and statistics required for planning and development.

Furthermore, minerals, mines (including oil fields), oil mining, geological surveys were placed in the exclusive list, which is a carryover from the provisions of the 1946 Minerals Act that allowed the British colonial administration exclusive ownership and control of all minerals in the country. This is understandable within the inner logic of colonialism which is dominated by the quest for maximum exploitation of the colonised peoples but certainly objectionable in an independent multiply plural geopolitical entity such as Nigeria.

Nevertheless, as Prof. Sagay remarks “what was lost by placing mines, minerals, oil fields, etc., in the Exclusive Legislative List was regained by strict adherence to the principle of derivation in the revenue allocation formula, particularly the allocation of proceeds from mineral exploitation.”  In the constitution of 1963, each region is a self-governing entity of the federal republic of Nigeria. To give effect to that stipulation, appropriate provisions were made to safeguard the economic independence of the regions, especially by ensuring that revenue allocation was carried out strictly on the basis of derivation.

Thus, Section 140 mandated the central government to pay fifty percent of mining rents and royalties it received with respect to any mineral derived from a particular region, it also stipulates that the continental self of a region belongs to that very region, which agreed with the provisions of international law that the continental shelf is a seaward extension of the land of the coastal state.

Although in the last essay we drew attention to some of the patterns of revenue allocation based on accruals from non-minerals, it is necessary to provide more details in order to grasp more adequately the extent to which the country has deviated or drifted from effective federalism to unitarism since the military coups of 1966 to date. Prof. Sagay, citing section 136 (1) of the 1963 constitution, informs that thirty percent of general import duties were paid into a distributable pool to be shared among the regions, whereas import duties on petroleum products and tobacco were given to the regions after administrative expenses might have been deducted.

The same goes for excise duty on tobacco. Regarding agricultural commodities or produce such as cocoa, palm oil, groundnuts, cotton, rubber, hides and skin, proceeds from export duties were distributed based on the proportion of each commodity that was derived from a particular region. It is clear that the First Republic constitution provided the framework for the practice of what has been characterised variously and somewhat misleadingly as “resource control,” “fiscal federalism” and “true federalism.”

I have pointed out severally in this column that from amalgamation to the very bloody second military coup of July 29, 1966 that virtually all prominent northern political leaders, including Ahmadu Bello and Tafawa Balewa, were very reluctant to embrace the concept of One Nigeria such that there is no need to reproduce their various pronouncements to that effect. Not only had northern leaders, by threatening secession, arm-twisted both southern political leaders and the duplicitous British colonial officials to get unfair concessions, the original intention of the ringleaders of the northern revenge coup was to pull the north out of Nigeria.

Indeed, one of the excuses given by northern military officers for the violent overthrow of Maj. Gen. J.T.U. Aguiyi-Ironsi was the unification decree 34, which abolished the regions and instituted a military-style unitary government. Moreover, it is well documented that on several occasions the north had demanded confederation, including the right to secede. But sometime after the July coup, the same northerners suddenly became staunch advocates of a unitarist arrangement with a powerful central government in charge of the country’s resources and relatively weak federating units.

The pertinent question now is: why did northern leaders move away from their traditional half-hearted attitude towards a united Nigeria, to the extent of advocating unitarism and abandoning completely the more sensible system they had been championing for years that allowed the federating components to get a just share of revenue derived in their areas for developmental purposes? An objective answer to this question will unmask the reason behind the north’s recalcitrance and hostile attitude towards the periodic, completely justified, clamour for restructuring particularly by the south.

From impeccable historical sources, there is no doubt that the British wanted the north to dominate and dictate as long as British economic interests were protected, largely because they found the rustic and conservative northern elite more malleable and congenial to colonisation, whereas in the south, particularly in the east where indigenous cultures tended to be radioactive to indirect rule, British imperial designs were resisted vigorously.

To be continued…

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