By Douglas Anele
Continuing from where we ended last week, it is crystal clear that northern Nigeria has an advantage over the south with respect to any federal money spent or shared on the basis of senatorial zones.
The same is true from the composition of the House of Representatives comprising 360 members, including the 2 that represent Abuja, which is treated as a miniature state located in the north. In this connection, of the 360 slots, 191 belong to the north while the south has 169, a whopping 22 difference.
Putting aside temporarily the disparity in revenue allocation resulting from the difference between northern and southern Nigeria in the National Assembly with regard to the number of seats, the numerical superiority of the former has serious implications considering the critical role of decisions reached through majority votes by federal legislators in determining the kind of policy direction and programmes of the federal government.
Consider this: on May 9, 2001, Hon. Temi Harriman, representing Warri federal constituency in the House of Representatives, introduced a bill that sought to amend the 1969 Petroleum Act, to the effect that oil-bearing states and communities should be granted ownership and control of their resources, thus reversing the current situation where the federal government exercises too much control over petroleum.
The bill was rejected by the vote of 81 to 64 due to the fact that northern members who will always be in the majority because of how the House was configured ab initio felt that it was against northern interests. Sometime ago, bills to set up a south-east development commission analogous to the one created for the north-east, special status for Lagos, and some form of devolution of powers to the states were frustrated in the senate mostly by northern senators.
The implication of this for nation-building and national cohesion is quite disturbing: it means that any bill or legislation disliked by the dominant northern ruling elite or that seeks to replace the current skewed geopolitical architecture of the country with a more equitable system will never see the light of day. No wonder, then, that the maverick writer and historian, Chinweizu, describes the current system as caliphate colonialism.
The unfairness to the south we are bringing to limelight is not limited to the number of states and legislative representation at the federal level and to the revenue allocation formula based on them: the problem also rears its ugly head at the lowest tier of government. Of the 774 local government areas (LGAs) in the country, the south has 357 whilst the north has 419, a difference of 62 which, roughly speaking, is equivalent to 3 or 4 states.
Meanwhile, from the time Gen. Yakubu Gowon created Kano state in 1967, the population of that state according to dubious official figures is usually deemed to be approximately the same as that of Lagos state, although there are good reasons to believe that the latter has always been more populous than the former.
Previously, Kano state comprised 44 LGAs whereas Lagos state had 20. In August 27, 1991, Gen. Babangida created 9 additional states, one of them being Jigawa state carved out from Kano. The interesting thing is that Kano state retained its 44 local government areas, Jigawa 27, whereas Lagos was left with its 20 LGAs. The mathematics is clear: old Kano state that purportedly has almost the same population as Lagos now has 51 more LGAs than Lagos. If one considers the quantum of federal revenue that has been accruing to the north for decades based on the lopsided delineation of local governments, the conclusion must be that after Nigeria had moved away from external colonisation by Britain, she is now in the firm grip of internal northern colonisation of the south.
This point is buttressed by Prof. B.I.C. Ijomah’s well-articulated response to the unhistorical and false claim by one of the theoreticians of caliphate colonialism, Prof. Ango Abdullahi, that “each year up to the time Nigeria gained independence, none of the two regions, east and west, was able to produce for itself.
I mean none of the western and eastern regions had the money to effectively run the affairs of the region until they got financial support from the northern region.” In an essay entitled “Open Letter to Prof. Ango Abdullahi,” Prof. Ijomah, citing relevant documents and tables, established that the north was financially dependent on the south before independence, and that one of the main reasons for the amalgamation of 1914 was the desire by British colonial masters to use resources from the financially viable south to subsidise the north in order to free the colonial power from imperial grants to the latter.
Although the north’s financial dependence on the south lessened somewhat after the introduction of regionalism, it rose to an unprecedented height as crude oil domiciled in southern Nigeria, mostly in the Niger Delta, steadily supplanted agriculture as the mainstay of Nigeria’s economy. From the 1970s onwards, export of hydrocarbons accounted for approximately between 70 to 80 percent of funds flowing into the national treasury.
In recent years, customs duties and value added tax (VAT) collected largely from the south constitute the bulk of the remaining 30 to 20 percent. It follows that the north contributes less than 15 percent of the revenue in the federation account.
Now, aside from population which, as we have seen, is manipulated to favour the north, land mass is also one of the criteria for revenue allocation in the country. Thus, we have the paradox of northern Nigeria benefitting far more than it is contributing to the national treasury because of the systematic manner in which past military administrations headed by soldiers from there had configured the geopolitical and fiscal system in line with the British concept of northern domination of the country.
In addition to the above, the fact that Nigeria has regressed from 50 percent derivation to 13 percent since the discovery of crude oil, and that some northern governors like Dr. Babangida Aliyu, former governor of Niger state, out of envy have demanded that even the 13 percent derivation should be scrapped – all this indicate that for members of the northern ruling elite the south must bear the burden of national unity.
But sentiments aside, even the paltry 13 percent derivation currently given to the oil-producing states is grossly inadequate when placed alongside the 50 percent derivation formula enshrined in the 1960 and 1963 constitutions and the very serious environmental challenges faced by those states caused by exploration and exploitation of hydrocarbons.
To be clear, debates on restructuring are not just about the question of appropriate allocation of resources and responsibilities among a central government and the federating units: it also has a moral dimension which, in my view, serves as a solid foundation and justification for restructuring.
It is plainly immoral and unjustifiable that a state which contributes virtually nothing to the national treasury, whose leadership is either unwilling or too lazy to work hard and exploit the human and natural resources domiciled in its domain for development, continues to receive billions of naira annually from the federal government over the years without concrete evidence of paradigm shift from dependency towards self-reliance.
Any fiscal arrangement that encourages too much dependence on handouts from the centre incentivizes indolence and produces a class of political parasites habituated to receiving free money from a rent-seeking-and-rent-collecting federal government. Members of the northern establishment benefiting from the current arrangement are myopic and self-centred.
Since 1970, northerners have dominated political power at the centre; yet chronic poverty, illiteracy and economic disempowerment are worse in the north than in the south. In short, the north is more backward than the south in spite of its domination of power at the federal level.
Now, a sustainable efficient federal system is one in which none of the federating units is artificially permanently disadvantaged or advantaged by nicely balancing national and state or regional interests within a complex web of checks and balances between a federal government, on the one hand, and the federating units, on the other. In our own case, the federalism in operation is too centralised and tends to place the south in a condition of permanent disadvantage vis-à-vis the north.
I have already noted that given the way the country is structured, northerners will always have the upper hand in deciding which federal government policy affecting the whole country would be approved and which would not.
At any rate, it must be acknowledged that federal political systems come in different forms and evolve with the passage of time.
Hence, the idea or notion of “true federalism” is an illusion: at best it is a metaphor used by those who favour a situation in which the units in a federation have greater autonomy to manage their own affairs without the overbearing influence of a central government. Generally, Nigerians clamouring for true federalism intend to see a return to the kind of political system operated for 6 years after independence before it was abolished by the military.
Such a system, with appropriate modifications, can work in a presidential system as well, as the American example amply demonstrates.