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Wednesday, February 21, 2024

Collapse State Boundaries, Create 6 Regions, Devolve Powers



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The 36-State structure of Nigeria is clearly not going to take us far. Several issues can be cited in support of this assertion. The latest is the N18,000 minimum wage which many of our States cannot pay. Many of them have over bloated staff profiles which their State Governors find difficult to downsize. The recurrent expenditure of some of these States is already as high as 80%. Paying the new minimum wage would take this up to 100%, leaving not a kobo for development, a very sorry situation.
Many of our States are also not economically viable. They generate very little revenue internally and therefore depend heavily on Federal subventions. They have neglected revenue collection and the making of investments in commercial ventures because the Federal Government has become a Father Christmas doling out easy money regularly. The ‘black gold’ blessing has been turned into a curse by some State Governments.
The duplication of administrative structures 36 times is a most wasteful arrangement. Having 6 Regions will reduce the cost of running government to one sixth of what it is presently. Talk about taking government nearer to the people is mere talk which is never walked. It only succeeds in benefiting a few lucky government officials and their contractors.
The agitation for the creation of more State in the country is the most irrational demand any of us can make. It’s an ego trip not carefully thought out. I am always shocked when I see Senate President, David Mark, promising Nigerians that the National Assembly will create more States.
When General J. T. U. Ironsi abolished Regional Governments in 1967, his hope was to cage ethnicity, which was then tearing the country apart. The distrust between the four regions was palpable at the time. In the same flawed belief, General Gowon created 12 States in 1968 in attempt to bid farewell to the hydra-headed scourge of ethnicity and regionalism. Today, with the benefit of hind sight, we can say, how mistaken they were.
A close look at the voting pattern in the 2011 elections reveals that regionalism is alive and well in Nigeria. The East, the West and the North displayed block voting tendencies. The North showed a preference for the CPC, the West for the ACN and the East for APGA. This is not surprising because regionalism comes naturally to us. Our colonial master saw these preferred lines of cleavage and entrenched them in their administration up to 1960. The Mid-Western Region was added to the 3 existing Regions as a genuine and natural need of he people who were not comfortable in the West nor in the East.
There was nothing wrong with the 4-regional Federation except that the regions were very unbalanced in wealth, education and population. While the Northern Region had the largest population, it was the least in wealth and education, but has a lot of agricultural.. The West was the most advanced in commerce and education while the East was ahead of the other regions in entrepreneurship.
I see regional proclivity as a natural phenomenon to be encouraged and exploited to our common good rather attempting to kill it by artificial State boundaries that have lumped strange bed fellows together causing unnecessary internal acrimony. For example, I see no hegemony now or in the future between the people of Southern Kaduna and the rest of that State.
A ruling elite is slowly emerging in the country and it is working assiduously towards perpetuating itself in power. Wives, children, and contractors to those in power are the ones always propped forward in elections and for appointments.
Mentors and protégés are appearing on our political scene. This is what is referred to as god-fatherism. Oath-taking and fetish practices are used to bind members. The use of money is also rife in our politicking. New comers therefore have an uphill task trying to join the political process. This is most unhealthy for democracy.
We are supposed to be a federation, yet we are practicing unitarism by all definitions of the word. The Federal Government is too big, too strong and too rich, to the detriment of the federating units who are forced to crawl daily to the doorsteps of the Federal Government to beg for stipends in order to survive. In a true confederation, the federating units enjoy a high degree of autonomy as found in the USA. This ensures rapid infrastructural development.
In Nigeria, affinity, cohesion and integration is strongest at the regional level among peoples of similar culture, tradition, religion and language. Self determination is best defined in this context and not in a central federal government. The manner in which our 36 States boundaries have mutilated hitherto happily co-existing communities should be redressed.
With the emergence of Shariah as a State religion in some northern States, security, even development and egalitarian societies can no longer be more be guaranteed in such States. Those who belong to the State religion have an upper hand. Others in such States are minorities and highly disadvantaged. Such States should be allowed to form one regional government so as to achieve their aspirations. Why is the whole country thrown into a quarrel about Islamic Banking when such regions, if created, will be free and very happy with it? The demands of Boko Haram may be satisfied in a region that they dominate. The unitary government system has failed us and should therefore be abolished.
The agitations for and the proliferation of States may see no end. As at the last count towards the end of the life of the sixth NASS, there were 34 requests for the creation of new States across the country. I recall that when Gen. Murtala Mohammed created 7 more States atop Gowon’s 12, he said,” There should be no jubilation for or against the creation of any State and there should be not agitations for any more.” Subsequently, Obasanjo, Abacha and Babangida created more States, not because it was economical, but just to try and correct perceived imbalances in the number between the north and the south, the east and west, etc. Yet the problem has not been solved. The South East today is disadvantaged in that it has the fewest number of States in comparison to the other 5 geo-political zones. The North East has 7 States while the remaining 4 zones have 6 States each. Achieving a balance would require the creation of one State in the South East and abolishing one in the North East. Can anyone honestly see this happening?
The 774 Local Government areas in the country are also not equally distributed between the federating units. While some States have as many as 40, others have only 17. Remember that these numbers translate directly to the share of federally accruing revenues and the number of representatives in the House of Reps. How can we best achieve a balance in the number of LGAs across the country?
The revenue sharing formula enshrined in our laws has been challenged and it is still being challenged. Its basis is obscure. Were the percentages fixed as the revenue sharing formula arrived at on the basis on somebody’s selfish motives? Those whose regions generate the larger chunk of federal revenues feel they should receive a bigger share on the basis of derivation and they have a valid a point.
Security challenges can only get bigger in a centralized governmental structure as we are operating. The disadvantages of over-centralization of powers in the Nigeria Police are becoming apparent. That is why the States Governors are agitating for State Police to be allowed. As chief security officers in their States, the Governors do not command “even a fly” (in the words of Gov. Jang of Plateau State). Obviously, 36 State Police formations will amount to a colossal waste of resources and create party-loyal or Governor-loyal police outfits. If we operate a few regional governments, then regional police will become a workable, natural preference, thus freeing the central government to focus on the military and wading off external aggression. Just imagine has the Nigerian Army has been dragged into local politics and religion in Borno, Bauchi and Plateau States. An Army General is currently facing a Court Marshall in Maxwell Kobe Cantonment, Rukuba, for his alleged partisanship in the release of Boko Haram terrorists from Bauchi prison.
Many of our constitutional provisions and other statutes are obnoxious to the people of some parts of the country while highly welcome in otherst. For example, the Land Use Act provides for the allocation of grazing land to nomadic cattle rearers. Though this provision may be necessary in Adamawa State, of what value is it in Lagos State? The Constitution specifies 3 Senators per State irrespective of population. Why should Lagos State with 10 million registered voters produce the same number of senators as Bayelsa State with only 0.8 million voters? The Constitution has an Exclusive List reserved for federal legislation and a Concurrent list for both States and the Federal Governments. Labour matters are on the Exclusive List, so States cannot legislate on them. No wonder, the minimum wage issue is bound to create unnecessary acrimony. It’s unfair that the Federal Government should fix minimum wage while States pay it. I expect the Exclusive Legislative List to be very short and nothing like a Concurrent List.
The sum total of all these is that we are operating an unfair governmental structure which is stifling development, misallocating resources, dislocating communities, creating a ruling class, killing nationalism, promoting mediocrity, ethnicity and corruption. In order to free resources for appropriate allocation to ensure rapid economic development and grant political self-determination to all peoples in this country, I have the following suggestion to make. It is a three-pronged approach designed to be implemented simultaneously. My sincere belief is that, if implemented, it will substantially satisfy yearnings, aspirations and agitations by all Nigerians;
1. COLLAPSE STATE BOUNDARIES. By this I mean that all the 36 six State Governments should cease to exist while the 774 LGAs are retained.
2. CREATE 6 NEW REGIONS. These will immediately replace the 36 States. They should be called Regions (not States) so that we can mentally move away from the States structure and begin to imbibe regionalism which promotes greater patriotism in Nigerians leading to a reduction of corrupt tendencies. These regions should receive at least 50% of all centrally generated revenue while the LGs receive 25%. The Federal Government should be left with just 25% to take care of a vey lean Presidency.
3. DEVOLVE POWERS. A lot of the responsibilities currently placed on the Federal Government should be transferred to the 6 new regional Governments. For example, policing, education, agriculture, tourism and culture, etc. should be regional government affairs. All legislative functions should become part-time activities while the size of the legislature at all levels should be trimmed down to no more than 25% of its present size.
It goes without saying that these measures will necessitate the review of our Constitution and statutes. Regional groups freely formed should volunteer immediately to start the process of drafting their ideas of a new Constitution for their regional governments. A Constitutional Conference should convene to adopt a new Nigerian constitution which recognizes the new governmental structure for the country. The new constitution can then rightly start with the words, “We the people of Nigeria …”
James Pam, University of Jos, jamespam2004@yahoo.com

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