That restructuring, true federalism or devolution of powers has become an idea that can no longer be ignored by even the most powerful and influential persons is an indubitable fact of Nigeria’s life today. Even President Muhammadu Buhari, who returned from 103 days of medical vacation abroad, and who had once foreclosed any such idea, could not resist the temptation to speak on restructuring as well as its proponents.
It was, therefore, not a surprise the other day that the Sultan of Sokoto, one of Nigeria’s foremost traditional rulers, joined the debate on federalism and its benefits. In his submission in Minna at the Niger State Investment Summit, Sultan Sa’ad Abubakar showed a good understanding of the subject, hence his position is worthy of examination by all who care about the unity and prosperity of Nigeria.
Significantly, Alhaji Sa’ad Abubakar called on Nigerians to focus on “the devolution of the economy rather than the restructuring of the country” while establishing the nexus between federalism and his own context of devolution of the economy. He accurately submitted that the nation is blessed with human and mineral resources needed to achieve greatness. He then advised that the Shiroro Dam in Niger, Goronyo Dam in Sokoto and others across the country should be used to start all-year farming as the proper utilisation of the nation’s dams would enable farmers to produce food crops for both local consumption and for export.
So, beyond the agitation for the restructuring of the country, the Federal Government, he said, should be called upon to “release dams across the country to state governments for massive participation of Nigerians in all-year farming seasons.”
This, indeed, is a remarkably specific substance to the clamour for a functional federation. Water resources, of which dams control is a component, are largely in the firm grip of the Federal Government, just like mineral resources, electricity, among others that are unnecessarily on the exclusive legislative list.
In other words, there can hardly be a better illustration of the benefits of a true federation than the Sultan’s position that the Federal Government should devolve powers over water resources, agriculture and indeed mineral resources to the states with a view to enhancing their powers to create wealth for themselves and the nation at large.
It is, in fact, not difficult to agree with the argument of the Sultan Sa’ad Abubakar that “we have the ability and technical knowledge to feed the continent with what we can produce, with the required political commitment, through the provision of modern farming implements for our teeming farmers.” What is more, he said, “Nigeria is one of the countries in the world with various mineral resources needed to better the lots of the people.”
But the point is that this can only come to fruition if the powers to do it can be devolved from Abuja to the 36 states and, indeed, the 774 local governments.
This constructive engagement by notable citizens like the Sultan, therefore, raises a glimmer of hope that the appropriate understanding of the idea of making Nigeria a proper federation is afoot all over the country. The manipulative tendencies of some political jobbers who deliberately distort the idea and confuse members of the public about the benefits of federalism will be curbed with such interventions as that of the Sultan.
Certainly, members of the political class and the people must understand the indisputable truth that the federating units of Nigeria can only be greatly strengthened by the devolution of powers to them.
Devolution brings that ability to take decisions closer to those affected by those decisions. The bad decisions taken by the representatives and decision makers in Abuja and what they say in defence of the old order at the moment are a disservice to the nation and its future. Unfortunately, the elite and even most public intellectuals including those in the ivory towers are not so enthusiastic about deepening an understanding of devolution of powers to the federating units. Most lament glibly about lack of economic progress in the polity as if development would be possible without settling the political issues that are responsible for such retardation.
Clearly, one of the factors responsible for the ongoing failure of Nigeria is over-centralisation of powers.
Since the military politicians destroyed the federal structure that triggered exponential growth of the Northern, Western, Eastern and Midwestern regions of old, Nigeria has not recorded any tangible growth in any economic or political sense.
The selfless leaders from the North and South of Nigeria in the first republic were arguably the last of the great men this country has had and since the structure of governance that propelled them to those great heights was ruined, crass opportunism and enlightened self interest have created a situation in which small minds consistently succeed in taking the reins of power and they have led the country to the nadir of reproach.
It is, therefore, time for all Nigerians, including those who profit from misleading the people about the many benefits of restructuring that, just as there was oil in the South, cocoa in the West, rubber and timber in the Mid-west, the North of Nigeria had other agricultural produce like groundnuts, grains and cotton for a world-class textile industry upon which it prospered. No region was subservient to the other and none can ever be. All can only be inter-dependent.
It is therefore shameful that Nigerian leaders of today would not be eager to harness these vast and diverse resources in different areas within the context of a truly federal Nigeria.
Kogi State, for instance, can go to Nasarawa State and invest in some mineral resources and employ the people there. Just as Lagos State is currently doing with Kebbi State in massive rice production. It is Kebbi’s citizens that are employed and taxes are paid to the state, after all. That way, there will be a balance of opportunity to exploit what is available in all states. Why should agriculture, water and mineral resources be the preoccupation of the government at the centre in a supposedly federal governance structure? What obtains in Nigeria now is a fraud that helps no one but destroys the nation’s future.
Therefore, instead of shooting down and foreclosing discussions of opportunities that abound in fiscal federalism, all Nigerians should, as a starting point, encourage their representatives to take another look at the recurrent and exclusive legislative lists with a view to devolving more powers to the federating units. The exclusive list that gives too much power to the Federal Government in exploitation of mineral and water resources, especially, should be relaxed and the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) should begin the process of devolution of powers to the federating units for the rapid development of the country. It is gratifying to note that the governing party has set up a panel to recommend strategic options on how federalism can be legally adopted to fast-track an all-round development in the country.
Besides, those who wield federal powers now should be persuaded that Nigeria would not be broken or hampered by the practice of federalism as some have mischievously submitted. Indeed, a properly organised federal structure will strengthen democracy and make the country prosper economically.
If the 36 states are not allowed to exploit the natural endowments in their domains, develop policies based on priorities and then pay their workers according to what they can afford, development even at the centre will be a mirage. At the moment, poverty in the federating units, all of which keep asking for bailouts from the centre before they can pay even basic bills, is intolerable and unacceptable. That is why Nigeria’s powerful, influential men and women like the Sultan should raise voices of reason, exert pressure on the nation’s leaders at all levels to stop playing undue politics with the need to return to the idea of a federal system of government in letter, in spirit and in truth.