The Fallacy of Carrying A Camel And Its Load
Dr. Aliyu Tilde
Our first discussion on restructuring only attempted to debunk the long held impression that the North is against the idea. What we did not set out to do in that brief essay was to discuss the scope of restructuring that would have included many issues beyond the capacity of a page. The agenda of restructuring can be broadly divided into three components: one, decentralization; two, revenue mobilization and allocation; and three, taxonomy of the geopolitical entities of the new federation. Attaining these objectives require tackling three technical matters, viz. the forum for deliberations, its sovereignty and mode of selecting its delegates. In our discussion today we will focus on the necessity and merits of decentralizing the octopus called federal government.
There is no doubt that the federal government needs to be downgraded to the barest tolerable size to harness development, increase its efficiency and reduce the tussle for its seat among the entities forming the federation. There is a consensus over the undesirability of the present giant-size government at the centre which spends over half of the national revenue and is effectively in charge of, among others, the judiciary, the military, police, national security, prisons, immigration, customs, currency, land, oil and mineral resources, external affairs and trade, education, science and technology, energy, public sector regulation and services, infrastructure, federal capital, elections, census, ports, railway, maritime, labour, national parks and state of emergency. In addition to these, there are other sectors like health, agriculture, local government and rural development that it concurrently runs with state governments. What is often forgotten is the fact that the population of the country has increased by over 100% in the last forty years. This means that there is a two-fold increase in demand for services. Meeting these demands require a government that operates efficiently. In Nigeria such a centre must be dynamic, prudent and impartial in how it pursues issues of security, stability and national development. Only then would happiness characterise the polity.
However, since the military started to wax the centre with these tasks, there has been a continuous decline in its performance to the extent that it hardly accomplishes anything efficiently. There is an evident collapse in education, health care delivery, military facilities and law enforcement, for example. Even the animals and plants in Yankari know that they were better off when the park was managed by the state government as a game reserve. The federal government woefully failed its last constitutional assignment - national elections - when it could not, up to this moment, compile a comprehensive voters' register, let alone conduct a free and fair election. Finally, there is a global consensus that Nigeria is among the most corrupt countries on earth and ironically over half of the corruption is reported to be taking place at the centre led by a 'messiah' who claims to be a 'born again' and who took an oath to be prudent.
What is alarming is the depreciation of our values that the situation engenders. People have started interpreting corruption as an African value. I was shocked to read Dr. Ladi Hamalai, a lecturer at National Defence Academy, publicly attempting to rationalize the fraud that took place during the last elections simply because it was similar, in her judgement, to what happened during the First and Second republics. She was however obstructed by her motive from going a step further and asking herself whether, following the same precedence, a coup against Obasanjo will be a welcomed idea. When some members of the esteemed academia in romance with the centre become victims of such bizarre moral bankruptcy then we have a firm rational ground on which to move swiftly and disarm the centre of its corrupting charisma.
For these reasons, I strongly support the idea that the federal government be dispossessed of most of its powers. Nothing has strengthened this idea in my mind better than the recently concluded national elections. When a monumental failure like Obasanjo was able to secure a second term by exploiting all sorts of divides and fraud, it shows that the confederation of beneficiaries of central power will never again allow this nation to tread the path of good sense. It also shows that the disintegrative forces of ethnicity and religion in the country are stronger than its integrative bonds of progress and national development. With the absence of a revolt culture I became convinced that through decentralization we could reduce to a possible minimum the injury that an incompetent centre could inflict on the entire federation.
It is a matter of detail to work out the quantum of responsibility that the centre should concede to the periphery. However, in principle, since it has become a citadel of corruption and inefficiency, I will support an evacuation that will leave behind only necessaries which by nature would be required to keep any loose federation kicking. Such things will include external affairs, courts to adjudicate in inter-governmental disputes, maritime, currency, immigration, state of emergency, and a portion of the military just strong enough to ward off external aggression from any of our weak neighbours. The bulk of the military today should then be converted to police. Matters like education, health, rural development, agriculture, land and mineral resources, industry, national parks, energy, water resources and police should all be pushed to the lower layer of the structure.
Reducing the responsibilities of the centre has both advantages and disadvantages. Broadly speaking, there are three disadvantages - two based on fear and the other based on ideology and self-preservation by the many beneficiaries of the present order. The most obvious is the attendant risk of disintegration when one of the units, feeling self-sufficient, decides to overstretch the thread linking it to the centre, akin to what happened in 1967. Secondly, there will be a rise in micro-nationalism with people becoming more interested in promoting their regions than the nation. Thirdly, some of the regions may be visited by the calamity of political instability and insecurity which, if sustained, may grant "unitarians" another opportunity to occupy the domain of civil governance for another four decades, as we saw in the aftermath of 1965 elections in the southwest.
Notwithstanding the forte of these disadvantages, especially given their ugly scene on our historical landscape, I am persuaded by reason to believe that the advantages of decentralisation are stronger. One, there is the mechanical advantage of efficacy when the neck-breaking load carried by the centre now is distributed among regions. Tasks could be carried out quicker and to the satisfaction of a greater number of people. Actually, nothing will bring government closer to people than shelving to the periphery most of the responsibilities of the present federal government.
Two, the question of ease aside, by distributing the duties of the centre to various independent entities, the chances of collective failure is reduced because its contagion will be localized and hardly would it, except by design, infect the rest. The various entities will thus have varying degrees of corruption, laziness, instability, underdevelopment, etc.
Three, the regions will be free to individually develop at their own pace in various sectors of life without any of the entities being dragged or slowed down by the incapacity or overcapacity of another. Given our differences in culture and levels of western education and industrialisation, it is a fallacy to grow, like crops do on an experimental bed, under blanket treatments from the centre. The recent introduction of Sharia is a good example to cite here. Also, a region in the South can emphasise tertiary education while another in the North can concentrate on primary and technical education, depending on their level of educational development and manpower demands.
Four, micronationalism itself could be a potent tool of development in a true federation. There will be competition among the regions, the one ahead trying to maintain its lead while those lagging behind it working hard to catch up with it. The stories of the educational and industrial development of the country under the late Chief Nnamdi Azikwe, Chief Obafemi Awolowo and Sir Ahmadu Bello during the 1950s and early 1960s are sweet to remember. Were governors in the North, for example, blessed with the drive and initiative of the Sardauna, their states would not have stayed behind, dependent and underdeveloped three and a half decades after his demise. The pride of the Sardauna would have driven them closer to ingenuity than to dependence. The chance will recur if the periphery is allowed control over its resources. This will compel many regions to increase their productivity by making advances in taxation, mineral exploitation, manpower development, industry and agriculture.
Five, the fear of domination by one section of the country will be dispensed with if the centre is made less powerful. We have heard the long imaginary tale of northern domination, using presidency as the only index. Now that a southerner is in power, northerners have for the first time got the chance, using statistics of employment in the public sector and the distribution of public capital across the country, to prove their age-long marginalization by the South. With prolongation of such debates, the policy and practice of the centre will continue to be predicated on tribal preference. However, the damage that such tribal lords would cause from their position at the centre will be reduced in a real federation.
Six, the monopoly that Abuja has over our physical development will come to an end with decentralization. The capital city has hindered the growth of other cities and state capitals and it will continue to do so until it ceases to be a host of a strong centre.
Seven and final, decentralization will make the centre less contentious. The reason why fierce battles are fought to capture it is simply due to the power it wields and the destiny it shapes using the economic resources and instruments of governance at its disposal. If trimmed by 90% such that only about 10% of oil revenue reaches it, then politics of the centre would be more characterised by sanity than by the ongoing mania.
The contention is thus distributed among the peripheral entities. However, with the absence of monthly allocations of oil booty coming from Abuja, the mantle of leadership at the periphery would become glaringly burdensome such that only the competent and self-sacrificing would be lured into picking. Right now I have the strong feeling that even a child can run a state or local government if all it takes is to collect a share from the federation account and distribute it among his people and friends as he wishes. We must regard such a state only as provisional, as it does not conform to universal ethics of purposeful leadership.
These are some of the advantages of decentralization that easily come to mind at first thought; there may be many more that might flow from deeper reflection. Some of the issues raised today will definitely become clearer after discussing the other components of the restructuring agenda - revenue mobilization and allocation and taxonomy of the federation. Meanwhile, the dialogue we suggested in the first article must continue. Let us listen to every view and accept it based on its validity and merit or reject it for its fallacy and menace. Let us not be distracted by Obasanjo and his PDP agenda of phasing out local governments and introducing advisory zonal councils. The appetite of restructuring cannot be satiated by a sandwich from the menu of a chef that could rightly be qualified as the greatest beneficiary and apostle of unitary government.
In supporting states, local governments and their development in addition to its nationwide undertakings, the federal government is akin to a traveller struggling to carry a camel and its burden. What we attempted doing today is to advise him using common sense that, instead, he can have more rest and move faster in his journey if he allows the camel to carry him and his load.