BY: Ademola Orunbon
Ademola Orunbon, a public affairs analyst, sees the present Nigeria federation as unwieldy and too expensive to operate and therefore proposes a fundamental restructuring to reduce the size and cost of governance towards efficiency and development……..
The Country is severely stressed because the structures to make it function are faulty. There is too much government. Government is a national bakery where those who work in it must share the bread they refuse to help bake. In government, there are massive collusive programmes of deliberate theft of public funds, are not there?
The people themselves are severely stressed. The more welfare they expect, the less they get. The more they are told about peace and security, the more they are harassed both by the private armies of the powerful few: and hoodlums who are the products of inequities, deprivation, and urban denials. Our law-enforcement agencies are few, ill-equipped and inadequately motivated.
The society itself has not been trained to ask questions from those who make it by the simple procedure of joining the political class: Understandably, because government is a stronger to the people, and is a place where taking what is not yours is an achievement to be celebrated, and for which national honours can be conferred.
The provisions on corruption were prohibitive enough to discourage infringing them before the present anti-corruption and related crimes law was passed. But everyone laughs at the latest political scenes and provisions, as they did the ones preceding them.
UNSTRESSING THE NATION
We are a federation, and we must operate as a federation. The 36 states are too weak to constitute the federating units. We need another buffer between the states and the federal, and that is the present zones that have naturally emerged. They are six, and should constitute the federating units.
The powers at the centre are too many. The power of the National Assembly as the de facto, law-maker for everything both on the legislative and concurrent lists is not healthy for the federation.
Government is too involved in businesses, and this promotes corruption. Section 16 of the 1999 Constitution even entrenches the preponderant place of government in running the economy of the nation. There is no doubt that when government is decongested, the economy will automatically be deregulated. Political deregulation must precede economic deregulation.
The people must be brought together as a nation, and this can better be done through integrative programmes. We should use what we have to get what we want. The sky is in political deregulation through restructuring, and the acceptance of informal and cost effective governance through active use of the traditional institutions.
The Present Arrangement
There is one central government that is headed by an elected President who has a constitutional responsibility of appointing at least a Minister from each state of the federation. At present, there are about 52 Ministers. There is also a large army of presidential advisers and assistants who themselves have personal assistants. There are hundreds of parastatals which have hundreds of party men who are board members and constitute a heavy charge on the mean resources of the parastatals.
There is an elected National Assembly made up of the Senate and the House of Representatives. Members of the National Assembly have a large army of personal staff paid for by the government. They also are entitled to funds for opening and running constituency offices.
The National Assembly has power to make law in 93 areas (Exclusive List and Concurrent List), and this means that the President has 93 areas of preponderant law-execution. There is no federal arrangement anywhere in the world that is this top heavy to the detriment of the federating units.
There are 36 state governments headed by governors who are independent of the centre and cannot be effectively checked by State Houses of Assembly. Experience since 1999 has shown that they can be laws unto themselves if they so decide.
There are 774 local government councils with executive Chairmen who are also laws unto themselves. They appoint non-elected councilors to their “cabinets”. This means that the emoluments of an elected councilor who has the equivalent of a school certificate are higher than these of a professor in the University or a Judge of the high court of a State. Yet, both entitlements come from the federation account.
Looking back to May 29, 1999 when we started this walk on the Democracy Highway, it is obvious that the cost of sustaining the different political arms of each of the tiers is becoming unbearable. Our expenditure profile shows that we spend about 95 percent of our resources on recurrent expenditure. This means that we have very little left for funding development.
There is no doubt, therefore, that the present arrangement is not healthy for us. The way out of this problem is restructuring the political arrangement to make it more manageable and less demanding on our resources.
We should retain a three-tier arrangement- The Central government, the Regional government and the State government. The present local government structure should be an affair of the regional government, and be funded by it.
The central government will continue to be headed by an elected president so that we may all continue to have a sense of ownership of the head of the Nigerian state.
The law making body should be the present senate of 109 members. There should be a nominated Upper House of Elders, one from each state of the federation and Abuja. The number will thus be 37. This would be like the arrangement in the First Republic.
The powers of the centre should be reduced and only those powers that would mould the federating units should be retained exclusively by the centre, like defence, external affairs, citizenship and currency. Let us be advised by the experience of the United State of America over the years. There should be six regional governments on the lines that have emerged as Zones- North-West, North-East, North-Central, South-West, South-East and South-South. These, and not the 36 States, should be the federating units.
The law-making bodies in the regions should be those elected from the present House of Representatives Constituencies, each regional government should be headed by a governor. He may be elected by the region or appointed by the party that forms the majority in the Regional House. Many of the powers moved from the centre will anchor in the regional and state government, there will be 36 State House of Assembly as at present. The reason they will be retained is that no state would like to lose its autonomy
The position of executive governor is unnecessary and untenable, and should restore the parliamentary system at the state level. The present office of governor should be re-designated premier as we had in the First Republic. He will contest elections to the House like any other member of the House, and can be appointed by his party if it wins the majority of seats in the House. All members of the state executive council would come from the House of Assembly. If what the governor does now can be better done in the House, the expense of electing him to straddle in the state treasury and do what he likes with it, as has happened to many state governments since May 29, 1999, can be saved and channeled to development of the State.
There are at present 774 local government councils with elected council Chairmen and Councilors who are “working” full time. This level of government is the greatest fraud that has been visited on our democratic outing since May 1999, and has been responsible for the lack of growth in the local government area. We should have elected councilors who will elect one of themselves as Chairman. Each councilor should earn a sitting allowance, with such sitting not being more than seven times in a quarter. It means that no councilor would be taking home more than N52, 000 per annum. The Chairman should earn N3, 000 per sitting.
The day-to-day running of the council should be the responsibility of the secretary who would be appointed by the Local Government Service Commission, and would have the status of a permanent secretary in the public service. The local level of government should be the affair of the regional government. It means that all the 774 local government councils would be inherited by the region into which they fall. The region can increase the number or reduce it as it deems fit. The changes can be effected constitutionally if we have the political will to do so. The most credible forum is the council of state provided for under Section 153 (1) (b) of the Constitution. It’s composition and powers can be found in part 1 to the Third schedule of the constitution. It is constituted by the following persons:
The President, Vice President; Chairman, Deputy Chairman; All former Presidents of the Federation and all former heads of the government of the federation; All former Chief Justices of Nigeria; The President of the Senate; The Speaker of the House of Representatives; All the governors of the states of the federation; and the Attorney-General of the Federation. The council has power to discuss any matter referred to it by the President. The President should table before the council of state the problem of sustaining the present structure which the military imposed. A restructuring that would slim down the system of government and lead to move accountability should be presented for discussion.
If the council agrees that we should make sacrifices for growth, the proposals would be worked on by the Attorney-General and his colleagues in the federation, and a draft bill prepared for the National Assembly to pass into law. It would then be sent to the state assemblies for endorsement through a resolution of the Houses there. Section 9 of the constitution settles the procedure for doing this. If the political arm of government is restructured, we would have; a federal government with more time to plan for a powerful country, a central government that would be more efficient and less corrupt, a regional government that would be a buffer between the state and the centre, and that would be more handy to settle problems of the region and plan the development and growth of the region.
Another benefit is that there will be a state government that would be more efficient in the management of resources, and more accountable and less corrupt. Also the local government arrangement that would be more efficient because experienced people who have retired from service can be called upon to help out with local policy-making to be executed by civil servants. Furthermore, there will be policy that will see professionalism emerge without the distraction of politics which has become a lucrative business and more than half of the money spent on sustaining the present arrangement would be available for development.
This submission is for discussion. Someone has to start the talking because the real issues are being evaded or avoided. What America is today is the result of profound socio-political engineering that took blood, tears and sacrifices.