At a time when the national debate hangs on the gloomy issues of Fulani herdsmen, kidnapping and banditry, it is encouraging to hear an informed person selling a magic bullet.
Akinwumi Adesina, the President of the African Development Bank (ADB), an unlikely critic of the system, dissected our sorrows and declared that money must change hands.
To Africa’s foremost banker, we have problems because there is too much money at the center and the quick and simple remedy is to transfer the financial power at the federal level to the federating states.
The ADP President, an international economist and former minister, saw Nigeria’s problem from the prism of economics, to the extent that he even thinks political restructuring is only useful if based on financial viability of the units.
Adesina described Nigeria’s system as “fatherism,” in which there is a rich centre surrounded by paralysed states, which he calls an anomaly.
“Fatherism” is a nicer way of saying Nigeria is sick.
Nigeria is not just paralysed as the ADB President believes, it is also diabetic.
As a diabetic cannot turn food into energy, Nigeria cannot turn money into prosperity and happiness for its people.
In spite of enormous human and natural resources, Nigeria remains one of the poorest nations in the world.
More than 90 million Nigerians live on less than one US dollar per day, and that is about half of all Nigerians.
We have one of the worst records on the United Nation’s Human Capital Index. It is a story that our government does not wish to be told.
They don’t want us to talk about economic conditions that are getting worse; or how a rich nation has mostly poor people.
That is the discussion which the former minister and economist has started, and it is one that Nigerians must begin to have, everywhere.
Anyone who has taken a little time to ponder the political challenges facing Nigeria will have seen that the state governments are slowly withering as the use of resources from the federal level expands
At a lecture marking the inauguration of Governor Rotimi Akeredolu of Ondo State, the ADB President explained that with fatherism creating financially-dependent states, only three states can stand on their own, making Nigerians lose faith in their political system.
“State governors now spend more time in Abuja than they do in their own states, seeking monthly federal manna. This financial pilgrimage creates a sense of helplessness and overt dependency on the centre. The truth, however, is that to survive and thrive, states must become financially independent of the centre in Abuja.”
“The achievement of economically viable entities and viability of the national entity requires constitutional changes to devolve more economic and fiscal powers to the states in regions,” he said.
Adesina’s opinion on the need for autonomous states is common sense, isn’t it?
And his conclusion that constitutional amendments are overdue is a no-brainer.
Anyone who has taken a little time to ponder the political challenges facing Nigeria will have seen that the state governments are slowly withering as the use of resources from the federal level expands.
My home state of Osun is a perfect example of a beggar state and one of the 92 per cent that Adesina predicts will fail if allocation is cut off.
Unviable from its birth, and managed by a succession of crass politicians, the state produces nothing noteworthy and is unable to pay as little as its workers’ salaries on its own.
As soon as the oil price fell in 2015, Osun State practically shriveled.
Its allocation from the centre was smaller than its monthly wage bills, and workers’ salaries had to be slashed.
Capital projects were put on hold and suffering was written on the faces of my people.
The government had embarked on projects that were premised on a health flow of capital from Abuja.
When that flow shrank, the state got into trouble, having borrowed heavily against expected federal allocations.
The story of Osun State is the story of nearly all states in Nigeria, save Lagos, Rivers and Ogun.
Most have become dependent on a rich and arrogant federal government that dolls out money to unviable satellites.
The result is that we have a federal system of government where the states are too weak to pursue programmes that are good for their people, and the people are becoming tense, impatient and divided
The ADB President reasoned that fatherism is “fiscally unhealthy for states and the Federal Government, because Nigeria depends on oil for over 70 per cent of government revenues, any decline in the price of oil creates fiscal and economic volatilities that reverberate across the states.”
Our federal system became jaundiced and disfigured through tinkering by former military leaders.
The constitution they left behind has not been working for Nigerians because the principles they put on paper, they also denied on the same paper.
Copied from the American presidential system, Nigeria’s constitution recognises the branches and levels of government, but concentrates power in the hands of the president and the national assembly.
No important amendments to that inherited constitution has been possible.
Calls for broader constitutional amendments through a sovereign conference are met with a stiff rebuff by power brokers, particularly those in the northern part of the country.
The result is that we have a federal system of government where the states are too weak to pursue programs that are good for their people, and the people are becoming tense, impatient and divided.
Adesina was right when he stated, “What’s needed is greater economic and fiscal autonomy for the states. The issue is less about state or regional autonomy, but the financial and economic viability of Nigeria’s constituent states.”
Without financially-strong states, governors become lackeys, stripped of the muscle needed to deliver on campaign promises and the boldness to embark on effective programmmes.
But the problem is not just about the constitution.
The governors make things worse when they willingly give power away.
Many of them are unschooled to think strategically, talk articulately and act prudently within the system under which they operate.
Governors who cannot look the President in the eye have helped create the master-slave relationship between them and Aso Rock.
Without financially-strong states, governors become lackeys, stripped of the muscle needed to deliver on campaign promises and the boldness to embark on effective programmmes
Subservient mannerisms have consigned the states to a weakened posture.
State governments refuse to challenge federal power when they ought to be testing the limits of the law – out of the fear of economic punishment.
Having conceded, states become mere appendages to Abuja.
We are left with state governments which lack a soul, character, style and boldness.
In a federal system like ours, we need the states to make their own laws and policies, creating systems that make them unique among equals, as it was in the First Republic.
While federating states ought to display colors and flavors, ours look uniform and drab.
To be financially vibrant, resources should belong to each state, from which they should only be obliged to pay some taxes to the centre.
If the gold in Zamfara is kept in Zamfara and the oil in Niger Delta is owned by states surrounding it, politicians will be more interested in serving at the state level than in Abuja.
Stronger states will make a stronger country and competition will breed accelerated development.
The speech in Ondo State should not be buried.
Adesina has reprinted the template for national development and we need to pay attention.
If the states are viable, Adesina observed, they will “rapidly expand wealth for their people,” and “would have less of a need for monthly trips to Abuja for grants.”
Political restructuring has been part of the national debate, but that demand should grow louder. The states cannot be independent without changes to the constitution. To that extent, Nigeria needs an invasive surgery. And resistance must be broken.
Stronger states are needed to fight crime, to stop banditry and kidnapping, and to create prosperity.
It has been proven that the politicians in Abuja are no better in managing resources than the ones closer to the people.
Some powerful forces have decided that even if common sense dictates otherwise, Nigeria must remain as it is – a political system pocketed by the elite and a rotating chair that cannot deliver the people’s aspirations.
There is a slim chance that Nigeria will make it without some thoughtful reconfiguration.
The system needs to be reprogrammed for national development.
We cannot be herding cattle on the streets in the 21st Century, 60 years after independence, and assume we are moving forward.
Without strong and powerful states, and an expansion of regional autonomy, Nigeria will simply wither, or remain stunted at best