By Hassan Rilwan
As a follow-up to the first session wherein a viable youth agenda was outlined, I have in this second session deliberated with my think-tank on the Structure of Government as an agenda for the National Conference. Under this broad topic ‘Structure of Government’ other clusters of sub-topics were also treated. These include: Fiscal Federalism/Resource Control, Indigene-Settler Crisis, Federal Character/Quota System and Single-term Tenureship.
Before the think-tank session, we had set up an online polling system to take a poll of the position of the youths on these subjects. The results from the online poll formed a basis for further stormy deliberations by the think-tank; a deliberation which resulted in harmonized positions reflecting the general trend of views on each of the subjects. This however does not remove the right of some youth who may have a different opinion no matter how small their number.
1. Structure of Government
After the establishment of a colonial state by the British Government, the British government adopted the policy of gradually amalgamating various administrative units in Nigeria in order to ensure the central direction of policy and to pool economic resources together. This culminated in the 1914 episode of amalgamation of the Northern and Southern protectorates. From this period, Nigeria developed constitutionally till 1954 when the Lyttleton Constitution introduced federal principles into the polity.
Since then, the Nigerian federation has had a chequered history. It has been through four phases, namely, colonial, civilian, military and post-military.
From January 15, 1966 to October 1, 1979, Nigeria had a military government. The military administration effected some fundamental changes in the nation’s political and administrative systems of government. The first of such fundamental changes was Decree 34 of 1966 promulgated by the first military head of state, the Late Major General Aguiyi-Ironsi.
Under that decree, Nigeria operated a unitary system of government. Given the political crisis at the time and what was clearly perceived as serious threats to the federation, General Ironsi felt that what the nation needed was a unitary form of government with an over-bearing centre. By the time the military quit the stage on October 1, 1979, in the first instance, they had succeeded in changing the character of the federation in response to the nation’s historical problems of fear and domination. The centre became, and remains, powerful and the constituent units became, and remain, weak.
Over the years, Nigeria has witnessed the creation of many states (presently 36) from the old three constituent regions – North, West and East. The powers of the constituent states in the Federation has become so diluted that they now wholly depend on the centre for their sustenance.
It is our considered view that the present structure of government does not define the reality of our character as a nation of multi-ethnic and multi-religious diversities. We know that most states are created to give identity to a sizeable community based on ethnicity, culture and language amongst other factors in response to allegations of marginalization, etc. This rarely stops the problem as cries of marginalisation will never cease except we are ready to have as many states as the number of the ethnic groups or languages that we have in Nigeria.
Creation of more states is not the answer to the cries of maginalisation but a responsible leadership that strives to carry everybody along especially the minority.
It is also our considered view that the present arrangement does not reflect the features of true federalism as power is too heavily concentrated at the centre.
We therefore call for a new structure of federal government to be made up of the 6 geo-political zones and not the states. Revenue should be shared amongst the six zones only. Such an arrangement will ensure the zones are strong enough to serve as viable federating units within the Federation. It will also make the creation of more states less attractive since creating more states within a region will reduce the revenue accruable to the states within that particular region. We may even see situations where some states may opt to merge with other states so as to reduce cost and increase viability.
While we feel that the presidential system be maintained at the federal level, each of the geo-political zones should be allowed to determine how they want to be governed within the presidential system. Each zone will deal with issues on the concurrent list affecting that geo-political zone. In this respect, there should be more devolution of powers from the centre to the federating units. Each federating unit should be allowed to make laws that are in tune with its broad character, beliefs and culture. This also means that a region can decide to retain the states under it or collapse them into the regional government.
We consider that in a situation where the mood of the nation does not favour the zonal arrangement, we may consider to have the states as federating units.
2. Resource Control/Fiscal Federalism
During pre-independence era, each of the three regions in Nigeria – North, West and East, operated somewhat independently and controlled their resources100%.
After independence (especially in the 1960 and 1963 Constitutions) there was a derivation formula of 50% for producing regions. So each of the three regions (North, West & East) took 50% from the FG as derivation. This seems to have been the situation up until 1970.
The offshore/onshore dichotomy was introduced during the military regime of Gowon (1966-1975). Decree No.113 of 1970, promulgated by General Yakubu Gowon (rtd) reduced derivation formula to 45% and at the same time appropriated the entire offshore oil revenue to the federal government.
In 1977, General Olusegun Obasanjo (rtd) as the Head of State took another 20% to the centre, thus reducing the allocation based on derivation to 25%. At the same time, he held on to the entire offshore production revenue thus maintaining the onshore/offshore dichotomy.
In 1981, Shehu Shagari removed yet another 20%, thus reducing derivation on onshore oil to 5%.
In 1984, General Muhammed Buhari (rtd.) further removed 3.5% thus reducing it to 1.5% while still holding on to the offshore revenue.
General Ibrahim Babangida, through the 1992 Oil Mineral Producing Areas Development Commission (OMPADEC) decree, increased derivation to 3% and abolished the offshore/onshore dichotomy.
The 1999 Constitution, which had its roots in the recommendation of the constitutional conference called by General Sani Abacha in 1994-1995, fixed a derivation formula at a minimum of 13% but was silent on the issue of onshore-offshore dichotomy.
Since the 1999 Constitution was silent on the dichotomy issue, it was assumed that its abolition by Babangida subsists, until Obasanjo took the case to the Supreme Court in 2002. The Supreme Court re-introduced the dichotomy in Abia State & 36 others vs Federal Government of Nigeria.
The ruling of the Supreme Court generated heated debates. Consequently, it was decided to find a political solution to the issue. After much consultation, Obasanjo, on August 20, 2002, sent a bill to the National Assembly seeking the abolition of onshore/offshore oil dichotomy in the derivation revenue sharing formula in Nigeria.
The bill was passed by the House on January 21, 2004, during the speakership of Aminu Bello Masari, and also by the Senate under Adolphus Wabara, before Obasanjo signed it on February 16, 2004. Thus effectively abolishing offshore-onshore dichotomy. In 2005, the Supreme reiterated this position in the case of Adamawa & 21 others vs FGN.
It is our observation that the whole debate on resource control has been quite narrow and restricted to oil only. The discovery of oil in other African countries and the development of alternative power like shale oil, etc, is fast diminishing the premium value our oil commands. To be forward thinking, we must emphasize that within the Nigerian nation abound diverse natural resources, which, over the years, have not constituted remarkable means for socioeconomic advancement.
Such resources, which include cotton, groundnut, ginger, cocoa, oil palm, rubber, and even solid minerals, can play significant roles in fostering rapid growth and development in the primary, secondary and tertiary sectors of the economy. Every state within each of the six geo-political zones is blessed with abundant minerals that, if developed, can be the catalyst for socio-economic development.
It is our observation that the debate about resource control has been coloured by regional interest and politics instead of hard economic analysis and political viability. Moreover, the problem with Nigeria is not just about resource control but with resource management.
It is our belief that fiscal federalism is a key component of any federal system world over. A cardinal principle and essential ingredient of federalism is that no level of government is subordinate to another, though there must be a central government for this exercise. Some important features of federalism as noted earlier are: (i) division of powers among levels of government (ii) coordinate supremacy of each level of government (iii) financial autonomy of each level of government.
We therefore call for the various federating units (six geo-political zones) to control the resources (both oil and non-oil) located within their states (onshore only) and pay tax of 50% to the central government. This was the case with Nigeria until the military struck in 1966.
The offshore resources, being located within Nigeria’s territorial should be controlled by the central government for the common good of all.
Consequently, all intervention agencies like the Niger Delta Development Agency, Amnesty Programme, Ministry of Niger Delta and related agencies should be scrapped.
3. Indigene-Settler Crisis
Although Section 41(1) of the 1999 Constitution gives every citizen the right to “move freely throughout Nigeria and to reside in any part thereof”, and section 42 discourages discrimination based on tribe, language, sex, religion or political leaning, practices have, however, developed that prejudice and polarize the citizenry based on their putative “indigene” and “settler” status.
The absence of residency rights also continues to weaken Nigeria’s integration 53 years after its independence and largely accounts for the conflict between “indigenes” and “settlers” in different parts of Nigeria.
Chapter 2 illustrates that the framers of the Constitution intended unity to be a central theme. Section 15 (3) outlines the states’ duty to promote “national integration.” It requires that they: “(a) provide adequate facilities for and encourage free mobility of people, goods and services throughout the Federation (b) secure full residence rights for every citizen in all parts of the Federation (c) encourage inter-marriage among persons from different places of origin, or of different religious, ethnic or linguistic association or ties, and (d) promote or encourage the formation of associations that cut across ethnic, linguistic, religious and or other sectional barriers.” The Constitution, therefore, expressly guarantees every citizen full residency rights, and encourages dialogue and interaction among Nigeria’s ethnic groups. Furthermore, these residency rights are not contingent on indigene status.
The 1999 Constitution states in section 147 (b) that “…the President shall appoint at least one minister from each state, who shall be an indigene of such state”. This “Indigene Clause” is problematic in that it uses indigene status as a factor in ministerial selection, but does not explain what it means to be an indigene of a state. Further, it leaves open the question of whether citizens who were given birth to in a state different from their parents’ indigenous community or migrate to a different community can become indigenes of that community after residing there for a number of years.
The 1979 Constitution defined an indigene as someone whose parents or grandparents belonged to an indigenous community within the state of residence. The current Constitution, however, omits this definition. Despite this lack of clarity, individuals and communities use the “Indigene Clause” as justifications for discrimination against citizens who live in a state other than their state of “origin,” especially when it relates to those citizens’ ability to participate in the political process.
For starters, it must be established that every human being on earth is a settler in whichever community he claims to hail from since his/her ancestors must have migrated there; only the year of migration may differ. It is, therefore, fraudulent to call someone who migrated to your community a settler and refuse accepting him despite that your ancestors also migrated there, even if it means they were the first to get there. Does it make sense that what makes you more indigenous to our community than me is the fact that your ancestors migrated there 1,000 years ago and mine did the same 100 years ago? One day, my 100 years will become your 1,000 years.
it is our view that due to the very traditional nature of Nigerians, it may be unrealistic at this time of our nationhood to remove ‘indigeneship’ from our vocabulary. In view of our earlier submission that every human being on earth is a settler in whichever community he claims to hail from since his/her ancestors must have migrated there, we should therefore define ‘indigeneship’ to include place of birth, place of marriage and place of residence for a minimum period of 10 years. Government and private organisations should replace emphasis on state of origin to place of birth. This will guarantee and promote inclusion amongst the citizenry.
The 1999 Constitution should be amended. Specifically, a definition of an indigene should be inserted in the constitution to define an indigene as someone whose parents, grandparents or himself belonged to an indigenous community by birth, marriage or by residence for a minimum of 10 years.
However, the issue of ‘indigeneship’ brings a two-way responsibility on you that went into a community and the people you met there. Be ready to integrate and proudly identify with the cultures and values you met; the people you met there should also be ready to accept anyone who genuinely loves to be part of them.
4. Federal Character
Federal Character Principle is aimed at the promotion of a sense of belonging in our country by eliminating or at least minimizing domination resulting from imbalance in appointments and distribution of government projects and benefits. It is aimed at inclusion.
The Federal Character Principle is enshrined in the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria where it states in Section 14 (3) thus:
“The composition of the government of the federation, or any of its agencies and the conduct of its affairs shall be carried out in such a manner as to reflect the federal character of Nigeria and the need to promote national unity, and also command national loyalty, thereby ensuring that there shall be no predominance of persons from a few states or from a few ethnic or other sectional groups in that government or any of its agencies”
The Federal Character principle is not just peculiar to Nigeria, but obtainable in other jurisdictions in Europe, America, Asia and even other African countries. It may be referred to by other names (such as Affirmative Action, Quota System, Positive Action, etc.) but the underlining principle -which is to give everyone a sense of belonging – is the same. The term ‘affirmative action’ was first used by the American President J.F. Kennedy in 1961 and later expanded by President Lyndon Johnson.
Whilst we admit the intention of the draftsmen of the Constitution in including the principle of Federal Character was lofty and noble, implementers of this principle have so much abused it to the detriment of merit and professionalism.
It is important to state that Federal Character does not and should not permit mediocrity or lack of merit. What Federal Character says is if a particular recruitment programme requires 36 engineers with certain qualification (say Second Class Upper degree), the 36 candidates should be spread across the 36 states instead of employing the 36 applicants from just one or two states which some chief executives do. Federal Character does not say that just because a state wants to be represented, then an ND holder will fill a position required for a second class upper degree holder or that a biology degree holder will now fill a position reserved for an engineer. That is not what Federal Character is about.
To the extent that Federal Character is not misused, we recommend that it should be retained in the Constitution.
5. Single Tenure System
Proponents of the single tenure system argue that, from the nation’s political experience, the cost of conducting elections every four years is so enormous that nothing is practically left in the treasury for national infrastructure development.
The financial burden of contesting election is so heavy on political office seekers that they spend all the time in the first two years of office in recouping their investment; rather than concentrating on the security and general wellbeing of Nigerians.
Worse still, the elected executives at the three tiers of government hardly settled down to the task of governance before the scheming for another term in office begins. In the process, there will be no room for excellent performance in the first term to endear incumbent officers to the electorate to support their re-election.
Meanwhile, opponents of single tenure system express the fears that many of the abuses that beset the country currently may worsen under a single tenure system, as the people would be left with no electoral remedy against despicable chief executives at all levels level. This is unlike the present system of four-year renewable term where the elected official must go back to the electorate to test his performance and acceptability.
We reject the single tenure proposition and state that it is laden with more complications and problems than the double tenure system it seeks to cure.
We support a two term tenure system BUT one that is NOT CONSECUTIVE. A non-consecutive two tem tenure system checks the abuse of incumbency factor during elections. An elected official who has completed a 1st tenure will have to compulsorily set aside but can re-contest after an intervening tenure by someone else. This keeps the incentive for good performance by elected official and removes the curse of abusing incumbency by a sitting official as a do-or-die tactics of seeking re-election.
At this juncture, I must commend members of my think thank namely Blossom Nnodim, Nasir Galadanchi, Japheth Omojuwa, Umar Musa Ikhilor, Linus Okorie, Ibrahim Wala, Alexander Mamchika Atta, Haruna Abdullahi, Ahmed Terab, Audu Maikori, Kola Oyeneyin and Vera Ibe for their wonderful inputs and in helping collate the opinion polls from the youth.
—HASSAN RILWAN is a delegate representing Youth Organisations at the National Conference. @hassan_rilwan. email@example.com