By Tony Osborg
Over the years, Nigeria has pretended to have adopted a federal system of government, but it is one in which all the basic features of true federalism are absent. These basic features of a true federal system of government include, a decentralisation of powers, bottom-top approaches to governance, grassroots economic development, and the promotion of the efficiency and economic viability of the federating units, etc. Under Nigeria’s federalism, local economies are dependent on national regulations, rather than the otherwise. The states look up the federal government for security, education, roads, electricity, healthcare, and even food. This is in fact, the opposite of a true sense of federalism. It is therefore inappropriate to say that Nigeria practices federalism, when in reality it practices a skewed system that is partly responsible for its underdevelopment.
A skewed federalism is that in which the local people are not only powerless but handicapped, politically, socially, economically, and such. Under a skewed system of government, corruption is official and legitimate. The constitution of a skewed federal government is vague and incomprehensible. The states look up to the federal government for survival, rather than the reverse. Under a skewed system, economic competition among states are inherently forbidden for the protection of the federal government’s right to dominate. Under a skewed system, the states generate the revenue, the federal government collects the revenue and shares a certain percentage back to the states, while keeping the bulk of the revenue for itself.
A skewed system of federal government puts too much power in the federal government at the expense of the state and local governments. Also, political criticisms are neither right nor wrong but are only judged by the ethnic origin of the critic; objectivity is a mystery under this system.
The president of a skewed federal government is expected to belong to everybody, while also belonging to nobody at the same time. Because the system is skewed, the president tries to belong to everybody but ends up belonging to nobody. Under a skewed system, the oil of the south belongs to the federal government, the land of the North belongs to the federal government, and the people of the West belongs to the federal government. Everything belongs to the federal government and nothing belongs to the local people and their communities. Even the ability of security operatives to spontaneously act or react to security demands in local villages are determined and controlled from Abuja. Only under a skewed system do such things occur.
Another major feature of a skewed federal government is it lopsidedness, from the outcome of elections to the appointment of government officials. Criticisms, analyses, biases, patriotism, and you name it, are all lopsided. No matter how thorough the head of a skewed government tries to balance the equation, lopsidedness is inevitable, at least in the eyes of the people; be they his supporters or his critics. Everything a skewed federal government does is lopsided. Contracts are awarded lopsidedly, federal institutions are established lopsidedly, election outcomes are predetermined lopsidedly, getting a government job is lopsided, and even oil theft, suicide bombings and terrorist acts are all carried out lopsidedly. Lopsidedness is a basic feature of a skewed federal government.
Another feature of a skewed federal government is corruption, which becomes inevitable. As an official of a skewed federal government, the more you try to avoid corruption the more you become corrupted! Under a skewed system of government, stealing is not corruption because stealing is official and legal. Under a skewed system of federal government, good leaders are either compelled to abhor corruption or they themselves become corrupted. Because the system legalises and gazettes corruption, it becomes extremely difficult to punish offenders. Even when the evidence of corruption is axiomatic, the courts never convict the offenders because under the law and among the government officials, corruption is not a crime, even though they say otherwise in the public. Corruption becomes official under a skewed system of federal government.
The last feature of a skewed federal government is the blame-game. Under a skewed system, someone is always blaming another person for his or her own inability, especially those in government. Nobody is blaming everybody, but everybody is blaming somebody. If those in power are not blaming the opposition, then the opposition are blaming those in power. Rather than fix a problem, the blame-game approach is adopted; a symptom of skewedness. Under a skewed system, the problems are everywhere, people talk about these problems all the time, yet there are no solutions, not even from those in government.
Under a skewed system of government, federal political appointments are seen as opportunities to stash public funds and not carry out the responsibilities they have sworn to undertake. In other to avoid marginalisation, every ethnicity must be given equal opportunity to participate in the stashing spree. After all, the constitution of every skewed government supports this ideology through either a quota system or the federal character principle; there must be equity in all stashing arrangements, so says the federal character principle. In a skewed system like Nigeria’s, government presence can only get closer to a people when their ethnic kin are in government, therefore every group must be represented in the government, no matter how numerous they are and by whatever means necessary, else there will be no development of that group or region.
Also, under a skewed system, the president of the country is often seen by his supporters as incorruptible, infallible, stainless, perfect and always right and therefore should not be criticised for whatsoever. On the other hand, those in opposition always see the president of the government as corrupt, clueless, incompetent, worthy of impeachment, and should therefore always be criticised.
Under a skewed federal system of government, the outcomes of elections are determined by simple majority, there are no electoral colleges and no economic advantages tied to voter’s strength. Economic equality does not translate to political equality. As long as you have the majority of the people on your side, be you a lunatic or be them illiterates, it doesn’t matter. Once you have the majority, you are safe. There is no standard on what a majority should be composed of. Under a skewed system of federal government, those who gave five percent of votes are not entitled to get as much benefits from the government as those who gave ninety-five percent of votes, although this is implicit, it is often not made public in words but in political actions. Under a skewed system of government, the people tend to look at the effect of a problem rather than its cause.
The underlying philosophy of a skewed federal government is ‘share-the-money, the oil money’. The hitherto history of every skewed federal government is the struggle for supremacy between ethnic groups and religious persuasions, between the South and the North. The most common concepts among people of a skewed government is ‘our money’, ‘oil money’, ‘share-the-money’, ‘our turn’, ‘power must return to us’, etc. Identity and ethnicity overrides competency. Despite marginalisation and neglects, the right to self-determination by any section of the country is forbidden under a skewed federal government. These are all symptoms of a skewed federal government.
If you live in a country where these traits are in display by your government, believe me, you are likely going to be a skewed citizen. After all, a government is a reflection of its people and the people always do get a government they deserve. Living under a skewed government is like living under the original state of nature. Life is nasty; remember, the police is never your friend under a skewed system. Life is brutish; suicide bombing, trailer tanker falling, fuel scarcity, unemployment, etc. are all rampant under a skewed system. Life is short; I will advise you don’t fall ill under a skewed system and even when you do, do not visit the government hospitals. Thousands of people die of ‘ordinary’ malaria under a skewed system of government. Justice is in the interest of the political class; you can be killed for stealing ten Naira worth of groundnut in Aba, but nothing would happen if you steal ten billion Naira, as long as you belong to the political class, then you are safe.
Nigeria does not practice a true federal system of government but a skewed system of government. Many people still believe that Olusegun Obasanjo, Musa Yar’adua, Goodluck Jonathan and the PDP were actually the problems with Nigeria. People who still think this way will be disappointed sooner when they shall find out for themselves that President Muhammadu Buhari and the APC might actually not be the solution. THE PROBLEM WITH NIGERIA IS THE STRUCTURE OF ITS FEDERALISM, not the biases of its leaders. Until Nigeria restructures itself into a True Fiscal Federalism, it shall continue to go about in cycles, changing leaders and political parties, probably every four years with no solution in sight. Nigeria needs to be restructured into economically viable states or regions; regionalism or True Fiscal Federalism becomes the most suitable solution.
The idea of a federal government made up of thirty-six unsustainable states and seven hundred and seventy-four unproductive local governments, with all of them relying on crude oil proceeds from one region is absurd, ridiculous and anti-development. It is destroying, it has destroyed the spontaneous competitive economic activities that should socially had existed amongst the federating states for the development of the whole country.
The most worrisome impact of a skewed system of government is underdevelopment. A skewed government inadvertently promotes underdevelopment among the federating states. First, the government puts too much power in the centre, thereby depriving the local people and the local governments the autonomy to control their economies, politics, security, electricity, education and infrastructural developments.
Under a skewed system, people look up to the federal government for everything and even blame the federal government for the failure of their state governments. Why should I blame the President or the federal government for lack of electricity in my village when I know my state government or even my local government should be doing that under a proper federal arrangement?
The trouble with Nigeria is not squarely a problem of leadership but a problem of the structure of our federalism. The structure of Nigeria’s federalism is not only faulty but equally breeds corruption, abnormality, underdevelopment and unproductivity. The skewed system of Nigeria’s federalism corrupts good leaders, both young and old. Until Nigeria restructures its federalism from being skewed to being truly fiscal, nothing is likely going to work out well for the country.
True Fiscal Federalism becomes the most viable option for Nigeria.
Tony Osborg writes from Port Harcourt, Rivers State, Nigeria.
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