Talking about Canada, which is in the trillion dollar bracket of affluence, ultra-modern, tenth developed nation in the world, and one which, a little over fifty years ago, were with us, was where we were, are, today, a rural, slowly developing British colony ( a friend of mine who has lived in Canada for over three decades told me that electricity reached Nigeria, through Obafemi Awolowo’s Western Region before Canada saw electric light!), it is difficult not to wonder, about why we are so bled, Ayi Kwei Armah would say blest; it is easy to ponder aloud, why the akara (bean cake) always turns to bone in the mouth of Nigeria’s old woman?
Right now, Nigeria’s national Assembly have retreated themselves sore, in preparation for constitutional review or amendment or both. The whole country is agog with making representations to the National Assembly on areas of our federal republic that must be reviewed to make the nation comfortable for all of us to be part of and remain patriotic to; top on the list will be creation of states, creation of more local governments, tenure extension for Presidents and Governors, not forgetting the council chairmen and members, but of course, remaining mindful of the tenure of our Honourables and Distinguisheds. Come to think of it, no matter what we say about the little mess and stain that Farouk Lawan smeared on the good job that his committee did on the phantom subsidy and the real fraudulent beneficiaries, our National Assembly, at least the seventh Lower National Assembly under Tambuwal has been exemplary. They have shown purpose and courage and genuineness in envisioning their role as law makers and have pursued that role with appreciable vigour and singularity of purpose.
In all of these review drives and drivels, it is the ‘trueness’ or functionality of our federalism that is at stake. What is in us that will not make us able to work a federated constitution? Is it our size? Is it our population? Is it the absence of visionary leadership with a political will to make it function? The United States of America, which has a larger landmass than Nigeria and nearly twice her population, grew a Constitution on existing, solid and strong federal structure of fifty states. Canada gave a constitutional cloak to its federal state of ten provinces and three territories with constitutionally stipulated, clearly distinct and working devolution of powers among the structures. The provinces are responsible for health, education, energy infrastructure, jurisdiction, over resources within the borders of the provinces and welfare, while the federal government is responsible for international relations, issues that are inter-provincial in nature, uranium and nuclear power, aboriginal matters, and defence. The three territories have responsibilities specific to them, vide, public lands, waters, forests, mineral resources (for the Yukon territory); forestry management for northwest territories with on-going negotiation for the transfer of land and resources and the Nunawat territories to manage natural resources after devolution. Cases of violation and abuses by the Federal over provinces and by the provinces over territories are stated as unlikely, and in any case, the Supreme Court ensures compliance and redress. What happened between the Federal government and Lagos and the rabid violation of Supreme Court ruling in that case would be unspeakable in Canada. Were there such clear demarcations and Agreements as exist in Canada in Nigeria over land use and land ownership, the whole resource control brouhaha and the ‘sharing mentality’ that have paralyzed our economic diversification initiative would have come to naught.
Now, in thinking along the critical essence of working out a constitution with strong, inviolable federated structures, Senator Abe offered some ponderable proposals. He believes that we need to unbundle our present federated structure and create smaller, more effective and efficient units; ‘Let us unbundle Nigeria, let us restructure the country to create more efficient units in the states with true freedom and the resources to mobilize our people and plan for the future. We will then have a federal government that will be smaller, more efficient and more effective in its more limited functions as a regulator and enforcer. Taking more resources to the states creates an immediate advantage. Contrary to the fears being expressed in non- oil producing states, unbundling will not affect current revenue profiles. On the contrary, all states will get more from our oil revenues because along with the transfer of several federal functions to states will also come a massive reduction in the federal share.’
Well, from what I have said above about Canada and America, the problem is not with the size of our country or the unwieldy nature of our federated units. Thirty six states and a federal capital territory are not unmanageable. We could do with fewer though. Neither are 774 local governments too numerous. Again, we could reduce it based on other superior considerations other than mere size.
The problem, as things stand, are traceable, in part, to what this public analyst stated earlier; the sharing mentality of a consumption-bent governing elite and an uncreative, and unproductive economy, which is market-oriented without all the instrumentalities and infrastructures to work that economy.
To be continued