Bayero University, Kano political economist and the last but one National Chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission, (INEC), Prof Attahiru Jega is putting on the table a 6 year programme of restructuring Nigeria. He gave the details in a hefty text to the Northwest Conference of the Nigerian Political Science Association, (NPSA) April 7th, 2021 in Dutse, Jigawa State in Northwest of Nigeria. An abridged version of what he is offering is laid out below. Needless pointing out that except the section on ‘when to restructure’, the paragraphs do not follow each other, being excerpts. Academic references have also been edited out. Read on!
Thus, technically and substantively, Nigeria is a federation, and operates a federal system with the states as the federating units. However, among the federations that currently exist in the world (according to Forum of Federations, about 25 countries, representing about 40% of the world population), Nigeria is one of the worst models of political accommodation of diversity, as well as power and resources sharing.
Of course, there are no perfect federations or for that matter “true federalism”. Every federation is a product of the dynamics of its historical evolution and intergroup (ethnic, religious, linguistic, cultural, etc.) relations. However, the better the framework/structure for management of diversity, power and resources sharing is in a federation, the more stable, peaceful and socioeconomically developed it would be. What accounts for the difference between better and poor/bad management of diversity in a federal system, i.e. the intervening variables, are: 1) elite consensus; and 2) good, democratic, governance. Without these, it can be said, a la Horowitz, that federalism would exacerbate rather than mitigate ethnic and religious conflicts.
Therefore, for its stability, progress and development as a modern nation-state, Nigeria’s current federal structure needs refinement and improvement, or some form of what can be called restructuring. We need elite consensus to bring it about, and we need good democratic governance to nurture and entrench political accommodation of diversity, as well as equitable power and resources sharing. The near absence of the two intervening variables has obstructed the attainment of the aforementioned desirable objective of a federal system.
There is no single model of federal arrangement that fits all. There are, however, global good or best practices of inter-state relations and management of diversity within a federal system, that a country like Nigeria can learn, and borrow, from others and adapt to our own local context and circumstances.
Unlike most, relatively stable, federations, the efficacy of Nigeria’s federal system has been undermined, essentially by an imbalance, as well as inequities in the allocation of responsibilities, and distribution of power and resources, between the national and subnational units. This imbalance is a product of (1) Nigeria’s colonial experience, (2) subsequent post-colonial authoritarian military rule, and (3) series of reckless, bad and essentially undemocratic governance, especially in the 21 years of civil ‘democratic’ rule.
British colonial rule was largely sustained by divide and rule tactics and policies, which included manipulation of religious and ethnic differences, giving rise to mutual fears and suspicions, which undermined unity of purpose in the struggle for independence, and which raised the profile of primordial identities over Nigerian citizenship. Postcolonial rule, especially under a long period of military rule, exacerbated these differences as successive military rulers further manipulated ethnic and religious divides to sustain themselves in power, while preaching national unity and integration, thereby heightening ethno-religious tensions. The authoritarian disposition of military rulers led to the bottling up of frustrations and anger, which only found manifest expression and exploded into ethno-religious violence at the onset of the Fourth Republic, as illustrated by the violent conflicts in Kaduna state, especially from 2000 to 2002. Since then, violent ethno-religious conflicts, militancy, insurgency and other forms of criminality have become recurrent features in the Nigerian political economy, threatening harmonious intergroup relations and effective management of diversity in the Nigerian federal system. Real, and perceptions of, inequities and injustices, especially on account of bad governance at the states and federal levels, have damaged, if not poisoned, intergroup and interstate relations in the Nigerian federal arrangement. In the present circumstances, future stability, progress and socioeconomic, as well as democratic development, of Nigeria seem conditional
on urgent desirable changes to address structural imbalances, inequities and bad governance. These desired changes are variously referred to “restructuring” by a range of advocates, activists and agitators, often working at cross purposes.
As governance increasingly becomes poor and bad, as Nigerian politics slides backward from “democratic” to undemocratic/authoritarian modes of governance, and consequently as the country is plunged into uncontrolled ethno-religious violence and other forms of criminality, the demands for restructuring have become not only vociferous but fiery, with even extremist, irredentist demands for the dismemberment what is now known as Nigeria.
The misfortune of Nigeria is lack of visionary, selfless, focused and determined leaders with the political will to squarely and decisively address national challenges. Most politicians seeking for high public offices seem too busy struggling to acquire power without adequate prior preparation on what to do once they acquire political power. It’s after ‘winning’ elections that they set up “policy advisory committees” to chart or map out for them what to do. And, upon assumption of power, they seem overwhelmed, clueless, defensive, slow and/or incapable of responding to popular needs and aspirations. They abandon even the reports of their ‘advisory committees’ and proceed with the business of governance rudderless. That is the reason why minor challenges are left unaddressed, allowed to fester, magnify and become humongous, and even more difficult to solve.
A review of the debates, discourses and advocacy on the subject matter points to differing perspectives. A survey indicates that to many, restructuring may mean any, or a combination of the following:
(1) A return to “true federalism”; described as re-establishing the regional structure of the 1960-1966, with the division of powers and allocation of resources as defined in the independence and republican constitutions of
(2) Creation of 6 regions, akin to the so-called 6 geo-political zones, to replace the current 36 states structure
(3) A return to the 12 states structure, akin to what existed between 1967 and 1976.
(4) ‘Resources control’, whether in a new regional structure or under the current states structure, granting the sub-national units the absolute control of all resources under, or above, their geographical territories or
in their territorial waters, even in the continental shelf
(5) Equitable redistribution of power and resources from the federal government to the sub-national governments/ units (i.e. from federal government to State governments, to LGAs)
(6) Replacement of the federal system with a confederation
(7) Opportunity for any subnational unit, or groupings of subnational units, to withdraw from the Nigerian federation and assert their sovereignty on the basis of an (essentially fabricated) ethnic identity.
(8) Creation of a total of 42 states, to equalize and bring to 7 the total number of states in each of the 6 geopolitical zones
Dismantling the current 36 States structure, and reconfiguring the states into pre-1966 regions, or into 6 geo-political regions, or even into 12 States of the 1976/77 period, not to talk of raising the number of states to 42, is at worst an unrealistic, romantic, pipe-dream; and at best seemingly desirable but virtually impossible to do. The social, political and other ‘costs’ of such an undertaking would by far out-weigh the benefits. In many fundamental respects, creation of states by military regimes since 1967 has gone a long way to mitigate real and imagined/perceived marginalization of minorities; although given Nigeria’s complex diversity, the more states created, the more their economic viability is threatened; and the more, new ‘majorities’ and ‘minorities’ emerged, with fresh demands by the ‘new minorities’ for their own states.
The challenges and tensions that would unfold in any attempt to regroup states into regions or into mega 12 states given that their people have tasted relative autonomy, could only best be imagined. Relative autonomy once gained, is difficult if not near impossible to voluntarily surrender. If the major argument against the current 36 states structure is that many seem economically unviable, there are other better ways to address that and make them more viable. For example, improved, (or good democratic) governance, with efficient allocation and utilization of resources, with curtailed corruption, and with greater effort at internal revenue generation, would make virtually all the seemingly unviable states, viable and sustainable. But, no doubt, raising the number of states to 42
would remarkably increase the economic unviability of the states
When to Restructure
In accordance with the principle of “incremental positive changes,” a three phased ‘restructuring’ agenda, is proposed as follows:
(1) Short term – 2021 to 2023
(1.1) the federal government should set up a compact but broadly representative technical committee to review the reports of the Political Reform Conference and the National Conference and Synthesize and prioritize their
recommendations for implementation in accordance with the 3 phases of short-, medium- and long term
(1.2) Review the Federal Legislative List and begin the process of constitutional review together with the National Assembly with a view to transferring responsibilities, power and resources to states in the following subject
matters: Basic education; primary and secondary healthcare; Agriculture and rural development; Police; Housing and Urban development; and appropriately adjusting the revenue sharing formula between federal and state governments. Although LGAs should be subsumed under the authority of the states, as is the best practice in federal systems globally, the states should be made to devolve some responsibilities and commensurate resources to LGAs to catalyse grassroots development, using the principle of subsidiarity. Indeed, the states should further decentralize the LGAs into Administrative/Development Areas
(1.3) The federal government should systematically dismantle the behemoth MDAs, and set up smaller compact and focused departments; as well as set up a department of, or Agency for, Intergovernmental Relations, which should facilitate, coordinate, nurture and strengthen federal-state interrelations
(1.4) The federal government should learn and adapt the good practice of giving grants to states and local governments grants to assist ‘achieve a shared goal’, a practice, which has worked very well in the United States’ federal system. This can be done in the form of ‘categorical grants’, ‘block grants’, project grants’, etc.
(1.5) The federal and state governments should introduce governance reforms to improve efficiency and effectiveness of governance at all levels as well as drastically reduce the cost of governance. A lot can be done in this regard,
within the extant legal framework, using executive orders and without the necessity of constitutional reforms. For example, frivolous foreign trips should be curtailed; our relatively liberal /generous estacodes and DTAs for
legislatures and high public officials should be drastically reduced; “security votes” for chief executives should be reduced and expenditures from them made more transparent, with strict accountability standards. Also,
entertainment and meeting expenditures of MDAs should be drastically reduced. Executives at both federal and state levels should pay for their own upkeep, as is the good practice globally, thereby reducing costs of running the Villa and governors’ lodges, or those of heads of legislative organs of government. The unethical humongous pensions of governors should be stopped; the number of PAs, SAs, SSAs, etc., as well as the number of vehicles in conveys of public officials should be reduced.
(1.6) Other cost saving measures to reduce the cost of governance should include a consideration for reducing the size and composition of Legislative bodies at both federal and state levels.
(1.7) Introduce and/or strengthen checks and balances that would curtail unrestrained use, misuse and abuse of power and resources in all the three arms of government. In this regard, in addition to Internal Audit Units, MDAs
at both federal and state levels should establish relatively autonomous Inspectorate Units, with Inspectors General appointed and saddled with the responsibility of administrative audits to ensure administrative transparency
and accountability, and monitor compliance with constitutional provisions, parliamentary Acts and extant rules and regulations.
(1.8) Reposition the anti-corruption agencies and intensify the anti-corruption campaigns, especially at the states and local government levels.
(1.9) All institutions of governance and public officials should be made to strictly comply with, and ensure respect for, the Rule of Law, with severe consequences for non-compliance.
(1.10) Improve taxation and other revenue generating sources to fund federal and, especially state and local, programs and projects, which address the basic needs of the citizens.
2. Medium term – 2023 to 2027
Implement the prioritized recommendations of the technical committee, and hand over more responsibilities and resources to the states, which by then would have developed greater capacity and competence to shoulder these.
Such powers relating to sea and airports; judiciary, pensions, Postal services and telecommunications, etc., can be handed over to the states
- Long term – Beyond 2027
Pursue other pertinent constitutional and administrative reforms as may become necessary in order to keep improving the efficacy of the Nigerian federal system and governance processes.
If by this time redistribution of power and responsibilities to the states has not made them viable, or efficient and effective in the delivery of public goods to the citizens, then other measures, should be contemplated.
Challenges and Prospects
There is no doubting that many challenges accompany the task of bringing about desirable improvements to the Nigerian federal arrangement. First, is the challenge of addressing what has been allowed to be so bad for so long. It would require focused, determined effort, over a reasonable and realistic time frame. Unfortunately, Nigerians are very impatient with the pace of change and want to see things done swiftly, as if by a magic wand. Second, is the challenge of Political brinkmanship by desperate political gladiators, mobilizing ethnoreligious identities and fanning the embers of mutual suspicions and fears. This makes desirable elite consensus difficult to forge, as in such situations as ours, many elite tend to pander to popular wishes and expectations, no matter how unreasonable and irrational, to gain popularity as group champions, and /or to avoid ostracization. Third is the tendency to lean towards extra-constitutional means of bringing about desired changes and reforms, due to a fixation on such
tried, and popular, mechanisms to unseat despotic rulers in the past, as the “Sovereign National Conference”, etc.
The fourth and formidable challenge is related to the dominance of a reckless segment of the elite in politics and governance, desperate to cling to power and unbridled access to national resources for self-serving objectives. They are myopic and lacking in enlightened self-interest and perceive a striving for consensus as weakness or defeat and therefore ignore or wish away or deliberately truncate genuine quest for reforms and ‘restructuring’.
However, as daunting as these challenges may appear to be, they can be surmounted by concerted, dedicated, patriotic effort by a group of citizens and civil society groups perceptive enough to create a minimum agenda, and
mobilize other citizens and compatriots for the generation of the requisite consensus to drive positive change. Creating such an alliance for positive political and structural reforms is a task that must be done, requiring the
engagement of all patriotic and progressive forces. For, herein lies the prospects of bringing about requisite reforms, constitutionally based, to improve not only the Nigerian federal system, but also the governance and leadership selection framework that would stabilize Nigeria, neutralize the fissiparous ethnoreligious identities and tendencies and enhance socioeconomic and democratic development in our country.
Effort and energies need to be devoted to generating an elite, if not a national, consensus on the necessity of restructuring, defined as redistribution of power and resources from the federal to the state governments, to be embarked upon before 2023. The embedded imbalance, inequities and perceived injustices in the current federal system in Nigeria have to be addressed as soon as possible to enable Nigeria and Nigerians to acquire the requisite stability and peaceful coexistence amenable to accelerated, sustainable socioeconomic development.
The best strategy for success is the pursuit of a systematic, incremental positive changes through constitutional amendments, in phases, commencing with a review and sanitizing of the Federal and Concurrent Legislative lists, giving more powers and resources to the states, complemented by other reform measures to nurture and entrench good, democratic governance at all levels, from the federal to states and local governments. Elected officials in both the executive and legislative branches of government need to gather the courage and have the political will to work together, bringing along critical stakeholders from the civil society, to begin to actualize restructuring as advocated in this presentation before 2023. Civil society organizations need to forge an alliance for positive changes in Nigeria’s federal system and governance framework. The necessity of redressing the imbalance and inequities embedded in the current federal system in Nigeria has been ignored for too long, and any further neglect may irreparably imperil the efficacy and viability of the Nigerian federation.