By Afe Babalola
The 1999 Constitution:
It is beyond comprehension that 20 years after Nigeria returned to democratic governance in 1999, we have retained the 1999 military Constitution as our supreme law. The 1999 constitution continues to limit the capabilities of states and local governments to sustain developmental initiatives and projects.
The current situation whereby state governments have to go to Abuja every month with the begging bowl for federal allocations is an aberration that explains the poor state of Nigeria’s federalism today. We have gradually replaced the derivation formula and the tenets of true federalism, with an allocation formula that is only imaginable under a unitary state. The Western region is the worst victim of the Unitary Constitution which has affected education, health and economic development. Virtually all the educational, economic and agricultural programmes put in place by Chief Awolowo had collapsed.
Equitable sharing of expenditure
In a truly federal constitution, provinces or states have constitutional authority to control resources derived from their territories. Fiscal federalism as a tenet of federalism dictates equitable sharing of expenditure and fiscal instrument among the central, states and local tiers of government. Under a truly federalist state, fiscal autonomy and responsibility is granted to subnational governments, with state and local governments having adequate resources to perform their functions autonomously, such that no tier is subservient to the other.
In Canada for example, oil and gas resources are owned and controlled by the provinces. Section 109 of Canada’s Constitution Act, 1867 explicitly vests ownership rights to all lands, mines, minerals and royalties for oil and gas resources to the provinces in which they are derived. The oil rich province of Alberta for example, retains its oil wealth and pays a predetermined amount of contribution to the federal government. This is in far contrast to the current situation in Nigeria where the federal government exercises ownership rights and control over oil and gas resources found in different states, and in the reverse pays allocation to oil and gas owning states. This warped model of federalism serves as disincentives to states and local governments to develop other forms of resources in their territories. For example, under Chief Awolowo, the Western region had a functional economy based primarily on cocoa farming and exports. Recognizing the fiscal autonomy of states and local governments will go a long way to boost innovation and spur investment in other key sectors such as agriculture.
The uneven allocation of powers and responsibility between federal, state and local governments is at the heart of the ongoing agitation for a restructuring of the Nigerian federation. Although federalism has no universally applicable template, as it is a context specific notion that must be driven by the political and structural realities of every country.
However, there are few common characteristics that are basic and fundamental to a true federation, the most important of which is: an equal distribution or allocation of powers, such that each unit has ultimate sovereignty, with none preeminent over or subordinate to the other.
While the federal government is to have power over matters that are of general interest to the nation, states and local governments in a federalist nation ought to have powers over matters that are peculiar to their local communities. In their exercise of their powers, all tiers must retain substantial autonomy on a wide range of subjects, to enable them run their governments and manage their affairs. As summed up by Eso JSC in Nkwocha V Governor of Anambra State “the bedrock of federalism lies in each tier of government being a master in its own domain.”
This is the kind of reform and restructuring that we need in Nigeria. Our current claim to being a federation is not only comical and deceitful, it indeed requires urgent surgical operation. Restructuring is not a call for disunity or conflict, it is a well-informed call for a speedy return to the confederation principles contained in the independence Constitution which our regional leaders negotiated with the British between 1957 and 1959. The earlier we restructure the country to revert to true federalism, the sooner we can begin to witness economic recovery. Fiscal federalism and financial autonomy will go a long way to address some of the perennial agitations and crises, such as the Niger-Delta crises and threats of secession by various ethnic groups, that have remained insurmountable for decades. Without urgent and true restructuring, Nigeria’s search for peace, security and progress may remain elusive.
- Economic ideology of Awoism
Awoism as an economic ideology envisions a progressive welfare state, centred around the empowerment, social welfare and freedom of the people. Chief Awolowo pioneered Africa’s brand of the British philosopher, John Locke’s liberal political philosophy, that is based on liberty, equality and in which the welfare of the people is the supreme law (Salus populi suprema lex). Awoism doggedly recognizes the welfare of the people as the very essence of government and governance.
An Awoist state is one in which everyone acquires primary and secondary education for free; where citizens would enjoy free health care; access to world class state-led infrastructure; have gainful employment; and in which basic needs are met by a functional and efficient public service. At considerable expense, Chief Awolowo introduced free primary education for all, which in its first year alone in 1954, registered 394,000 pupils. He established the first television service in Africa, constructed the Liberty stadium amongst other social welfare projects that in no time transformed the Southwest into an infrastructural paradise.
Employment: The best cure for poverty
Chief Awolowo’s investment in agriculture also provided gainful employment for the citizens. Prior to the commercial discovery of oil in 1956, Nigeria was renowned for its prowess in agriculture ranging from the towering groundnut pyramids in Kano in Northern Nigeria, to palm oil in the Eastern parts and the cocoa revolution in Chief Awolowo’s Western Region. Chief Awolowo launched farm settlement schemes under the Economic Project Performance Unit, EPPU, the forerunner of Odua Investment Company Limited, which provided finance and land for large scale agricultural projects in the region. The Apoje and Lomiro oil palm, as well as rubber and cocoa plantations in Ilushin and Ikenne, among other agricultural projects provided significant revenue for the government, cheaper food commodities and gainful employment for citizens, as well as raw materials for manufacturers. They also served as laboratories for students in agricultural courses and institutions to acquire practical skills.
Awoism recognizes the importance of agriculture and economic diversification as an essential pillar for providing a decent standard of living food, and freedom from poverty to the citizens. It is propelled by the simple Yoruba adage that ‘if hunger is removed from poverty, then poverty becomes insignificant.’ Also, the Yoruba adage that ‘employment is the best cure for poverty’ is a crucial foundation of Awoism. Awoism reckons that all human beings need a certain amount of economic power for them to be patriotic and honourable. As the leading scholar Rhonda Howard once propounded: a man’s belly must be full before he can indulge in the luxury of worrying about his political rights and freedom.
Also, Mahatma Ghandi, the father of the Indian independence movement also famously remarked: there are people in the world so hungry, that God cannot appear to them except in the form of bread. Generally, one cannot think well, love well, sleep well, if one has not eaten well.