By Ismail Omipidan
The unwieldy nature of Nigeria’s brand of federalism was a subject of focus at the Fourth National Public Service Lecture of the University of Ibadan Alumni Association (UIAA), held recently, at the Trenchard Hall of the university.
The lecture was titled: “Federalism and the Legal Framework for Combating Corruption in Nigeria,” and it was delivered by the Deputy President of the Senate, Senator Ike Ekweremadu.
The choice of Ekweremadu may have been deliberate. This is so because since 2003 when he became a Senator of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, he has left no one in doubt as to where he stands on Fiscal federalism, just as his views on decentralized policing system, which some want to refer to as State Police, is unmistaken.
He had apart from calling for the diversification of the country’s economy, in the past, also canvassed strongly that the current 36 States system the country runs, was not viable, adding that the act of “robbing Peter to pay Paul, which I term feeding bottle federalism, is at the heart of poor governance, underdevelopment, indolence, and ineptitude in the Nigerian federation. It is the reason some state governors can afford to sleep for an entire month, knowing they will pick up some free money from Abuja at the end of it… It is also the reason financial trepidation grips the land each time there is a hiccup in the flow of free money, usually occasioned in the crash in oil price. At such times, the whole nation tosses about, gasping for breath and survival like fish removed from water and flung on a hot, sandy beach.”
However, each time he made such call, he was usually condemned or ignored, only for those condemning him to later return to his prescription of problem solving, at a later date.
For instance, virtually all those who condemned him in the past, including a former Kano state governor, for calling for a Decentralised Policing system, are today making case for a Decentralized policing system. Unknown to many, the Neighbourhood Watch, recently launched by the Lagos state government, is a major component of Decentralized Policing system, as espoused in the past by Ekweremadu at several public fora, including in his latest book, “Who Will Love My Country.”
Why Corruption war is defective
In Ibadan, the capital of Oyo state, where an All Progressives Congress, APC government, hold sway, Ekweremadu, who remains the highest political office holder of the opposition Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, in the current dispensation, did not mince word in dissecting the country’s current war against corruption, with a strong call for the decentralisation of federal anti-corruption agencies, insisting that there was an urgent need to do so if the anti-graft war in Nigeria must be won decisively.
He also called for the setting up of anti-corruption agencies in the 36 states of the country, with a view to complementing the efforts of federal anti-graft agencies. While describing as problematic the strategies for fighting corruption in the country, the Deputy President of the Senate noted that the fight had not been effective because the two major anti-corruption agencies in the country, the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission (ICPC) and Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) do not have offices in all the states of the federation.
According to him, ICPC has just six zonal offices in addition to its headquarters in Abuja, and presence in just nine states of the federation. The EFCC, he said, has offices in only eight states apart from its headquarters in Abuja, noting that they are grossly inadequate for a vast country like Nigeria.
He further noted: “It is clear that corruption shows no sign of abating in Nigeria. The strategy for fighting corruption is problematic, doomed by peculiar environmental factors like lack of honest leadership, defective anti-corruption mechanisms and the palpable lack of true federalism. The prevalence of corruption can be traced to the nature of the Nigerian society.
“The apotheosis of wealth, growing acceptance of moral laxity, the collapse of social disapproval as a regulator of conduct conflate to produce a society where corruption is condoned and even viewed as a permissible way of getting ahead.”
Raising minimum wage to N50, 000
He also decried a situation where the minimum wage was pegged at N18, 000, whereas some state governors and executives could pocket as much as N2 billion under the cover of Security Vote. To this end, he called for N50, 000 as minimum wage, just as he called for the abolition of Security Vote.
Hear him: “When a man who earns N18, 000, cannot buy a bag of rice, how then can such a person take care of his family? Does it make sense to him if you tell him not to find alternative means of catering to the needs of his family? Is it not also possible to abolish the Security Vote and replace it with Contingency Vote so it can be appropriated and accounted for” he asked.
On the way forward, Ekweremadu said: “dealing with corruption is difficult and challenging but it is not without hope either. We need a far-reaching and in-depth reorientation. Importantly, Nigeria being a federation, the war against corruption must itself be devolved and federalised, not centralised as is currently the case.”
He noted further: “Sadly, only Kano state currently has a state agency to fight corruption — the Kano State Public Complaint and Anti-Corruption Commission. The present administration in Abia State also recently announced its intention to set up an anti-graft agency. These are good examples that should be emulated, and urgently too, if we must make a headway in the war against graft.
“Similarly, a Code of Conduct Bureau should be established in the states with a Code of Conduct Tribunal to handle cases of civil servants in the states and local government councils. You will agree with me that just like the EFCC and ICPC, the CCB cannot effectively monitor the activities of federal, state and local government civil servants. The manpower is just not there.
“Besides setting up such agencies, there is also the need for the states to domesticate auxiliary federal laws that would help curb corruption. They include the Administration of Criminal Justice Act (ACJA), Fiscal Responsibility Act, among others. Rivers, Oyo, Anambra, Enugu, Ekiti, Lagos and Ondo are the only states that have so far adopted the ACJA.”
He also suggested that policing in Nigeria should be transferred from the Exclusive list to the Concurrent list to make the task of fighting crime and criminality easier.
According to him, decentralised policing system, in which each of the 36 states of the federation would be allowed to set up its own police system, he argued, is the “norm in federal jurisdictions, such as the United States, Canada, Brazil and Australia. And such sub-regional police bodies will co-exist with the federal police,” adding that decentralised policing would make the task of preventing, detecting, investigating and prosecuting certain offences and small-corruption easier.
The Deputy President of the Senate further noted that decentralised policing would set in motion competitive policing since states with less corruption and less crime rates “stand to attract more investments and quality residents that will, in turn, create job opportunities and raise tax revenues.”
He said the state police would absorb unemployed youths and lessen the incidents of fraud, such as the ‘yahoo boys,’ while the incident of corruption would easily be detected and tracked because people within a locality tend to know themselves the more.
“If someone’s standard of living rises, or someone begins to live above his or her means, they easily detect. It will also reduce the challenges of language barrier, cultural differences and ethnic solidarity. Investigations will be effectively concluded without the disruption of transfers to other far-flung states. To achieve this, the nation needs to move policing to the Concurrent list,” he stressed.
Ekweremadu also believes that Nigerians pay less attention to those who steal at the state and Council levels because the money they steal comes from the centre, adding that “entrenching fiscal federalism will replace the current ‘feeding bottle’ arrangement where the centre holds tightly to the purse string and feeds the components, with a better arrangement that is predicated on self-reliance, hard work, enterprise, resourcefulness, ingenuity, taxation, transparency, and accountability.
“In the various kindred/family meetings, the illiterate farmer or palm wine tapper becomes literate when it comes to how the fines and levies he contributed were spent because it is the product of his sweat, not a windfall from anywhere.”
The lecture was graced by eminent members of the academia, led by the Deputy Vice-Chancellor, Academics, Professor Ambrose Aiyelari, including former Vice-Chancellor of the Federal University of Technology, Akure, Prof. Bisi Balogun and the first Nigerian to qualify as a Physiotherapist, Dr. Abayomi Oshi.
The political class too, was not left out. Former Senate leader, Senator Teslim Folarin and Senator Soji Akanbi, APC, Oyo South, and their entourage, were in attendance, just as they were at the Ibadan airport to receive Ekweremadu, on arrival.
Before the lecture, the national president of the University of Ibadan Alumni Association, Dr. Kemi Emina had justified the choice of Ekweremadu as guest lecturer, noting particularly Ekweremadu’s effort in transforming his senatorial district, including his village, Mpu.
“Many years ago when I got there it was like the end of the world, but when I got there again recently it was as if it was the gate to heaven.”