The country is severely stressed because the structures to make it function are faulty. There is too much government. Government is a national bakery where those who work in it must share the bread they refuse to help bake. In government, there are massive collusive programmes of deliberate theft of public funds, are not there? The people themselves are severely stressed. The more welfare they expect, the less they get. The more they are told about peace and security, the more they are harassed both by the private armies of the powerful few: and hoodlums who are the products of inequities, deprivation, and urban denials. Our law-enforcement agencies are few, ill-equipped and inadequately motivated.
The society itself has not been trained to ask questions from those who make it by the simple procedure of joining the political class: Understandably, because government is a stronger to the people, and is a place where taking what is not yours is an achievement to be celebrated, and for which national honours can be conferred.
The provisions on corruption were prohibitive enough to discourage infringing them before the present anti-corruption and related crimes law was passed. But everyone laughs at the latest political scenes and provisions, as they did the ones preceding them. We are a federation, and we must operate as a federation. The 36 states are too weak to constitute the federating units. We need another buffer between the states and the federal, and that is the present zones that have naturally emerged. They are six, and should constitute the federating units.
The powers at the centre are too many. The power of the National Assembly as the de facto, law-maker for everything both on the legislative and concurrent lists is not healthy for the federation.
Government is too involved in businesses, and this promotes corruption. Section 16 of the 1999 Constitution even entrenches the preponderant place of government in running the economy of the nation. There is no doubt that when government is decongested, the economy will automatically be deregulated. Political deregulation must precede economic deregulation. The people must be brought together as a nation, and this can better be done through integrative programmes. We should use what we have to get what we want. The sky is in political deregulation through restructuring, and the acceptance of informal and cost effective governance through active use of the traditional institutions. The Present Arrangement. There is one central government that is headed by an elected President who has a constitutional responsibility of appointing at least a Minister from each state of the federation. At present, there are about 52 Ministers. There is also a large army of presidential advisers and assistants who themselves have personal assistants. There are hundreds of parastatals which have hundreds of party men who are board members and constitute a heavy charge on the mean resources of the parastatals.
There is an elected National Assembly made up of the Senate and the House of Representatives. Members of the National Assembly have a large army of personal staff paid for by the government. They also are entitled to funds for opening and running constituency offices. The National Assembly has power to make law in 93 areas (Exclusive List and Concurrent List), and this means that the President has 93 areas of preponderant law-execution. There is no federal arrangement anywhere in the world that is this top heavy to the detriment of the federating units.
There are 36 state governments headed by governors who are independent of the centre and cannot be effectively checked by State Houses of Assembly. Experience since 1999 has shown that they can be laws unto themselves if they so decide.
There are 774 local government councils with executive Chairmen who are also laws unto themselves. They appoint non-elected councilors to their “cabinets”. This means that the emoluments of an elected councilor who has the equivalent of a school certificate are higher than these of a professor in the University or a Judge of the high court of a State. Yet, both entitlements come from the federation account. Expensive Politicking! Looking back to May 29, 1999 when we started this walk on the Democracy Highway, it is obvious that the cost of sustaining the different political arms of each of the tiers is becoming unbearable. Our expenditure profile shows that we spend about 95 percent of our resources on recurrent expenditure. This means that we have very little left for funding development.
There is no doubt, therefore, that the present arrangement is not healthy for us. The way out of this problem is restructuring the political arrangement to make it more manageable and less demanding on our resources. We should retain a three-tier arrangement- The Central government, the Regional government and the State government. The present local government structure should be an affair of the regional government, and be funded by it.
The central government will continue to be headed by an elected president so that we may all continue to have a sense of ownership of the head of the Nigerian state. The law making body should be the present senate of 109 members. There should be a nominated Upper House of Elders, one from each state of the federation and Abuja. The number will thus be 37. This would be like the arrangement in the First Republic. The powers of the centre should be reduced and only those powers that would mould the federating units should be retained exclusively by the centre, like defence, external affairs, citizenship and currency. Let us be advised by the experience of the United State of America over the years. There should be six regional governments on the lines that have emerged as Zones- North-West, North-East, North-Central, South-West, South-East and South-South. These, and not the 36 States, should be the federating units.
The law-making bodies in the regions should be those elected from the present House of Representatives Constituencies, each regional government should be headed by a governor.
Orunbon writes from Abeokuta, Ogun State via [email protected]