Prior to the 2019 general election, the talk about restructuring Nigeria was on the front burner. Many regions in the country, socio-cultural organisations and highly placed individuals made a case for the restructuring of the country, for better development and workability.
In the restructuring debate, there were talks about return to regionalism, an era when the country was divided into four regions – Northern Region, Eastern Region, Western Region and Mid-Western Region – with each running with a high measure of autonomy and developing at its pace. There have been talks about Nigeria returning to parliamentary democracy, instead of the presidential system currently being operated. Some people talked about state police, wherein the 36 states would establish, individually, their respective police force, to exist side by side with the federal police. Yet others canvassed resource control, where states or regions would take control of resources in their domain: exploiting, exploring, selling and using the accrued resources therefrom and paying royalty or tax to the Federal Government. In all, there was no agreement on the form or shape the restructuring would take.
However, there are those who accused proponents of restructuring of being elitist in their arguments, insisting that the best restructuring the country could embark upon was to look at the Exclusive List and take out some items into the Concurrent List and, by so doing, reduce the power and influence of the Federal Government. This means that the states would be empowered to take action on more things hitherto solely done by the Federal Government.
For some people, the talks about restructuring are mere politics. It does appear that the states of the federation do not really know the powers they have individually and collectively. Owing to their ignorance, they timidly stand aside while the Federal Government call the shots. However, the coronavirus pandemic has opened our eyes to know that there are many things we assume, regarding the powers of the Federal Government, that do not really exist. This means that the country is restructured to the extent of the state governments’ understanding.
Recently, the Federal Government announced that a segment of schools in the country, shut about four months ago owing to the ravages of coronavirus, would reopen so that students taking final exams would do so. The government listed the category of students affected to be those in Primary 6, Junior Secondary School 3 (JSS3) and Senior Secondary School 3 (SSS3). The SSS3 students were scheduled to write WASSCE from August 4, while those in JSS3 were to participate in what is called “Junior WASSCE.” The Primary 6 students were scheduled to write the Common Entrance examination for admission into secondary school. Flowing from this, some governors set aside dates for the resumption of schools in their states.
The Federal Government was to make a volte-face later, suspending schools’ resumption on the grounds that COVID-19 was still spreading and therefore sending students back to school would be risky. The Federal Government said students would not participate in the earlier scheduled WASSCE. It, however, said its position only affects Unity Schools and other secondary schools under the Federal Government, while advising states to reconsider their decision to reopen schools, based on its observation.
Minister of Education, Mallam Adamu Adamu, had said: “Schools under the supervision of the Federal Ministry of Education will not reopen on August 4th or any time soon. Our schools will only open when we believe it is safe for our children and that is when the situation is right, not when the number of COVID-19 infections is going up in the nation.”
By saying that its decision only affected Unity Schools and other secondary schools under it, the Federal Government opened the eyes of Nigerians to the fact that schools were not in the Exclusive List and, therefore, not centrally controlled. What this means is that, this year, secondary schools owned by states could reopen and also have their students write WASCCE. In such a situation, while students in Federal Government schools would lose one year, in accordance with the government’s decision not to reopen schools and have them participate in the examination, those in state-owned schools could move ahead, if any state government so chooses.
The contradiction, however, is this: If schools are not under the total control of the Federal Government, where were state governments when the central government abolished the five-year education calendar in secondary school and started a centrally 6-3-3 system? States that thought the five-year education calendar in secondary school was better could have retained the system, without going ahead with the Federal Government-decreed system. Thanks to COVID-19, Nigerians now know better.
Until COVID-19, who would have thought that state governments could actually shut their boundaries, without allowing entry or exit? We saw this happen and the Federal Government could not do anything. It was state governments that clamped a ban on inter-state travels in the country, as a measure to fight coronavirus. It started with a few states and ended with all governors resolving to shut their respective boundaries to vehicular traffic, except those on essential duty. Some states went to the extent of erecting gates at their entry points, to ensure that no unauthorised vehicle entered or left their territory.
Ironically, state governors who shout from the rooftops that they were only chief security officers of their states on paper, as they do not control the police or other security agencies, used the same security institutions they claimed not to have control over to enforce their travel restriction order, before the Federal Government adopted it. The states also used the neighbourhood watch/vigilance group outfits they each established to ensure that the no-boundary crossing order was obeyed.
From the above, it does seem that the problem is the state governments not fully understanding their rights and powers in a federal state like Nigeria. We have seen instances where states exercised power nobody thought they had, and the courts affirmed it. We are living witnesses to when Lagos State government went to court to challenge the Federal Government for seizing its local government allocation because it created local government councils. The state government pursued the matter to the Supreme Court and got a favourable judgment to the effect that the Federal Government had no right to withhold its allocation, since states could actually create local councils and then approach the National Assembly for amendment of the Constitution for their listing. Although the Lagos State-created local government councils have not been listed in the Constitution, since the state Houses of Assembly and National Assembly have not amended the Constitution to that effect, the state is operating the 37 new councils as local development areas, which it funds. If all the states get the approval of their respective House of Assembly and federal legislators to create new local government areas in their states and collectively approach the National Assembly to list them, it is possible that the Constitution would be amended to accommodate them. What would simply happen is the state Houses of Assembly approving the new local government areas and that of other states, and then going to the National Assembly, where their representatives may have reached a consensus, since every state is involved.
Indeed, as Nigerians fight for the formal and holistic restructuring of the country, the states should understand their powers and rights. They should use their powers appropriately and press for their rights legally. Until June 12 became a national public holiday, some states were already observing it as such. Nobody challenged them, as any state government could decide when its workforce should work or not. It is pertinent to ask: Do state governments know that they could generate and transmit electricity in their states, without resorting to the Federal Government or the national grid? The provisions in the Concurrent List say so. It says the “House of Assembly may make laws for the state with respect to (a) electricity and the establishment in that State of electric power stations; (b) the generation, transmission and distribution of electricity to areas not covered by a national grid system within that State; and (c) the establishment within that State of any authority for the promotion and management of electric power stations established by the State.”
With this, why then are we complaining about distribution companies (DisCos) when states could actually solve their electricity problem, if they have the capacity, starting with areas not linked to the national grid? We should look at the laws very well.