Restructuring is a term which has become more and more widely canvassed in different parts of Nigeria in the past few years. The concept has been made nebulous by politicians who ascribe different meanings to it. Resource control, geographic restructuring and power devolution have been taunted by various groups. Several months ago when the calls for restructuring of the country became strident, former President Obasanjo was quoted to have said that what Nigeria needed was restructuring of people’s minds, not of the country. I expected to read further clarifications from him as to how to go about mind restructuring, but most surprisingly, nothing has been forthcoming until now. His refrain before the 2019 elections was for Nigerians not to “reinforce failure” by re-electing the incumbent government which according to him, has been “ineffective and incompetent.” With the conclusion of the 2019 elections, this position is now history.
When General Obasanjo speaks, people tend to listen to him perhaps because he is one person who has influenced the trajectory of Nigeria’s development, for good or for ill, in the past 40 years. I personally wonder about how much of mind-restructuring he was able to accomplish in his nearly 12 years as chief helmsman, first as Military Head of State between 1976 and 1979 and more recently as a democratically elected President.
This writer happened to have been one of the pioneering beneficiaries of Awolowo’s Free Primary Education program into which I was enrolled in January 1955. Our generation witnessed the significant development in the then Western Region including the First Television Station in the whole of Africa! The other Regions also made remarkable progress in education and infrastructure. This march of progress, which was made possible largely by the country’s true federal structure, was terminated by the military coup of January 1966 followed by the civil war. Nigeria’s growth became stunted due basically to the unitary system of government imposed on the country by the military. This itself is not surprising since the military merely extended the barracks command structure – the only system it understands – to cover the governance of the whole country!
The constitution handed down by the military, which we now glorify as democracy, has been aptly described as “militocracy” in the sense that it is merely a slightly modified version of the unitary system. Nigeria is now comprised of 36 states which depend mainly on monthly handouts and tokenism from Abuja for their survival and development. The revenue allocation formula gives 56 percent to the federal government, 24 percent to the 36 State Governments plus FCT, and 20 percent to 774 Local Governments. On average, each State (along with its Local Governments) thus receives about 1.2 percent of the national revenue while 56 percent goes to the federal government.
The Federal Government, with its huge allocation is loaded with responsibilities which should rightly belong to the states and local governments. Examples include the Ministries of Agriculture, Water Resources, Industry, Solid Minerals, Housing, etc. This writer has lived in Ekiti State for the past 18 years and the only visible federal projects are the Agricultural Silos (which are yet to be put into use) and the Federal Secretariat. The former has been erected for nearly 10 years with no activity nor indeed any hope that grains will ever get stored there. The builders did not even seem to care where the grains will come from. The Federal Secretariat (and CBN building) has been “work in progress” whose time of completion nobody can predict!
In spite of the existence of a Federal Ministry of Water Resources, water taps in the state are drier now than they were before the state was created in 1996! The Ministry of Works is visible only in the form of FERMA which executes a few road pot-hole patches that never outlive the following raining season. The rehabilitation/dualization of major federal roads is carried out by the State Government which later requests for reimbursement from the Federal Government. The Ministry of Works ought to be limited to the major roads linking contiguous state capitals. Ministries of Industry, Solid Minerals and many others have been practically invisible in the state. While I do not have any evidence that the situation is different in any of the other 35 states, the big question is why must all such Ministries be the responsibility of the Federal Government?
Epileptic power supply is the major obstacle to Nigeria’s industrial development. It is significant that in the past three decades, a large number of industrial ventures have relocated to neighbouring countries on account of this. Auto Assembly Plants, Paper Mills, Steel Rolling Mills and companies manufacturing important items such as shoes, textiles, batteries, roofing sheets, wire and nails which were thriving in the 70’s are today virtually non-existent, contributing significantly to the high unemployment figures! There has been virtually no improvement in power supply since the inception of Fourth Republic in 1999. Decentralizing power generation and distribution is a must if Nigeria is to witness any meaningful industrial development. Singapore, a one-city state whose population is less than that of an average state in Nigeria, generates and distributes power so efficiently that it has not experienced any serious power outage for more than 30 years! Not less than 10 African countries have populations which are less than the least populated state in Nigeria and each of these countries generates and distributes its own power.
The Federal Ministry of Education is overburdened with several Universities, Polytechnics, Colleges of Education and even Secondary (Unity) Schools. This is a major reason why education has been on a downward slide in the past few decades. The Universal Basic Education Commission (UBEC), a Federal Agency, superintends the funding of primary school infrastructure all over the country. This function should rightly belong to Local Governments whose officials, as presently constituted, merely draw huge salaries without any visible impact on governance. The United States, whose constitution we pretend to have copied, does not have a single Federal University. These are responsibilities of State Governments and private concerns. According to the most recent rankings, 16 of the World’s Best 20 universities are located in the U. S. A. and are all either private or state-owned!
A major feature of the present federal structure which is difficult to justify, especially in view of the parlous state of Nigeria’s economy, is the Bicameral Legislature. Every bill that is passed in the House of Representatives must again be presented to the Senate for the same purpose. All functions of the House of Representatives are duplicated in the Senate! A single Legislative Chamber will serve the same purpose while saving billions of naira annually which can be diverted to infrastructure development. Moreover, the humongous salaries and allowances received by the lawmakers and other politicians in the face of grinding poverty of the masses are patently unjustifiable. As has been widely touted, a Federal Legislator earns between N12 million and N13 million every month, more than the salaries of 25 university professors put together! The lucrative nature of Nigerian politics has been a huge contributory factor to electoral violence and corruption.
To be continued
Prof. O. Ajaja, a former Rector of the Federal Polytechnic, Ado-Ekiti, can be reached on [email protected]