Lending weight to growing calls for restructuring of the Nigerian federation, national leader of the ruling All Progressives Congress, Asiwaju Bola Tinubu, said saturday in Lagos that the country’s development would remain an unrealistic hope under the current quasi-federal structure. Tinubu stated this last night in his keynote address at the 2017 Founders’ Day Dinner of King’s College Old Boys’ Association. He said the present system was overcentralising power at the expense of the federating units.
The former governor of Lagos State called for a return to the ideals of the 1963 Constitution, which he said guaranteed fiscal federalism, regional autonomy, regional constitutions, and progressive competition among the federating units.
Tinubu said, “Many of the 68 items on the Exclusive Legislative List should be transferred to the Residual Legislative List,” explaining, “This would be in harmony with the 1963 Constitution, again an instance of reaching back to revive something old yet more likely to give us a better Nigeria. That prior constitution granted vast powers to the regions, enabling them to carry out their immense responsibilities as they saw fit.”
He faulted the approach of the federal government to the Paris Club refunds, saying it “has no right to withhold funds that constitutionally belong to the states.”
Represented at the dinner, where he was Principal Guest of Honour, by chairman of the Board of Trustees of the Hydro-Carbon Pollution Restoration Project and former Commissioner for Finance, Mr. Olawale Edun, Tinubu spoke on the topic, “A New Nigeria or A Better One: the Fitting Tools of a Great Repair.” He said the vestiges of the country’s military past were still been allowed to haunt its democratic future.
APC, which had promised restructuring and true federalism as cardinal principles in its manifesto while contesting the 2015 general election, has been widely criticised for jettisoning that promise since winning power. But owing to pressure from the public, the party recently set up a committee on restructuring headed by Kaduna State Governor Nasir el-Rufai to make recommendations on the hot issue. The committee has, reportedly, submitted its report to the APC authorities, but it has not been made public.
Tinubu, whose defunct Action Congress of Nigeria was a key proponent of restructuring and fiscal federalism before entering the merger that gave birth to APC, re-echoed his stance on the structure of the federation at the KCOBA dinner, lending a strategic voice to a growing demand.
Lamenting that Nigeria functioned as a unitary state, despite being constitutionally defined as a federal republic, Tinubu said, “We cannot become a better Nigeria with an undue concentration of power at the federal level. Competition for federal office will be too intense, akin to a winner-take-all duel. Those who lose will bristle at the lack of power in the periphery they occupy.
“They will scheme to pester and undermine the strong executive because that is where they want to be. The executive will become so engaged in deflecting their antics that it will not devote its great powers to the issues of progressive governance for which such powers were bestowed.”
He said if Nigeria continued in the current pseudo-federal path, it “will be in a constant state of disequilibrium and irritation. Such a situation augurs toward the maintenance of an unsatisfactory status quo in the political economy. It augurs against reform.” He stressed that the country must restructure “to attain the correct balance between our collective purpose, on one hand, and our separate grassroots realities, on the other.”
Under the 1963 constitutional order, he explained, regional autonomy was a major feature by virtue of the fact that the regional governments were closer to the people and had a better understanding of the material and intangible priorities of their populations.
The APC leader stated, “We must return to this ideal. Some items which should be left for the states to handle, such as police, prisons, stamp duties, regulation of tourist traffic, registration of business names, incorporation of companies, traffic on federal truck roads passing through states, trade, commerce and census, are now on the Exclusive List for the federal government.
“Regarding the all-important electrical power, while the federal government takes the lead, there is no logical reason to limit federating units to generate, transmit and distribute electricity only to areas not covered by the national grid.
“The states should be allowed to augment power generation so long as they do not undermine federal operations. For instance, a state may wish to develop an industrial park or housing estate either of which will require a boost in power generation.
“However, if the national government does not agree, the state will be foreclosed from projects that provide jobs and better living conditions to its people. This is not in keeping with the spirit of federalism. It is consonant with an undemocratic tradition that keeps us from approaching a better Nigeria.”
The former governor advocated a review of the revenue allocation formula to give more funds to the states. He said the Paris Club refunds belonged to the various state governments, arguing that the federal government “does not have legal basis for withholding the Paris Club refunds.” Though he said, “We all support propriety of expenditure,” and acknowledged that the sentiment behind the withholding “is understandable, if not laudable,” he insisted that the federal government “has no right to withhold funds that constitutionally belong to the states.
“The fear of possible misuse of funds is no reason to violate the constitution. Provide the funds to the states as legally required. Committed and fine governors will use the funds wisely. And the people will be better off. As to those who squander the money, there are appropriate ways to expose and sanction them.”
Tinubu said “to withhold the funds, no matter how well intended, is to undermine federalism and the rule of law. It will have adverse long-time consequences; as such, it is too high a price to pay.”
Tinubu canvassed compassion in governance and condemned the growing tendency towards the rule of the might. “It is a dark period the world has entered, where the lesson is the powerful do as they will and the weak suffer as they must,” he said, adding that the trend “holds nothing good for Nigeria. We must adhere to the values and policies that suggest tomorrow can be made a better place than today. I refuse to believe we have become such an untoward lot that the longer we live together, the more estranged we become.
“Just as we have gathered here today, we must gather about the national table to repair our political discourse. In this way, we begin the process leading to policies that bring civic kindness, generosity of spirit, sustainable growth, equality, and peace to every Nigerian who seeks these good things.
“These are the pillars of a better Nigeria. By the grace and mercy of our common Creator, we shall build such pillars so that we and succeeding generations may come to build even greater things upon them.”