Improving the system of government in Nigeria has a positive impact on the country’s economic development. Though the fixation for restructuring the federation system is becoming more divisive, it is threatening the country’s sovereignty. Various points of argument are used, like religion, ethnocultural and economic differences, to explain why the current form of federalism is not working.
It can be argued that Nigeria’s system of government is not the perfect form. Only 25 countries in the world practice federalism. But we can still consider federalism to be an effective system of government given that these countries have 40% of the world population and over three-quarters of the world’s wealth. There are good practices that can be learnt from countries that practice the system. These include Malaysia, Brazil, India, United States, Mexico, Switzerland, Belgium, Germany, and many more. Still, these countries also have their reservations on this method of governance, which relates to accountability and efficiency.
Depending on the objectives of the argument for restructuring, there are optimal solutions that can be adopted from other countries. For example, Spain solved its ethnocultural issues by allowing the Basques and the Catalans to have their specific official languages. The Tamils in Sri Lanka are currently agitating for something similar too.
For many countries, the push for restructuring is mostly around economic reasons. You find the marginalised and poor communities supporting this argument because they feel disadvantaged by the better-off regions. You also see the resourceful areas supporting the idea because they think they do not have to subsidise poorer ones.
These challenges are not uncommon, and there are global examples that can be adopted and be shaped into our system. Historically, you always find one community thriving upon the labour of another. In Brazil, the wealthier southern regions argued that the government is misspending tax money to assist the Amazon Forest province. There are similar examples in Italy, the U.K., Canada and many more. Despite government interventions, the development gap is growing.
Many countries have agreed that an optimal solution for restructuring the federation is to devolve specific sectors to the states and local governments. And the results have been successful. If resource control were granted to specific regions in Nigeria, the agitation for restructuring would reduce. It is also thought that restructuring will provide a solution that can bring the government closer to the local people, communities, and businesses. Reducing the federal government’s responsibilities and shifting it over to states and local governments can solve these problems too.
Devolution can become a practical and successful solution for Nigeria’s system of government. It will provide the solution of giving more autonomy of resources to a community from the government. There is evidence that devolution ensures that decisions are made closer to the local people, communities and businesses they affect. The Spanish government agreed for the Basque and Catalonia to have control over education and taxation. Unlike Spain, the U.K. decided that Wales, Scotland, and Northern Ireland should control specific Ministries of the economy like education, health, agriculture, and the environment. These devolved governments also have their parliaments where laws are made based on the sectors they control.
For Nigeria, the practical aspect of devolution would be to allocate complete resource control to each state. For example, the oil-producing states can be given full control of their lands, earning 100% of the onshore oil revenue. The oil-producing states already receive 50% of the onshore oil revenue, making it 100% fair. Besides, Nigeria’s onshore oil is only 26% of its total.
Sectors like Education, Health, Agriculture, and Sports, and Housing, can all be allowed to be controlled by either the respective State or Local government. That way, there will be more significant opportunities, freedom of decision and flexibility at a local level. Decisions are made much more straightforward, at a more appropriate level, with devolution. The decision-making of policymakers will not be dependent on consensus.
A good example is the problems of agriculture that are different in the northern and southern parts of the country. Also, the economic issues of the livestock, ranching, and open grazing, in the north are unique to that area. It is unlikely that Ministers, civil servants, and politicians in Abuja have a knowledge and understanding of issues as local administrators and politicians. It will allow the cultural identity and national feeling in each part of the country to find expression.
With devolution, local governments can work more effectively to improve public services for their area. It will mean harmonising the wage structure to attract competitive civil servants with higher wages to manage the departments. Currently, decisions are made in Abuja, which means the communities that they affect are not involved. If the process is applied efficiently, the expected results will be more effective. Their targeted public services will be better as the local councils can understand what the people want. There will also be more significant growth and stronger partnerships between public, private and community leaders in regional areas.
Politically, devolution would lead to a diverse type of politics with higher participation of interest groups and less partisan political debate. It will pave the way for different policies to develop in various parties and for innovations to occur
However, the success of devolution, like any other form of governance, can only happen if resources are managed efficiently. Mismanagement of resources has always been one of the biggest challenges of the country. If the country can solve this issue, then modifying the system of government would yield results.
Lastly, a great deal of patience is required as we adopt a new method of government. As humans, we should accept the fact that we can get things wrong, making mistakes is part of us, and the stars don’t always align even when we do things right.
Dr Nasir Aminu is a Senior Lecturer in Economics at Cardiff Metropolitan University.