Concentration of power at the federal level as currently exist in Nigeria is not the best way to achieve much needed rapid development. Decentralization of power from federal government to state, local and municipal governments is the way to go. Nigeria is made up of diverse ethnic groups which have similar goal of moving Nigeria to the next level but atimes have different ideas on how to achieve it. Another word for decentralization of power is devolution of power. I try to avoid the word power-devolution when talking about Nigeria because it evokes negative connotation. It conjures up false image of chaos and disintegration which scares Nigerians. Federal government is simply too far away from the masses and cannot possibly cover the whole country in an effective manner. There is an in built limitation on what a government so far away from the people can achieve.
People in each locale know their area far more better than a federal minister or president located in Abuja. As I mentioned in my last article, discovery of oil in Nigeria in the 1960’s have turned into a curse. Our oil economy have turned Nigeria from net exporter of agricultural products to net importer. Federal government shares revenue from oil sales with states and local governments who then spend much of their allocation on recurrent expenditures instead of capital expenditures. Capital expenditures create jobs and provides much needed infrastructure at the same time.
Mr. Olisa Agbakoba, Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN) sent a private bill to the National Assembly recently advocating power devolution which is akin to what I have been recommending for sometime now. Mr. Agbakoba is correct that devolution of power will not mean disintegration of Nigeria. I must state my firm opposition to convocation of so called Sovereign National Conference where various modalities of Nigerian federation will be discussed. Convocation of such gathering will not make sense when we have a sitting National Assembly with power to amend our constitution. Mr. Agbakoba correctly pointed out that there are 68 items in the Exclusive list of the constitution where only the federal government can exercise power. Water, education, healthcare, natural resources, good roads and electricity can be best delivered at the state, local and municipal level. By municipal, I mean establishment of Township council headed by a chairman and councilors representing each village or drawn districts which will be the fourth tier of government. Towns around the country should be allowed to incorporate if they like and become a self-governing entity. They should be allowed to take their share off the local government allocation as soon as they incorporate. Local government Council will continue to cater for unincorporated towns. They should have taxing authority to generate internal revenue from property tax and other sources.
In-depth analysis of current aspect of Nigeria political, social and economic index shows that that federal government have made limited impact in service delivery and infrastructural development. Evaluate federal government management of postal service, power, healthcare, education, security, natural resources and infrastructure and decide for yourself if they have performed above or below expectation since our independence.
- Health: Currently, federal government is less efficient than the state, local and municipal government in health care delivery. The idea of federal government building hospitals and staffing it from Abuja and expecting maximum efficiency is misplaced. Former president, Mr. Obasanjo once proposed that federal government build hospitals in all the local government areas. State, local and municipal governments will do a better job since they know their localities better and will be in a better position to know what is needed and where it is needed.
- Education: Education should definitely be pursued at the state and local government level. Nigeria need to do away with West African Examination Council (WAEC) and replace it with state’s scholastic Aptitude Test administered by state governments. The test should be used in secondary school and university admissions. Federal government should only set minimum standard. Decentralization of education will encourage creativity and innovation in our secondary schools and universities. Joint Admission and Matriculation Board (JAMB) should be abolished and replaced with state or regional agencies which will administer and place students in universities of their choices with the Scholastic Aptitude test result. States need to encourage establishment of private elementary and secondary schools and universities. Government cannot do it alone.
- Security: Rampant bombings and killings going on in Nigeria today is a clear indication that centralization of power at the federal level is not working. Federal law enforcement agencies is not effective because they are far removed from the people. Local population will be less likely to report suspects to federal police force than local law enforcement agencies. Federal government can still keep federal police but state, local and municipal governments should be allowed to establish local police force. Local population knows the criminals and where they live and will be in a better position to arrest and prosecute them. I realize that allowing states, local and municipal governments to establish police force is fraught with risk due to immaturity of some Nigerian politicians who may misuse the police for their selfish ends. But the risk pales in comparism to what currently exist in Nigeria. National Assembly may put a clause in the constitution which will give the federal government power to nationalize state or local law enforcement agency if it becomes clear that that they are been misused. Federal government should put their fears behind them and allow states to take this step. Crime will decline dramatically if local police forces are established throughout the nation. It is the case here in United States where local, Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and state police are everywhere. It will be rough at the beginning but will get better with time.
- Roads: Federal, state and Local government areas should continue their participation in road construction as they have been doing over the years. We have federal, state and local government roads and each level should continue to build and maintain their roads. States should be building much of the roads in Nigeria. Federal government needs to allocate more money to state governments for infrastructure development.
- Natural Resources: I concur with Mr. Agbokoba on natural resources. All natural resources except petroleum should belong to the states. State governments should have full control over natural resources within their state boundaries. It is the only way these resources will be developed. Federal government is missing in action now when it comes to development of natural resources. Petroleum should be exempted till Nigerian export is fully diversified.
- Federal Allocations: Federal, state and local governments needs to start weaning themselves off of the oil revenue. They should start generating internal revenues, encourage businesses to innovate and manufacture things instead of importing everything. They should develop effective tax collection system and agencies to source internal revenues. Sitting around and waiting for federal allocation should be brought to an end in a gradual manner. It is unsustainable in the long run.
- Courts: I agree with Mr. Agbokoba that our court system is good but inefficient. 15 years is too long for cases to wind it way through court of appeal and 20 years is far too long for cases to get to the supreme court. A number of governors was arrested and charged for corruption several years ago such as former governors of Plateau, Daribe; Orji, Abia; Nnamani, Enugu and others. The above cases are still been litigated. Maybe establishment of regional court of appeals as recommended by Agbakoba will move the process faster. National Assembly authorized EFCC to prosecute corrupt official in federal courts because it was impossible to prosecute them in state courts because state governors appoints state chief judges who owes some allegiance to them, so care should be taken when establishing regional courts.
I disagree with Mr. Agbakoba on recognition of six geopolitical zones in the constitution. We do not need further division of Nigeria along ethnic lines. Each state should be free to develop any type of cooperation they wish with other states. Decentralization of power should not mean creation of more states. We have enough states in Nigeria. Some of these states will not be economically viable when Nigeria runs out of oil.
Decentralization or devolution of power from federal level to the state, local, and municipal level will spur rapid development in Nigeria like we have never seen before. So far, we have seen cluster of development around localities where new states are created which boosters the argument that development happens faster when government is brought closer to the people. Rapid development will occur if decentralization is carried out provided current level of corruption in Nigeria is brought to the barest minimum. I hope the National Assembly will consider some of Mr. Agbakoba recommendations in his private bill. Decentralization or devolution of power will not result in disintegration of Nigeria. It will be a welcome development.