7th May, 2014
By Tayo Ogunbiyi & Tope Ojo
Before a selected group of Nigerians came together in Abuja to discuss salient issues that could probably re-shape the socio, political and economic outlook of the country, various groups had been agitating for the convocation of a national conference where sensitive issues relating to the union could be freely discussed. Though many have expressed skepticism about the sincerity of the Federal Government in instituting the conference, others are of the opinion that it offers better prospects for nation building.
Whatever the position being canvassed, since the conference has started, it is important that delegates and other stakeholders effectively use the platform to draw attention to salient aspects of our union that demand urgent attention and restructuring. One of such is revenue allocation. The current revenue formula favours the Federal Government as it takes a lion share of 52.68 per cent of allocation from the Federation Account. The 36 states share 26.72 per cent, while the 774 local government areas take 20.6 per cent. Oil-producing states share 13 per cent in accordance with the principle of derivation.
However, current realities in the states and local governments, make a review of the current formula imperative. It is a fact that of all the three federating units, the states and local governments are the closest to the people. Therefore, delegates to the National Confab need to really emphasise fiscal federalism in their deliberations. The Federal Government should devolve more powers to the states or regions that make up the federation. Equally, some of the items on the Exclusive legislative list of the current Constitution such as customs, ports, police, etc. should go to the residual legislative list. For instance, the current trend of insecurity in the country requires state police that would normally be in a better position to curb crime using the community policing model. How can the Governor of a state be held liable for the insecurity being experienced in his domain when the commissioner of police only reports to the Inspector General of Police hundreds of kilometres away and not the state governor?
In the spirit of justice and fairness, we need to reverse the status quo where the Federal Government holds as much power and influence as it currently does over the revenue sharing formula as well as other critical sectors in the country because it has little to show for it. We need to revert to the practice of true federalism as it is being done in other advanced democracies of the world. Indeed, for us to reduce the pressure and tension associated with governance at the centre, this is the time to tilt towards the evolvement of a weak centre with stronger federating units. This is a main feature of a true federation.
Another critical issue which the Confab needs to dispassionately consider is that of according a special status to Lagos State. When the FCT was moved from Lagos to Abuja in 1992, there was a subsisting agreement that the city would not be abandoned. Indeed, the late General Murtala Muhammed acknowledged the onerous nature of the responsibility of leaving Lagos alone to deal with the burden of infrastructure the Federal Government was leaving behind at the time.
However, successive governments have refused to take a cue from countries which relocated their national capitals without abandoning infrastructural development of the former capitals. It is now time for Nigeria to imitate Germany, Brazil, Malaysia, Australia and Tanzania, which, after relocating their capitals, did not hold back developmental programmes at the former capitals. From 1954 to 1994, the capital of Germany was Bonn. It was moved to Berlin, following the endorsement of the ‘agreement of movement’ which spelt out the responsibilities of German government for the maintenance of the old capital and which it has been meeting conscientiously.
Also, Brazil moved its capital from Rio-de’janero to Brasilia. To date, all federal roads, buildings and other infrastructure in both cities are maintained simultaneously by the central government.
Malaysia has also maintained two capitals. Its old capital, Kuala-Lampur, has been retained as the legislative capital, where the National Assembly operates. Its new capital, Putrajaya, which is the most computerised city in the world, is the administrative capital. In Australia, the old capital, Canberra, still enjoys special recognition. Although Sydney is the new capital, most activities of government, international conferences, party conventions and meetings still hold in the former capital city. The former capital of Tanzania is Dar-es-Salam. When Dodoma became the new capital, the old capital did not suffer neglect.
The Lagos State government, in the last 12 years, has invested a huge amount of money on infrastructure development, especially construction of drainages, durable roads, beautification and restoration of parks to forestall the negative impact of flooding, erosion and other environmental hazards. However, these efforts are not enough for obvious reasons. A recent study reveals that over 25,000 people, from across the world, move into Lagos for various reasons on a daily basis. The number of heavy duty trucks and other vehicles that ply Lagos roads on a daily basis is quite alarming. Same goes for the number of pupils in its public schools as well as those that daily visit its hospitals. Consequently, the state spends more on infrastructure upgrade and provision of other basic life necessities than any other state in the country.
The need to accord a special status for Lagos is a non-political project. There is hardly any Nigerian that doesn’t have a stake in Lagos. Lagos’ special position as the commercial nerve centre of Nigeria, and indeed West Africa, has its peculiar infrastructure challenges. Its sheer human density driven by an increasing population due to endless survival and economic driven immigration, its ports and waterways, its border with Benin Republic, its high concentration of banks, industries, companies, and other commercial enterprises makes it a very complex state to govern.
Being the pane through which the whole world views the country, granting a special status to Lagos remains the best possible way to drive Nigeria’s development as it is the country’s most industrialized city with needs that align with its growth. No nation grows by treating the needs of its golden geese with discomfiture since the future growth of the country’s economy is tied to the development of the city which hosts over 85 per cent of Nigeria’s industrial hub, over 65 per cent of its financial nucleus and over 75 per cent of its active workforce.
•Ogunbiyi and Ojo are of the Ministry of Information and Strategy, Alausa, Ikeja.