THE greatest constitutional gift that the British gave Nigeria during colonial rule was the Lyttleton Constitution of 1954 which heralded the principle of true federalism in the country.
The late Sage Chief Obafemi Awolowo was able to accomplish so many feats because he controlled the cocoa proceeds which was the mainstay of the western region economy. Revolutionary strides were made through free primary education, the building of the Liberty Stadium, the first TV Station in Africa, scholarships for indigent but bright westerners abroad because as Premier the federal structure made him in charge of the revenue not only from cocoa but the internally generated as well.
Nyesom Wike isn’t my favourite politician as he is brash and rather foul mouthed – we recall how he talked down on some traditional rulers in his state who were old enough to be his father. However, he won my heart with his latest pro federalism stance when he took the Federal Government to court over who should collect the value added tax that accrues to Rivers State. The court ruled in his favour and then the pro federalism sentiments started spreading like bush fire in the harmattan all across the country. Lagos State has followed suit as the State House of Assembly passed the VAT bill and it’s now left to Governor Babajide Sanwoolu to give his assent to it.
Wike said: “You cannot destroy beer in your state in the name of Sharia yet share from VAT on beer from other states. It is hypocrisy. Free money has promoted laziness. If you want to be a governor grow your state’s economy. You can’t contribute humongous numbers during elections that can’t translate to tax earnings for your state. If they can vote they should be able to work and pay tax.”
The unitary system of government that the late Major-General Thomas Johnson Umunnakwe Aguiyi-Ironsi brought on the country in 1966 has been a curse that has followed us till date. The Centre is extremely powerful and the states are reduced to mere mendicants who go cap in hand every month begging for federal government allocations.
The current crisis in the north – Boko Haram, Fulani Herdsmen, ISWAP, Bandits have a large imprimatur from the northern elites. It is ironic that the north who has ruled the country most has the highest rate of poverty in the country. The northern elite weaponized poverty which is their artificial creation by discouraging the children of the masses from embracing western education and instead opting for Almajiri education which doesn’t teach any real life survival skills. These almajiris are then recruited as political thugs for elections where they arm them with dangerous weapons to eliminate their opponents and cause mayhem. These street urchins are usually dumped after the elections and with the sophisticated weapons in their kitty have now grown into an untamed monster that is consuming the elite in the north.
The north has had a parasitic relationship with the south during the oil boom. They possess more oil blocs than the Niger Deltans due to the fraudulent unitary government system. Now that crude oil is fast losing its global relevance as many countries have set exit dates from its dependence – The UK has set 2030 as the year for the total ban on cars that will run on fossil fuel. The slump of crude oil in the international market which has led the Muhammadu Buhari led administration to go on a reckless borrowing spree has gotten the sinister northern elite to devise a Plan B through the VAT.
Why should Hisbah who destroy beer bottles benefit from the sale of alcohol in Lagos? Not only is it hypocritical, it is highly unjust. Their manipulation is extremely nauseating. When gold was discovered in Zamfara State, they said it belonged to them and not the entire country.
Let us take a critical look at how federalism is practiced in the United States where we cloned the² democracy from. Texas is an oil rich state and it controls its resources without their Governor running to Washington DC for funds to run the state. California is home to Hollywood and entertainment as well as Information Technology through the Silicon Valley which creates wealth for them as they control their resources. New York is the financial centre of the world as they have all the financial institutions and so control their resources. Massachusetts has two great educational institutions – Harvard – the world’s best University and Massachusetts Institute of Technology which have endowment funds running into billions of dollars and acts as a gargantuan boost on their economy.
Why can’t Nigeria follow suit? Why can’t we copy the positive aspects of America’s federalism?
It is gladdening to note that some northern leaders are speaking up against the present defective political structure that greatly aids inequality. We’re also aware that some of them are accidental Progressives for political relevance.
In a Punch Newspaper story published on 27 May 2021, the Katsina State Governor, Aminu Masari described open grazing as un-Islamic. He went on to say that the necessary infrastructure for ranching should be provided in states for ranching instead of promoting open grazing.
The present system has made the governors so lazy that the easy money from VAT makes them wait for the ships to arrive like the Renaissance Spain who depended solely on revenue from pirates raiding on the high seas. Their doom which they have never recovered from till date started when Queen Elizabeth I under the Naval Command of Sir Francis Drake defeated the Spanish Armada in 1588. May this not be Nigeria’s fate!
I am extremely joyous that Wike has set the conversation for restructuring which is long overdue and Lagos another strategic state as it generates the most VAT in the country is soon to follow suit. We are overjoyed that Wike chose the side of truth and justice rather than the cowardly path of political correctness which is not in the best interest of the hoi polloi. The system has for far too long promoted indolence and it is high time it is jettisoned for fierce competition and strategy for effective governance.
Nigeria desperately needs Philosopher Kings to get her out of the woods of savage political and economic buccaneers. For how long will the south be willing slaves to the north? Political pundits and historians will recall the root cause of this imbalance from the pre independence era. Nationalists like the Great Zik of Africa, Anthony Enahoro, Mazi Mbonu Ojike, Herbert Macualay etc fought the British to obtain political independence. The independence struggle was largely a southern affair as no single northerner could lay claim to being a nationalist. When independence came, the first Prime Minister was Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa who didn’t partake in the struggle. The south has tolerated the cruel multiple rape since that time when the Union Jack was lowered. For how long?
Wike has won my admiration and we hope other southern governors can join the moving and unstoppable train of the entrenchment of true federalism and good governance by looking inwards rather than being perpetual leeches.
Erasmus Ikhide contributed this article to the restructuring discourse and can be reached via: email@example.com, +2348035032123.