Restructuring is a nation-building opportunity for Nigeria – Mal. Nasiru Elrufai

I want to state here and now, that not only is the North ready, willing and able to embrace inclusive restructuring of our polity, but to add that those that speak loudly against it represent no one. Most of them have never held elective office, and therefore do not appreciate that the North with its natural endowments stands to be the biggest beneficiary of restructuring.

Keynote address by Malam Nasir El-Rufai, Governor of Kaduna State, at the Colloquium on Restructuring, organized to mark the 80th Birthday of Chief Bisi Akande, held at the Prof. Ogunlesi Hall, University College Hospital, Ibadan, on Wednesday, 16th January 2019


I consider it a privilege to be invited to deliver the keynote address at a colloquium in honour of Chief Bisi Akande. When I was contacted by the organisers, I had no hesitation in accepting this opportunity to pay tribute to a man that I regard as one of our very best. Happy birthday Sir! I join others in wishing you many more years of grace and joy. Events like this demonstrate that many of us recognise and value the contributions that Chief Akande has made to our country, and that we are ready to say thank you in his lifetime.

The organisers have chosen Achieving Lasting Peace through Peaceful Restructuring of Nigeria as the theme of this Colloquium. Perhaps this is intended to acknowledge the political history of Chief Akande and also provide a platform to discuss contemporary realities.

Chief Bisi Akande comes from a political tendency that has always been ardently federalist. The political party on whose platform he became Governor of Osun State in 1999 put restructuring as a priority, as a way of returning the country to the federal structure with which it attained independence.

Therefore, I am delighted to share my thoughts on Restructuring on a day and at an event in honour of a man for whom it represents a matter of principle. I hope that we can all agree that Restructuring is an important matter, despite the tendency of certain sections of our elite to trivialise it with their opportunism. With all sense of responsibility, I believe some Nigerians have made a career and livelihood around “restructuring” without deep thought, or a clear plan or implementation strategy. For them, it is a tool to alienate rather than convert our compatriots to the nation-building imperative that restructuring offers. Rather than the hard graft of solving our governance problems, this group would rather grab headlines and mouth sound-bites at opportunities like this. You can almost sense that this people actually dread restructuring becoming public policy, having succeeded in living off a serious national imperative for so long. We must be mindful of this class of people.

Restructuring should be about the reform and improvement of our national efficiency. Reforming our governance structures is a crucial part of making our political system conducive to the pace of growth and development that our country needs. Along with better structures, fitted for efficiency and devolving responsibilities to the level of government best able to handle them, we must also invest in constructing a new national consensus and adapt our attitudes to uphold the values that enhance us all.

In August 2017, the APC set up a committee on True Federalism, to clearly articulate a roadmap for political and constitutional reform, to help to give substance and structure to the debate on restructuring, and, perhaps, transform the erstwhile divisive discourse on federalism and restructuring into a nation-building event.

In the course of the work of the APC Committee on True Federalism, which I had the privilege to chair, I was invited to give a talk on restructuring at Chatham House. During the talk in September 2017, I took pains to highlight that I was giving my personal views, not that of the party or the committee which was at that moment still consulting and researching on the matter. The APC Committee on True Federalism has since concluded its work and submitted its report. Despite chairing a party committee on true federalism, I want to reiterate that the views I am expressing here are strictly personal.

The first public articulation of my views on the subject matter of ‘restructuring’ was in April 2012 when I published an article titled A Federation without Federalism. I believe the article reflected the broad consensus amongst Nigerians, then and now, that our federation has been dysfunctional. No thanks to the distortions introduced by military rule, our country is operating a governance structure that is more unitary than federal, and not optimised for delivering public goods to the generality of our people.

Therefore, it is not surprising that there are pressures for reform. The federal idea has retained its allure for virtually all segments of the country. Perhaps, that is because it is a choice freely made by our people during the agitations and negotiations for independence. Under British auspices, our founding fathers debated and settled for federalism as the political structure for a free and independent Nigeria. It was successfully argued that a diverse country like Nigeria could best thrive as a federation. And the political arrangements that ushered Nigeria to independence were unmistakably federalist, enshrined in the 1960 and 1963 constitutions and operationalised through strong regional governments.

The political giants that led the old regions competed to do their best for their respective peoples. The Western Region launched the first public television service in Africa, a few years after adopting a free education policy that consolidated its head start in western education by extending universal access to the masses. Each of the three original regions founded its own university, built industrial estates, established development finance institutions, and developed hospitality businesses, among others. The regional governments also tried to build the physical infrastructure needed for a modern economy.

Some of the most enduring institutions in Nigeria were built by these regional governments, hence the understandable nostalgia in some quarters for the federal structure of Nigeria to revert to the regions of old. However, some of our minority communities across the country also retain memories of political agitations against the dominant groups in their respective regions. But that in no way diminishes the fact that the regional governments upheld federalism. It is only a reminder that while there are no perfect political arrangements, there are many workable and sustainable governance structures.

The termination of the First Republic in January 1966 dealt a fatal blow to democracy and federalism in Nigeria. The two comings of the military, lasting about 30 years in total, distorted Nigeria into a unitary state. The four-year gap between the first coming of the military and their second coming saw a brief resurgence of the federal ideal. For instance, between 1979 and 1983, Lagos State, under the Awoist government of Chief Lateef Jakande, established a state university, a radio station and a television service. Other states like Kano under the leadership of Governor Abubakar Rimi of blessed memory, also followed suit establishing a state newspaper and TV station. But this was just a brief interlude in the steady degradation of federalism.

In my view, the pragmatic argument for restructuring is compelling. Restructuring is not just a matter of ideology, it has become one of effectiveness, efficiency and sustainability. Societies make progress when sound and effective governance provides equal opportunities for citizens to realise their fullest potentials. It seems logical that the flexibility of federalism suits a large and heterogenous entity like Nigeria better than the rigidity of unitarism. Our Founding Fathers realised this in the 1950s. Their military successors did not, and what was a stop-gap arrangement to prosecute the civil war became nearly permanent for three decades. The review of taxation powers in favour of the FG helped raise revenues to fund the war, but having achieved its purpose, the powers taken from the state were not swiftly repatriated.

The resultant concentration of power and resources at the centre expanded the federal bureaucracy, emasculating the states in favour of a powerful centre that did very little well. By getting involved in virtually everything, the Federal Government became good at almost nothing, to everyone’s loss. The things that secure and unify our country, and make it a common space for equal citizenship, commerce, free movements of people, goods and services, should be within the purview of the Federal Government, and often, not exclusively. The Federal Government should build and sustain a stronger military and invest in the people and technology that can ensure better intelligence-gathering capacity for national security.

Many wrongly equate the decimation of federalism, not to the military mindset of unitary command-and-control, but to so called “northern oligarchy”. The truth is the most unitary government we ever had was that headed by General J T Aguiyi-Ironsi, who is not from Northern Nigeria. The coincidence of the mind-set of most of the military leaders being of Northern origin must not be confused with that of the ordinary Northerner! I want to state here and now, that not only is the North ready, willing and able to embrace inclusive restructuring of our polity, but to add that those that speak loudly against it represent no one. Most of them have never held elective office, and therefore do not appreciate that the North with its natural endowments stands to be the biggest beneficiary of restructuring.

Without any doubt, the Federal Government needs to devolve more powers to the states, and the states to the local governments. Many of the challenges that confront our country are best resolved at the sub-national level. How well our children are educated in the first nine years of schooling is down to the states and local governments. Improving health outcomes for our people, easing and widening access to primary health care, providing routine immunisation to protect children against vaccine-preventable diseases, guaranteeing ante-natal care and safe delivery for pregnant women are all public services that are within the powers of states and local governments. The provision of extension services to farmers, construction of feeder roads and aggregation centres for farm produce, are all state and local level functions, that the Federal Government can never do very well.

The devolution of more powers and responsibilities to the states creates many options for productive collaboration between state and federal governments. We saw an instance of that during the closure of Abuja airport in 2017. The Federal Government and Kaduna State worked together to make the Kaduna airport a viable alternative. The Kaduna State Government built a 5Km road to link the FG-owned train station in Rigasa to the airport. The Federal Government has also given its consent to our request to re-designate two major roads in Kaduna, our state capital, as state roads. The Federal Executive Council granted our wishes, restoring the two roads (Ahmadu Bello Way and the Western By-pass) to our control and saving us the inconvenience of seeking permission from a federal bureaucrat before we can install street lights on a major road in our state capital.

As I have argued previously, I do not believe that a single, centralised police force can deliver on the necessity to visibly project state power and enforce the law in this vast country of ours with nearly 200 million people. As a state governor, I can testify that we simply do not have enough police officers in this country. That is why the military is involved in internal security operations in most of our states. During the most recent outbreak of violent crisis in Kaduna, the determined efforts of civilian volunteers to secure their communities, helped us considerably to stabilize and normalize the situation.

While Nigeria is constitutionally a federation of 36 states, I do not believe that as far as local governments are concerned, a uniform, constitutionally-enshrined system makes sense. The diversities at the local level can best be accommodated by retaining the provisions of the Constitution requiring a democratic local government system, and leaving the structural details like the number of local governments, their boundaries and headquarters to legislation by the State House of Assembly.

The total revenue allocation to all Local Governments from the Federation Account should therefore be determined and fixed, leaving it to the State House of Assembly to legislate on the vertical and horizontal sharing arrangement. The state governments can then flexibly restructure and re-design the local government system, consistent with the history, culture, demography and endowments of the state. In Kaduna State, for instance we are devolving responsibility for the fire service, adult literacy, agricultural extension and the like to the local government councils. The state government bears partial burden for the strengthening of the primary healthcare system for eventual full transfer to the local government councils.
In the interim, a devolution settlement arising from a restructured Nigeria will require a review of the revenue allocation formula. This will entail reducing the 52% the Federal Government takes and increasing the share going to the states and local governments. But a successful restructuring will ultimately change the whole concept of revenue allocation, in the sense that states will be required to basically pay their own bills. Our states ultimately have to find and develop the revenue sources that can sustain their functions. Given the condition of many of our states, this will take some time, but it is apparent that many governors are paying closer attention to raising more internally-generated revenue.

The APC Committee on True Federalism submitted its report last year. Before I conclude this address, it is important to remind us of the major recommendations. The committee recommended that the federation be rebalanced, with more powers and responsibilities devolved to the states. The committee also clarified that the federation is a relationship solely between the states and the Federal Government, and that each state should be allowed to operate the system of local government that best suits it. In our diverse nation, it is only prudent to concede that one size or structure of local governance does not fit all.

The recommendations cover how the states will generate the resources that will fund their envisaged expanded burdens, responsibilities and authority. The derivation principle is upheld as a primary component of fiscal federalism. We have recommended that control of mineral resources be vested in the states which will pay applicable royalties and taxes to the Federal Government. To make this work, extant laws such as the Petroleum Act, the Mining and Minerals Act, the Land Use Act and the Petroleum Profit Tax Act would be consequentially amended. The Committee argued that the derivation principle would also apply to hydro-power and other forms of renewable power generation, since like crude oil and gas, they constitute sources of wealth-creation.

As noted earlier, there should be an upward review of the share of federation revenues accruing to the states as the Federal Government devolves more responsibilities and functions to them. The Committee was of the view that many current big-ticket activities of the Federal Government like Agriculture and Policing can be significantly reduced and most of these responsibilities devolved to the States and local governments. Even in seemingly helpful areas like healthcare, building primary health centres by the Federal Government is an avoidable aberration.

The Committee therefore recommended that the following items be transferred to the Concurrent List and therefore fall under the jurisdiction of both the states and federal government:
1) Police
2) Oil and Gas (other than offshore oil and gas in the Continental Shelf and Extended Economic Zone)
3) Mines and Minerals (other than offshore minerals in the Continental Shelf and Extended Economic Zone)
4) Railways
5) Prisons
6) Fingerprint and criminal identification records
7) Stamp Duty
8)Registration of Business Names, and
9) Food, Drugs and Poisons (other than Narcotics)

One recommendation of the Committee that is worthy of serious and urgent consideration is the federalization of the Judiciary. The current unitary judicial system that vests exclusive power to discipline every judge in Nigeria in the NJC is another aberration that should be abolished. In its place, each state should have its State Judicial Council, and the running costs of each state judiciary should be duly budgeted and appropriated by the State House of Assembly, rather than the National Assembly.

If Kaduna State needs and can afford 40 High Court judges, why should the elected leaders of the state need the permission and consent of an un-elected council in Abuja to appoint and pay them? This undue concentration of absolute power tends to corrupt absolutely, as the recent revelations about the Chief Justice of Nigeria’s forgotten, undeclared bank accounts and cash balances indicate.

To give effect to these recommendations, the Committee has produced draft bills to amend the Constitution and relevant statutes accordingly. It is my earnest conviction that when the relevant party organs consider and accept the report, these draft bills can be swiftly forwarded for the consideration of the National Assembly.

This country was born with so much promise. Many of those founding dreams have been sadly deferred. But I believe that we can devise a governance structure that is fit for purpose and that harnesses our best talents for the forward push. I wish to reiterate once more that restructuring represents a nation-building opportunity, giving all the parts of this country a chance to develop their resources, and to cooperate creatively.

Successful restructuring depends also on our national resolve to protect the idea of a common citizenship. The rights guaranteed under the Constitution should be enjoyed by every citizen, no matter where they reside, and no matter which part of the country they hail from. A restructuring of mentality and values is a key factor in the success of a restructuring of the governance and political structure.

I wish my leader Chief Bisi Akande a very happy birthday. I am grateful for the honour of being invited to be part of this Colloquium. I thank you for listening.

God Bless Chief Bisi Akande with long life, in good health, happiness and prosperity.

God Bless the Federal Republic of Nigeria.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.