By Lekan Sote

Many Nigerians argue that the Nigerian Constitution is loaded too much in favour of the Federal Government, and it becomes extremely difficult for sub-national governments – states and the local governments – to be economically viable.

A recent National Bureau of Statistics report indicates that whereas 21 states were able to attract $14.31bn in the first half of 2019, 15 others, namely, Abia, Bayelsa, Ebonyi, Ekiti, Gombe, Jigawa, Enugu, Kebbi, Kogi, Osun, Plateau, Sokoto, Taraba, Yobe and Zamfara, could not.

And the Edo State Governor Godwin Obaseki complains: “I just could not understand why the Oredo Local Government Area… on a monthly basis cannot earn more than N5m as tax (revenue).”

Lagos State’s capacity for relatively higher internally generated revenue comes from hosting the biggest ports in an export-oriented economy.

Vice President Yemi Osinbajo, who appears to acknowledge the plight of sub-national governments, suggests that states can raise their IGRs by: strategic planning; taking advantage of their comparative advantage in agriculture; and encouraging entrepreneurships.

Atedo Peterside of the StanbicIBTC Bank has observed that the dearth of Foreign Direct Investment in Nigeria is attributable to structural imbalances in the system. To correct that, he suggests that (Nigeria must)… enact laws that provide clarity and reduce uncertainty for investors.”

The place to kick-start this is via a review of the constitution to enable state and local governments to initiate mechanisms that will provide an enabling environment to improve their domestic economies and shore up their internal revenues.

In expressing his idea of restructuring in Nigeria, Jerry Agada, a former Minister of State for Education, says: “The centre should not be too powerful, so that all the federating units can have their own self-actualisation that would augur well for their own system.”

Peter Omonua, a Nigerian, resident in Canada, who is probably sympathetic to the cause of the Indigenous People of Biafra separatist movement, observes that, “There is so much hunger in the people of the (Nigerian) South collectively, to break forth and set the stage for the emancipation of (themselves) and the Black race as a whole.”

Omonua quotes the late Olanihun Ajayi, an apostle of Obafemi Awolowo, first Premier of Western Nigeria, who said: “The best thing for (Nigeria) is to concretise (its) six geopolitical regions. Each region (will) manage its own affairs, with little (interference from) the Federal (Government).” Diversity should thrive within democracies.

Dare Babarinsa, renowned journalist of the defunct Newswatch magazine fame, regrets that the Federal Government is unable to complete the rehabilitation of the Lagos-Ibadan Expressway in 19 long years! He suggests a South-West Development Authority charged with infrastructure development throughout the Yoruba land.

He also suggests six- or 10-lane roads linking state capitals throughout the South-West, Kogi and Kwara states. He also thinks the region should develop a cadre of youths with very much needed “competence in plumbing, carpentry, automobile mechanics, and other trades.”

Other zones should identify their needs.

Senator Banji Akintoye, who declared, at the Yoruba World Congress that, “It is (either) restructuring (some say, decentralisation), or dissolution,” was not threatening insurrection. He was merely alerting those who insist on maintaining the country’s current precarious state of affairs.

Now that Shehu Garba, Senior Special Assistant to the President on Media and Publicity, says, “If the (National Assembly) says (restructuring) is the way to go, President (Buhari) will consider it,” maybe, all the states should instruct their representatives at the National Assembly to go for it immediately!

The presidential Economic Advisory Council should interrogate Section 16(3 and 4) of the constitution, to review ownership and control of business enterprises that have been declared as major sectors of the economy.

But Gen. Alabi Isama (retd.), who argues that “Awolowo (ignored constitutional stumbling blocks and) went to look for what was better for (the Yoruba),” queries, in his lilting English, “What stops (Oyo State from) owning its own airline?”

Isama wonders why Oyo State could not apply its tax revenue to providing pipe-borne water for its citizens, or apply for an oil well to shore up its revenue, noting that government has given oil blocs to individuals.

Governor Nyesom Wike just announced Rivers State’s acquisition of 45 per cent in the Shell Petroleum Development Company’s Oil Mining Lease in Eleme Local Government Area. That is the way to go!

It would have been more appropriate if the intention of the United Arab Emirates investors to establish a 300-mega watts renewable energy generating plant in Lagos State was discussed with the state government, instead of the Federal Government.

After all, Section 14(a,b and c) of the constitution provides: “A (State) House of Assembly may make laws for the State with respect to: electricity and the establishment in that state of electric power stations; (and) the generation, transmission and distribution of electricity (in that state.)”

With such a provision in the Concurrent Legislative List of the constitution, the Lagos State Government should not wait to be propositioned by the Minister for Power, before giving a licence to the UAE investors, who are interested in generation, transmission and distribution of electricity.

Openings are likely in that sector soon. An advertorial hints that the Nigerian Electricity Regulatory Commission may revoke the licences of the eight electricity distribution companies, and Ikeja Electricity Distribution Company, which supplies electricity to the Lagos metropolis, is one of them.

Lagos State should further activate its electricity board that was established in 1980 “to establish in-state electric power stations; (and) generate, transmit and distribute electricity to areas not covered by the national (electricity) grid,” among other things.

Records indicate that the board has inaugurated four power plants, namely, Island, Alausa, Mainland and Pennisula and one transformer factory. With all these in place, and a constitutional backing, one wonders why Lagos State, and other states, continue to complain that the Exclusive Legislative List, and its understandable ouster clauses that make federal laws superior to state laws, are holding back their hands.

At least, no one has held back the hands of the Imo State Government that built the Sam Mbakwe Airport or Akwa Ibom State that established Ibom Air despite the fact that aviation is on the Exclusive List.

Certainly, state governments cannot truthfully sustain the alibi that the Exclusive List prevents them from reviving their cocoa, groundnut, palm oil, rubber, cotton and hides and skins production and export businesses.

If private businesses can play in the oil, aviation, telecommunications, electricity, and foreign exchange businesses, nothing stops states from receiving part of their monthly Federation Account Allocations in hard currencies as some governors are suggesting.

If the Federal Government continues to give excuses like inadequate funds, finds ways to scupper states’ development, and fails to invest in infrastructure to grow the economies and IGR of states, the state governments must seize the initiative.

When, for instance, former Governor Ibikunle Amosun told the Ijebu people of Ogun State East Senatorial District that he would scrap Tai Solarin University of Education, they told him to steer clear, and demonstrated readiness to fund and operate the university.

It’s the same way many missions are taking back their schools from government, and old students’ associations are intervening in rehabilitating their old schools for the benefit of the current students.

Now is the time to interrogate the constitution to find out how much constitutional leeway states have to grow their economies and IGRs.

– Twitter @lekansote

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