The hullaballoo about ministerial nominees and the pretences of a thorough screening by the Senate is a fresh confirmation that our country is excessively skewed in favour of the government at the centre to the detriment of federating units.
Has anyone, including the heads of government of the marginalised units of the federation, that is, the states, bothered to ask, why the excitement and concentration of national consciousness, on the installation of ministers of government at the centre; and the insignificant, or near, I don’t care attitude, at similar activities at the unit levels?
In examining the challenges bedevilling our national development, shouldn’t it bother Nigerians, that whereas, Sir Ahmadu Bello, the late Sardauna of Sokoto, preferred to remain as the premier of the Northern Region, while he raised up Sir Tafewa Balewa, to proceed to the centre in Lagos, in 1958, to be the head of government of the federation; many former heads of our present federating units (former state Governors), presently see being appointed by the head of the Federal Government into his cabinet, as a promotion, in 2015? If the central government can singularly outweigh the federating units, assembled together, both politically (concentration of state powers) and economically (allocation of economic rights and distribution of resources, from the federation account), is it farfetched to understand the sources of the excitement, over the nominations, and the consequent disequilibrium in our federal system of government?
With about 28 governors, out of 36, desperately seeking the so-called bailout funds, from the Federal Government, to pay accumulated monthly salaries of workers in their states; and with several of them unable to pay off the arrears, despite the billions borrowed; are we now in an era where a federal ministry, is of more economic and political value, than many of the states in the country? And if many of the states are in this state of near hopelessness, is it not a joke, for us to pretend that the third-tier unit of government, the local government administration, is a viable unit in our misguided federation? With many states threatening to retrench workers, and with the Nigerian Labour Congress digging in for a show-down, is our country as is, not approaching a shut down?
Perhaps, President Muhammadu Buhari (PMB), whose government was elected on the mantra of change from our previous ways, particularly the unviable old ways of doing things, may take up the challenge to restructure the federation. One important thing he must quickly do, is to return the federating units, that is the states, to work, as no amount of bailout, will rescue them, from the imminent economic doldrums; unless miraculously, the world price for crude oil ricochets up again, for another round of bazaar. As this column has severally argued, the exclusive legislative list must be tinkered with, to give the states of the federation, more economic opportunities. While ultimately a constitutional amendment is needed to redefine the economic and political relationship between the centre and the states, PMB and his government can insist on a transparent economic reforms, by any state, seeking any economic assistance from the centre.
Specifically, before giving any extra-budgetary economic assistance to any of the states, the central authority can insist on a fiscal and budgetary reform, by such interested state, while pushing for the ultimate constitutional amendment. Indeed, any state without an operating fiscal responsibility and public procurement law, should not be given any form of financial assistance by the federal government. Furthermore, any state that is unwilling to submit itself to a transparent assessment, with regards to its own transparency processes, by a bipartisan committee, should be allowed to stew in its own mess.
But of course, before the federal government can muster the moral courage, to embark on such an economic emergency plans, it must without equivocation manifest itself as a nationalist government, without any scintilla of sectional or partisan preferences, at least as long as the national economic emergency lasts. To ignore the immediate institution of a national economic emergency, by the governments at all levels, is to play the ostrich. Thankfully many of the ministerial nominees, weather the politicians or the technocrats, can reasonably be said, to have the requisite experience, to contribute to national development. Many of the ex-governors, like Babatunde Fashola, Kayode Fayemi, Chibuike Amaechi, Ogbonnaya Onu, and Chris Ngige should have the courage to speak truth to power, and work for an economically viable and more balanced federation.
Among the pack of technocrats, Geoffrey Onyeama, a lawyer and former Deputy Director at the World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO), should be a guide in international economic relations. Mr Onyeama who came second during the selection of the Director General of WIPO in 2014, and is representing Enugu state, in the PMB’s ministerial team; should be in a position to help the Nigerian government, navigate the international relations landmines that many bilateral and multilateral agreements have become, for third world countries. With a high number of very distinguished lawyers as ministerial nominees, the Buhari government, would not lack in quality guide and legal advice, on how to get the national, state and local economies, activated; despite the stifling constitutional inhibitions against economic activities by the federating units, in favour of the central government.
By and large, PMB’S ministerial team must be guided by the express provisions of section 14(3) of the 1999 Constitution, to wit: “the composition of the federal government of the federation or any of its agencies and the conduct of its affairs shall be carried out in such manner as to reflect the federal character of Nigeria and the need to promote national unity ….”