Atiku is right. It’s time to restructure the federation
In restating his call for the restructuring of the federation, former vice -president and a chieftain of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC), Alhaji Atiku Abubakar last week argued that states that were not financially viable should be collapsed into those that were viable. “There is no doubt that many of our states are not viable, and were not viable from the start once you take away the federation allocations from Abuja. We have to find creative ways to make them viable in a changed federal system”, said Atiku.
According to the former vice-president, the restructuring that he has been advocating involved changes to the allocation of powers, responsibilities and resources among the states or zones and between them and the federal government. “We can constitute a body of non-partisan experts to suggest other ideas. But in all, we must devolve more powers and resources from the federal government and de-emphasise federal allocations as the source of sustenance of states. We need to start producing again and collecting taxes to run our governments in a more sustainable way with greater transparency and accountability”, said Atiku.
For sure, there are those who would want to dismiss Atiku for many reasons. One, he was vice-president for eight years and he never raised this issue. Two, it is an open secret that he nurses presidential ambition and may have in fact started his campaign. While these are true, so is the fact he has been consistent on this issue of restructuring since 2010.
Five years ago, at an event organised by Leadership newspapers, Atiku indeed said: “There is indeed too much concentration of power and resources at the centre. And it is stifling our march to true greatness as a nation and threatening our unity because of all the abuses, inefficiencies, corruption and reactive tensions that it has been generating. There is need, therefore, to review the structure of the Nigerian federation, preferably along the basis of the current six geopolitical zones as regions and the states as provinces. The existing states structure may not suffice, as the states are too weak materially and politically to provide what is needed for good governance.”
His central thesis then, as now, is that the current arrangement leaves too much power and resources in the hands of the federal government and this undermine the ability of the federating units to effectively deliver on social services. And as a first step towards addressing the problem, Atiku advocates that education, health, agriculture and sports should not be within the purview of the centre. He debunked the insinuation that the idea could lead to the country’s break up, and asked, “why should we be talking of federal roads and federal secondary schools?” adding: “National unity should not continue to be confused with unitarism and concentration of power and resources at the federal level.”
It is possible to question the timing and rationale of Atiku’s proposals but we must acknowledge that we have a serious structural problem as most of the current 36 states are too small and too under-resourced to be economically viable and therefore structurally too weak to deliver human development. Most of these states depend almost entirely on allocations from the Federation Accounts, the bulk of which they expend on salaries and other recurrent expenditures. The counter-veiling mechanisms that ensure some level of accountability at the centre are either non-existent or too weak in these fragmented units and the logical result is that the promise of good governance embedded in the theory of decentralisation is delivered almost always in the breach.
When complemented with mechanism for improving accountability, the proposal being pushed by Atiku has the potential for strengthening the structural design for good governance and human development in Nigeria.