A former Vice President, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar has restated his calls for the restructuring of the Nigerian federation and the devolution of powers to the lower tiers of government.
He also urged the country’s leaders to follow the letter and spirit of federal character and other affirmative action policies to help manage distributive conflicts until such a time when the country has done enough to enhance production in order to reduce the scarcity that drives the conflicts over distribution.
In his presentation on Wednesday in Abuja at a Symposium on Federalism, Diversity and Nation-Building – Tackling the Challenges of Integration in Nigeria, organised by the Institute of Governance and Social Research, Atiku argued that “if we restructure our federation, make compromises, and govern better, we will have a greater chance of transforming our diversity into a national asset.”
He noted that enduring changes to the country’s structure and redistributive systems can only come about through negotiations and compromises by leaders of the diverse groups and zones, adding that with a spirit of give and take, the capacity to empathise, to walk in the other’s shoes, compromises will be easier.
He said the country’s “unitary federalism” has also been characterised by too much government involvement in economic and other activities.
According to him, the country now has federal roads, schools, and hospitals, in addition to business investments that the federal government embarked upon.
He stated that the country is a diverse, multi-ethnic and multi-religious society with three dominant groups in three geographic regions each with many minority groups.
According to him, none of the three major groups and neither of the two main religions has overall dominance in the country.
Speaking on what should be done, the former vice president stated that “So, we need to step back, agree on what the centre must do and what can and should be devolved to the lower tiers of government
“We must devolve powers and responsibilities to the federating states. Much of what is currently in the exclusive legislative list need to be moved to the concurrent List. We don’t need federal roads, federal hospitals, and federal schools. They should be transferred to the states along with the funds expended on them. At best the federal government may establish regional centres of excellence in medicine and research in each of the geo-political zones, which can act as models for state governments. The federal government should hands-off the administration of local governments. States should have the power to create as many local governments as they wish or to not create any. With the devolution of power to state governments, people in each state would know who to hold responsible if their roads are not fixed and if their hospitals have no medication,” he explained.
According to him, the devolution of powers to states must extend to political parties, adding that political parties should not behave in a unitary manner and expect a robust democratic federal system for Nigeria.
“Having the party headquarters in Abuja dictate to state (and even local government) branches even on purely local matters is not healthy for democracy and federalism. Such high-handedness promotes corruption and impedes attention to minority interests and local peculiarities. We need to also follow the letter and spirit of such existing mechanisms as federal character and other affirmative action policies to help manage distributive conflicts until such a time when we do enough to enhance production in order to reduce the scarcity that drives our conflicts over distribution. Inevitably in federal systems, component units will bicker over the distribution of resources, including revenues, location of investments and other opportunities.