The Lagos State Governor, Babatunde Fashola, at the weekend in the United States of America advocated a truer federal system of government for Nigeria saying it would free the potentials of the federating states and local governments to utilize the diverse capacities inherent in their domains for economic prosperity.
Governor Fashola, who spoke to an audience comprising faculty members, students and academics at the School of Advanced International Studies, John Hopkins University, Washington said though the realization of such a federalism, on its own, may not necessarily catapult the nation to an all-time economic prosperity, without it emancipation from poverty and want would be hard to attain.
Speaking on the topic: “Liberating and Coordinating Diversity”, Governor Fashola said as a result of the current lopsided federal system of government in the country which has concentrated all powers in the Centre, the federating states and local governments are unable to fully utilise the potentials inherent in them for development.
The Governor, who gave examples of the lopsided federal arrangement in the country including control of all economic resources by the Centre, declared, “The 36 state governors are demanding a truer federal system in terms of fiscal and political federalism. I associate myself with this demand in its entirety”.
“The realization of these demands on their own may not necessarily leapfrog us into El Dorado, but without them the journey will be tortuous. If they materialize, they liberate the possibilities that lie inherent in the diverse capacities that the Nigerian states and local governments are blessed with”, Governor Fashola said adding, “In that event, the Federal Government will not be without authority or responsibility but, in my view, it will be better able to co-ordinate the diversities for mutual prosperity”.
Describing the period before the Military interregnum in the country as the nation’s Golden Age, Governor Fashola said although the post-colonial era when Nigeria practiced Parliamentary Democracy with three semi-autonomous regions was not without its problems, the economy was stable as each region kept the bulk of its resources and contributed to the central government to enable it to carry out its national responsibilities.
“The system was not without its problems. But we had stable electricity. We had more food – enough to eat and enough to export. Illiteracy levels were higher but there was evidence to show that it was being addressed. Our universities had more learning in them and acquired a respectable reputation”, the Governor said.
According to the Governor, things began to fall apart for the country when the Military intervened in governance. “We quickly began to lose our lustre. The military came in and unified the regions and things have never been quite the same since”.
“Although we have a “Federal Government” the constitution was written by the Military. So we have state courts where judges are picked by the Federal Government. We have state legislators but no state police to enforce the laws they make. There are no state prisons so we rely on Federal officers to police our states and keep convicted persons away from law abiding citizens. We have Federal Traffic Safety Officers to issue Driver’s Licenses to drivers in the state and also seek to regulate municipal traffic inside the states”, the Governor explained.
He further explained that many states cannot control their sources of finance such as local taxes on consumption, lotteries and hotels, the equivalents of city and state taxes for drinks in a state like New York in the United States, adding, “The Federal Government holds on to these at worst; or encroaches upon them at the best”.
Governor Fashola said the Federal Government, in order to maintain its financial hold on the federating states, keeps 52 percent of the nation’s resources leaving the 36 federating states with 26 percent while 774 local governments share only 20 percent of the resource among them monthly.
“The debate, therefore, is not only about the cost of such a large government but also about its effectiveness. The Primary Health Care Centres, where newborn babies get vaccinated and immunized against disease, are not in the capital but within the 774 (plus 37) local governments. The primary schools, which are the foundations of early learning, are also in these local governments. (In Lagos there are 1,001 of such primary schools)”, the Governor said.
He wondered how the money held in large supply at the Centre could reach the grassroots for the purchase of vaccines in time and in good quantity for the immunization of the children before they die and how quickly and efficiently the primary schools can be funded from the Centre before the children get tired of waiting, drop out and become child labourers.