Nigeria: State Autonomy as blueprint for development

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As a critic, it is true that one will always find something new to criticize. It’s in the gene. Of course, in the climate of a country divided it would seem ludicrous to suggest for a further balkanization of the entity we call Nigeria. However, this is not my aim here today and so purge yourself of that sentiment, use laxative if necessary. As a patriot, I only seek to suggest a system that might bring greater development to the doorstep of the common man, the proletariat in Marxist speak, the talakawa of Aminu Kano, the people.

One of the reasons for some of our failures as a country to address the basic needs of our citizens is the centripetal nature of our democracy; all the forces are directed at the center. It is mere common sense to observe that an edifice simply supported by a single beam is at the whim of the forces of nature and exhibits unstable equilibrium. This structure falls when given a small angular displacement. Our country is governed by a strong center and a weakened base which sometimes fails to deliver to the people. A symptom of this system is a situation where the country has few economic hubs such as Lagos, Abuja and Port-Harcourt where many people rush to.

This system is characterized by a center or federal government that collects revenue generated by each state or region and distributes it back to the states based on a federal allocation formula. This system gives little incentives for states to develop their sources of revenue and as a result you have cases of states that are economically unviable and are plagued by leaders who are lazy to come up with ideas to develop their state revenue stream because every month they collect a big paycheck from the federal government. And you wonder why certain parts of the country have resentment because they feel that they are the goose that lays the golden eggs, they are the “monkey dey work” to the rest of the country’s “baboon dey chop.”

I say to you, if each state fully developed with its resources and was able to provide for its citizens, would you have a case of loads of people migrating from the states to the center looking for their own share of the national cake? I believe not. In fact some of the great milestones in this country have been achieved under regional autonomy, the free education of the Western Region under Awolowo, the rebirth of Lagos under Fashola is definitely of a state making good use of its resources. It is often amazing what can be achieved when push comes to shove.

It is this doctrine of necessity that brings me to my next point. We often complain that our country’s economy is solely focused on Oil and Gas and we are basically chopping oil money from the states that produce it. But if you starve the rest of the country of this oil money and only tax the states from the revenue, you will have a case where these states could develop exponentially and you will also have a case where the rest of the country will finally realize the large number of resources at their disposal. If you starved states of federal allocation, you will find that agriculture will start to be a major moneymaker again, solid minerals that are found all over northern Nigeria will start to be exploited. It wont take people dying of lead poisoning trying to mine gold for us to realize we do have gold in parts of this country. If you think I m crazy there are many countries that survive and make good money on items such as tea, tin, bauxite and so on. Wouldn’t developing a plethora of resources and exploiting them be an easy way to reduce unemployment in this country?

There will be an argument against this idea that will state that some states have no resources, I say so what. There are entire countries that lack any tangible resource but are far developed than this country of ours. A state could decide to become a banking hub, it could become a center for sports development in the country, it could generate power and sell to another state or the federal government. The possibilities with greater state and regional autonomy are endless. A state like Niger for instance that until now has kainji and is providing power to the country could get its revenue from this resource back to it and use it to develop the state. States like Abia, home to the “made in Aba” phenomenon could become a center of trade and the poster child for Made in Nigeria goods.

In fact, empowering states and given them ownership of their resources and laws could even see the birth of a Las Vegas type place in Nigeria. A hub of hospitality, gambling and the like that would generate enormous revenue. You could even have a state or region that specializes as the evangelical crusade capital of West Africa where the state generates revenue from these crusades.

This autonomy I suggest can be implemented in two ways, a shock therapy in which the federal government removes federal allocation all together and starts to task the state governments solely based on the revenue they produce. This method although brutal will still need states to develop the required revenue streams albeit after suffering economic downturn. This process might even see states form partnerships with other wealthier states to survive. It will see some unnecessary states go.

The other approach would be a gradual withdrawal of federal support and using the allocation as a loan base for states that would need it to develop while giving states with larger revenue streams gradual control of their resources. This method will be a smoother transition and most likely people friendly.

The role of the federal government in this system would be as a regulator of the economy and a police entity watching over the running of state affairs. The federal government will maintain oversight over state spending and intervene when necessary. The federal government would run the military and security service. It will also maintain a smaller federal civil service for the purpose of administering federal control over certain areas of the polity. For example, the federal ministry of Education would provide a national standard curriculum as a minimum requirement, it would be up to the states to go further and introduce more things to their curriculum as they see fit subject to a federal review.

As I am not a political scientist or economist, I might not have the details of how a system of state autonomy could work in Nigeria but I have an Idea and an Idea cannot be killed. Instead of breaking up the country, I believe greater state autonomy would bring much needed development and help tackle poverty head on in our country. A wealthier Nigeria would surely be a peaceful Nigeria.


3 thoughts on “Nigeria: State Autonomy as blueprint for development

    KD said:
    May 9, 2011 at 10:25 pm

    Goog thinking. We need to realise that the States monthly allocation is basically from crude oil proceeds! In a case where state autonomy is granted, and monthly allocations cease, the oil producing States will protest because they will claim that their major means of revenue is in the resource within their borders, namely crude oil! This takes us back to the issue of resource control!!! The other risk of the cessation of monthly allocations is the immediate pressure it wil put on State Govts to levy high taxes on businesses and workers…the result, high prices, flat output,…inflation.
    Having said all, I am in full support of a gradual conversion of the allocation to a financial loan window, hoping that it will motivate State governments to grow internal revenue!

      Sir Fariku responded:
      May 10, 2011 at 8:44 pm

      Interesting, I would think the oil producing states would enjoy state autonomy as that would give them more control over their oil revenue. It is important for the rest of the country to recognize that it can thrive without oil.

    toasty redhead said:
    May 14, 2011 at 5:37 am

    Right on!

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