By Salihu Moh. Lukman
Popular sovereignty which stipulates, first, that people are the source of any and all governmental powers, and secondly, governmental powers are exercised only with the consent of the governed, is a fundamental principle of democratic governance. In the context of a federal system, popular sovereignty is constitutionally divided between a central authority (federal) and constituent units (states).
For us in Nigeria, this is supposedly the guiding philosophy today. As a nation, with all the imperfections, we have been a democracy since 1999 and perhaps since 1967, we have been federalism with so much distortions and aberrations. Combinations of imperfections associated with democratic governance, distortions and aberrations related to our federal system of governments have reduced democratic governance, especially at state levels in Nigeria into an empty vocation that means very little to Nigerian people.
A major reflection of the distortions and aberrations of our federalism is reflected in our nationally perverted notion of revenue sharing with very little concern about how it is generated or contributions of constituent units. Largely informed by powers to make laws not necessarily informed by any rational economic parameter, the federal government legislated to itself 52.68% of Nigeria’s revenue. State governments have 26.72% and Local Governments 20.60%. What informs the logic of this sharing formula? Is it based on contributions to the process of revenue mobilization?
Certainly, there will be some forms of justifications. They don’t have to be logical or rational. They are predominantly a reflection of crude power play. Largely because it has resulted in short changing Nigerians, the perception is that governments, at all levels, are today our main problem. The fact of short changing Nigerians is largely on account of diminished responsibilities of our governments to discharge basic functions of service delivery including opening up access for Nigerians to participate in the process of revenue generation. Therefore, the reality of oil revenue generation is unfortunately that of monumental fraud, corruption and shoddy deals driven almost exclusively by the federal government.
Given the huge resources involved, the functions of governments as facilitators of economic activities in the country are virtually suspended. By the accounts of Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), Nigeria has earned N8.875 trillion between 2002 and 2006. This has shot to N8.878 trillion for 2011 alone and in 2012, N8.117 trillion. Based on this revenue reality, on monthly basis, Nigerian federal government take over N200 billion, the 36 state governments receives about N100 billion and our 774 Local Governments receive less than N100 billion. With this, our governments have no incentive to stimulate economic activities.
As much as governments are our problem, given the huge resources at their disposal, they are also a necessary evil. Why is this so? How did we find ourselves in this bad situation? Answers to these simple questions could be multiple of our national headcount. They could also be easily clustered based on our ethno-religious diversity. Not even our so-called party system could change or alter this fact. If anything, it is more likely to entrench it. Depending on the audience and environment, the perspective of a PDP politician may be the same with that of an opposition politician. Objectivity would be difficult to discern. It is simply a reflection of our national paradox; one that promotes biased and convenient interpretation of governments and their responsibilities.
The result is that although under a democratic system of government and operating in a country blessed in every respect, human and natural resources, our citizens are poor. The fact of our citizens’ poor conditions is reflected in rising levels of poverty and unemployment. Contrasted against the background of geometric rise in oil revenue, poverty has increased from 54% in 1999 to 69% today. Unemployment rate has risen from about 17.5% in 1999 to 24% today.
Sadly, our partisan configuration has not been able to define and delineate our poverty and unemployment profiles. This practically means that our parties are completely blind to human development challenges, which produces a situation whereby high poverty and unemployment situations are also the characteristics of states controlled by non-PDP governments – governments controlled by opposition parties.
For instance, assessing profiles of the 11 state governments controlled by Nigerian opposition parties – ACN, ANPP, CPC and Okorocha-led APGA based on National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) 2010 Harmonized National Living Standard Survey (HNLSS) and NBS National Unemployment report, it gives a worrisome pattern, hardly progressive. Out of the 11 state governments, 6 were reported with poverty incidence higher than the national average of 69%. These are Edo (72.5%), Nasarawa (71.7%), Ogun (69.0%), Yobe (79.6%) and Zamfara (80.2%). This means that some of our ‘progressive’ state governments contributed significant to high levels of poverty in the country on account of inability to stimulate economic activities in their states. In fact, only Osun has been reported with poverty incidence of less than 50%. Reported to have 47.5%, it means that Osun is the only state with less than half of its citizens in poverty. Things being equal therefore, access to jobs and opportunities could be adjudged to be relatively easier in Osun.
Related to issue of poverty is that of unemployment. And like the case of poverty, 6 out of our 11 ‘progressive’ states were reported by NBS with unemployment rates higher than the national average of 24%. These are Borno (29.1%), Edo (35.2%), Imo (26.1%), Nasarawa (36.5%), Yobe (35.6%) and Zamfara (42.6%). Again, Osun was reported with the best record of 3.0% unemployment rate. In other words, with such low unemployment rate and less than half of its citizens in poverty, Osun could be rightly described as the most employment and people friendly state in the country.
What this means is that, with reference to both poverty and unemployment, the claim to being progressives by most of our 11 ‘progressive’ state governments could be contested. There may be the temptation to dismiss the NBS report as inaccurate. The source of inaccuracy can hardly be linked to political motive and to that extent therefore the report could have some legitimacy. The second plank of argument could be the fact of some of the state governments being young and therefore may just have inherited the high levels of poverty from preceding governments. Related to this second factor is the third consideration focusing on the level to which state governments’ policies could responsible to high levels of poverty and unemployment. In which case the dispute might not be about the legitimacy of the existence of high poverty and unemployment rates but simply about how much responsibility should our 11 ‘progressive’ state governments take?
Issues or responsibility calls to question the extent to which our parties as represented by the opposition have directed the policy orientations of governments they produced. The truth is that issues of directing policy orientations of governments produced by our parties are not a consideration. And since it is not a consideration, question of monitoring and directing resources towards common goal will just be academic exercise.
Part of the problems that may undermine the capacity of our 11 ‘progressive’ state governments to drive human development agenda capable of reducing poverty and unemployment is the bandwagon culture mainly on account of huge oil revenue. It needs to be emphatically highlighted that the huge oil revenue is the main source of the distortions and aberrations related to our brand of federalism, which are traceable to our experiences under military rule. To be precise, under military rule, functions of governments related with providing services to the people became a subject of benevolent disposition of military leaders. It was not about discharging constitutional responsibilities but a measure of the kindness of military leaders. On account of this even basic function such as payment of salaries to government workers became a source of official propaganda acknowledging the ‘good work’ of military rulers.
In the circumstance, from a situation where our governments at all levels were ran based on some commitment to national development targets, at least up to 1980, we descended to a situation where propaganda is the development target. Unfortunately, with the rise of oil revenue and government being the sole producer of oil, services as requirement for revenue generation became no longer valid for us in Nigeria. Coupled with a situation where, sovereignty was anything but popular, mainly vested in the military command, oil revenue management under military governments became tailored to serve government functionaries, mainly military personnel or their appointees.
This was the reality that ushered in our democratic governance and it is a reality that has not change till today. All our governments have remained weak, deficient and blind to issues of services to citizens in varying degrees. Geometric rise in oil revenue has continued to serve as disincentives for governments to develop the needed capacity for service delivery. Thus the singular most important sector in Nigerian economy today is the oil sector. As a result, other sectors became neglected. Therefore, governance situation in the country has continued to regress and deteriorate from a situation where rulers are expected to serve citizens to a situation where citizens watch rulers serve themselves.
The sad reality is that we are not able to justify democratic governance or federalism with reference to any performance indicator whether with reference to federal or state governments. Our ‘progressive’ state governments have not so far produced any exception. Therefore, against the background of current APC merger negotiations, this needs to be highlighted so that our opposition political leaders are compelled to take some responsibilities and design a new governance template that can guarantee human development for Nigerian people.
There is no debate about the fact of our human development challenges. The question for our Nigerian opposition politicians is what is the response being presented to Nigerians? Should we expect such a response in the manifesto of APC? To what extent will it come with new forms of superior commitment by politicians who will be saddled with the responsibility of managing governments at federal and state levels? In any event, to what extent should Nigerians take it that there is a new consciousness among the leaders of our 11 state governments on account of the new progressive identity expect that poverty and unemployment rates will be reduced?
These are necessary question in order to focus Nigerian opposition politicians to issues of human development agenda. These are issues that border on service delivery aimed at enhancing the quality of citizens’ life. They border on the depth and scope of responsibilities of governments to citizens in the area of education, healthcare, social development, etc. Above all they border on the extent to which Nigerians should expect APC to emerge as a comprehensively competent progressive party managing all its responsibilities and not just that of nominating candidates and conducting political campaigns.
To be objective would be to take our bearing from facts that are steering us in the face as Nigerians. Combinations of huge oil revenue, domineering control of federal government, absence of services to citizens and worsening living conditions has created widespread crisis situations in the country. It is a condition that is provoking all sorts of national anger and hatred in varying proportions. Our opposition political leaders need to primarily demonstrate a commitment to create a new framework for the country. Such a framework should be definitive and should not just be simply about condemnation.
A definitive framework should regulate processes of candidates’ selection for instance. APC must have a strategy of sorting and sifting candidates such that there should be strong correlation between candidates’ selection process and the party’s policy commitment. Is it possible to expect a paradigm shift whereby issues of performance, knowledge and experience govern the process of candidates’ selection at all levels? This is important given that it will mean that performance on current and past responsibilities especially in terms of impact on human welfare issues will be considered. Such a strategy could generate positive competitive practices among our 11 governors aimed at enhancing service delivery. This will greatly eliminate circumstances whereby all candidates need is money and demonstration of loyalty to national leaders. Services resulting in citizens’ support would be the major consideration.
One of the condition that may potentially assist in ensuring that APC is able to come with some strong commitments to human development agenda could be through the conscious acknowledgement by our 11 state governments that the human development content of our democracy is feeble and require a major boost. On account of which they can set themselves some human development targets and design common policies that would drive service delivery between now and 2015. Practically, this can be achieved without having to wait for the finalization of the APC merger negotiations.
With the organized role of the 11 APC governors so far, it can be correctly argued that in fact the APC governors are the most organized section of the Nigerian opposition politics. The APC merger negotiation is able to make substantial progress on account of the organized role of the state governors. Left in the hands of the leadership of the merging political parties, issues of leadership and potentially candidates’ selection criteria for 2015 would have created dispute situation. Is the organized role of the 11 state governors going to be limited to pushing ACN, ANPP, CPC and Okorocha-led APGA to merge into APC? Or will the organised role of the 11 state governors be strategically expanded to address human development challenges such that their performances between now and 2015 become the moral beacon for APC and more fundamentally a source of APC’s governance and leadership credentials?
Such a moral beacon can also provide qualifying benchmarks for interested serving PDP governors for instance. This would mean that all current serving governors aspiring to join our new APC should meet some minimum human development targets. With aspirations to contest for political office being a major driving consideration and given the increasing levels of political insecurity in PDP, simple knowledge of such a qualifying benchmark may just be the needed incentives.
Interestingly, notwithstanding the role of state governments in the APC merger process today, public considerations about potential presidential candidate of APC predominantly completely ignore all our 11 state governors. Sparingly, Fashola and Adams get some mention but even then as running mates. Could this be a reflection of poor human development ratings of our 11 state governments? Could the facts of high poverty and unemployment rates in our states be responsible for such poor ratings? If high poverty and unemployment rates are responsible, why should anyone be contemplating GEJ as candidate for 2015?
Certainly, human development issues are not the driving consideration. The main driving considerations are factors that have nothing to do with performance in anyway. It is purely aspiration driven based on individual calculations with virtually zero human development content. This will continue to be so unless there is an organized response. The absence of organized response will continue to erode and undermine capacity for democratic response to distortions and aberrations related to our federalism. Perhaps the facts of our 11 APC Governors’ absence in the speculated list of potential presidential candidates for 2015 could be a reflection of the humility and personal loyalty to the leaders of the merging parties. In which case then, could our leaders of the merging parties be so insensitive as to be overlooking this reality and recklessly go out shopping for candidates from outside the merging parties? Could accomplishments bordering on human development delivery be the attractions?
Be that as it may, the APC merger negotiation need to provide an effective response to our current human development challenges through reinvention of government’s service delivery functions, starting with our 11 states. The confidence of Nigerians will be strengthened given a positive human development scorecard that translate in lower poverty and unemployment indices arising from policy commitments. This is the needed foundation for service oriented democratic governance and production driven federalism.
Will our organised 11 state governments mainstream this as part of the strategic political engineering for APC? Or will they just continue with the culture of business as usual? This is an opportune moment. The ability of our 11 governors to act with respect to issues of human development challenges facing Nigeria may be what is needed to give APC the progressive identity Nigerians are yearning for. Will our 11 organised governors write their names boldly in the progressive page of Nigerian history or will they simply write it in the common page? Will they place the country on the path of popular sovereignty or will they continue to undermine the power of Nigerians and promote monumental fraud, corruption and shoddy deals in the name of governance? Are they going to resolve our democratic imperfections, remove all distortions and aberrations associated with our federalism or will they continue with the unjust business of short changing Nigerians in the name of democracy and federalism?
Nigerians are watching anxiously, history is beckoning and the time to act is NOW!
(Lukman can be reached on: firstname.lastname@example.org)