(Vanguard of Sunday, December 10, 2006)
We started the story from the end last week when we spoke about the de jure situation and the de facto situation in our political experiencing in walking the Democracy Highway.
We said that there would be less confusion in the minds of people if they knew what we have entrenched in our system, not what the road map provides. The entrenched order is that office-seekers hunt for those who can get them into places, and pander to their tastes, and when the demands become annoyingly inordinate, they revolt and the problems start and the people suffer.
How to get out of the grip of vested interests may well have been the first part of this presentation. But I did not want to address it because I almost lost my voice in the past begging for restructuring the country. Someone reacted to the piece I did and asked me to say what would have been done that was not done.
It is not difficult to look back and say that if we had done what we ought to have done, we would be better off today. But what did we have to have done?
I said it before and I must continue to say it that we ought to have cut our political coat according to our economic size, and that if we wanted to entrench an enduring political system, we ought to have adopted that phase we are ready and ripe for.
Readiness and ripeness are determined by need, and what we need is welfare of the citizens, that is welfare of the more than 130 million Nigerians, and their security. Only a few public officers are lining their pockets with our wealth, derived mainly from the bowels of the earth, not even from the sweat of our national brow.
With our eyes on the millions of dollars we scoop from oil everyday, we set up huge structures that have only helped to waste them. The more we want to reach out to the poor of the earth, the more we build skyscrapers to distance ourselves from ground level.
What we would have done was to have decongested the political space, and we would be shocked how we would have reduced the number of godfathers whose only full time job is to await their share of public money that flows to them routinely.
Before 1966 when the military first came, the law-making arm was doing its work part-time. We had three regions at independence, and later a fourth before the military came in 1966. When they left in 1979, we had 19 regions which had been renamed states, and the perquisites of office had been multiplied from four in 1966 to 19 in 1979.
As at the time when the civilian regime came in 1999, the number of states had increased to 36, and the ministries and departments had increased from five in 1966 (four in the four regions and one at the centre) to 37 in 1999 (one at the centre and 36 in the states).
One thing they all had in common was and is that the permanent secretary in Jigawa State had the same conditions of service as the permanent secretary in Abuja. But this is not where the problem lay or lies. We accommodated a bloated political arrangement that did not reflect any pre-occupation with development.
We chose a presidential system and loaded the occupant of the throne with 93 areas of implementing law, being areas in which the National Assembly could legislate. With this single decision, we opted for empowering one man who may be willing to undermine the whole federal structure which the Constitution purports to enthrone.
Not done yet with centralizing power, we picked governors to man the states, and they were made kingpins in their domains. The only body we empowered to tame their excesses were the very bodies whose powers could be undermined by those who owed allegiance to kingmakers.
What we chose and have been implementing since 1979, and which has shown its worst parts since 1999 is a system of government that is only democratic on the face. In content it is autocracy at its most sophisticated.
How? The only elected person in the executive arm is the president and the governor. That there should be a vice president and a deputy governor has come to us in operation as no more than a contraption without a mouth to speak and without teeth to bite with.
The only constitutional role of a deputy governor is for him to act when the governor is not there. But since 1999, we have discovered that the governor has refused not to be there. He carries his office abroad with him and gives instructions on what to do to whomsoever he wishes.
Even the vice president has testified to being bored doing nothing because his only routine nowadays is to wake up, say his prayers, watch television, read newspapers and sleep. He cannot leave town without the President’s permission and such permissions are often denied.
This scenario is the very opposite of the marriage he had with his boss between 1999 and 2003 when he called the shots. If the vice president is dropped today, the President can handpick anyone to assist him and the Senate of the National Assembly would not hesitate to endorse his choice.
History is my witness that whomsoever the President wants must come on board. How many times did the Senate reject Prof Aborishade whose ill-fated stay in the Aviation sector has given everyone an idea of what our government thinks about culture and tourism.
The state situation is worse. The only elected person that counts in the executive arm is the governor. If the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) has been haunting the state chief executives from pillar to post, it is because they have been exercising the power they think they have to do whatever they like with the state’s resources.
Those they spend the money with are those who were not elected. In fact they are those who have every reason to hate the electorate. They may have lost during the primaries to those who later became elected members of the House.
But the elected ones are those who have constituencies to account to. The constituency of the commissioner is the one who recommended them for office, and it is to this okija that they owe their de facto allegiance.
With more than 75 per cent of the allocation held up in the elected governor’s office, there can be little for development which is the reason for their being there.
Why can we not make more sense from the constitutional demand for accountability by decongesting the structure and adopting the parliamentary system at the sate level even if we retain the presidential at the federal level!
Thirty-six governors would have had to go, with their commissioners and advisers and other hangers-on. The party with the majority in the House would pick a premier or whatever name we want to know him by.
The premier or by whatever name called would pick his commissioners from the House. In other words, elected members become commissioners and they are directly responsible to the people who elected them. That would automatically announce the death of the godfathers.
Having wiped out the executive governor position, we would make all elected members of the House of Assembly do their work part-time. A country crying for basic needs of its citizens cannot afford to have full-time law-makers, earning fat allowances to the discomfiture of other organs of government that are more productive than those whose only business is politics.
We then move to the centre and try to decongest the political space there. The Senate remains the law-making arm that is elected, and representation remains equal among the constituent states.
We move out the House of Representatives and ask the members to constitute the assembly of the geo-political zone they come from. We therefore have Six Houses of Representatives that constitute the law-making arms of the zones.
The 93 powers at the centre are reduced to those areas like defence, immigration, external affairs and other unifying areas that will help anchor a strong Nigeria where the federating units have autonomy to grow at their pace.
There may be an advisory body which will be selected, as happened in the First Republic when we had a Senate that was nominated. At the Regional level, because they are autonomous, the constituent states within the region can decide where the powers downloaded from the federal level will lie – at the regional level or in the states as constituted at present.
But one thing the zone will do is to accommodate as many local government areas as they believe they want, and fund them!
The structure will therefore be a slimmed down central government that will not be breathing down the necks of state governments because its relationship will be with the regional governments; regional governments that will know the problems of the regions and address them with the resources available from the federation account and internally-generated revenue; a heavily decongested presence of an unelected executive at the state level which had gobbled the resources which the EFCC wants recovered even if it has to use unedifying means; a local government structure which will reflect more service than business and in which councilors earn a seating allowance and no more.
In short we ought to have had a structure that would have made politics a service, not the business it has been turned into through the manipulation of the de jure situation. These issues can be seriously revisited after change of guards in 2007.