2 February 2016

Nigeria: Governors Have Become Emperors - Olusegun Obasanjo

Ibadan and Lagos — For former President Olusegun Obasanjo, some governors in the country are not really engaged in the business of governing their states with the overall objective of improving the lives of the citizens. Rather, they have turned themselves into emperors in their states.

Equally lamenting the state of affairs in the country, former Commonwealth Secretary- General, Emeka Anyaoku, has said that for Nigeria to survive the harsh effects of its political structure amid dwindling government revenue, it must revert to regionalism, such that the six geo-political zones will become federating units.

Obasanjo who spoke at the inauguration conference of the Ibadan School of Government and Public Policy, at the International Conference Centre, University of Ibadan, Ibadan yesterday said some state governors had turned themselves into emperors and that they had even appropriated the funds belonging to the local councils in their states into their private estates.

The former president, who said corruption was the worst legacy bequeathed to the country by bad governance by some past administrations, also said Nigeria may experience another debt overhang as happened during his first term in office when his administration negotiated an $18 billion debt relief from the Paris Club.

"The drastic reduction in the prices of crude oil in the international market, has unraveled the weakness of governance in Nigeria. The Minister of Finance recently announced that the 2016 budget deficit may be increased from N2.2 trillion in the draft document now before the National Assembly to N3 trillion, due to the decline in the price of petroleum. That means that our budget will be 50 % deficit. I wonder... I really wonder.

He continued: "If the current fiscal challenge is not critically addressed, Nigeria may be on its way to another episode of debt overhang. You may recall that a few years ago, we rescued Nigeria from its creditors. Things were bad, they really, really were bad. My first year as an elected President of Nigeria, we were spending over three billion dollars to service our debts, and even then, the quantum of debts were not reducing.

"Anytime we were not able to pay those debts, they piled up at a punishing rate. So we moved from $18 billion to $30 billion, until we were in the region of $35 billion. It was not pretty. We were lucky that we finally met with the Paris Club and other creditors and we were able to obtain a $18 billion debt forgiveness, it was the largest African debt cancellation that has ever taken place."

He went on: "Nigeria was able to use the money realised from the sales of crude oil to pay off the sum of outstanding debts and interests and we were able to end up with the debt of only $3 billion. It is indeed important for us as Nigerians to ask questions about the government's ability to deal with all these mounting economic developments."

The former Commonwealth General-Secretary, in a lecture titled "Nigeria: In urgent need of a truer federalism", delivered at the inaugural lecture of the Ibadan School of Government and Public Policy (ISGPP), Ibadan noted that failed experiments at reviewing the country's constitution in which there had been consistent calls for creation of more states was a sign of dissatisfaction of Nigerians and a failure of governance.

According to him, "In this age of rising global move away from the use of fossil fuel, and particularly in this period of continuing fall in the price of crude oil, the constitution must enable the country to plan and pursue a non-crude-oil-based economic development. It must also address the issue of concentration of power at the centre, which fuels the destabilising competition for the control of the centre between the country's diverse ethnic and religious groups.

"Instead of the present structure of 36 economically unviable states with concentrated political power at the centre, the National Assembly should convert the existing six geopolitical zones, which have been recognised and are being used for a number of political decisions and actions, into the more viable federating units of a truly Federal Republic of Nigeria."

Proposing that Nigeria's 36 states can be retained as development zones within the regions but without full administrative paraphernalia, he said that it would be up to the six federating regions to consider and meet any demands for the creation of new development zones within them.

According to him, it is inexcusable that Nigeria is endowed with so many untapped solid minerals, and such vast arable land for significant agricultural production, and these resources have remained inadequately exploited for the benefit of its citizens of whom no less than 70 percent still live in massive poverty.

He added : "As more viable units for planning and attracting investments in larger development projects, the six regions will facilitate the necessary shift from the present philosophy and reliance by the 36 states on 'sharing the national cake', to focusing on production and internally generated revenue within the regions. In addition, internal security and crime control can be more effectively managed by the people in the regions who know and are more familiar with the local environment."

Providing a probable structure for operation, he said: "The Federal Government should retain exclusive powers over federal matters and related institutions including Finance and Monetary Policy, Defence, Foreign Affairs, Immigration, Customs, Aviation, Maritime, Minerals (Liquid and Solid), Internal Security (but liaising with regional security agencies), Judiciary ( but only the Supreme Court), Education ( but only Federal Universities and supervision of standards for all tertiary institutions), Health (only Federal Universities' Teaching Hospitals including at least one state-of-the-art specialist hospital per region), and federal highways and railways.

"The six federating regions should have responsibility over their fiscal matters, law and order (including the police), education, health, power (to be shared with the centre), transportation (roads & inland waterways), and economic development (investments, agriculture).

"The federally-generated revenue should be allocated on the following basis: 40 percent to be retained by the Federal Government for its substantially reduced responsibilities with up to 15% of revenue derived from minerals (solid & liquid) going to the mineral-producing areas for addressing the resultant environmental damage; 60 percent to be shared equally among the six federating regions."

He called for a change of heart by politicians if the restructuring of the country would ever come to fruition, adding : "While it would be necessary to have the right governance structure, it would also be important that the people operating the structure are no longer imbued with the characteristics of today's Nigeria's political class."

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