Nigeria: Without Fiscal Federalism, States Will Keep Struggling - Fayemi

18 October 2020

Governor Kayode Fayemi of Ekiti State is also chairman of the Nigeria Governors Forum (NGF). In this interview with journalists, he speaks on the debate surrounding the clamour for restructuring, fiscal federalism and other salient issues in the polity. LEADERSHIP Sunday brings the excerpts.

What would you consider the gains, challenges, constraints of governing Ekiti State in the last two years of your return to office ?

I'm in a fairly unique position in the sense that I'm not a new kid on the block, so I cannot be excused from lack of knowledge of the challenges of office. If you all recall what I said during the campaigns in 2018, I said I had unfinished business which was the reason I was returning to Ekiti, not that I didn't have an alternative or I just wanted to be Governor for its own sake. I was a minister at the time I chose to go back, because of the circumstances of my exit from office. I wanted to ensure that we win the state back and then complete many projects embarked on in my first term, as well as entrench an irreversible development trajectory. In the four years that I was out of office, there was widespread suffering and poverty in the state. Ekiti, many will still argue, is essentially a civil service state. Payment of workers' salaries should not be considered as an achievement. However, when you are a civil service state and you are operating in a situation where people have not been paid for almost a year, then it becomes a big deal when you take that burden off those directly affected, not to mention the multiplier effect on others in the state. It's therefore clear that we needed change of leadership in order to get good governance back on the agenda and a sense of purpose back to government.

You can recall, my campaign focused on restoring the values and reclaiming the land of Ekiti. What was to be reclaimed? Take the social intervention programmes that we had in the state when I was Governor. They were all cancelled by my successor. There was no longer free education programme up to senior secondary level as we used to have in my first term. The monthly stipend for the elderly citizens, "owo arugbo" and the Food Bank, "Ounje arugbo", as we call it in Ekiti also disappeared. The free health programme for the under-five, over-65, the pregnant women and people with disability were also cancelled by the previous government. Now, all these are back in Ekiti and our people are enjoying them.

Given our parlous financial state, we figured out a way to run an economy that has also generated more investments for the state. If you look at our agricultural sector, we decided, policy- wise, that the only way we can transit from being a subsistence agricultural state, was to find a mechanism to attract more commercial investment to the agriculture sector in the state. We have brought such critical players from the agric sector to Ekiti, and in another three months we would have reached full scale production of dairy products. This is something that has led to the revival and resuscitation of the Ikun dairy farm that has been moribund for over two decades.

We are establishing a special agriculture processing zone supported by the African Development Bank, (AfDB) and the World Bank. We are in partnership with the World Bank on rural access to farms to aid agric marketing process. Basically, what that does for us is open up the state by fixing the feeder roads, linking the farms to the market. Roughly, 1,000 kilometres of rural roads in addition to other agricultural infrastructures have been done.

In terms of roads, one of the most critical roads we have, that some of you have passed and complained about, is the Ado- Akure road. When you go on that road, you will know the problem we have with the so-called federal roads.

What about the constraints?

Constraints, I think, is something that is worth reflecting on. I think we are fast getting to a point in which we must confront our reality as a federation. Finance is always a constraint at the state level. There is what I call the tyranny of unfunded mandates. We can't continue to run an economy the way we are doing. We have to figure out a structure, a formula that will enable us generate more funds internally and at the same time ensure equitable and fair distribution of what's available in the Federation coffers. We need a formula that is more responsive to the yearnings of the population. The current structure obviously favours those who are more associated with the unitary structure, that privileges concentration of powers and resources at the centre rather than a genuine federal structure of federation units that is more accountable to the people and responsive to the challenges that the people have. What that formula should be, has been a subject of debate from all sides of Nigeria. Clearly, the Federal structure we have now is problematic and it is not working as it should. There is a justification for more devolution of not just functions, unless you want to suffer from a tyranny of unfunded mandate, but also resources. You can't devolve functions and not support it with resources and that is what we are faced with now.

Thankfully, the government is more responsive under President Buhari. Federal roads that had been fixed for the past 20 years and not one naira was paid by the governments of Presidents Obasanjo, Yar'Adua and Jonathan has now been paid by President Buhari. He asked the Minister of Works and Housing, Babatunde Fashola, to go round the 36 states, check all the federal roads that have been fixed with evidence that they were actually fixed by the states and then pay. And he paid! That is not something that we have experienced since the dawn of this democratic dispensation.

Frankly, the issue is, we still have to ask: What is a federal road? The people who are plying the road in my state don't know the difference between a federal road and a state road. All they will say is that 'Mr Governor you are not doing your job,' only for you to start explaining that 'it's not my road and I need permission to even work on it' just as we have experienced trying to work on Ado- Akure road.

It is the same story all over. These roads are bad, the federal government has no money to fix them. Some they will fix via Sukuk bonds, some via Sovereign Wealth Fund. We don't have the resources, so we have to devise a very sustainable means of addressing these issues beyond what we do on medium scale basis. Federal government can always borrow to cover any shortfall, but sub nationals cannot, except we go through the federal government.

Wearing my other hat as the chairman of the Nigeria Governors' Forum, this is an issue that has been on the front burner of our work. We hope Nigerians would be able to push the argument to a point where the resources and the powers that reside in Abuja, can be devolved to the states with the resources also devolved to solve the responsibilities carried out at that level. It may not automatically improve performance, but I believe it would improve accountability by bringing government closer to the people.

Are you making a case for Fiscal Federalism ?

We have always made a case for fiscal federalism. I am a known advocate of fiscal federalism, but I'm also saying even those who are reluctant and ambivalent about fiscal federalism are being confronted daily with these challenges in their states. And they are asking themselves, 'how long can we continue to do this? Am I elected just to pay salaries and not raise funds to do more for my people?' And it is not just about sharing revenues, it is also about creating the enabling environment that would allow investment to thrive in our various states.

On APC governors' stand on restructuring, are you getting the cooperation of the National Assembly?

I am not the chairman, APC Governors' Forum by the way, I'm chairman of Nigeria Governors' Forum, which is non-partisan. But I'm a member of the APC Governors' Forum. These issues are raised daily but the point I'm trying to make is that, I don't see a conflict between the pursuit of fiscal federalism and devolving more powers to the lower levels. In fact, they are two sides of the same coin whether you call it restructuring, devolution or constitutional reform, that's just an issue of nomenclature.

For us in APC, we have taken some bold steps. We have a comprehensive report which I'm sure many of you would have come across- the Nasir el-Rufai committee has not only articulated in clear terms what our views are on what you call restructuring, but also attached proposed bills which we then took as APC governors to the leadership of the National Assembly- President Ahmed Lawan, and Speaker Femi Gbajabiamila, handed it over to them.

We do not have the powers as governors to make laws, these are our proposals as governors of the APC, and we believe that when they start a constitution reform process, this will be one of the materials they would treat as a formal memorandum from us.

I heard they have started the process now led by Deputy Senate President, Omo-Agege, it is our hope that it will not go the way of previous constitution reform process. The challenge is if we do not have the powers, we can propose and encourage our members but ultimately, the power resides in our National Assembly. I think the National Assembly really ought to spend time pulling together various constitutional reform processes, the Jonathan process, the 1995 Justice Niki Tobi process, the one by President Obasanjo, our own proposals as outlined in the el- Rufai report, and several others with a view to harmonising them and come up with a single document, subject it to a national referendum and then we have a constitution.

I don't think it's rocket science, but maybe there are impediments which the National Assembly may have, but they cannot say it's President Buhari or APC governors that have stopped them from accelerating the constitutional reform process.

Is 2023 possible without restructuring? Given agitation for Biafra Republic, Oduduwa Republic, Kwararafa Republic etc ?

Posturing is part of politics and people will always posture and use that to gain the headline. Those people talking about Oduduwa Republic or Kwararafa Republic, who are they speaking for? Who gave them the mandate to speak for Yoruba? Did they consult the Yoruba people and the Yoruba people told them that they want Oduduwa Republic? If you have Oduduwa Republic, where will the capital be? That is just a tip of the iceberg. You can be sure that all Yoruba people are not on the same page, neither are all Jukuns or Hausa on the same page despite efforts to maintain the impression of a monolithic Yoruba, Igbo or Hausa-Fulani identity. If you bring IPOB, you will get the same feedback. I think the one Nigeria I want is the Nigeria that serves everybody and works for everybody. I don't know any reasonable Nigerian who wants Nigeria to break up. People just believe that Nigeria is not working in the way and manner it should work for them. So, if they are agitating, I don't think they are agitating for a break- up. They just want the powers that be to hear and listen to their pains and take some action.

Some extremists would go in the direction of unilateral declaration of independence or secession and its within their right to do that, as long as they conduct themselves within the ambit of the law, it's a democracy, but most reasonable, most serious Nigerians don't play this game.

Look at the demography, 65 per cent of Nigerians are under 30. They are not interested in this ego maniacal pursuits of lionising ethnic identity - you are Hausa, you are Igbo, this and that. No. Look at music, look at information technology, look at the areas our young people are excelling, they are marrying one another, they are growing up all over the place, they are not sold to this ethnic agenda at all. And you know that, even in your own home, your kids are not talking about this. They are talking about opportunities, why am I not a beneficiary of equality of access and opportunity? And I think we need to read their lips carefully to know what Nigerians are saying, and the media has a role to play.

Many of our young people have opted out of Nigeria psychologically. They have deserted Nigeria and that is what should worry us, because they are a bundle of talents, they are the ones with the energy, the creativity and innovation capabilites. Poverty is violence, when you look also at the insecurity complex there is nexus. Lack of development, lack of jobs and insecurity that we are grappling with, whether with the insurgency infested Northeast or the banditry ravaged Northwest or the kidnapping consumed Southeast and Southwest or the militancy proliferated South south or the herder-farmer clashes of the Northcentral - there is a direct correlation between poverty, lack of unemployment opportunities for the youth and violence.

If we want to reduce violence and insecurity, we need to do something about human capital development and it does not have any correlation with North, East or West. It is more pronounced in the North clearly than in the South, but even the South is not immune to this inextricably intertwined complex. And I think as a country, we need a Nigeria that works for every Nigerian. The people who are just entertaining themselves with Oduduwa Republic, Biafra Republic or whatever republic, I wish them luck but I know that's not where the real Nigerians are.

Do you think the people being attacked in the Middle Belt and other places repeatedly by bandits and herdsmen share your optimism and belief?

It's not about belief, they are Nigerians. Apart from the fact that they were born here, they live here and whether you are a resident or a full blooded citizen, you want peace, you want security. It really doesn't matter, Nigeria is not just a geographic space but also a living space and you want to derive benefit from it. But the reality is that, if we do not fix this country in the manner that responds to the yearnings of the citizens, it will consume all of us. It will not just consume those who are kidnapping and killing, yes people have deserted their homes because of insecurity, but it's not the solution. The solution is that we must make our country liveable, and in making our country liveable, security cannot be unitarised. That is one of the things that must be devolved, so that we can respond adequately to the immediate challenges in our community. If a stranger enters your village, within five minutes the local chief would know. But if someone comes to Ikeja, unless the community police system is developed, you won't be able to manage it, and I think the Nigerian police as currently structured, is not. You know my views on this, that's why we started Amotekun and thank God the federal government has deemed it fit to commence a community policing arrangement. It speaks to the fact that everybody realises that you cannot effectively manage security and safety from the confines of Abuja, it won't work and it has not worked.

So, let us look for creative mechanism that would make it responsive to the immediate needs of the people in every community. If we don't do that, we won't even know the connection between the bandits who they claim have come from some places outside Nigeria, and the network they have in Nigeria. You will not know, you will just be assuming why it's happening, but there is a network, they know the terrain. We have discovered for example in Ekiti that whenever we have kidnapping incidents, and we follow the trail into the various forests, we have some of our locals who collaborate with them by taking food to them or selling recharge cards to them. And you will not be looking for those ones, you will be looking for the "herdsmen". So, we need to really study our situation, develop a security mechanism that is localised and then we begin to address this problem holistically.

Crisis In Ekiti APC

Well, I don't know about crisis, but anywhere you have agitation it's not helpful, but agitation is in the DNA of politics. For me, politics is not just about allocation of resources, but also about who has power, who lost power and who wants power. And clearly whenever you have a contest, somebody must win and somebody must lose in that contest. The ability to fully bring everybody together is also a hallmark of leadership and I believe that's what we have done in Ekiti, but we still have some people who have issues with that. If you check my cabinet, you will see that five of the people who contested with me in the gubernatorial race are in my cabinet as commissioners and special advisers, that's part of our efforts to pull everybody in. Yet another is the Federal Character Commissioner in Abuja; One is in the Senate and I can go on and on, and two are in the House of Representatives. So, we have almost closed the circle. Naturally there are those still smarting from their loss in 2018 and believe the only solution is to bring the house down, even if all the clout they have is in newspapers and social media. Whilst we try to accommodate the expectations of all, it's always a constant struggle for any political leader to manage the limited resources in the overall interest of the state, and to share to people who feel they deserve more than what they are getting. We will keep trying to satisfy all and sundry.

The semblance of crisis you referred to is being handled appropriately. But, frankly speaking, there is no faction in our party in Ekiti. There is only one party in Ekiti, the leadership of the party in Ekiti is not in any controversy. So, those who decided to entertain themselves by claiming that they have suspended the Governor can only be the ones to answer why they did that. But the party has pronounced at the national level, it has made its position clear, however because we felt that we need a united party, it's in our collective interest to have a united party, even if it is one lost sheep, we are taking up this issue. Those who say they have grievances, we have set up a local reconciliation committee in the state under the former chairman of the party, they should ventilate their grievances with this committee. And whatever the outcome of the report, the party will look into it and take appropriate action. That committee just submitted its report last week to the party.

So, without prejudice to whatever action the national headquarters is taking, we are taking specific steps in the party in the state in order to manage the situation. You can also understand why this is happening. We are here discussing my second year in office, I have two years to go, I am not running again. There are people who are interested in becoming governors so they have to shake the table in order to create opportunities for their own gubernatorial projects and I wish them well. There is nothing wrong in that, I too ran for it and I was fortunate to get it. Others who feel that they should keep trying, should be allowed to do that but they shouldn't do it at the detriment of the party. There are legitimate ways to agitate for it, and if your fear is that the sitting governor is going to bring somebody and it won't be you, why don't you wait, let's get to that bridge before we cross it. That's really how I see it, it's not distracting government in anyway, it makes for good headlines in newspapers though. But anyone who is familiar with Ekiti politics, knows that most of the people doing this are not even in Ekiti.

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