“Federalism” and “restructuring” and related terms are all political jargon. It means they are not so easy to understand by non-specialists and are widely appreciated by assumption, not fact. Nigeria is a federal republic that practices federalism on paper but is a unitary state in reality because it lacks the provision of autonomy for subnational or federating units. All advanced nations have undergone several phases of restructuring for political, economic or social reasons at different stages in their existence. Many Nigerians are oblivious to the fact that the creation of Lower Niger protectorate by the British, the amalgamation of North and South Nigeria, the institution of the four colonial constitutions for Nigeria and ultimately Independence in 1960, where all cases of restructuring. Oil appears to be the only reason restructuring, or federalism looks strange to some in Nigeria. I shall now answer the questions raised in response to restructuring (non-technically): Derivation or Ownership?
On the question of reverting to former systems of the federation, the apparent wisdom behind returning to, say, the twelve states system introduced by Gowon is economic viability. Some states in Nigeria cannot sustain themselves economically if, given the full or significant rights of autonomy, they only exist because of oil money and nothing else. Each of the t twelve states or the six geopolitical zones are economically viable. Those questioning from the United Kingdom often forgets parliamentary constituencies are periodically abolished, merged or created on viability grounds. Those questioning from the United States overlooks counties and cities have become bankrupt without federal support.
On the question of ownership, as a 12-year-old, my economics teacher taught us that ownership like entrepreneurship (sole trader, partnership, limited liability companies and public companies) was about responsibility not how much the owner(s) had made from the enterprise. “My own and our own is not the same” he added. The problem of the Nigerian unitary system is that it structurally absolves all federating units from fiscal responsibility, be it state or local government due to the question of ownership. Nobody owns the responsibility, even by the Constitution. It was Gowon who unwittingly in the bid to save “One Nigeria” who redistributed financial control from the regions to a centralised rentier class that formed the Owners of Nigeria Technostructure (ONT). Ever since 1966 at the behest of the ONT, federal money has been allocated, and it is then spent, stolen or wasted.
Under the four regions system during Tafawa Balewa’s reign, the Eastern region was relatively poor, but it suddenly became innovative and was raising taxes impressively from enterprise activities. The Eastern region owned the problem and dealt with it innovatively, help was not coming from the centre. The Western region invested its economic surpluses quite prudently, only because they owned the sources. Nigeria up to the 1970s was the world leader in the export of palm oil and world-leading in rubber, cocoa, timber, groundnut, kola nuts and gum Arabic on the agricultural side and tin, columbite, aluminium and uranium on the solid minerals side. The unitary reliance on oil killed the interest in developing those industries, diminishing the local tax bases that were gaining momentum under democratic rule pre-1966.
The unitary system in Nigeria is neither tax conscious or tax serious but oil-revenue dependent. Tax structures are the best for holding leaders and citizens accountable for their actions within the economy, particularly at sub-national levels. The benefits of local taxes are far more visible locally than national taxes. Good tax regimes are highly influential in curbing corruption and developing society. The more autonomy a subnational unit has, the more tax-efficient it can become. It is not immediately apparent only because the experience is lacking in Nigeria, and many Nigerians overseas often do not notice it.
On the question of the fact that all systems of governance work, indeed, the unitary governance is not a cause of corruption or misgovernance, and federalism is not a deterrent to them. Norway is a unitary system, while Canada is a federal system. What is common to these federal and unitary systems is the establishment of autonomy at the subnational level. Is it something Nigeria should learn how to do?
On the question of Nigerians being loyal to traditional over civic [Western] institutions, For scholars of institutions, many western institutions are sheer conveniences. In contrast, traditional ones the people customarily embody. Do Nigerians respect chiefs more than they do doctors? Do Nigerian women prefer you pay their dowries or you marry them in a church? Is the Oba of Benin more powerful than any politician from Edo State? Is Sanusi Lamido more powerful as an Emir than he was as a governor of CBN? When a Nigerian Christian is going through a significant crisis, do they seek supernatural solutions? When two Kalabari professors of English or two Yoruba national newspaper editors meet for the first time, why do they speak their tongue first even though they are masters of the English language? Does age seniority matter in Nigeria? Status, marriage, traditional power, belief, language, seniority are all institutions. Western institutions can be seen as feeder institutions which terminate in the fulfilment of conventional institutions. If this is true, is it not time to give proper consideration to traditional institutions in governance?
On the question of the bad behaviour of Nigerians, the best-governed societies are the most successful because they have the best enforceable institutions and political restructuring plays the most substantial role. Why does a Nigerian lecturer who regularly extorts sex from his students in Nigeria fear to try it in on the UK? Why does an offending driver habitually bribe police in Nigeria but dare not attempt such in France? Why is it that Nigerian footballers can lie effortlessly about their age and German footballers cannot? The answer is enforceable institutions borne of the right political structures.
The restructuring of Nigeria has much promise embedded within it.