Culled From Thisday Newspapers 08.10.2010
El-Rufai: It’s Time to Restructure Nigeria
For Nigeria to move to the next level, the issue of true federalism must be addressed, according to former FCT Minister, Malam Nasir El-Rufai. He shares his thoughts with Imam Imam
Apprehension about the composition and workability of the Nigerian nation-state will subside if the country tilts towards true federalism, according to former FCT Minister, Malam Nasir El-Rufai. He said the present situation of things where all the component units get monthly allocations from the Federal Government only makes the states lazy and unproductive, adding that lack of foresight, financial discipline and lackadaisical approach to governance has played huge roles in limiting the country’s march to greatness.
El-Rufai who has offered various ideas in different fora on how to make Nigeria a true giant of Africa, told THISDAY last weekend that the current move by the Federal Government to develop non-oil sector is both a positive thing and a welcome relief for the country.
“I understand that the Federal Government wants to develop the non-oil sector of this country. Honestly, I think this is a good thing for Nigeria. However, this laudable initiative will never materialise as long as we refuse to practise true federalism. I am worried because virtually all the states do not have the discipline to devote consistent time and money to develop the non oil sector. This is a fact because they know that with or without work they will still receive a monthly allocation from Abuja.
“We see the same thing in the area of power generation where states that generate power are not allowed to transmit it independently and have to pass through the Power Holding Company of Nigeria (PHCN). Given such conditions why would states want to invest in power?”
The former FCT Minister also queried the approach to governance in Nigeria. He said the present approach breeds incompetency, corruption and under-development. He said without sounding immodest, the best approach to changing the face of Nigeria lies in the country’s past.
“We need to run this country in a business-like manner if we want Nigeria to progress and be the pride of the black race. For this to happen, we need to return to the principles that Nnamdi Azikiwe, Ahmadu Bello and Obafemi Awolowo agreed on before independence which led to regionalism which produced a better economic model before the military class of 1966 truncated it.”
Expounding further, he said even though Nigeria cannot revert to regions as obtained in the past, but from that model, a lot can be fashioned for future application.
“Of course we cannot revert back so easily to the regions now that we have so many states but we can revert back to the basic principles. There must be competition amongst states and the Federal Government has to give them complete economic freedom to chart their future destinies. Other than Foreign Relations and the Armed Forces, everything should be left in the hands of the states. They must fend for themselves.
“Let us see how many governors will drive long convoys and buy exotic cars for traditional rulers and commissioners if they have to fend for themselves. In the same vein, you will find that citizens of the states will be more likely to confront their state governments if they see them mismanaging the state funds which at that time will only come from their sweat via taxes and what they produce in terms of agriculture and services.”
He said once such method is adopted, the country will end up with leaders who are visionary and who have service at heart. “You will end up with more Raji Fasholas all over Nigeria,” he said.
El-Rufai argues that as far as he can tell, the doling out of monthly allocations to the states by the federal government has only succeeded in halting the country’s march towards true federalism.
His words: “This regular free monthly Federal Allocation has killed true federalism and made us lazy, promoted corruption and has given Nigeria an odious image worldwide. It has not helped us. Even today, the back bone of Nigeria rests on those things we built under regionalism (Kainji dam, University of Ibadan, Ahmadu Bello University Zaria, University of Nigeria Nsukka (UNN), the Railways, Flour Mills and Textile Industry etc). And the sad thing is that it will only last as long as there is oil. What will we do when oil finishes? Why not do it today? We must realise that progress is not for people who do what they like rather than do what they must.”
For el-Rufai, another worrisome aspect of Nigerian federation is the excessive amount of money legislators allocate to themselves for services rendered. This he said should not be considering the high level of poverty among majority of the people in the country.
“Legislators are meant to be representatives of the people. How can representatives of Nigeria, a country whose citizens mostly live on less than a dollar a day earn more than representatives in England whose citizens live in abundance? And yet British Prime Minister David Cameron recently called for pay cuts for English MPs while reports indicate that our legislators desire a wage increase
“This scenario only happens where people owe their positions to god-fathers, and power blocs rather than the ordinary members of their parties in a free and fair primary and then the people of their constituencies in a free and fair general election.
“If Nigerian politicians really believe that the electorate matter do you think they would act in ways that so brazenly provoke the anger of the electorate? But they do so, and why? Because they know that as things are constituted, the floor members of their parties and the electorate are powerless to stop them. Do you now see why we want reforms before 2011?”
Giving his view on the current debate about the zoning of political offices in the country, El-Rufai said the debate is only a distraction.
“As Nigeria turns 50, we are distracted by which region should produce the next president and fail to note threats to national security. We are not self sufficient in food and energy and import much of our food and fuel with oil money driving rapid population explosion (from 50 million in 1960 to 150 million in 2010).
“Our reserves may last us a maximum of 40 years. How do we feed our people and power our economy when oil dries up or the West discovers an alternative? We cannot be a major oil producer surrounded by fuel thirsty neighbours who will readily buy cheap fuel refined in Nigeria yet we import fuel.
“If we can discipline ourselves and stop importing and start refining, we will maximize our economy. It is the proceeds from this venture that we should spend on improving our electricity generation infrastructure to modernize our economy in preparation for the post oil era which will come. These are our major problems, not where a president should come from.”