Between Regionalism And Many Indigent States
By Olu Akeredolu
Nigerian rulers will continue to find it very difficult to get close to the record of great leaders like Dr Nnamdi Azikiwe, Chief Obafemi Awolowo, Sir Ahmadu Bello and so on in the anal of governance while these men were in charge of Nigerian affairs. As political leaders, they created enormous positive impact in government which has remained indelible in the mind of their people. Besides individual intellectual and managerial acumen of the late sage, Chief Obafemi Awolowo, which stood him out and made him the champion among his peers at that time, all indices that can guarantee success in political governance came together in favour of these leaders. Unlike the very expensive presidential system of government which we are practicing now, their own was regionalism and parliamentary system of government which economized resources for their success. Our own time and political system became more retrogressive with the continual creation of mushroom and indigent entities called states.
These great leaders were lucky to be in charge when Nigeria was at its best, when the civil service was not carrying any ethical burden, when public service was mostly in the interest of the people, when one will be afraid to take what does not belong to him, when no top civil servant will hide a contractor's file under the carpet in his office in order to get 30% kickback at all cost, when people will prefer to protect their fathers' name and integrity in place of any undue and primitive accumulation of untold wealth, when teachers will prefer to take their rewards in heaven and when students will immediately prostrate or nil down to greet their teacher on sighting him or her at a distance of almost a mile away. These leaders were also lucky to rule when there were just three or four regions in the whole of Nigeria with a constitution that guaranteed true federalism.
Some people may not agree with me that the great sage, Chief Obafemi Awolowo might not have been able to achieve as much as he did no matter how genius he was in management during his time if the old western region which he governed as Premier had been balkanized into the present seven states, that is, Edo, Delta, Ogun, Ondo, Oyo, Osun, and Ekiti States and practicing the very expensive presidential system of government where legislators are paid full time and separately from ministers or commissioners as applicable now. At that time, apart from the fact that legislators worked part time, ministers or commissioners were appointed among them and that was a time of collective responsibility when followers can truly pass a vote of no confidence on their leader to remove him from office if he is not doing well. Before 1963, there used to be three regions: the north, west and south. The federal government created mid-west as the fourth region to weaken the progressive government of western region and the very powerful political party, the Action Group which was the only opposition party standing up to the federal government at that time.
We must ask ourselves why development has been very slow in Nigeria in spite of our crude oil, an income opportunity which our leaders did not have at independence. At the federal level at that time, we had Senate and House of Representatives but there were only three houses of assembly which worked part time with houses of chiefs then and Ministers were appointed among the members of the three houses of assembly in the regions. Today, we have 36 states with 36 houses of assembly with members working full time with full time salaries and allowances. Many of these states are so indigent that when they pay the salary of political office holders and their civil servants from their monthly allocation from Abuja, what always remain will be less than 10% of the allocation. What impact will the 10% or less have on capital development and the remaining more than 95% population in those states? In spite of this cheating, those who have been benefiting from this imbalance continue to agitate for creation of more states! We all know the truth but the problem with Nigeria is that those who have the wherewithal to effect the change that can benefit the majority of Nigerians are the ones who have been enjoying the status quo since 1966 till date and that is why it has been very difficult to go back to regional system of government even on the face of several and consistent agitations for it. For instance, if we move from the present thirty six states to six regions, thirty of the current governors will not be there as well as all their appointees. The fact that those calibers of people are not supporting a call for regionalism should not surprise anybody since they are the primary beneficiaries of the status quo.
But Nigeria is about the size of Texas or California State in America. Either Texas or California for instance has one governor, lieutenant governor, some legislators and about ten secretaries to run the State whereas Nigeria has a President, Vice President, at least thirty six ministers on every occasion, about four hundred and sixty nine federal legislators, thirty six state governors and thirty six deputy governors, about five hundred commissioners, over seven hundred state legislators, several special advisers and personal assistants and all of them earning full time salaries and allowances. When you add them to the federal, states and local government civil servants, the salaries and allowances they draw will consume more than eighty per cent of Nigeria's total income in any given year leaving less than twenty per cent for capital projects and development.
All of these public officials and civil servants are not up to five per cent of our total population and legally, they are the one enjoying the monopoly of our commonwealth. When you also consider what these officials do with our money in their secret places, you readily find an answer as to why our roads are in the shape they are. It comes to mind why our education and health institutions have for a long time remained in shambles. It becomes clearer why Nigerians could not enjoy electricity in their home and working places continuously for up to ten hours a day. If we reduce the number of our states in favour of regional system of government, the number of our governors, ministers, legislators, commissioners, special advisers and personal assistants will reduce automatically and by this, the huge amount of money we spend on salaries and allowances of public officials and civil servants will reduce while at the same time, we will be reducing the quantum of graft and money laundering in Nigeria.
We pretend all the time as if we do not know what is imperative for our development. For how long are we going to continue to deceive ourselves? We cannot ask our former colonial masters to come back to rule us and we know the right thing but the few powerful people controlling Nigeria will not let us do it. Leaders of thought and activists have called on Nigerian rulers to convey Sovereign National Conference to discuss the future of this country but those who could make this happen have refused to listen. Some have argued on their behalf that SNC may lead to breaking up of Nigeria. That may be true but we don't even need sovereign national conference or any conference at all to go into regional type of government if we are determined and if our representatives in government are willing to work for the greatest good of the greatest number. All they need to do is to work and map out the four or at most six regional boundaries and amend the constitution to reflect the change.
One thing that I so much believe is that although it may take a long time but Nigeria will eventually rediscover itself and Nigerians in high places will begin to know that every human being does not have more than one life to live and will not need any wealth thereafter. When we all stand face to face with this truth, then, Nigeria will conquer all the kleptocrats that have been punching it below the belt all these years and will eventually have the last laugh.