Nigeria’s heavily centralised system kicked off with Aguiyi-Irons’s infamous unification decree in 1966. Since then, we have been in a race to the bottom as we have centralised more and more despite the evidence that Abuja is quite incapable of handling all it pretends to try to handle. Nigeria can only get sustainable progress from devolution and constitutional amendments that give the states the freedom and resources to develop themselves.
To be fair, the states and local governments have some powers, and their failure to utilise those properly makes a case for devolution pretty tough. According to data from UNESCO, Nigeria has about 20 million out-of-school children.
This long-standing problem has become part of the campaign rhetoric of presidential candidates, who have not hesitated to promise Nigerians that they will resolve the issue. As persuasive as they may sound, it will be almost impossible for them to eradicate mass illiteracy.
The reason is that the executive arm of government, which includes the Nigerian President and the Federal Government, is not in charge of the primary school system. In Nigeria’s federalism, the plan is to have executive powers shared among the federal, state and local governments in a way that synergy is created.
The state and local governments are constitutionally responsible for primary school education and healthcare. Their work is designed to be facilitated by councillors and legislators in the House of Assembly. But many Nigerians do not know that. We will get back to this…
For the North, South and Middle Belt. A true devolution that frees the states and regions to use their resources to develop themselves at their pace, with no one needing Abuja to be God, or sidelining some states to develop others, thus creating resentment.
Restructuring is what can work, and we saw this at some level during the First Republic. Trans-Amadi, Ikeja and Bompai are examples of what could have been. Every Nigerian state and LGA has to develop itself. The progress made at LGA and State level is what will lift this country. Centralisation has warped our minds so much that we do not even try to do what is legally permitted at the state and LGA levels.
No President will set up farms. We have seen the outcome of Aso Rock refusing to let the states and regions handle power generation. We have seen the outcome of a centralised industrialisation policy rather than having industrial policy differ from state to state according to their raw materials, needs, educational attainment and human capital.
This centralised industrial policy has led to the white elephant that is Ajaokuta. Imagine if Onitsha (where the iron ore is) had been allowed to build a steel mill. Can Enugu generate power with its coal? Has Warri been able to expand its port? Tinapa failed partly because the FG refused to let them dredge the Calabar Estuary.
What are the three major things we need from Nigeria’s next president?
In my view, they are to push for devolution with the National Assembly; to handle a sensible macroeconomic agenda sensibly and bring us up from the pit that the Buhari government has spent the last eight years digging us into; and to update and implement an up to date version of the Oronsaye Report, thus shrinking the Civil Service and automating it as much as practicable given our infrastructural challenges. But to do these, he needs the National Assembly.
Real progress can ONLY come from what happens on the ground in the 36 states and 774 LGAs, and this is where my earlier statement about Nigerians themselves not knowing comes into play.
Over time, Nigerians have proved to either be ignorant of the separation of powers among the three arms of government or reluctant to accept that they play different roles.
This ignorance or reluctance, as the case may be, can be seen in the 2023 election forecast that SBM Intelligence was commissioned by the Enough is Enough Coalition to conduct. The results of that forecast published last Friday show a declining interest in down-ballot elections among Nigerians.
All our respondents in this survey had an interest in the presidential election, but only a third, 34.53%, were interested in the governorship elections. One in five, 19.86%, showed any interest in the Senate, while the interest level in the House of Representatives and State House of Assembly elections was a sixth (16.75%) and one in seven (14.24%), respectively.
Many citizens are unduly focused on the presidential election, so there is a need for mass education on the importance of other positions because their actions and inaction play a crucial role in enhancing or dousing the Presidency’s efforts.
At the end of May, Nigeria will have only one president, 36 governors, 109 senators and 360 members of the House of Representatives. Therefore, Nigerians would do well to take every tier seriously and elect the right candidates if they truly desire to see a government that delivers satisfactorily on its promises and a country that works for everyone.
Nwanze is a partner at SBM Intelligence