Its time to review Nigeria’s Federalism to halt slow development
Says Kayode Fayemi
Nigeria’s founding fathers bequeathed the country with a federalist system which has a number of positive features that can potentially support a development agenda.
The fiscal reserve belongs to both the Federal and sub-national governments. States operate a high degree of decentralized autonomy which is essential for development and fiscal stability.
The adoption of the federal form of government was borne out of the reflection of a cultural heterogenity that characterised the regions of Nigeria.
Although the evolution of intergovernment relationships between the federal and State governments has occurred in fits and starts, partly due to the unitarist impulses of military rule but the democratization process since 1999 has problematized these unitarist impulses and brought them into sharper focus – leading to louder agitation for devolution of powers and responsibilities to the sub-nationals.
More than at any other time, most thought leaders believe federalism contributes significantly to innovation in state, local and national government alike.
As State governments, we recognize the importance of improving our collaboration with the Federal Government to ensure an aligned national agenda.
These collaborations include regional collaboration among states within the same geo political areas, a national collaboration among all states coordinated by the Nigeria Governors Forum and stronger collaboration between states and the Federal Government.
Even at that, unlike other federal systems, Nigeria is still operating below its potential and will need to consider a new deal on the most efficient system of fiscal federalism given past experiences.
There are those who argue that development and inter-governmental fiscal relations in the country would appear to be gradually moving towards greater centralisation.
Finding the right balance between centralised policy formulation and implementation and state autonomy in public service provisioning and its financing is the main issue to resolve through informed collaboration and partnership.
While these limitations have often been adressed through the generosity of the sitting President or lack of it, or through compromises and special fiscal facilities like the Universal Basic Education (UBE) Fund and the Basic Health Care Provision Fund (BHCPF) that seek to provide incentives to raise sub-national capacity in related areas, what we really need is an institutional mechanism that is not mediated by partisan vagaries or the whim of the President.
The weaknesses of the current federal-state relations is evident particularly in education, health, infrastructure and law enforcement where the value chain of service delivery is spread across different tiers of government both horizontally and vertically.
A new deal on federalism is required to address Nigeria’s slow development progress.
Unlike the more insulated federal government, States and local governments face increasingly ‘challenging problems’ which cannot be brushed aside.
States who remain at the grassroots are expected to provide tangible results to meet the immediate concerns of their citizens.
The visibility of challenges at the state and local level, and the expectation for immediate action from the government places a heavy burden on state and local governments for timely action.
A better balance, one in which the federal government has less steerage over activities meant for States and States have more financing autonomy and increased responsibility will likely improve the development outcomes of the country.
Policy development may be national in scope with inputs from all levels of government, but it is mainly sub-nationals that the buck of implementation fall on – they experience first-hand the bearing of inequality, declining livelihoods and rising poverty, state fragility, conflict, climate change and the protracted humanitarian crises.
Law enforcement services and community safety are good examples of state and local problems that require immediate tangible results but fall within central control. Unfortunately, the current system has led to blame games and sidestepping of responsibility.
The review of the fiscal federalism framework in terms of the spending and tax responsibilities of each tier of government and the revenue sharing formula across the three tiers of government may be a necessary condition to rebalance the country’s federalist structure with its development agenda.
This emphasizes the call for devolution of more powers to sub-national governments where they are at the forefront of implementation.
For a start, federal action should be limited to those duties and powers delegated to the federal government under the Constitution.
Reducing and simplifying the scope of conditionalities for federal grants will also cut red tapes and give states more flexible and transparent allocation of funds.
For example, we at the NGF have proposed that reviewing the law undergirding the Universal Basic Education programme and the Basic Healthcare Provision Fund partnership with States from a counterpart funded programme to a Programme for Results approach, will shift the requirements to access the federally managed funds from an ability to match Federal Governments contribution to a reward for meeting agreed milestones in basic education and primary health.
The huge delay in accessing those funds will also be addressed in a transparent manner. As states, it is best to provide Federal Government with on-the-ground guidance on how to deliver better solutions to our people rather than promote unequal development through federal programmes that have not been well thought-through.
This is not to suggest a usurpation of federal powers by states. Indeed, state governments recognize the place of the Federal Government. We also recognize the importance of collaboration and partnership with the Federal Government. The federal government plays an important role in protecting the basic rights of all citizens in the country especially those beyond the capacity of States .
However, there are problems that are best suited for States. In many cases, the federal government is required to drive a national agenda or policy formulation, but implementation activities are best suited for States.
In our view, there are lessons to be learned from the experience of other federal systems, namely that:
• The sustainability of State governments impacts on the credibility of the central government.
• Recognition of the constituent mechanisms, such as the duty to consult with sub-national governments through specific forums is important. Although the National Economic Council provides a statutory vehicle for such consultations now, that is still heavily dependent on the readiness of the sitting government to allow NEC to function to the full extent of the constitutional provision.
• Effective federal-State relations maintains the balance between unity and diversity.
In conclusion, we have a few suggestions that can serve as guiding principles for improved collaboration in Federal-State relations:
To ensure the proper balance between state and federal action and to promote a strong and cooperative state-federal relationship, we at the NGF encourage federal officials to adhere to the following guidelines when developing laws and regulations.
1. Federal forbearance and federal action should be limited to problems that are truly national in scope – and in recognition of each State’s capacity and ability.
2. Avoid federal preemption of state laws and policies. Governors recognize the need for federal intervention should states fail to act collectively on issues of legitimate concern.
3. The federal government should not enact any legislation or adopt any regulation that would preempt, either directly or indirectly, sources of state revenues, state tax bases, or state taxation methods.
4. State standards should be preserved. For example, registration of births and deaths is a function of the local authorities. Why should National Population Commission duplicate efforts when they can assist LGAs in performing the function more efficiently.
5. Avoid imposing unfunded federal mandates. What I once referred to as the tyranny of unfunded mandates. Many federal establishments in states are often starved of funds and often wholly depend on states for the exercise of their responsibilities. Federal action increasingly has relied on states to carry out policy initiatives without providing necessary funding to pay for these programmes.
6. To provide maximum flexibility and opportunity for innovation, as well as foster administrative efficiency and cross-program coordination, the federal government should respect the authority of states to determine the allocation of administrative and financial responsibilities within states in accordance with state’s legislations and statutes
7. Federal assistance funds should flow to states according to state laws and procedures.
8. At all times, Federal officials should endeavour to consult states on ministerial budgets and projects that impact particular states and the NGF is ready to help coordinate this. We should avoid situations where Federal officials turn up in states to execute projects that states are unaware of. It often leads to avoidable bickering.
Consultation leads to better collaboration and positive development. Two examples suffice here. The collaboration of states with the Minister of Communications and Digital Economy on Right of Way fees in the quest for improved broadband penetration has seen a dramatic rise in broadband penetration and the collaboration with Minister for Women Affairs on confronting Gender Based Violence has not only seen more states declaring a state of emergency on gender based violence but has also led to more states working on giving assent to VAPP Act and Child Rights Act.
9. Engage in joint long term national development planning. ERGP was, for example, largely federal with limited inputs from states but the new National Development Plan – Agenda 2050 has taken into account the relevance of sub-nationals in development planning. After all, we are talking about the same country and a single economy.
10. Finally, managing citizens expectations should be enhanced by collaboration between FG and states. After all, we can only do development with our people, not for them.
The NGF is always ready to work in collaboration with the FG and we must thank President Buhari for his constant readiness to work with us in the quest towards a national development agenda.
Dr Fayemi is the Governor of Ekiti State