NATIONAL CONFERENCE: North, South On Collision Course

There are strong indications that delegates from the North at the ongoing National Conference in Abuja are set to shoot down any demand for resource control at the conference.

This may be the first major area of conflict at the conference inaugurated by President Goodluck Jonathan on Monday as delegates from the South- South, South-West and other parts of the country are hell-bent on pushing for fiscal federalism.

Delegates from the South-West, South-South and South-East, in separate interviews with Saturday PUNCH on Wednesday, said that they would press for resource control and strong federating units, describing them as the bedrock of equity, fairness and good governance in the country.

But their counterparts from the North said the region would oppose any demand for fiscal federalism and resource control, saying demanding such could lead to the disintegration of the country.

A northern delegate and former spokesperson for the Arewa Consultative Forum, Mr. Anthony Sani, said the North would not support the idea of having a weak centre and strong federating units, saying this would be confederation.

Sani warned that allowing states to control their resources which will lead to a weak centre would disintegrate the country.

He said, “Those in favour of allowing the geopolitical zones to become federating units that have their own state police and local governments as well as control their resources are those agitating for a weak centre – a confederation arrangement – that can presage the split of this country and it is selfish.

“I believe any arrangement which can lead to the splitting of the country should be avoided. Given purposeful leadership that is determined to bring out the best in everyone, Nigerians will be better off in a one united and strong country than in a fragmented one.”

Sani, however, explained that the North was never opposed to tampering with the exclusive and concurrent lists.

He said what the North was opposed to was what would lead to the fragmentation of Nigeria, noting that the country would be better-off “in a united and strong country than in a fragmented one.”

The former ACF spokesman said, “the North is not opposed to tampering with the exclusive and concurrent lists in such manner that the centre is balanced by appropriate state level power. This should be such that the centre is strong enough to keep the country one and united but not too strong that the country can tilt towards a unitary system.”

Another northern delegate to the conference, Mohammed Kumalia, said that he would join other northerners to kick against agitations for resource control.

Kumalia who is from Borno State, in a telephone interview with one of our correspondents in Abuja, said that those advocating for resource control have selfish intentions.

He said, “There is no part of the country that has not been endowed with resources, if anybody wants resource control, fine, but develop other resources first.

“Let the country invest the same resources expended on developing petroleum resources in other resources in the country, after this is done and these other resources are developed, then every region can control its resources.

“For you to say from today, let every region begin to control its resources will not be fair. It is like cheating people from other places who used their sweat and labour to develop the petroleum resources. They went to farm using traditional implement to produce groundnuts, cotton and cocoa; it was through hard labour not mechanised agriculture and this was how they got money to prospect for oil. Now you have oil which is nobody’s sweat and some people are now talking about resource control; it is not fair.”

But one of the representatives of the South-South at the conference, Prof. Kimse Okoko, in an interview with one of our correspondents in Port Harcourt, said that the zone was at the conference to canvass for resource control by the federating units of the country.

Okoko said that the nation could only move forward under true federalism. The delegate explained that resource control was subsumed under true federalism.

Okoko, a former president of the Ijaw National Congress, noted that the centre should not be stronger than the federating units in a true federal system of government.

He added that it was wrong for any state in Nigeria to be looking up to the centre for its share of the nation’s revenue.

He stated, “There is a broad consensus in this country that what we are practising is not federalism. If there is this kind of consensus, we must find a way of reverting to the practice of true federalism.

“For example, in the 1999 Constitution, the Federal Government is assigned about 68 functions out of 90 functions and the remaining functions have been placed under a Concurrent List, which means that they (remaining functions) are for both the federal and the state governments.

“The system is over-centralised so much that the states are virtually mere vassals to the centre. We cannot make any progress with that kind of structure. Our hope is to restructure the Nigerian system along the line of a true federal system, where the component units own and control resources and pay appropriate taxes to the centre.”

According to him, the over-dependence of the federating units on the Federal Government for funds does not encourage competition.

He added that rather than promote competition, federalism as currently being practised in Nigeria, had been encouraging indolence and killing creativity.

Okoko described resource control as one of the realities of a federal system of government, maintaining that states should only pay taxes to the centre in a true federalism.

He said, “The federal system is noted for certain realities and resource control is one of them. Resource control simply means that the federating units own and control their resources under a federal system.

“What the entire federating units do is to pay their appropriate taxes. So, if we do not restructure this country along the line of true federalism, we will continue to face serious challenges.

“You will note that most of the states are not economically viable. They have killed the spirit of competition. Across the various facets of the economy in this country, there is no competition.

“People are just waiting to get their share at the end of the month, then they go back, wait until 30 days, and then come back again. We cannot run the system like that if we want to move forward as a country.”

A delegate from the South-West, Mr. Yinka Odumakin, said that the zone would canvass true federalism that would ensure that the federating units were strong.

Odumakin, who is also the spokesperson for the Yoruba socio-political group, Afenifere, stated that the South-West would convince delegates from other zones to support true federalism and resource control.

“Since federalism consists of a centre and federating units, we should guarantee autonomy of the federating units . We should allow them a measure of control over their resources,” he said.

On his part, a South-East delegate, Dr. Joe Nwaorgu, said that the zone would canvass for a weak centre and strong federating units.

Nwaorgu, who is also the Secretary General of the Ohanaeze Ndigbo, however, said that the position of the South-East on fiscal federalism differed from that of the South-South.

Nwaorgu said that the South-East was not totally in support of the South-South’s agenda of having a weak centre and stronger federating units.

He, however, said that the South-East could eventually throw its weight behind the South-South if the issues that would be raised at the conference concerning fiscal federalism and resource control were “favourable” to Ndigbo.

Nwaorgu stated, “We want a weak centre and stronger federating units, but that does not mean that our position is the same as the South-South people.

“No doubt, that is what we are going for and that is what the conference is all about, but it is too early for me to tell.

“The arguments that would be raised at the conference concerning these issues will eventually determine our decision.”

He said, “All these are in the template for discussion. Above all, we want equity and justice for all Nigerians. In other words, we are carrying a Nigerian template that will benefit all Nigerians.”

In an interview with one of our correspondents, the President and Chairman of Council, Nigerian Institute of Management (Chartered), Dr. Nelson Uwaga, said professional bodies stand for equity, fairness, justice and good governance at the conference. He said these principles would enhance the quality of lives of Nigerians.

Uwaga, who is also a delegate at the conference, believes that Nigeria is practising unitary federalism, noting that the nation’s professional groups are of the opinion that the centre should be weak while the confederating units are strong.

He said, “The sharing formula has to change; it should tilt more towards the states and local governments so that the people can feel the impact of governance more. In all honesty, the sharing formula is currently too tilted to the centre.’’ He however said that the centre should be allowed to manage critical areas such as security.

Source: Punch Nigeria