The Upper Crust

Devolution: Why Nigeria is different

With Uche Nnadozie

It seems the cry about restructuring as predicted is slowing. As things stand in our country, I will be foolish to think or espouse that this is the best we can have both as a structure or leadership. I believe we can do better. But what I have persistently tried to say in different ways is that I have come to accept that there are no quick fixes when it comes to nation building. Yes, our country and polity are there for us to criticise but anyone who claims to have a one-stop-solution to our problems is perhaps the problem itself. But again, it is the leadership by action and words that show that there is still work to be done. While present leadership must be pressed to engender inspiration and patriotism, we the people must continually believe that the best is yet to come.
All the same, the greater tragedy is when the people openly express opinions in absolute terms. You find pundits say that restructuring will solve Nigeria’s problems. Or someone or group (claiming to speak for a whole ethnic group) says that until we restructure, Nigeria cannot make progress. These absolute believe in a silver bullet, a magic wand scares me. The other part of the divide are Nigerian diasporeans. They speak in absolute terms. They speak in very condescending tone. To easily remind us of the countries of their residence. Some of them are now dual citizens. They tell us with arrogance and at other times with mischief that we do not know what we are doing. They easily condemn everything about Nigeria and call the country a jungle. They say we do not practice democracy and our systems and freedoms are nothing to write home about.
These set of people regale us with statistics of how their host countries pay benefits to citizens. They question why there is a country called Nigeria. And end up chorusing the same solution. Until we restructure, Nigeria will know no peace, make no economic progress nor political stability. Whenever people say that there is only one solution in nation building, please leave those people behind. They do not know what they are saying. There can never be one solution to nation building problems. And a lot of the time, it is leadership that sets agenda for resolution of current problems. The reason we have democracy is to periodically elect people who will assist to solve human problems. That is the reason democracy is better than military rule. The expectation of change of guard in an ordered form is the greatest gift we have and we can use to solve our problems.
Last week, I read a former chairman of the All Progressives Congress, APC Bisi Akande. He more or less echoed what former Lagos governor Bola Tinubu had said in a lecture he gave a forthnight ago. They called theirs devolution. In that lecture, Tinubu had suggested some items he figured could be removed from the exclusive list and handed to states in the resudual legislative list. One of those items was management of inland waterways. You see interests coalesce into political movement. For the lagos crowd, it makes sense to want states to control waterways for a number of reasons. The largest water bodies in Lagos, starts and ends in Lagos. They are called lagoons. And lagoons are integral parts of the Lagos topography. Lagos water will aid transportation in a big way. It will help with sharp sand for construction. Sand is a big deal in a Lagos that is always in a construction mode. Fishing is a big, very big business. Therefore, hydro or water economy in Lagos cannot be ignored. And if Lagos asks for control of inland water ways unlike what is obtainable where the National Inland Waterways Authority, NIWA controls everything, it should be understandable.
Nevertheless, we must also look at other scenarios. That’s why we have a country. Our country did not emerge the same way other countries we like to equavalence it with. Let’s take River Niger for example. So which state will claim River Niger? Are we going to have multiple authorities prescribing different rules for different stretches of that great river? The point is that it is an inland waterway. From the stretch that runs along Niger and Kwara states so who controls activities on the river? Who will not build a dam and will build the bridge? The same questions will arise between Kogi and Kwara. Between Anambra and Delta. Delta and Imo, and so on. There are other rivers that stretch that long, that join states and even start from other countries. How do states manage those bodies of water? Even if we hand Lagos lagoons to Lagos State, what do we do with other states with larger bodies of water? This is why each state and ethnic group in Nigeria must look beyond their own interests. We are building a country that works for all.
It is not true that inland waterways are not being properly managed because they are centrally controlled. We can decentralize the revenue collection. We can decentralize the economic leverage. We can allow states make law to manage aspects of the water ways like transportation, dredging bridges, fishing, etcetere but allow the federal government retain ownership. By this while federal government can takeover the waters where a state does anything that is injurious to Nigeria, the states will retain powers to make revenue related laws and pay charges to the central government. After all, again over 100 countries run unitary systems of government. A lot of them are world economic, social and political powers. We can be a world power too if we can find a common ground on what constitutes the Nigerian national ethos and value systems. These will translate into the kind of leadership we get. If we keep talking about devolution and restructuring as absolutes, we are just merely expressing opposition views. Opposition kind of adversarial politicking which even when they get to power. They fail to implement any of their vaunted electoral promises.

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