Again, the federal question – The Nation

No doubt, the Revenue Mobilization Allocation and Fiscal Commission (RMAFC) is right to back states’ agitation for more cash from the Federation Account, even if not a few would insist many states should justify how they spend what is currently accruable to them. That is valid – except that the Federal Government too is not necessarily immune from the crisis of vote justification, though it is only fair to recognise the efforts of the present administration’s war against leakages, graft and sleaze.

Right now, the Federal Government gets 52.68 per cent; the 36 states, 26.72 per cent; and the 774 local governments listed in the 1999 Constitution, 20.60 per cent. Even if you adopt the federalist principle that funds funnelled directly to local governments are technically states’ money – which is true – the 36 states would still gross 47.32 per cent, still 5.36 per cent less than the Federal Government’s take. Though that higher take goes with the higher responsibilities that go with the Federal Government having more tasks on the exclusive list, it is clear states are better positioned to perform many of those tasks.

If you push tasks like agriculture and fisheries, now on the concurrent list, to the residual list where the Federal Government cannot dabble, it shows even more sense why states should have more money in their kitty. Though the Federal Government is supreme in functions like defence, security, immigration and foreign affairs, as well as customs and excise revenue, the states are best suited to do most other functions. That much is clear in the absurdist-sounding Federal Ministry of Agriculture. Outside the Federal Capital Territory of Abuja, does the Federal Government own any exclusive land space it could utilise for this function, except the lands provided by the states?  If fisheries are an extension of farming, what internal waters, rivers and ponds does the Federal Government boast? Again, that shows the peril of a centralist temper that framed a supposed federalist constitution.

That mindset, however, runs deeper than a few would admit – perhaps because of decades of military rule with its command ethos? Shettima Abba-Gana, the former acting RMAFC chairman that backed the states’ clamour, also rightly reasoned that RMAFC was more interested in how to ensure a bigger cake was there to share, compared with the current contracting cake, given that Nigeria’s crude oil output is down by some 20 per cent. “We have always pointed out that production from joint venture contracts (JVCs) has gone down from one million barrels per day to about 800, 000 barrels per day,” he said, adding that “we need to get it back to be able to improve the funding to the federation account, which definitely will benefit all tiers of government.”

Mr. Abba-Gana is right – but only to the extent of the law as what it is. If the grundnum were to be changed, he would not be entirely right. Yes, the JVC producing at full capacity would bring in more revenue to be shared. But that in itself would not corral the whole gamut of resources that could be available to the Nigerian state. That shortfall is the fundamental flaw in the present centralist mindset, which seems to run deep in official circles.

If the truth must be told, emphasis should change from “sharing”, to the states creating their own wealth. It is the classic federalist debate back on track. Instead of waiting for JVCs to increase receipts from the distributable pool, all from crude oil, the Constitution should be amended so that states can drive their own wealth.

A good place to start is solid minerals – and the current criminality in Zamfara State is a good example. Zamfara and Osun are two humble states, judging from the revenue they receive from the federal purse. But the two states sit on solid gold – gold so raw and so solid the Zamfara case has provoked hideous banditry, resulting from illegal mining. Add the social dislocation and avoidable citizen suffering, resulting from such criminality. Also add the alarm just sounded by the Osun State governor, that illegal miners were already gathering at Ilesa gold mines, in the state, and you may just begin to feel the depth of that needless tragedy.

However, all these upheavals and grave security challenges could easily have been averted, had the Constitution provided for each state to license commercial miners to work those mines and the state, in turn, pays the Federal Government tax. That way, the states would not only have mined enough cash to pay the Federal Government its due taxes, it would also have made enough revenue to set up local security outfits, to cater for its peculiar security needs. That would have been so refreshingly different from the ongoing bedlam, resulting from illegal mining.

The way to go, therefore, is to federalise resources, and give the states the legal teeth to explore and exploit these resources. By doing it that way, the states would not only be challenged to make their own money, there would also be healthy competition among states to out-think one another, and turn their states into revenue centres, instead of the cost centres most of them now are, snoozing and snoring, waiting for dole from Abuja.

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