- Sultan says no. But still goes ahead to articulate crucial part of it in his preferred alternative
The Sultan of Sokoto, Sa’ad Abukakar III, made national headlines on August 13, when he reportedly thumbed down political restructuring but held up, as an alternative model, economic devolution. Yet both, shun of the emotive and fear factors, would appear two sides of the same coin.
“Rather than the clamour for the restructuring of the country,” the Sultan said, speaking at the Niger State Investment Summit in Minna, the state capital, “the Federal Government should be called upon to release dams across the country to state governments for massive participation of Nigerians in all-year farming seasons”.
This suggestion is excellent — that bit about releasing dams to the states to facilitate all-year farming, and therefore fire agriculture, raw and processed, as the real dynamo of Nigeria’s gross domestic product (GDP). But that is exactly the problem of Nigeria pseudo-federalism as presently constituted.
The fact that the Federal Government could build dams and sit on them, blocking states that can better utilise them, for national productivity and prosperity, is precisely what fires the restructuring question.
That the Federal Government today, that has no land of its own (except in Abuja, the Federal Capital Territory), and yet is deeply ingrained in huge infrastructure for agriculture, is double jeopardy. There is so much money spent; but too little gains from the investments.
That willful waste again pushes the argument for some re-drawing of the polity for better economic results. The Sultan calls it economic devolution. But looked at from the political prism, it could also well be called restructuring.
In his preferred economic devolution, the Sultan pointed at the trove of mineral wealth, buried nationwide, under the Nigerian soil. Although he was not very explicit on mineral resources in his speech, his logic on releasing federal dams for state agriculture could also apply to releasing mineral sites for states to mine.
That would be a great contrast to the present practice, where the Federal Government plays the dog in the manger; and sits on wealth it has no motivation to mine, because of easy oil money.
Again, though the Sultan appeared suggesting autonomy to states to mine their own mineral wealth, under his economic devolution theory, it is not much different from the arguments of the restructuring lobby. That again reinforces the point the Sultan’s position and political restructuring may just be two sides of the same coin.
But despite this similarity, the Sultan sounded as if the economic devolution he advocates is radically different, or indeed, diametrically opposed, to political restructuring. Nothing can be further from the truth.
True, releasing federal facilities to states, via concessions, might be over-simplifying the crisis of underdevelopment that Nigeria’s present warped federalism has delivered, doing so could indeed deliver, with time, the developmental federalism most of Nigeria are clamouring for.
But even with this gradualist hope there is a big danger: he who releases can retake. The Federal Government that concessions its facilities today could tomorrow, under more clement circumstances, decide to take back those facilities. Where would that leave the long-term developmental interests of the country, and long-suffering Nigerians?
That is where not a few feel — and not illegitimately — that the Sultan just used his new theory to buy time for his native North West geopolitical zone: about the only zone still clinging to retaining the Nigerian political structure, as it is. Many even go on to insist that all the Sultan’s labour are directed at retaining such unearned privileges the ruling elite from that zone enjoy from the Nigerian commonwealth.
That could well be; and human beings, as pain-avoiding animals, are loath to surrendering privileges without serious resistance. If the Sultan indeed epitomises such fears, the least other Nigerians could do is recognise the problem, work around it and try to reassure that lobby that restructuring the country is in the best interest of all.
But beyond recognising and addressing that fear, there is absolutely no doubt that a restructured Nigeria, which would naturally ensure economic devolution as the Sultan suggests, is the best route to go, from the present debacle of pseudo-federalism. So, what is needed is a legislation to codify the model and give Nigerian federalism a new healthy jab in the arm.