A few days ago, I posted on social media about foundations and what to do when you have a faulty foundation in a building.
There were quite a few reactions to it, and sadly, too many of these people interpreted it as me talking of something as daft as a coup. The same me who had a few days before spoken against such in the strongest terms.
Sadly, one of the big problems we have in Nigeria, and yes, it also affects me, is our love for “with immediate effect” solutions. This lack of a systematic way of doing things is part of what makes people immediately think in seditious terms when someone suggests that we need to rebuild, from scratch, a country that is clearly not working. Nigeria needs a reset, and one of the tragedies of the cycle that we have been in since 2015 is that the people who were loudly shouting about this reset when they were out of central power have gone mute, first between 2015 and 2023 when they were close to central power, and since June this year when they had central power. Rather, they are trying to consolidate that power, and one of them who appears to have lost out in their internal games has admitted that one of Nigeria’s biggest errors in the last decade, something he actively participated in, was “just politics”. It’s tragic…
So, how do we rebuild this rotten structure? How do we begin to rebuild?
The federal and state government administrations ushered in via the recently held elections have been having their 100-day anniversaries. While the Lagos State government has tried to celebrate its controversial reelection with the launching of a Lagos Metro that took almost two decades to get done but has electric trains being pulled by a diesel engine painted to look like a metro train, it has seemed rather sophisticated in comparison to a Kano State Government that recently approved a budget of ₦854 million for the first phase of the Auren Zaurawa — Mass Wedding Initiative that offers financial assistance to young couples who cannot afford to pay for their weddings. The budget will go to wedding expenses for 1,800 couples who also get ₦20,000 to start businesses. This grant amounts to a total of ₦36,000,000, a measly 4.21% of the ₦854 million budgeted for the event that will take place at the Sani Abacha Stadium later this month.
One has to ask if a mass wedding of this nature and cost belongs on a list of the priorities of Kano State. A couple of years ago, the state had the most out-of-school children in Nigeria based on research from the United Nations Children Fund (UNICEF), which said that 1,496,736 children were out of school in Kano State. According to the NBS, Kano State has 10.51 million people living in poverty, 66.3% of its estimated population of 15.9 million. Kano State had an unemployment rate of 26.8% and an underemployment rate of 25.8% in the second quarter of 2020, which means that more than half of the labour force in Kano State was either unemployed or underemployed and the economic downturn faced by Nigeria since then hasn’t offered opportunity for improvement. The state government has budgeted ₦1.2 billion to combat the deadly malaria scourge, and ₦500 million has been earmarked to complete the cancer treatment centre. These healthcare initiatives are of much greater importance and would serve the needs of people even in the long term. The mass-wedding programme has a budget of 50% of the combined budget for fighting malaria and cancer.
This bizarre wastefulness is a pattern seen with Nigerian state governments. At this point, we must accept that the only way to achieve a positive wholesale change in governance is to reset the national structure into a format that provides the different tiers with the appropriate motivation to act correctly.
Nigeria, Africa’s most populous country and largest economy is facing a crisis of governance and legitimacy. The recent presidential election, which was supposed to usher in a new era of democracy and development, was instead marred by widespread irregularities, violence, and low turnout. Bola Tinubu was declared the election winner with only 36.61% of the votes cast, far below the 51% required by the constitution to avoid a runoff. His main challengers, Atiku Abubakar and Peter Obi, rejected the results and filed petitions at the Presidential Election Tribunal, alleging massive fraud and manipulation. The court dismissed the petitions, but many Nigerians remain unconvinced by its verdict.
The presidential election was not the only source of controversy and discontent. The state and local government elections, held separately from the presidential poll, also revealed deep divisions and dissatisfaction among the electorate. Many state governors were accused of rigging the elections in their favour, using their control over security forces, electoral commissions, and public funds. Some governors even faced protests and legal challenges from their own party members, who felt sidelined or betrayed by their actions. While none of the gubernatorial results have been overturned, a few legislative results have been overturned almost unnoticed. This relative silence regarding the state and legislative appeals is what has gotten to me.
Before the general elections, SBM Intelligence partnered with the Enough is Enough Coalition to conduct a countrywide survey for the elections, and we found that most people were uninterested in the down-ballot elections. While all our respondents had something to say about the presidential elections, and a third of them were interested in the governorship elections. It was further downhill from there as interest in the Senate, House of Representatives and state assemblies saw one in five, one in six and one in seven respondents answering questions put to them.
The poor accountability, and thus the generally poor performance of state governments, can be directly tied to this overweening interest in the Executive in Abuja and is one of the major problems facing Nigeria today. Despite receiving a large share of the country’s oil revenues, most states have failed to deliver basic services and infrastructure to their citizens. The country also suffers from high rates of poverty, unemployment, inequality, corruption, insecurity, and environmental degradation.
One of the reasons for this dismal situation is the lack of autonomy and incentives for state governments to perform better. The current political system in Nigeria is highly centralised, giving the federal government enormous powers and responsibilities over a wide range of issues, including security, economy, education, health, and justice. The federal government also collects most of the country’s revenues. It distributes them to the states and local governments according to a complex formula that is often contested and politicised.
This is not helped by the fact that people are so mindful of the federal government that they do not put enough attention and pressure on the facets that lie within the legal reach of the lower tiers of governance at the state and local government levels that are actually in the best position to impact directly on the people.
This system creates a dependency culture among state governments, relying on federal allocations rather than generating revenues from productive activities. This is why Kano State would operate as it has opted. The current system also reduces the subnational units’ accountability to their citizens, who have little say or influence over how their resources are spent or managed. Moreover, it fosters a winner-takes-all mentality among political elites, who see control over the federal government as the ultimate prize and source of patronage.
To address these structural flaws and improve governance in Nigeria, there is an urgent need for constitutional amendments that would allow for a fundamental reshaping of the national structure to create one that leaves Nigeria with presidents who gained enough votes to be legitimate and a devolution that allows for truly federal governance models. These constitutional amendments are necessary to redefine the roles and responsibilities of different levels of government and ensure fair representation and participation of all segments of the country.
Devolution of powers is the transfer or delegation of power from a central government to subnational authorities. Federalism combines a central or federal government with regional governments (provincial, state, or other subnational governments) in a single political system, with the powers shared between the tiers. It must be noted that some devolution which has already happened, for example, in power, has not been taken advantage of because of incompetence and corruption by the state governors who sometimes withhold the budgetary allocations due to the local government units. The recent show of shame where local government chairmen were kowtowing before a state governor is a testament to how devolution has been improperly implemented.
At this point, there may be some value in considering the value of establishing a rotational presidency among the six geopolitical zones in Nigeria, where each zone would produce a president in turn ensuring that that office goes around the different regions in Nigeria and put a stop to feelings of marginalisation. This would have its own challenges, but one way to mitigate some of them is to significantly weaken the presidency’s powers so that while one zone holds it, others do not feel deprived. An advantage of this is that, among other things, it would help demystify the presidency and make the political class more open to devolving power.
My biggest disappointment in the Tinubu government thus far is not that they are in power, but that for so long, the South-West wing of the APC noisily talked about restructuring Nigeria and devolution of powers and has now gone completely silent about it now that they have federal power. If they are truly the progressives they claim to be, they should know that it is important to grant more autonomy and fiscal responsibility to state and local governments, where they would have more control over their own affairs and resources, as well as generate their own revenues from taxes or other sources. This would encourage them to be more accountable and responsive to their citizens’ needs and demands.