Devolution: Lessons from the Contemporary World System, by Dr Nasir Aminu
Improving the system of government in Nigeria has a positive impact on the economic development of the country. Although the fixation for the restructuring of the federation system is increasingly confrontational, it threatens the sovereignty of the country. Various arguments are used, such as religion, ethnocultural and economic differences, to explain why the current form of federalism does not work.
It can be argued that Nigeria’s system of government is not the perfect form. Only 25 countries in the world practice federalism. But we can still consider federalism as an effective system of government given that these countries have 40% of the world’s population and more than three quarters of the world’s wealth. There are good practices that can be learned from countries that practice the system. These include Malaysia, Brazil, India, United States, Mexico, Switzerland, Belgium, Germany and many more. However, these countries also have reservations about this mode of governance, which is a matter of responsibility and efficiency.
Depending on the objectives of the restructuring case, there are optimal solutions that can be adopted by other countries. For example, Spain has solved its ethnocultural problems by allowing Basques and Catalans to have their specific official languages. The Tamils of Sri Lanka are currently fighting for something similar too.
For many countries, the incentive for restructuring is mainly linked to economic reasons. You find that marginalized and poor communities support this argument because they feel disadvantaged by the richer regions. You also see the smart regions supporting the idea because they think they don’t have to subsidize the poorest.
These challenges are not uncommon, and there are global examples that can be adopted and shaped into our system. Historically, you always find a thriving community through the work of another. In Brazil, wealthier regions in the south have argued that the government is spending tax money poorly to help the Amazon rainforest province. There are similar examples in Italy, UK, Canada and many more. Despite government interventions, the development gap is widening.
Many countries have agreed that an optimal solution for restructuring the federation is to delegate specific sectors to states and local governments. And the results have been successful. If resource control were granted to specific regions of Nigeria, the agitation for restructuring would diminish. It is also believed that the restructuring will provide a solution that can bring government closer to local people, communities and businesses. Reducing responsibilities from the federal government and transferring them to states and local governments can also solve these problems.
Decentralization can become a practical and effective solution for Nigeria’s system of government. It will provide the solution to give more autonomy of resources to a community in relation to the government. Devolution is proven to ensure that decisions are made closer to the local people, communities and businesses they affect. The Spanish government has accepted that Basque and Catalonia control education and taxation. Unlike Spain, the UK has decided that Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland should control specific ministries of the economy like education, health, agriculture and environment. These decentralized governments also have their parliaments where laws are made according to the sectors they control.
For Nigeria, the practical aspect of decentralization would be to give complete control over resources to each state. For example, oil-producing states may be given full control of their lands, earning 100% of onshore oil revenues. Oil-producing states already receive 50% of onshore oil revenues, making them 100% fair. In addition, Nigeria’s onshore oil accounts for only 26% of its total.
Sectors such as education, health, agriculture, sports and housing can all be controlled by the respective state or local government. In this way, there will be more meaningful opportunities, freedom of decision and flexibility at the local level. Decisions are made much more simply, at a more appropriate level, with decentralization. Decision-making by decision-makers will not depend on consensus.
A good example is the problems of agriculture which are different in the northern and southern parts of the country. In addition, the economic problems of cattle, ranching and free grazing in the north are unique to this region. Abuja ministers, officials and politicians are unlikely to have knowledge and understanding of the issues as local administrators and politicians. It will allow the cultural identity and national sentiment of every part of the country to be expressed.
With decentralization, local governments can work more effectively to improve public services in their region. This will mean harmonizing the salary structure to attract competitive civil servants with higher salaries to manage the departments. Currently, decisions are made in Abuja, which means the communities they affect are not involved. If the process is applied effectively, the expected results will be more effective. Their targeted public services will be better because local councils can understand what people want. There will also be greater growth and stronger partnerships between public, private and community leaders in regional areas.
Politically, decentralization would lead to a diverse type of politics with greater participation of interest groups and less partisan political debate. This will pave the way for the development of different policies in various parties and the emergence of innovations
However, successful decentralization, like any other form of governance, can only happen if resources are managed efficiently. The mismanagement of resources has always been one of the country’s greatest challenges. If the country can solve this problem, then changing the system of government would work.
Finally, it takes a lot of patience to adopt a new mode of government. As humans, we have to come to terms with the fact that we can do things wrong, making mistakes is part of us, and the stars don’t always align even when we do things right.
Dr Nasir Aminu is Senior Lecturer in Economics at Cardiff Metropolitan University.