Deputy President of the Senate, Ike Ekweremadu, once described intergovernmental fiscal relations in Nigeria as “feeding-bottle federalism”. He was referring to an abnormal system in the country whereby the constituent states are funded almost entirely by centrally collected and redistributed oil and tax revenues.
He spoke in April 2014 at a public lecture organized by the Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS), Johns Hopkins University, Washington, DC.
Drawing inspiration from his speech, I have modified today’s topic to “Feeding Bottle Democracy” in reaction to the bad precedent set by the recent largesse called “ bailout funds” doled out to states and local governments by President Muhammadu Buhari; an action never witnessed before in this country.
Suffice it to say that despite pockets of commendations to President Buhari for the N700 billion grant, the error far outweighs the benefits.
The 1999 Constitution (as amended) makes it mandatory that every kobo must be appropriated by the National Assembly before spending. Where did the President get the approval from? I am not aware that a request for such huge expenditure was ever presented to the National Assembly by Mr. President. Like every other concerned Nigerian, I am not against paying workers their salaries but there are other better ways of doing that. By withdrawing and spending such quantum money without appropriation, both the president and governors’ actions amount to illegality.
I recall that Buhari came with the concept of change, but it seems he has not learnt from the mistakes of previous administrations, because what is happening now was what happened to former President Olusegun Obasanjo and Goodluck Jonathan, when governors prevailed on the two former presidents to allow them use local government funds. The funds were thereafter diverted to the governors’ personal pockets, a crime many of them are still answering in courts.
At the last count, President Buhari has spent over three trillion Naira without appropriation, without recourse to the national Assembly; unmindful of other considerations.
The federal government claimed the bailout were dividends paid to the nation by the Liquefied Natural Gas, LNG and loans from the Central Bank of Nigeria, but under what conditions were the loans given? What is the mode and process of the repayment? Nobody has offered to answer these questions.
Take it or leave, the bailout would only encourage many of the governors to steal more and mismanage the finances of their states. There is even no guarantee that they would use the funds to pay their workers. And should they do so, how would they pay future wages?
The current development again serves as a pointer to the consequences of our defective fiscal federalism which include fiscal hyper-centralization and paternalism, a weak sense of financial responsibility and transparency at the sub-national level, and a feeling of economic dispossession in the oil-bearing Niger Delta region.
The reason Nigerians are being rode like donkeys by elected officials is because majority of Nigerians are without requisite knowledge of what obtains in the rest of the civilized world; otherwise, there would since have been a French-Bastille like revolution in Nigeria; and this time, against the rogue-elites holding them down all these years. But these politicians are riding on the ignorance of a majority of Nigerians who do not know any better about what it is that their government owe to them, her citizens.
For us to right the so many wrongs in this nation, we need not only to have a constitution but a constitution that would be respected by all and sundry irrespective of position and an impartial judiciary; fearless, resolute and firm in decisions. There is therefore the need to create ‘a people’s constitution,’ bearing in mind the procedural imperative, especially the perception that the 1999 Constitution is not a true people’s constitution, but a contraption that was forced on Nigerians by the military regime and its civilian allies.
Future constitution reform process must therefore be driven by the need to address substantive flaws such as imposition of a hyper-centralized, top-down, “unitary federalism” on the country, as distinct from a “true federalism” that is more consistent with our country’s complex ethnic, regional and religious diversities.
Transformation of the six geopolitical zones into federating units seems the major plausible thing to do if Nigeria is to nurse any hope of significantly reversing the dwindling fortunes of our federalism by engendering viability and self-reliance of the component units, massive development, healthy competition, reduce the cost of governance, and enthrone an acceptable level of equity.
In Nigeria, the fundamental issues are fiscal federalism and local government system, community policing, legislative lists, independent electoral and other oversight agencies, electoral systems, governmental systems, tenure of political office holders, residency/citizens rights and rights of women and children to education, political office and welfare.
In addition, how to balance the competing imperatives of fiscal decentralisation and inter-regional socio-economic equalization remains a difficult constitutional question.
That is why I agree with those canvassing a revisit of the policy of devolution of powers between states and local governments. Since the current half measures have not yielded the desired result of grassroots development, we may have to adopt either the Canadian or US model or even the Indian model of democracy.
If Nigerians prefer the former, it means that the Federal Government will have to completely hands off the local governments in respect of regulation and funding. That way, local governments become an entirely state affair and cease to draw funds directly from the Federation Account and states would be at liberty to create as many local governments as they feel would be adequate to bring government and development closer to the people or reduce if need be.
But if the preferred option is the Indian model, then the local governments will become a third tier of government in the true sense of it. Powers will be fully devolved to them so as to insulate them from the fiscal control and political manipulations by the states.
On another scale, the presidential system has been criticized for its concentration of powers in political chief executives, encouragement of divisive, zero-sum factional and sectional competition for political offices, expensiveness, and promotion of the politics of strong men, rather than strong institutions. Supporters of the current presidential system, point to the failures of parliamentary rule in the First Republic, claiming that the trouble with Nigeria is not the choice of governmental systems but the warped implementation of these systems.
It must be admitted that our presidential system needs modification. We need a presidential system that would hold together the contending forces of our federation. A modified presidential system of government if well articulated will help to mitigate the already bad situation, discourage the practice of spoon-feeding the states and LGAs, and save the nation from current drift to the unknown.

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