Being the keynote address by His Excellency Seyi Makinde, the Executive Governor of Oyo State, at the 2021 Governor Seyi Makinde National Democracy Summit themed “The Future of Democracy in Nigeria.”
There is no easy way to answer the question posed as the theme of this keynote address. The reason being that no one can actually tell the future. But man has the ability to predict probable outcomes based on our knowledge of history. We can talk about the future of Nigeria’s democracy by taking a look at how true democracies should function and what happens with countries that deviate from the tenets of true democracy.
I prefer to have a positive outlook for the future and so I will be talking about how we can steer Nigeria away from a destructive path and into a path of economic prosperity. I will therefore be talking about true federalism as the future of democracy in Nigeria.
We are the Federal Republic of Nigeria. But our federalism exists in name only. Students of political history will tell you that what we have been practising is, in fact, a unitary system of government – where more powers are concentrated in the central government. Another thing that our political theorists will tell you is that by nature, a unitary system of government is better suited for small countries.
Nigeria is not a small country. So, you can easily identify why we are experiencing developmental challenges across the board. We are trying to fit a square peg into a round hole. For true federalism to thrive, the federating units should have more powers and autonomy. The government at the centre serves as a coordinator of assets but does not wield as much power.
In the next few minutes, I will briefly discuss two areas where the Nigerian federating units need more authority and how these powers can be galvanised for development. These are:
- Power to control natural resources
- Power to control state security architecture
Nigeria is like a family where the parent has many children. If only the firstborn is doing well financially and all the other children are dependent on him, there will be great limitations to what the family will achieve. But when the other children are empowered, everyone succeeds. That is why we have the proverb which states that if you have only one rich man in a community, that man is poor.
So, let me start with the first area – power to control natural resources.
Presently, the natural resources in Nigeria primarily belong to the federal government. The Nigerian Constitution does not empower the states to explore or exploit mineral resources. Section 1(1) of the Mineral Mining Act 2007 states clearly that such powers rest “in the Government of the Federation.”
A direct result of this act is that states have to go to the federal government every month to receive Federation Account Allocation Committee (FAAC) share. From these allocations, the states will pay the salaries of workers and carry out developmental projects. What is received can be augmented by the Internally Generated Revenue (IGR). But as most governors have come to realise, there is a relationship between FAAC and IGR. I would call it a somewhat interdependent relationship.
Each state’s FAAC share determines how much the governors can commit to development. In the same vein, the developmental level of the state determines how much IGR is earned. So, when FAAC is reduced, such as during the drop in oil prices and the ongoing pandemic, the state government suffers. There is little money to carry out projects, IGR reduces, and the state becomes poorer.
How does the state taking control of its resources help?
Firstly, the monthly visits to the centre will end. The developmental implications are that states will have more funds to carry out projects. Also, the power dynamics will change. Since the states no longer have to ask for allocations, they can be more independent-minded. They can also choose how to develop their natural resources and use them to attract investments to their states.
The state governor becomes the actual CEO of the state. They can then choose whether to run the state as an enterprise or not. Citizens can then hold each governor responsible for development. Right now, the go-to excuse for non-payment of workers’ salary and lack of development is the reduction in FAAC share. So, when true federalism is practised, you take away that excuse. Also, citizens will be more interested in local politics and its outcomes.
Next, let me talk about power over the state’s security architecture.
The prevailing security situation in Nigeria as a whole has shown how closely linked security is to development. Without a secure environment, all efforts to attract investments will be in vain. Nobody wants to put their money where they are not sure of making a profit. A look at the National Bureau of Statistics, Nigeria’s data will tell you which states record the lowest Internally Generated Revenue in Nigeria. When we analyse those figures, we conclude that there is a direct link between insecurity and underdevelopment.
That being established, we need to fully appreciate that state policing is a sure cure to our national development challenges. Anyone who has been involved in security at any level will tell you that policing is local. One of the reasons why the Western Nigeria Security Network code-named Amotekun is recording success is because members of the corps are drawn from the locality. They know the terrain and so can gather needed intelligence.
When the state governors become the actual Chief Security Officers in charge of the security personnel in their state, they can quickly respond to security challenges. For example, with what happened at Igangan a few days ago, the people can hold me responsible for letting them down. Even though I continue to take responsibility for the security situation in Oyo State; we all know that in reality, the Commissioner of Police has to wait for orders from “above” before taking specific actions to benefit the local population. And there are several limitations to what Amotekun can do right now and the types of firearms they can carry.
These are just two areas where true federalism will bring greater economic benefits and development to Nigerian states. Here in Oyo State, it is the quest to practice federalism to the extent that the Nigerian Constitution allows that determined our focus on four pillars upon which our Roadmap to Accelerated Development in Oyo State 2019-2023 stands.
These four pillars are interwoven: Education, Economy, Health and Security. Each of the other three pillars plays a role in the economic development of the state. For example, when you direct your efforts to education, the state produces a more robust and efficient workforce in the long run. A state that has an efficient working population will thrive economically. Same with health. When the health architecture of the state is top-notch, the state can even promote medical tourism and reap the attendant economic benefits. I have already related security to economic development.
We have been working hard in these areas, and we are seeing the results. Despite the COVID-19 pandemic, we had the second-highest increase in IGR year on year. Also, for February 2021, Oyo State had the lowest food and all items inflation month on month. If you are looking for an example of how true federalism will pan out in Nigeria, I make bold to say, look at Oyo State.
We are also constantly seeking areas of collaboration with the federal government, which will yield economic benefits to our people. For instance, we have indicated our interest in having a stake in the Ibadan Dry Port. Another example is our collaboration with the Federal Ministry of Mines and Steel Development which is in charge of solid minerals, to build a gemstone market in the state. We already donated two hectares of land in Ojoo, Ibadan for this purpose.
So, if we can achieve this much now, imagine how much more Oyo State will benefit should we practice true federalism. This is why one of the fundamental issues we have put before the federal government after our recent meeting of governors of southern Nigeria is restructuring. This is the future of democracy in Nigeria.
Yet, what is true democracy without the rule of law? For our democracy to endure, we must base all our actions on the law and when there are disputes, we look to the judiciary to interpret the law and set everyone straight. For example, we are now in a conundrum because the judiciary is on strike. The issue of the Twitter suspension would have been rightly challenged in court.
Another factor related to this which further strengthens our democracy is the role of the press as the “fourth estate of the realm.” Conversely, the press can also destroy our democracy with subjective reportage. Let me use this opportunity to talk about a report that I read in a newspaper saying that the Oyo State Government would not obey the court order about paying the ousted Local Government Chairmen. This is a false report and is not representative of the views of our administration. What we said is that we need further clarification regarding who should be paid salaries. The 68 persons who went to court are not recognised under the law, only 33 are. So, the Supreme Court needs to clarify whether its decision is restricted to paying only the 33.
This is the beauty of democracy. The ability to have civil conversations over even the thorniest issues, without fear. The right to protest injustice, without fear of being thrown into jail. The right to free speech. True democracy guarantees these rights while the citizens also have responsibilities.
So, as we continue to deliberate of the future of democracy in Nigeria, let us remember that true federalism is the way forward. Restructuring the Nigerian state, and giving the federating units more powers is the route to economic prosperity.
~ Governor Seyi Makinde, June 8, 2021