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Tuesday, October 19, 2021

Towards fiscal federalism

By Ayodele Fagbohun


As a result of peculiar circumstances of Nigeria as a multilingual and multinational, fiscal federalism is imperative and sine qua non to her survival.
According to political analysts, historians and anthropologists, it is identified and vigorously asserted that Nigerian federation must be organised and constituted into constituent states on dual basis of language and nationality.
To salvage and prevent the polity from unnecessary and profuse shedding of blood borne out of ethnic, political rivalries and mutual discontent concomitant with unhealthy contest for political office at the centre. Fiscal federalism is necessary and important. Where contest for is a matter of do or die, desperate desire for filthy lucre and juicy perks of office which is the bane of national development, this also sacrosanct.
Fiscal federalism will certainly ceteris paribus address the situation and restore some sort of financial sanity to the decadent polity. And this will motivate some political leaders and aspirants to remain contented at the state level to prove their mettle and serve the best interests of their people. Rather than going to the centre to flex political muscles and steal from public coffers.
Fiscal federalism will afford the constituent states to marshal and deploy available resources to be judiciously managed to promote equity, justice and fairplay in good conduct of government business. And to reduce to the barest minimum if not totally stamp out from public life the bitter recriminalive tendencies, vulgarity and mediocrity that incommode the cause of good government at the centre.
Towards this end, fiscal federalism is an article of faith, desideration which must be diligently pursued by Federal Government to enable states in performing the allotted functions inherently enshrined in the federal constitution.
Federal Government will always have greater financial powers and resources than state governments. It must however be underscored that those powers should not be flagrantly used to destroy the autonomy of the state as a federating unit if the scenario currently plays out is anything to go by. Neither is it to reconfigure the constitution beyond recognition.
Rather, Federal government should continuously deploy its munificent financial prowess and resources to influence state policies and programmes in the right direction in the pursuit of agriculture, education, health and other issues in the concurrent list.
Instead of taking over state functions and reduce states to beggar governments, Federal government should further assist and galvanise the states to exercise their functions under the constitution.
It is very unconstitutional and unconscionable for Federal government to armtwist and interprete the provisions of the constitution for the self interest and aggrandizement of some players to the destriment of the whole federation.
The unfortunate military incursion in our politics cum its naked financial rapacity on the nation’s economy continued adnauseam to exact without ceasing untold strains, pressure and reverses in the operation of constitutional development which brought the country to this sorry pass.
As an illustration, significantly the Third National Development Plan (1975-1980), the brain child of military administration was a complete domination of the economy by the Federal Military Government (FMG) and virtual reduction of State government to mere agent of FMG or at best glorified local councils, if it could be so called.
The aberration can be tolerated or excused in a military junta under whose constitutional government already in abeyance.
Now we are in a full blown democracy where the rule of law subsists, it must be conceded that Federal government has a duty to discharge those responsibilities which fall within its own exclusive jurisdiction.
It should be re-emphasised that the basic principle of fiscal federalism is that State government are by any means subservient or subordinate to the caprices and whims of Federal government.
This is the spirit of the Independence and the Republican constitutions reasonably copied and emulated in the present military inspired constitutions of 1979 and 1999 as amended. It is a sad commentary that the spirit is conspicuously absent from the operators of the constitution who largely were retired military personnel and their acolytes.
Having suspended people’s constitution, this cadre of military rulers and their civilian apologist in the civil service and academic erected unitary system of government which palpably negated the spirit and practice of fiscal federalism.
An element of state autonomy in a federal system is the principle of independent revenue like the contentions Value Added Tax (VAT) which in normal circumstance where there is no friction or mutual ethnic suspicions and avaricious tendencies among the political gladiators, the situation should not be subject to undue litigation.
For, it is unassailable that every component part of the federation should be able to raise its own revenues independently without let or hinderance. In addition to whatever it may receive as grants from the Federal Government, this is enshrined in the Nigerian constitution.
States must not be reduced to beggar government by going cap-in-hand to the federal government for more funds to prosecute projects and agenda. State should be given the powers to levy personal income tax in accordance to the tenets of federal constitution to which every component part subscribes.
If we have our way, Federal Government may run to the State government by way of collecting credit facilities from the latter depending on the Internal Generated Revenue (IGR) and financial buoyancy of the particular state. It happened in the first.
It happened in the democratic experiment put in place by British colonial masters in Nigeria which culminated into First Republic politics. When Federal government ran to more economically formidable Western Region for Financial Aid. If you rub my back and vice versa, there is no crime in exchange by barter.
Another source of independent revenue for the state governments was the Marketing Board System. Under the system the state fixed the producer prices of the export and the difference between these prices and the market prices was available to the state government plan.
As soon as Federal Government assumed responsibility for producer prices, the state automatically lost this sources.
The net result is that Federal government becomes the main source of revenue for all state governments combined together.
Hence the incapacity of state government to make sustained efforts to generate revenue elsewhere.
Coming back to the Third National Development Plan which presumably castrated the financial muscles of state Governments to raise revenues for developmental purposes.
It gave vent to Federal government to invade all the functions previously reserved exclusively for state governments: Such functions include: primary and post-primary education, building of hospitals, road infrastructure, housing, land, water, light to mention a few.
What is more, the states have also blatantly encroached on the duties of local government council areas such as markets, cemeteries, maternity centres/dispensary clinic now styled primary health clinic, refuse disposal, etc.
The provisions of the Nigerian constitution which define specific functions of Federal government are no longer effective due to the grave assault inflicted on the people by the operators and players of our constitution.
This breach and obvious failure in national leadership to do justice to the federal constitution provokes inter ethnic envy, hatred, avuncular animosity and bad blood, which further fuel religious bigotry, inter tribal suspicion, mutual distrust, disharmony and petty squabbles amongst the otherwise peace loving communities to take up arms and resort to self help in demanding separate and balcanised fiefdoms out of federation to themselves.
It is God for all, and every one to himself. Not until we scrupulously as a united and honest body adhere to fiscal federalism in addressing our multidimensional and faceted needs as a nation with one destiny, the tension will continue to quadruply mount to the discomfort of all and sundry.

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