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An Expatriates Perspective on Nigeria
By: Solomon Sogunro  
 Published  August 20th, 2012

Without doubt, I acknowledge that America, where I reside for over 20 something odd years, exist as one of the greatest nations in the world. Irrespective of whether I am visiting Europe or Africa, I always return with a greater sense of appreciation and admiration for the United States of America. Moreover, the longing to reconnect with ones ancestral land always remains in the backdrop of my thought. After years of ignoring such promptings, I decided to visit Nigeria in July of 2012. Perhaps, it was more of a spiritual journey or calling for me, to visit my land of origin, and walk the land my forefathers as well as foremothers walked.  When I finally arrived after decades of disconnection, I witnessed the beauty and goodness existent in many Nigerians. Yet, I was shocked and dismayed by the poverty and misery that was manifested in their daily living conditions.

As fate would have it, I met a young lady on my plane trip to Nigeria that worked at the Lagos State House of Assembly. Being that she understood my passion for Nigeria’s political and economic situation; she invited me to attend several hearings at her workplace. It was during these brief meetings and participative discussions with various government workers as well as the general Nigerian society, that I grasped some of the central issues hindering Nigeria’s progress. From this I surmised, if Nigeria is to ever move forward her current economic and political structure needs to be modified with the putting in place of a federalist system, both in theory and practicality.

Common knowledge leads many to believe Nigeria exists as a federalist state, but in reality this remains far from the truth. Perhaps, it’s one of those generally spoken terms that people blindly accept without further investigation or inquiry. Hopefully, with the various social Media outlets available, this pertinent information can surface and remain in the Nigerian national dialogue as a means to practical solutions and change. Why is the lack of not functioning as a federalist state hindering Nigerian economic and political progress?

To even explore this question beckons one to comprehend what is a federalist system. It is safe to denote federalism as a system that divides the powers of government between the national, state and local government; thus permitting the state and local government to determine their own economic and political reality within the parameters set by the federal government. Conversely, Nigeria doesn’t live up to its appellation as a federalist state, but is governed on a unitary basis or as a centralized government, which shifts economic and political determination further away from the people into the hands of a few political elites. For example, every month, the federal government collects and disperses oil revenue from Delta State. One of the implications of such act is reduced economic activity in Nigeria. This is apparent due to the lack of industry in various states and graduates coerced to sell charge cards, drive a “danfo” bus or taxi cab. Yet, in a federalist system, Delta State’s oil revenue will be her own, thus requiring other states to seek creative methods of generating their respective state revenue, which will undoubtedly lead to job creation.

With a fully implemented federalist system, it will set an environment for the market forces that will spur economic activity as well as create jobs for underutilized Nigerian graduates. Politically, the power will be shifted closer to the people, thus permitting people to hold elected officials accountable. Presently, Nigerians can’t hold their elected officials fully accountable, since the federal government controls most revenue collection and allocation to the state and local government as well as shape their policy matters. For example, the Federal government has purview over the production and distribution of electricity. This came as a new revelation to me, when I questioned the inconsistent electricity shortage in Lagos. Logic led me to ask, “Why can’t Lagos provide its own electricity?” After informal conducted interviews, people told me that it would be a failed attempt to duplicate the scope of duties designated to the federal government. The consequence obviously is an inability for people to hold their state and local government elected officials accountable for a common basic necessity found in most modern society: electricity. Of course, when I spoke to parliamentary workers, they shifted a lot of blame to the federal government as to the shortage of electricity in Lagos and other societal ills plaguing Lagos. Perhaps, they attempted to use the federal government as an escape. Moreover, if their complaints are fact or fiction that is not the issue, but the need to put a system in place that brings political and economic determination closer to the people.  As a result, it enables citizens to hold their elected officials accountable.

In the final analysis, the current political system or centralized governance benefits only a few in Nigeria. This is evident by its high unemployment rate, which I saw on a daily basis. An analogy to explain this best follows as: when a lazy man is fed everyday of his life, he most likely won’t seek to further himself or seek a means to become independent. This is the somber case with Nigeria, we sit back idly waiting for our big brother Delta State to provide us our monthly allowance of oil revenue. The consequence of such misguided practice is minimized economic activity and rampant poverty.  Rather, in a true federalist functioning state, not only in articulation, economic activity will manifest and the channeling of the unused creativity of the Nigerian masses will be tapped, due to removing dependency on any other state for revenue, but needed to generate revenue within a state. Out of the many complexities that wrought Nigerian society, this is a great starting point that should always circulate in our national dialogue: embracing a federalist system. It will give the state and local government’s autonomy to determine their economic and political determination. Of course, most governmental systems depend on the right leadership; so again, the solution never comes easy for Nigeria’s socio-economic and political challenges.

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