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Otorofani Political Commentaries (OPC) Series, Vol.01 No.02 2012
Stateless Federation Cannot Deliver Growth and Development in a Nation  
 Published  August 26th, 2012

There is no question that the atmosphere in Nigeria is presently suffused with politics in an otherwise non-election year amid serious national security challenges that have tasked the nation almost to breaking point. Terrorism, once an imponderable and improbable guest only read about in distant foreign lands has since found a profitable franchise in Nigeria forcibly commandeering our national consciousness to massage its over bloated ego.

There is palpable fear in every stare on the faces of Nigerians as they reluctantly absorb the realism of vigilance and security consciousness in their daily lives, consigning to the past their age of innocence that has seemingly been lost never to be recovered, at least, not anytime soon. Terrorism is a holdover tenant that would not pay and would not leave even with quit notices served. And Nigerians yearn earnestly for the good old days when the words “suicide bombs” belonged only to the battlefields someplace else in the Middle East, perhaps in Iraq or Afghanistan, not to their peaceful streets and houses of worship where sinners and evil men come to bare their soiled souls before the Supreme Deity for forgiveness even as many fear for the worse yet. And such fears are not to be discounted lightly.

Amid these doldrums we could perhaps take some leave from politics and national security issues even if momentary though both may have occupied front and center of national discourse at the moment, permitting us thereby to revisit the all-important question of national development. That's right; national development. After all, much of what is happening in Nigeria today with regard to politics and national security have their roots in our chronic and unpardonable condition of underdevelopment more than half a century after independence. Extreme poverty in the midst of plenty is one of the greatest generators of evil. It is hardly surprising therefore that even an otherwise pliant people long denied real development in the midst of plenty would take laws into their own hands at one point in time or another using whatever excuses they can muster at the time. And is the case whether we are dealing with MOSSAB, MEND, Boko Haram or for that matter any other militant group popping up in Nigeria. It makes absolutely no difference except for their nomenclature.

We are therefore eminently justified in taking some time off to talk about real development, for to what end is politics if not national development? And to what end is national security if not national development? Why then are we preoccupied with chasing the ever elusive shadows rather than the real substance? I am afraid that is what we are doing as a nation. We are doomed if we allow politics and fear of insecurity to get the better of us as a people, for as President John F. Kennedy once said, our greatest enemy is fear itself.

Now there are those who are avidly, even sadistically, nursing the thought, if not hope, that the presence of Boko Haram terrorists in our midst would spell doom for the nation. But that is more of a wishful thinking than valid prediction. That said, for a people just getting introduced to terrorism such fear bordering on hysteria is perfectly understandable. But nothing could be farther from the truth, because terrorism alone does not prevent a nation from moving forward let alone sink it. If that were the case there would be no United Kingdom today that was wracked for decades by IRA terrorist bombings. If that were so there would be no India today peppered in decades by Kashmiri terrorist bombings. If that were the case the former USSR now Russian Federation would have ceased to exist tormented by terrorist bombings from Chechnya separatists. If that were the case Spain would have since vanished from the face of the earth under the barrage of terrorist bombings from E.T.A. And if that were the case there would be no United States of America, home to the worst terrorist incidents in the world. As a matter of fact, and as if to prove this, as I was proof reading this piece a domestic terrorist act was unfolding at the Empire State Building in New York City, where a disgruntled former employee who had lost his job walked in and rained bullets on his former colleagues before he was gunned down by the police after killing, at least, a manager. Such acts are commonplace and happen almost on a weekly basis in the US with varying levels of casualties.

That is domestic terrorism and it is no different from what Boko Haram is doing in Nigeria. Terrorism is terrorism. It has no other name regardless of the motive or scale whether or not it has political, religious, or economic undertone. I don’t see anybody asking the president of the United States to resign from office on account of the senseless killings taking place there as some political hack writers have done in Nigeria. Americans take these horrific events in their strides and they are pretty much used to them as are Indians, Russians, and the rest of the afflicted nations. It is therefore as shameful as it is disgusting for anyone to seek to reap political capital out of the security afflictions of a nation as some conscienceless individuals do in Nigeria.  But as we have all seen, the more these several nations get hit by terrorist bombings the stronger and more resilient they become because in in the end and in some negative fashion terrorism has proven to be actually a big driver of growth and development for infected nations battling the evil. If for nothing else it has spurned a burgeoning multi-bilion dollar national security industry employing millions all over the world especially in affected nations.  And there is no reason to imagine that Nigeria will be an exception.

Now the authorities are agreed and commonsense tells us that development, whether personal or collective, is the endpoint of all politics and national security. As such, the one is indistinguishable and inseparable from the other, and all bear a symbiotic relationship to one another in the overall scheme of things. Whether we believe it or not the fact remains that national security and politics are best handled by developed nations which have the resources to handle them. It does mean they would be able to eliminate terrorist activities altogether but they are best suited to prevent and handle them when they occur. And that goes for democracy as well. Democracy is not for poor but rich nations. In poor nations democracy is a luxury that is beyond their reach because its practice requires sophisticated infrastructure and enlightened citizenry that poor nations can ill-afford. Nigeria falls into the category of poor nations despite her oil wealth with  poor infrastructure and almost hopeless citizenry that whines and frets in silence. And that explains why many developed nations are offering to assist Nigeria in those two critical areas of politics (democracy), and national security.

But let me make this clear: I am not interested in pointing fingers at others or indulge in the blame game. That is politics meant for politicians, and I am not one. However, it need be stated that if attacks and counter attacks could solve an atom of Nigeria's problems there would have been no problems at all in Nigeria by now. One only need flip the pages of the news dailies or hit the television remote to be assailed with an avalanche of politically motivated attacks and counter attacks—all playing the finger pointing game rather than devising solutions to move our nation forward. We are indulging in unproductive past time that is only good enough to sell newspapers and increase the TV audience ratings, but bad enough to destroy our national developmental aspirations.

States in Nigeria

In this second edition of my bi-weekly outings therefore, I propose to touch on a subject that may well point the nation in a different and productive direction. It is about the economic and financial status of Nigeria's federating units—the states. Not a pretty picture at all, if we care to look a little deeper. For starters, many of the states in Nigeria cannot pay the national minimum wage of only slightly above $100.00 per month and the labor unions had had to cajole and threaten many with strike action before they grudgingly agreed to pay! And that is if that agreement is honored at all. Pray, what can a family do with such handouts in the name of salaries and wages? The purchasing power of the average household is nothing to write home about due to poor salaries and wages. When we take into account the fact that households’ purchasing power is the biggest driver of economic activities of a nation, the problem hits home really hard. And in the absence of a credit system it is not difficult to understand why Nigeria's manufacturing sector is not doing well at all due in part to low consumers' purchasing power for goods and services. Definitely a strong case can be made for salary and wage increase in Nigeria, because in the end the economy reaps the benefits in increased demands for goods and services. How would that not benefit the economy? Handled incrementally by predetermined annual percentage increase, it should not lead to any inflation because the increase would be imperceptible to the public. Dropped like an Udoji windfall the way it is done in Nigeria, the direct opposite may well be the case. It has to be done smart, to be done right. But the question is: Can the states be counted on to foot the bill? No, they can't. Certainly not the vegetating states mushrooming in Nigeria like wild sprouts.  

We must turn national attention to what goes on at the state and local levels rather than what goes on in Abuja. There is a reason why states are treated like miniature nations in the United States right from the beginning with strong political and economic bases. Part of the reason is because national growth and development take place at the state and local levels not at the center. The states and local councils ought to be and are in fact the engines of growth and development elsewhere in federations. Unfortunately, that is hardly the case in Nigeria. And here is why:  For the most part, state annual budgets only range from tens of billions to hundreds of billions in naira. This presents a scary profile of their economic statuses. When reduced to US Dollar or the Euro we find these billions of naira mean very little indeed in real terms since major development projects, including importation of plants and machinery, are denominated in USD and Euro for the most part and a single such contract could gulp an entire state budget. If this is the case for states the picture at the local government level is better imagined than stated.

There are many states in the federation that exist just to pay salaries and wages, if at all, with little or nothing left for social and economic development. How then would there be gainful employment in such states?  How then would there be economic and social development in such states? It is sheer wishful thinking. It will not happen however loud we may dream and cry for it, and however much we complain and condemn the government of the day. Now here is the brutal truth: Such states need not exist in the first place except to massage political egos of some individuals. A situation where the budget of a city in the US is more than the budget of three or more states combined including Lagos is to say the least utterly pathetic and therefore unacceptable.

It cannot be gainsaid that if the question is development the only acceptable answer is made up three words: Funds! Funds! Funds! Politicians can promise all they want during campaigns but funding their promises is where the rubber meets the road and the litmus test of their success or failure in office. And that should be the most important question the electorates should put before any elective office aspirant seeking their votes with sugary promises. Emotions should take the back bench.  It’s a cold, hard headed confrontation that should  leave no room for emotions, because the economic, social, and spiritual well-being of the people depends on it. Not only should it be the most important question to be asked it should be the first question ever to be put to any aspiring public office holder particularly in the executive branch of government.   

Whether confronted by the electorate or not this reality is not entirely lost on elective office seekers though they may have no clue as to how to go about it. It is only natural then that fresh from an electoral victory, whether deserved or not, and rearing to go, a newly installed democratically elected government in a state would invariably preoccupy itself with the microscopic examination of the balance-sheet of the state whether or not it belonged to the same political party of its predecessor administration. And such an examination could be quite extensive indeed if its predecessor belonged to an opposing political party, in which case such an entirely legitimate and, I might add, indispensable exercise, could carry with it a hidden agenda of unearthing potentially damaging acts of financial indiscretion. Even so the examination of a state balance-sheet is the take-off point of every new administration. And it determines whether a new administration is able to fly upon inauguration or remain grounded for sometime before growing its wings. 

Before proceeding further, however, it is important to clear up one fundamental issue highlighted above. The distinction about the character of electoral victory as to “whether deserved or not,” is critical in this regard in the sense that whereas on the one hand a deserved electoral victory winds up mobilizing both leader and his constituents leading ultimately to accelerated development, an undeserved victory, on the other hand, being an act of forcible entry into government house through the back door, winds up demobilizing both  leader and his constituents, leading ultimately to underdevelopment. This is invariably the case because a rogue leader spends his time fending off with state resources, strident and demoralizing charges of stolen electoral mandate, which in turn predisposes him to unwholesome acts of witch-hunt, intimidation, and vendetta—all of which tends to push him off track winding up eventually in a virtual train wreck.

To such rogue leader therefore the issue of development becomes secondary to keeping and defending his stolen mandate. And being thus stymied in perpetual state of insecurity the leader is apt to help himself to the bounties of the state treasury while his illegitimate rule lasts—that being in the first instance his true motivation before he is shown the exit door eventually, it at all, leaving the state worse off than he met it. This then is the damage that is certain to be inflicted on a state by stolen mandate. A stolen electoral mandate puts to waste an entire election and sets the afflicted state back at least four years behind others. On the other hand, the leader with a deserved electoral victory cuts the opposite picture. His whole preoccupation is to deliver on his electoral promises, for that is his primary reason for contesting election in the first place.

Why do we have states in a federation rather than mere administrative units that are answerable to the center as in unitary system of government with its centralized planning and administration? A state exists in order to confer a degree of autonomy on its people for the the express and only purpose of harnessing and maximizing the development potentials and resources of a people. It is not created nor does it exist just to pay salaries of civil servants and to service the bureaucracy leaving its people high and dry. Such a limited role could easily be performed by administrative units. A state goes above and beyond mere administrative duties to planning and execution of development projects and policies as it sees fit for its own people and not dictated by outside forces or a central authority.

And to attain those objectives the leader of a state must relentlessly find ways and means of funding development at all costs so that the state might prosper. Unlike the rogue leader with stolen mandate a legitimate leader is not distracted by the strictures and troubles of stolen mandate. Motivated by selflessness the legitimate leader is acutely aware that a failed electoral mandate regardless of its legitimacy carries with it an eternal reproach—a stinging historical stigma that would latch to his name and those of his offspring as an undesirable bequest. This is the inescapable reality that all government must confront head-on and get a decent handle on right from the beginning otherwise such an administration would hit the ground crawling like a lame duck rather than sprinting like an Olympian speedster, for even an otherwise illegitimate government could redeem its image and legitimize itself by delivering on its promise with ex-governor Chris Ngige of Anambra state being a shinning example. We may recall that his election was nullified by the Election Tribunal on the ground that it was a product of fraud and consequently thrown out of office but nevertheless leaving behind sterling performance records testified to by both friends and foes alike that paid off later in his senatorial bid. This is so because the electorate appreciates and rewards the good works of elected officials that outlive their tenures. And this despite the fact that Ngige was a product of the generally despised ruling party the People's Democratic Party (PDP). Now contrast that with the cases of ex-governor Ibori of Delta state and Lucky Igbinedion of Edo state whose very names alone evoke public odium. It is amazing how people value ill-gotten wealth more than a good name earned from a record of selfless service to their people who had reposed their confidence in them, braved the scotching sun and rain on election day to cast their votes.

Amid the high expectation of the electorate, however, not much could be expected from the government in a poor state that inherited an empty treasury. It is interesting to observe that in this republic not one new governor had come out to declare that he had inherited a buoyant economy from previous administrations. On the contrary, the governors always bemoan the poor financial conditions of they meet on the ground in their respective states that constrain their ability to deliver the goods. Though always disputed by their predecessors, such claims have enormous validity to them given the profligacy of state administrations coupled with their poor internally generated revenue profile which is nothing to write home about. For example, the Adams Oshiomhole government in Edo state had a hard time finding its footing after it was inaugurated and the governor himself was daily bemoaning the allegedly parlous fiscal situation of the state. And this was  the outcry replicated in several, indeed majority of the states.

However, the ability to place a state on a sound financial footing is part of the responsibility of the government in power. When a governor cries out about meeting an empty treasury it becomes his burden duty to turn things around. And in the final analysis governments are judged as much by the physical development put in place as they are of the financial solvency of their states during their tenure and at the time of leaving office. It is therefore incumbent on governments at all levels to aggregate and maximize their revenue sources before they think of embarking on development projects. This seems to me to be so intuitively elementary that it probably need not to be stated here in the first place. Yet realities on the ground in Nigeria would appear to point to a different fiscal trajectory at the state and local levels invariably leading directly to a condition of state pauperization.

It is not uncommon to find that state governors find themselves spending their first term in office running from pillar to post in search of funds to meet their electoral promises and more often than not leaving office with little or nothing to show for their stewardship other than a borehole here, feeder road there, and a few classroom blocs over there, as their greatest achievements in office. It is so pathetic when governors begin to beat their chests over the sinking of boreholes, renovation of classrooms, or the three kilometers of road from one village to another as their crowning glories in government. These so-called “projects,” if we may call them that, properly belong to the province of local, i.e., municipal authorities, not state. It is indeed embarrassing if not outright scandalous, that a state governor would even think of including them in his list of achievements at the apex of state governance. A state governor who is counting boreholes sunk, primary school classrooms renovated or village earth roads paved or asphalted and such token micro projects that a local government chairman should be heard ticking off his list of achievements, is an abysmal failure already. If a state as a federating unit exists just to sink boreholes, build a few classroom blocs, and a few feeder and earth roads here and there in towns and villages with nothing substantive befitting its status, then who needs local government councils?

Which begs the question: Where are the states in our federation? Someone should please show me, because when I look around Nigeria I see not states, qua states but mere administrative units that cannot be dignified with the appellation of statehood. Yes, I see thirty six administrative units in Nigeria masquerading as states. And with the ongoing constitutional amendment exercise that number could change, though highly unlikely, if my political antennae serve me well. But here is the bottom line: States are not created to be and do not exist as mere administrative units and merely servicing its own bureaucracy. On the contrary, they are created to be and exist as veritable centers of development capable of standing on their own feet without recourse to the center for their existence and developmental affairs. Any state of the federation that exists at the mercy of the central government has, ipso facto, lost its statehood. In other words it is a failed state.

Funding Development.

The missing like is funding. And the states appear incapable of connecting the dots. And the dots must be connected and stay connected. It is not enough to have lofty ideas and grand development plans. The grandest development plans in the world are not worth the pieces of paper in which they are written in the absence of funding. Unfortunately politicians have the knack of talking big but thinking small. They run around from one campaign stop to another promising to transform the earth into heaven overnight without first doing their home works, counting on the ignorance of the masses. And this is true of developing nations such as Nigeria and developed countries such as the United States where political awareness by the masses is so low and critical thinking almost an unattainable proposition.

Nigeria is saddled with governments at all levels that do not seem to understand this basic element of governance and so left in perpetual state of insolvency. While it might be conceded albeit grudgingly that the federal government has considerable sources of revenues, the states and local government don’t and are not willing nor capable of exploring funding sources, but choose rather to rely on quarterly federal allocations. Yet the point cannot be overstressed that without adequate revenues states are in no position to provide and maintain essential services and utilities let alone venturing into big ticket development items requiring huge capital outlays. Why, may we ask, is it that nearly all major development projects in Nigeria come from the federal government with hardly anything of significance coming from the states with the exception of a handful including Lagos state? The federal government has just announced the award of the contract for the building of the 2nd Onitsha Bridge across the great Niger River, for instance. Why is it that the governments of Delta and Anambra states cannot fund the construction of a bridge linking their states and must wait on the federal government forever to do it for them? Such a project would be handled by the state or even a city if it were in the United States. A glaring example is the proposed 2nd Tappan Zee Bridge over the Hudson River by the New York State government and its image may be accessed through this link : It is just like the proposed 2nd Onitsha Bridge across the River Niger. Would New York state expect the US government to build that bridge for her? Not a chance in hell.

The famous Brooklyn Bridge in New York City and the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco, California, and other major bridges in the US, for example, were not built by Uncle Sam but by states and local authorities. The same gos for the sea and airports such as New-Ark International Airport, and John F Kennedy JFK Airport, respectively in New-Ark, New Jersey and New York, New York. How many people knew that the World Trade Center bombed by Bin Laden terrorists belonged, not to the US federal government, but to the Ports Authority of New York and New Jersey, and it is the same authority that is building the new one to replace it? This must be the case in a federal set up.

These huge landmarks are owned by the states and local authorities because they can afford to put them up and maintain them as well. If states and local authorities can handle such projects elsewhere why not in Nigeria? This is standard practice, and states in a federation don’t have to rely on the center for power or energy supplies, for example. States, properly so called, should have their own power plants to supply their own energy needs, and if they don’t, they can buy from private power companies located in other states in the power market. All they would need, in that case, is transmission lines and transformers for power distribution and supporting gadgetry. If this is the case elsewhere in other federations the world over why not in Nigeria?

The critical questions therefore are these: Why are the states so weak and dependent on the center? Why must the center provide or be expected to provide them with power and energy supplies, amongst others? If the status quo is unacceptable what then can be done about it? These are some of the questions to which answers will be proffered in the next piece. I also intend to propose an accompanying administrative set-up that's best answerable to a whole new paradigm.


Franklin Otorofani is an attorney and public affairs analyst and can be reached at

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