Half of 36 States Insolvent: An Issue for the New Candidates By Pius Adesanmi

Increasingly, you hear a segment of the commentariat scream that restructuring in Nigeria is a complex set of issues and problems that should be nuanced. Such commentators often ask: what is restructuring? What exactly are we restructuring? They then berate those who have “a simplistic, financial understanding of the issue”.

Well, I have a simplistic, financial understanding of the issue. Insofar as Nigeria is concerned, every other nuance, every other understanding of restructuring, sits on that one foundation of the economic and the financial side of things. I don’t understand why folks are trying to muddy the waters by adding layers of other complex issues.

The narrative is simple and we should not make it complex. Nigeria as is has only one feeding bottle. The cerelac in the feeding bottle is disproportionately produced by certain sections of the country. Another section of the country has disproportionately controlled this singular feeding bottle, has been extremely rude and arrogant about it, and has convinced herself that she has a manifest destiny to control the feeding bottle. Manifest Destiny in political science has a local name in Nigeria: born to rule mentality.

We are saying there is the necessity of creating numerous other feeding bottles. We are saying: hold your own feeding bottle and find the cerelac to put in it and do whatever you please. Every province in Canada is OYO. You are on your own with your feeding bottle and your cerelac. You pay something to Ottawa. Dazzol.

Because of this arrangement, you hardly ever see provincial premiers in Ottawa. What are you coming to do in the Federal capital? It would be odd, totally strange to see the Premier of British Columbia or Alberta making frequent stops in Ottawa.

With very few exceptions, the state capital is a secondary home of a Nigerian governor. Abuja is their permanent home address. They must constantly go and grovel in Aso Rock. Yahaya Bello of Kogi, Nasir El Rufai of Kaduna, Abdulaziz Yari of Zamfara, and Rochas Okorocha of Imo have taken Abuja junkets to a disgraceful level. They don’t even pretend to have any dignity.

If you look at the newly-released Economic Confidential Annual State Viability Index (ASVI) 2017, you will understand that those who are saying there is more to restructuring than fiscal and economic federalism are just wasting our time and confusing us. Every other issue is secondary to genuine fiscal federalism as far as I am concerned.

According to the 2017 ASVI, 17 of Nigeria’s 36 states are insolvent, a.k.a not viable. That is half the states in the country! There are of course levels to insolvency. Of the 17 insolvent states, here are those who would absolutely not be able to survive without the federal feeding bottle: Bauchi, Yobe, Borno, Kebbi, Katsina, and Jigawa.

It should not be rocket science why the north, writ large, is the traditional home of opposition to fiscal federalism alias restructuring.

If you want to understand the journey to this conundrum, you have to look at the total history of state agitation in Nigeria, especially in the period between the transition from 19 to 36 states. You must also look at the mentality informing current agitation for more states.

If you examine the archives, you will discover that at no time in Nigeria’s history has agitation for and creation of more states been ever informed by considerations of viability because Nigeria operates a philosophy and a political system featuring an overcentralized feeding system from only one source – that is prebendalism.

The discontent leading to agitation of a new state is always fed by ethnicity (we are Yewa, we want a Yewa state) or religion (we are a Christian minority in southern Kaduna, we want a state), never by viability.

The ethnic and religious side of this discontent is then fed by an overriding desire to have a better stake in the distribution from the centre. In other words, you want states not because they are viable but because you want to bring the feeding bottle pipelines closer to you.

In this sort of atmosphere, the longer you have controlled the centre, the more time you have had to carve indigent states and thus saddle your own geo-political zone with a disproportionate concentration of indigent and unviable states, totally dependent on the centre.

This is essentially where we are today. And this is the nut we must ask Kingsley Moghalu and other new candidates to address. I know that Atiku went to London to address restructuring but he is not a candidate I am adducing any credibility to. I am focusing, as you know, on the new, paradigm shift candidates.

However, Atiku did churn out the usual cliched orthodoxy about restructuring in London. Atiku’s speech does not tell us how he proposes to change the predominant mindset about restructuring in his own part of the country. What does Moghalu have to offer beyond that? In essence, how do you bring the north on board the train of genuine fiscal federalism when the reality is that too many states yonder are unviable?

Elsewhere, I have proposed a comprehensive approach to this matter but I am not going to mention it here because Moghalu and the other new candidates should be pressed on it. They should be supplying the answers for vetting.

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