By Dr. Adetolu Ademujimi; email:firstname.lastname@example.org
“Pocket money” is a descriptive phrase for the stipends usually given by parents or caregivers to their kids or wards alike to school as basic upkeep support. Nigeria’s current adminstrative architecture can be likened to that run by a large nuclear family. The Federal Government (FG) is a Nigerian father with 36 children. He likes to be “seen” to be doing something. He presides over the hundreds of companies he owns,even when he has come of age and too old to face the rigour of daily work. So even on his dying bed, he wants to be seen to address the welfare of his 36 children so that he can be called “Abiyamo tooto” (true parent). How does he attend to their welfare? It is by doling out pocket money to each of them.
“Daddy, you are now old, having worked hard for 58 years to make ends meet. You gave us pocket money in high school days,all through university, till marriage. We all planned for marriage based on the pocket money. In marriage,you still won’t let us work. We pay our children school fees from the pocket money. Each of your 36 children now has tens of children – your grandchildren – to cater for and as such we implore you to hand over many of the companies to us so that we can fend for ourselves and also you”, said one of his children.
“No, it is not necessary. After all, I increased your pocket money because you have more children than your brother. Your brother’s pocket money is also less than yours because he has less number of children”, the father replied.The father therefore refuses to let the children run the companies regardless of his low productivity that cannot suffice in providing more funds to the 36 children. Yet, among his friends, such a father is seen as a workaholic and family-loving man. “Oh, your father works so hard to put food on the table of each of you, 36 of you with dependants for that matter. I hear he still pays you pocket money to offset your daily bills including the school fees of his numerous grandchildren. There are no fathers like him anywhere. He is so large-hearted “, said his good friend.
“He chose to belabour himself till now. If he lets my siblings and I oversee the paint company, oil servicing outlet, tax firm etc, they will be more efficient and rewarding for the family. We will have funds to take care of him in old age and relieve him of several needless tasks. Our children will also see us as responsible fathers who do not look up to their grandpa for daily needs. We will take our destinies in our hands by planning better for the number of more children to have, their choice of schools, number of aides to employ & their remuneration etc. At our ages, why should these plans be based on the expected stipends from our father?”, one of his sons retorted.
The above tale illustrates the realities of our current adminstrative structure in Nigeria. It is most unfortunate that many educated Nigerians do not understand the enormity of the malady in which we swim. The largely uneducated and impoverished Nigerian population is of course more disillusioned than the ignorant literates. Since I was born about thirty something years ago, the states have survived on pocket monies. A Governor assumes duty and predicates all his programmes on Abuja’s pocket money. The FG, in order to be “seen” to do something, is glad to stay in Abuja and wallow in its Messiah complex by:
A. Planning to eradicate poverty from Abuja through centralized Poverty reduction strategies. E.g, creation of loans for 100,000 small & medium scale enterprises (SMEs) by the Bank of Industry. Who says each of the 36 states, if allowed to be self-sufficient, cannot float soft loans for a minimum of 10,000 SMEs each with a combined reach of 360,000 as against the paltry 100,000 that may attract some applause among those who “see” FG as doing something? Can centralized planning of poverty reduction strategies REALLY curb the poignant growth of poverty in a country with the world’s highest number of poor people?
B. Managing all viable resources on behalf of all 36 states and taking more than 50% of the accruable funds while leaving 36 states to share a little above 20% and 774 local governments compete for less than 15% of the total. If the states can be given the constitutional leeway to manage their resources, more funds will be available to address the peculiar needs of the grassroots.
C. Seeking foreign investors on behalf of the entire country. These investors will end up on the soil of one or more states in the long run. Where is it written that were a young man like me to be the Governor of my state,I do not know how to use Google app to search for potential investors in my area of strength? Will I require the national help of Abuja to purchase air tickets and make hotel reservations to have investment meetings with these investors in their countries? Can’t my Commissioner for Natural Resources, in whose purview the development of the local resources of my state lies, accompany me and others on such foreign trips without necessarily having Mr. President and the Minister of Trade or whoever go on our behalf?
D. Making assumptions that the disease priority of different parts of a geographically large and multi-ethnic country like ours is homogenous. Consequently, the Federal ministry of health (FMOH) formulates a “generic” policy for all states to adopt and “domesticate”, when in reality, healthcare partners are likely to be guided by the problem statement of the country as narrated by FMOH in showing interest in states’ health priorities. In other words, a state with more pressing health problems than malaria might have to “pray” to attract the attention of partners because the readily available ones within the country might be focusing more on malaria for instance, going by FMOH’s strategic policy direction. When therefore, does the Schistosomiasis burden of Idogun community in Ose LGA or Schistosomiasis prevalence of Ipogun community in Ifedore LGA (both in Ondo State) attract partners, compared to their Malaria and HIV issues that may be below the country’s national average? Meanwhile, malaria and HIV programmes in Nigeria have a handful of partners.
E. Opting to expand the access roads to and from the Apapa port in Lagos because of its financial muscle. Why will Ondo State for instance, if able to liberate herself from the dependence on Abuja pocket money, not partner with appropriate technical & financial bodies to develop a seaport in Ilaje local government that is reputed to have given the state her economic profile of having the longest coastal line in West Africa? Will such a seaport not decongest a contiguous Apapa port, earn substantial revenue for FG and the host Ondo state as well as result in several other chains of developmental initiatives for the state?
F. Retaining Ministries such as Federal Ministry of Water resources etc. Why can’t we have State Ministries of Water resources and LGA department of water resources that will form the visible engine room for providing access to water for millions of Nigerians?
G. Continue to manage an Akure-Owo-Oba akoko-Ikare akoko-Isua akoko road axis that takes over two hours to drive through en route Abuja. Rather than have the Federal Ministry of Works or Federal Road Maintenance Agency (FERMA), whose officials may never ply this road in 6 months, get burdened by the responsibility of managing that long stretch, the economically viable states can take up this task.
Phased Adminstrative restructuring:
I recommend that the way out of this connundrum is not just to tinker with the current administrative structure of Nigeria but to do so in phases over a transition period of 16 years commencing from 2019 to 2035. State Governors are constitutionally empowered to spend 4 years of a single tenure with a maximum of 2 tenures. Thus,the transition period should span the adminsitrative life of at least 2 Governors and at most, 4. Just as we taper down the dose of steroids in clinical practice, the dosage of pocket money to states can be reduced gradually from the current amount in the start year to zero by the end of the 16 years. During this period, states will be encouraged to strategically position for the pocket money “exit” by ensuring the following,
i.) aggressively develop their easy-to-market natural resources
ii.) control their population growth
iii.) institute public- private partnerships that are lucrative,viable and sustainable
iv.) control the size of their public service workforce to manageable proportions etc.
The fortunate Lagos is an exception:
Lagos State is perhaps a little different because at some point, it was the most favoured child going by its strategic acquatic prowess that necessitated the location of the country’s capital on its land. The seas surrounding and running through Lagos endeared the state to importers and early National governments. By so doing, Lagos profited from all the infrastructural paraphernalia that were provided to boost its profile as the capital of Nigeria. It thereafter consolidated on the mega-infrastructure to attract massive socioeconomic attention till date.
The FG, whether led by APC, PDP or any other political party will only continue to be “seen” to be working so hard to shore up revenues for the country. Yet, it cannot effectively distribute national wealth through the current development-stiffling administratitve structure. Even if we stop corruption today and pull all our financial earnings together in one room, the strategy as it stands today, to disburse our collective patrimony can at best guarantee pocket monies for the federating units that have been bullied and nearly annihilated by an overbearing father. The pocket money syndrome has destroyed the self-esteem of the 36 children. Hence,the FG should decentralize the administration of this country with dispatch.
Adetolu is the Deputy Director, Medical Services, Ondo State Primary Healthcare Development Board.