It is indeed worthwhile to stop and examine events of recent years in the world in order to put them into context for our own local Nigerian politics.
I will argue that the logical starting point should be the American presidential campaign, and the ongoing struggle for nomination by the Republican Party candidates. Without straining, or even exerting too much attention, it is clear that some of the things that the American electorate is considering, in order to make informed choices, regarding the candidate of their choice, does not even centre around notions like the state of origin, or the religious affiliations of the respective candidates, but on substantive policies that address the basic necessities of life, and policies which reach out to citizens.
Just in case there are those who want to plead ignorance on these matters, these are issues that include things like fuel prices, jobs, taxes, the complexion of the public sector, foreign policy management, values that uphold the tradition of family, and, in a broader sense, the policies that will guarantee security and sustainable development in a manner beneficial to the young.
Although it is true that many citizens bring different biases to underscore some of their choices, however, we often see reasoned efforts at severe consideration of the various proposals, as well as an openness and willingness to tolerate difference and opposition with respect to some of the issues at stake which often runs counter to widely accepted norms.
While it is not my intention to make a comparison between Nigeria and America or any other country, it is inevitable for us to ignore the silent tussle, or what I would like to call the “war of regions” that is playing out in Nigeria today, and which, when put together invariably generates a disturbing disconnect, and a feeling of melancholy about why for us here, the first principle is about region and an eagerness to trigger the threat to secede. This is the standard staple echoed by our so-called “first class elite” and the “elite middle class” of all the regions in question. Never for them, a focus and commitment to those policies that will make us grow beyond our weaknesses.
I cannot now think of a more plausible reason for adopting a federal system of government rather than addressing the peculiar needs of peculiar people, because the beauty of this system is that it allows for a grass root level to function in a manner that will provide the opportunity to foster development.
In most countries operating a federal system of government, the responsibility for revenue sharing and even determination of the criteria employed is often left to an independent fiscal commission as was the case in 1946 and 1990 if we recall the role played by the National Revenue and Fiscal and Commission.
However, from what is obtainable at the moment, each level of government is guaranteed a percentage from the central pool that is called the federation account. If we say that this federation account is fed mainly by the revenue derived from the following four major categories: Tax, Agriculture, Export of raw materials and Crude oil, the latter being the most lucrative, the question lingers as to the distributive equity we adopt in sharing this revenue.
Going through our previous constitutions, regardless of its defects, I find the treatment of revenue allocation under the Macpherson constitution a bit more appealing to what should have formed the basis of a successful solution to the current irregularities in the Nigerian context.
Although sharing revenue based on the principles of derivation, need, and national interest, at that time was somewhat alienating, what is most striking about the perceived discontent right now is an existing lopsidedness in development; a lopsidedness I will argue is orchestrated two vices –corruption and self-interest.
Then there is the frustrating anger we must feel at the fact that the chunk of the money continue to stay within the federal purse, and is administered and managed by the Federal government to the obvious neglect of the rural areas where almost 80 percent of Nigerians live.
In the consideration of revenue distribution and development, my argument will be that we give serious attention to the local government, noting that the lives of 80 percent of our compatriots is determined here, and that even though they are passive participants in the politics of revenue sharing, their ultimate concern is how to get good accommodation in a safe environment, potable water, food, and an assured future for their kids.
Nothing has ached me more than the vain arguments of our northern governors now clamoring for more revenue, and using revenue deprivation as an excuse for their greed and gross incompetence, an incompetence that has led to the inexcusable underdevelopment of the north, where, all of a sudden, poverty has been made synonymous with our region.
Frankly I cannot think enough of these our governors looking for fast cash, like the infamous gangster, playing poker in a Las Vegas casino at the expense of the poor, the same poor for whom such considerations like ethnicity or religion make no sense in the first place; and who live on a day to day basis trying to create comfort out of a prepaid life because they are unable to plan for more than the next 24 hours.
Ultimately, the unattended part of the discourse on revenue distribution is of course that of revenue production. We are concerned about sharing the cake but less concerned about baking it. This is after all what sets us aside from the western nations of the world who put greater premium on taxes.
I long for the day that this becomes the basis of our revenue dialogue rather than on transient resources that offer no hope for a sustainable future and which helps to fuel a vicious cycle of corruption and self interest leadership. When that day comes, then the new slogan of governance shall be “what can I do for the country” rather than “how much can I make from the country during my tenure” God Bless Nigeria!
*Pinado Abdu-Waba is a radio- Journalist based in Germany