Cyril Okonkwo, Abuja.
Vice President Yemi Osinbajo has advocated for more powers to be devolved to Nigeria’s sub-national unites to accelerate national development.
He stated this while delivering the 2019 Independence Lecture of the Island Club, Lagos.
The vice president, who titled his lecture “the whole is only as great as the sum of its parts,” said Nigeria’s population and diverse ethnic groups has necessitated that states in the country be strengthened to enable them contribute to national development.
“The bottom line is that we cannot remotely manage the aspirations and concerns of 200 million people from Abuja.
“The passive and dormant posture of states relative to an overbearing, sometimes paternalistic federal government, cannot create an economy to support the decent livelihood of a population of our size now or in the future.”
According Professor Osinbajo there are developing consensus on what he described as “subsidiarity,” which “is diffusion of powers among the three tiers of government and the shift from over centralization to empowerment of sub-national units with a measure of autonomy.
“Subsidiarity is that idea that it is wasteful and inefficient for a larger entity to take on a task that a small entity can undertake. “
Going back to the history of states creation in Nigeria, which began with the three regions that were created before Nigeria’s independence in 1960 to the present 36 states, Osinbajo said sub-national units should be in control of many sectors in their domains.
“The people, the land, the businesses, schools and the healthcare facilities are in the state. The only territory that is owned by the federal government is Abuja.
“Every other thing is in a geographical entity called state. The nation cannot be wealthy when its component parts, the states, are poor.
“The standard of living of the federation depends on the standard of living of people who live in the states.
“In other words, a federation can only be as rich as its richest states and as strong as its strongest states.
“Our national indices merely aggregate our weaknesses and strengths as present in our constituent units.
“Consequently, we can only build a strong and more prosperous nation by building stronger and more prosperous states.
“Building stronger states means ensuring more devolution of more power to the states, enabling them to control more of their resources, and to make their own administrative decision such as the creation of local governments, establishment of state and community police force, creation of correctional facilities, creation of special courts and tribunals of equivalent jurisdiction as the high courts.”
The Vice President said he was of the belief that Nigeria’s unity has fundamentally been settled, pointing out the main issue that continues to dominate discussions on Nigeria unity is the terms of engagement that should exist between the various nationalities that make up Nigeria.
“Despite the various agitations, opinions about Nigeria’s long term future, I believe that the matter of Nigeria’s unity has been fundamentally settled.
“I believe that there is a broad consensus, dating back to our founding fathers that we are better together than apart.
“It is my conviction that for the vast majority of our people Nigeria is a reality that has come to stay and that separatism and disintegration hold no allure for many of us.”
He said the founding fathers of Nigeria agreed that Nigeria should remain a united country despite their differences.
“Regardless of their key rivalry, they agreed on the crucial necessity of Nigeria staying united, despite many centrifugal forces and pressures that pervaded our country at the time.
“On this matter of unity, their differences were those of degree, rather than category.
“They all shared the view that the ideal situation was one in which a united Nigeria took its rightful place in the world as most populous black nation on earth and the foremost black power on the surface of the earth.
“From the foregoing , it is clear that the founding fathers were of one mind as far as Nigeria’s historic significance and historic destiny was concerned.
“They also recognized her ability to fulfill her destiny was dependent on our continued unity.”
Vice President urged Nigerians not to be despondent about the limitations of Nigeria’s 1999 Constitution saying it should always be tested by subjecting any question arising from it to the interpretation of the courts.
“The process of creating stronger sub-nationals is possible even without making any major constitutional change.
“The response to the reality of our constitution could not be to raise our hands in despair and resignation.
“It should be to test the constitution to its limits through the courts.”
According to him, Lagos Stated blazed the trail by using the courts to define the parameters and boundaries of the responsibility of states under the current constitution by going to court to deepen the authority of states.
He said such issues as the creation of local governments, the administration of councils, urban and regional planning as well as the power to withhold allocation from the federation account to states were all resolved when the Lagos State took the federal government to court.
Professor Osinbajo tasked the media in Nigeria to do more in investigative reporting to unearth the facts about issues and allegations made by certain people against public officials.
This was in response to a question asked by one of those who attended the lecture, who sought to know what government was doing about corruption and recovery of funds.
“We must challenge our press to be much more up and doing because corruption fights back and they do everything to fight back; they throw mud at everybody, give the impression that everyone is corrupt.
“What is wrong in our press investigating those things?
“Nobody is intervening; the press anywhere else in the world, if you make a crazy allegation, it will be investigated immediately. It is not difficult.
“So, we find that corruption in itself is enabled by the fact that our press has not vibrantly done investigative journalism the way it ought to.
Professor Osinbajo said the Buhari administration has done much in the fight against corruption, adding that for the first time, two governors have been convicted and sent to jail.