The current outrageous levels of poverty and income inequality in Nigeria can be attributed to the unbalanced and hugely disproportionate spread of resources and development across the 3 tiers of government. A look at the spread of development will reveal that the grassroots are systematically emasculated from infrastructural development and poverty alleviation/eradication with focus mainly on the urban areas, state capitals and cities. All the debates regarding the challenges and problems facing our dear country today arise from the major problem of DISPROPORTINATE distribution of the enormous resources of the country coupled with the official and almost deliberate over-concentration of these resources meant for all Nigerians in the hands of a select few.
It should be noted that a fair and equitable distribution of resources across board and income equality is not exactly socialism or Marxism as some people are wont to believe.A fair distribution of resources can still go hand in hand with competition in a capitalist economic system such as Nigeria’s.
True federalism can only thrive under a fair system that guarantees the spreadof resources and development through a ‘bottom up’approach where the grassroot communities are empowered enough to serve as drivers of the micro economic system. Development should start from the grassroots communities and move up to states and federal levels rather than the other way round which is the case today. Where best to connect with the people and take development to their door steps than the ward level which is the last bus stop in the community hierarchy?
It is in this vein that the need arises in Nigeria for the creation of community development centres (CDAs) to bring development closer to the people and take power to where it belongs: The grassroots. The proposed CDA policy entails creating CDAs at the ward level of the community hierarchy and the scrapping of the local government areas. This means that the 3 tier government structure as enshrined in the 1999 constitution will still be retained but the local governments will be replaced with CDAs but this structure will have to be entrenched in the constitution which currently has the local government as the third tier. This once again reverberateson the need for a new constitution for our dear country to institute these fundamental changes that are prerequisites to the establishment ofa fair system and genuine change under the able leadership of Nigeria’s nemesis of corruption, my hero and inspiration, President MuhammaduBuhari.
Under the proposed CDA structure, each of the 9574 wards in Nigeria will be made a community development area in form of a mini-local governmentwith a secretariat and full administrative structure to run its affairs. The CDAs should have their Chairmen, Secretaries etc but to qualify, they should win elections just as the local government chairmen and other political office holders.The current civil service structure at state levels can be depleted by posting a substantial number of the civil servants to their CDAs where they could use their wealth of experience and exposure to develop these communities.
The CDAs will be too weak to survive on internally generated revenue (IGR) hence the need for federal allocation to be sent to them directly. This is not saying that the CDAs should perpetually depend on federal allocation for survival but should strive to identify exploitable resources and more importantly promote agricultural development in their communities and work towards financial autonomy in the long run. It is pertinent that the proposed CDAs build their economy on agriculture because at the end of the day, Nigeria will have to go back to Agriculture that the country abandoned about 40 years ago upon discovery of oil (Another topic for another day).
The so calledstate and local government joint account which state governors use to put the local governments in their ‘pockets’ by deliberately withholding federal allocation meant for the local governments has retarded development at the grassroots hence the CDAs should not be allowed to suffer the same fate. In this regard, the revenue allocation to the CDAs should be sent directly to them with proper monitoring by the federal government. There should be a direct link and synergy between the federal government and the CDAs for proper monitoring and accountability. Over the long term, the CDAs will have to be autonomous and take their place asthe engine room of development to replace the current status quo where the state governments are the hub of activities. State governments seem to be overwhelmed by the enormity of the task of spreading development across board which is evident by the almost total neglect of the grassroots. The major thing that happens at the state levels is payment of salaries and contractors and that’s it. Let’s wait for the next federal allocation. The lack of a balanced federal structure is one of the reasons why states found it difficult to even pay their workers’ salaries. The creation of CDAS will fix all that.
There is no system of government that allows for excessive concentration of power at the centre which promotes income inequality and is a recipe for corruption.A fair political system will promote fair distribution of resources and ensure that every citizen is adequately catered for irrespective of whether or not he/she is a government official. This is in tandem with the universal doctrine that power belongs to the people rather than to governors, senators or civil servants.
In the Presidential system, states are not as vibrant and active as the counties (as they are referred to in the U.S), so also in the Parliamentary system such as in Britain where there are no states but councils or boroughs. This is in stark contrast to what obtains in Nigeria where state governments have assumed an Almighty status such that they can even withhold the cash meant for local governments. Someone said the federal allocation to states and local governments is like ‘pocket money’ for the state governor who does what he wants with it. This is not saying that the governor embezzles it but the point is that the governor uses the funds in projects that may not be the priority of the people. Power devolution and spread to the grassroots through the creation of CDAs is the most efficient and effective way of serving the people, empowering our communities and developing the entire country.
The creation of CDAs will also discourage rural-urban migration and decongest the cities where people go looking for non-existent jobs and imaginary opportunities. People will start returning to the villages because that is where the action will be under the CDA structure.
For a successful implementation of the noble CDA structure, the revenue sharing formula should be changed to ensure that adequate funds are channelled to the CDAs for developmental programmes particularly poverty eradication and infrastructural development. Currently, the revenue sharing formula on monthly basis as specified by the revenue mobilisation, allocation and fiscal commission (RMAFC) is: federal government 52.68%, state governments 26.72% and local governments 20.60%. Based on this formula, there is an obvious extreme over-concentration of power and resources at the centre with the federal government taking more than half of the total revenue accruing to the nation’s coffers.
The distorted RMAFC revenue sharing formula which doesn’t seem to favour the grassroots is more worrisome when juxtaposed with the fact that the federal government which has the lion’s share of 52.68% is the farthest away from the masses of this country. This revenue sharing formula coupled with the current appropriation regime of the national budget – 90% recurrent expenditure and 10% capital expenditure- means that the poor masses and the grassroots communities of this country are not part of the development equation in this country.
Everything seems to be happening only in Abuja and the state capitals. Anybody who is confined to the grassroots and cannot come to Abuja should forget any impact of government. This is unsustainable. There is the need to give some shine to the grassroots and the communities where majority of Nigerians live and play down on Abuja and the state capitals who already have their own share of development.
There is the urgent need to change the appropriation formula in the next budget 2016 from the status quo (90% recurrent expenditure, 10% capital expenditure) to 70% capital expenditure and 30% recurrent expenditure. For the RMAFC sharingformula, the desirable allocation that will ensure in the empowerment of the youths and the poor masses of this country for sustainable development under the CDA structure is as follows: Federal government 30%, state governments, 15% and CDAs 55%. Yes, the CDAs should have the highest allocation since they are closest to the grassroots.
The CDAs should draw up their own ‘scale of preference’ and decide on the projects that are dear to them. There are advantages in the CDAs being run by youth groups, traditional rules, women groups and the elites in these communities because everyone in the community knows everyone. This will drastically reduce the level of corruption in the CDAs because an official can only run but he/she cannot hide since his full profile is known by the community. His family are known to everyone, his house/family house etc are all known to everyone hence he will think twice before he sits on money meant for the community.
It is a fact that the CDAs will be too close together geographically as to promote the ‘separation and proper design of development. However, this will not cause any problems to the CDAs since two or more CDAs can pool resources together to execute a project. For example, Nigeria has roads that are designated as federal roads and those designated as state roads. Why can’t we also have community roads that will be initiated by a coalition of CDAs?
The CDAs should implement projects commensurate to the allocation sent to them and the responsibility of each tier of government in terms of project initiation and delivery should be clearly spelt out in the new constitution that Nigerians are yearning for.
The point has been made that the national assembly takes over 25% of the federal budget in a country where average poverty is hovering around 90% and virtually no revenue allocation goes to the communities. Revenue allocation stops at local government level which is not necessarily community based. The local government system is no longer linked to the communities because it has been decimated by the over bearing influence of state governors. The ‘bottom up’ approach to power balance and development which ensures that development starts from the grassroot communities have to be implemented if Nigeria is to make any meaningful progress from the current status quo of stagnated development. It is fair to say that the neglect of the communities is the key factor that gave rise to Boko haram, MASSOB, IPOB, OPC, Niger Delta militancy etc. It is a fact thatif Nigeria is to overcome its challenges of poverty and insecurity, poverty must be drastically reduced through job creation and social security. Also, our grassrootcommunities must be provided with the infrastructure that they need, the youths and other members of the communities must be empowered and the allocation of resources must not only be fair but seen to be fair.