Sunday, 20 March 2016

Emir of Kano on ‘Awuff’ political economy and re-structuring

But contrary to quick interpretations of Emir Sanusi’s call for structural reform, there is nothing in his statement at Olabisi Onabanjo University to suggest that the emir is by this statement recommending the kind of restructuring that can lead to re-federalisation of the country
Two key concepts in today’s title are ‘Awuff’ or Awuufu in the Yorubanised version of this Pidgin concept and political economy. Political economy in this context is to be understood in its simplest form as how a country is managed or governed, taking into consideration political and economic factors that serve as dominant drivers of the country’s economy and by extension its polity. Awuff, a word recently given additional conceptual energy by Prof. Akin Mabogunje, is akin to ‘Manna’ in biblical terms. It refers to the power of a free good (that arises not from the sweat of a people but as a good bestowed on the people by nature or any generous agency), but which in its plenitude drives economic, political, and even social behaviour of the people with such endowment. The interest of this page today is to amplify the thoughts of Prof. Mabogunje and the Emir of Kano on concepts that seem to have driven the political organisation of this country for about half a century.

It is remarkable that two of Nigeria’s seminal professionals: Professor  Mabogunje, one of the world’s most cited development experts and Sanusi Lamido Sanusi, the emir of Nigeria’s most metropolitan and cosmopolitan emirate and former governor of the country’s central bank chose to discuss the country’s major motivation in the country’s journey to modern governance, particularly in the current context of what looks like a gradual evaporation of  petroleum, the principal driver over the years of the country’s Awuff political economy. Even though Professor Mabogunje’s use of the concept focused on how easy flow of petrodollars fostered corruption, indolence and wastage at the institutional and personal level, the description of the character of Nigeria’s political economy by the Emir makes direct connection between a Manna economy and the 36 state structure that many Nigerians including modern and traditional cultural leaders as inevitable to the country’s unity.
Given the professional pedigree of Prof. Mabogunje and the Emir of Kano and their knowledge of the country’s political economy, it is instructive that both of them have chosen to call for a review of the pivotal role of petroleum in the country’s political economy and culture. The intellectual intervention of the two leaders in their respective professional domains has called for an end to the decades of denial that had characterised political discourse in the country. Most of the time, especially in the decades of military government, the emphasis has been on the need to use the country’s resources to promote military dictators’ understanding of unity in a plural society.
In the decades of military rule, no effort was spared to create a political structure that was driven by manna from petroleum. The four regions in 1966 grew by leaps and bounds to 36 states in 1996, all at the instance of military dictators. Each state was created to make use of the awuff from petroleum. The Emir has been unequivocal about the huge influence of petroleum revenue on the political construction of the country: “If you really reflect on the problems of this country, it seems to turn common sense on its head….You sometimes wonder if anyone needs to tell any group of people that if you are a poor country, you do not need 36 governors, 36 deputy governors, with members of house of assembly, commissioners and advisers, special assistants, a president, a vice president, 36 ministers, special advisers, federal legislature and so on….Simple arithmetic will tell you that if you have that structure, you are first of all doomed to spending 80 or 90 per cent of everything you earn maintaining public officers. It is really common sense but it seems to be a problem for us to understand it….If you don’t free up the resources and put them up for capital projects, you are laying the foundation of what we are seeing today. We need to have structural reform.” (My emphasis)
Though not totally new in the country’s Unity discourse, the Emir’s analysis of the creation of 36 fragmented states and 774 local governments as receptacles of monthly revenue allocations to over 100 subnational units seems materialist and superior to idealist thoughts that the more you create structures that take governance to small unviable units, the more united Nigeria’s unity would be guaranteed.  But contrary to quick interpretations of Emir Sanusi’s call for structural reform, there is nothing in his statement at Olabisi Onabanjo University to suggest that the emir is by this statement recommending the kind of restructuring that can lead to re-federalisation of the country. Structural reform of the country to prevent waste can also mean asking for further unitarisation of the country in a manner reminiscent of Major-General Aguiyi-Ironsi’s decree that attempted to end the federal system upon which the country obtained independence from Great Britain. Admittedly, the emir did not have to spell out the details of his idea of restructuring or reform in just one speech at the Ago-Iwoye event.
While it may be reassuring to advocates of federalism in the country that the Emir of Kano, the second largest state in the country according to the last census, has called for restructuring, it may be an over interpretation for his call for reform to be seen as the emir’s enrolment in the registrar of advocates for re-federalisation. But the brave call by one of the occupants of the top echelon of traditional political and cultural power in the country should not be missed by incurable federalists like the writer of this column. Nigeria’s future beyond petroleum is not just about sustaining 36 largely unviable states, it also includes re-thinking the funding of 774 local governments, all under the guise of promoting a third tier of governance. Nigeria is the only country of its size on the globe with almost 800 local governments that are funded separately from the states or provinces that contain them. There is no doubt that Awuff-guzzling third tier of government, like its 36 second tier level, would not have arisen if it was not for huge rents collected from petroleum exploitation, put at the disposal of unelected engineers of the Nigerian state during the military era.
Efforts by the Buhari government to embark on shuttle diplomacy to increase the price of oil through reduction of supply is understandable as a short-term solution to the sudden drop in government revenue arising from collapse of oil price in the international market. But it is better for the country’s rulers to think like Professor Mabogunje and Emir Sanusi: that the end of the ethos of fossil energy may have begun and may stay with us on and off for decades to come, if not on account of temporary glut but also as a result of a new creative destruction from innovators of environmentally sustainable development scientists and ideologues, particularly in the West with the possibility of similar innovators emerging from China and India.
The kind of restructuring that Nigeria needs, as it gets ready to create a new economy that is driven by agriculture and manufacturing, is one that reconceptualises how to sustain national unity, not through centralisation of power and functions in Abuja or fragmentation of states fuelled by funds from centrally collected revenue from solid or liquid minerals but through commitment to fiscal federalism. It is not likely that without the usual flow of revenue from oil the country will be able to sustain 36 state bureaucracies and 774 administrative centres designed to consume whatever is allocated without the power to generate enough revenue internally to pay for administrative agencies that leave little impact on the welfare of citizens in most of the states and local governments. Instead of hoping that oil will rebound and bring its easy funds that had driven Awuff political economy at the institutional and personal level to the extent of making the country a huge cafeteria for mindless consumption and wastage, governors of the states and local governments that are not likely to survive without regular transfer of funds from Awuff federation account should join forces with the Emir and like-minded believers in the imperative of restructuring the country. Most of the governors need to know that talking about increasing IGR is not likely to yield anything substantial, without a new political structure that is similar to the ones that worked before the intervention of military dictators in the design of the country’s architecture of governance. Fortunately, such policy option cannot be against the spirit of President Buhari’s idea of unity, given his manifesto that commits to “initiating action to amend our Constitution with a view to devolving powers, duties and responsibilities to states and local governments in order to entrench true Federalism and the Federal spirit.”

 The Nation

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