By Ehichioya Ezomon
Deputy Senate President, Dr. Ike Ekweremadu, has long engaged issues of fiscal federalism, devolution of power and equitable allocation of recourses to the federating units, which are the States and, by extension, the Local Government Councils in Nigeria’s current system of governance.
He has trumpeted these issues at any opportune moments, even on the floor of the National Assembly, where he has served as the deputy head of the Senate for the past nine years and 10 months.
However, he expanded the scope of his national discourse lately, by advocating a minimum wage of N50,000, the scrapping of security votes, and devolving the fight against corruption, and the instruments for its crusade to the states.
Ekweremadu, delivering the 4th National Public Service Lecture of the University of Ibadan Alumni Association, captioned: “Federalism and The Legal Framework for Combating Corruption in Nigeria,” had a potpourri of advocacies, appearing to cover all the contentious areas in the polity and in the Constitution of the Federal Republic, which concentrates overwhelming powers in the Central government in Abuja. A reading of his submissions bears this out.
According to him: “Nigeria being a federation, the war against corruption must itself be devolved, and federalised, not centralised as is currently the case.
“To this end, I wish to make the following suggestions: Decentralisation of federal anti-corruption agencies, establishment of State anti-corruption agencies, domestication of anti-graft laws, enthronement of fiscal federalism, decentralized policing, establishment of State orientation agencies, State social intervention/security schemes, State prisons, true economic reforms and public participation in the anti-corruption war.”
Reeling out figures, Ekweremadu is sad that only Kano State currently has a state agency to fight corruption – the Kano State Public Complaint and Anti-Corruption Commission, which, he said, should be emulated, and urgently too, “if we must make a headway in the war against graft.”
He also roots for establishment of a Code of Conduct Bureau in the states with a Code of Conduct Tribunal, to handle cases of civil servants in the states and local government councils.
“Besides setting up such agencies, there is also the need for the states to domesticate auxiliary federal laws such as the Administration of Criminal Justice Act (ACJA), Fiscal Responsibility Act, among others, to help curb corruption,” he said, noting that Rivers, Oyo, Anambra, Enugu, Ekiti, Lagos, and Ondo were the only states that have adopted the ACJA.
Highlighting the disparity between the minimum wage and security votes, and a possible linkage to corruption thereof, Ekweremadu said while the minimum wage is N18,000, “some state governors and executives could pocket as much as N2 billion under the cover of security vote.”
“When a man, who earns N18,000, cannot buy a bag of rice, how then can such a person take care of his family? Does it make sense to him if you tell him not to find alternative means of catering to the needs of his family?”
Not done, he asked: “Is it not also possible to abolish the Security Vote and replace it with Contingency Vote so it can be appropriated and accounted for?”
As a parting shot, Ekweremadu called for a far-reaching and in-depth reorientation, observing that, “while it is easy to point accusing fingers at the governing elite in public and private sectors, we must all embark on individual soul searching from the highest to the lowest rung of the social-economic strata.” That’s the essence of the government anti-corruption slogan, “It begins with me.”
Some people might argue that there is nothing new about these suggestions, as Nigerians have always known the problems bedevilling the nation, only that the leaders had never mustered the political will to confront them.
But there is a contrast. Senator Ekweremadu is no ordinary voice in the legislature, being the Deputy Senate President and co-chair of the National Assembly Committees on the Amendment of the 1999 Constitution (as amended). And most of the issues he raised in his lecture are traceable to the Constitution, which, until some recent minor amendments, was entirely the handiwork of the Military in 1999, and before then in 1979.
This is responsible for the lopsidedness in the system, with the result that some zones have more states, and some states have more local government councils than others, and thus more resources allocated to them from the common pool in the Federation Account.
Hence, the endless call for resource control or fiscal federalism, where states can explore and exploit the mineral resources or other endowments in their areas, and pay royalties and/or taxes to the Federal Government, which, ironically, corners the bulk of the allocations in order to service the burgeoning duties imposed on it by the Constitution (under the Exclusive Legislative List, Second Schedule, Part I).
It calls for a holistic overhaul of the Constitution, to meet the yearning and aspirations of the peoples of Nigeria, who will truly own the document and proclaim, “We the People of the Federal Republic of Nigeria,… DO HEREBY MAKE, ENACT AND GIVE TO OURSELVES the following Constitution.”
Nonetheless, we shouldn’t be distracted from the thrust of Ekweremadu’s solicitations, which is the fight against corruption, and the presence of the major anti-corruption agencies – Independent Corrupt Practices Commission (ICPC) and Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) – in the entire country, and not just a few zonal and state offices, to avoid rendering the fight “ineffective.”
The submissions, shun of any partisan or sectional interest, as some critics have alluded, are a welcome complement to the Federal Government efforts in combating financial malfeasance.
The issues here do not know tribe or tongue, party or section, unless you are a partaker or supporter of corruption, dislike a raise in the minimum wage, which the labour unions have been clamouring for, against devolution of power, and the adoption of fiscal federalism that would put more resources in the treasuries of the states.
If nothing else, Senator Ekweremadu has succeeded, in one breath, to refocus our attention to the issues that have plagued the polity, and how to go about solving them. The onus is on him, though, to lead the way for the promotion and prosecution of his advocacies, starting with bringing to his side, majority of members of the NASS, who have the power to strengthen (or weaken) the anti-sleaze war. The public haven’t yet seen such traction from the Assembly. Otherwise, his would be a lone voice in the wilderness.
* Mr. Ezomon, Journalist and Media Consultant, writes from Lagos, Nigeria.