Governor Fashola, who spoke to an audience comprising faculty members, students and academics at the School of Advanced International Studies, John Hopkins University, Washington said though the realization of such a federalism, on its own, may not necessarily catapult the nation to an all-time economic prosperity, without it emancipation from poverty and want would be hard to attain.
Speaking on the topic: “Liberating and Coordinating Diversity”, Governor Fashola said as a result of the current lopsided federal system of government in the country which has concentrated all powers in the Centre, the federating states and local governments are unable to fully utilise the potentials inherent in them for development.
The Governor, who gave examples of the lopsided federal arrangement in the country including control of all economic resources by the Centre, declared, “The 36 state governors are demanding a truer federal system in terms of fiscal and political federalism. I associate myself with this demand in its entirety”.
“The realization of these demands on their own may not necessarily leapfrog us into El Dorado, but without them the journey will be tortuous. If they materialize, they liberate the possibilities that lie inherent in the diverse capacities that the Nigerian states and local governments are blessed with”, Governor Fashola said adding, “In that event, the Federal Government will not be without authority or responsibility but, in my view, it will be better able to co-ordinate the diversities for mutual prosperity”.
Describing the period before the Military interregnum in the country as the nation’s Golden Age, Governor Fashola said although the post-colonial era when Nigeria practiced Parliamentary Democracy with three semi-autonomous regions was not without its problems, the economy was stable as each region kept the bulk of its resources and contributed to the central government to enable it to carry out its national responsibilities.
“The system was not without its problems. But we had stable electricity. We had more food – enough to eat and enough to export. Illiteracy levels were higher but there was evidence to show that it was being addressed. Our universities had more learning in them and acquired a respectable reputation”, the Governor said.
According to the Governor, things began to fall apart for the country when the Military intervened in governance. “We quickly began to lose our lustre. The military came in and unified the regions and things have never been quite the same since”.
“Although we have a “Federal Government” the constitution was written by the Military. So we have state courts where judges are picked by the Federal Government. We have state legislators but no state police to enforce the laws they make. There are no state prisons so we rely on Federal officers to police our states and keep convicted persons away from law abiding citizens. We have Federal Traffic Safety Officers to issue Driver’s Licenses to drivers in the state and also seek to regulate municipal traffic inside the states”, the Governor explained.
He further explained that many states cannot control their sources of finance such as local taxes on consumption, lotteries and hotels, the equivalents of city and state taxes for drinks in a state like New York in the United States, adding, “The Federal Government holds on to these at worst; or encroaches upon them at the best”.
Governor Fashola said the Federal Government, in order to maintain its financial hold on the federating states, keeps 52 percent of the nation’s resources leaving the 36 federating states with 26 percent while 774 local governments share only 20 percent of the resource among them monthly.
“The debate, therefore, is not only about the cost of such a large government but also about its effectiveness. The Primary Health Care Centres, where newborn babies get vaccinated and immunized against disease, are not in the capital but within the 774 (plus 37) local governments. The primary schools, which are the foundations of early learning, are also in these local governments. (In Lagos there are 1,001 of such primary schools)”, the Governor said.
He wondered how the money held in large supply at the Centre could reach the grassroots for the purchase of vaccines in time and in good quantity for the immunization of the children before they die and how quickly and efficiently the primary schools can be funded from the Centre before the children get tired of waiting, drop out and become child labourers.
On the effect of a “behemoth Federal Government” on the transport system especially in Lagos, Governor Fashola declared, “In Lagos the Local Governments have 6,415 roads, the state government has 3,028 and the Federal Government has only 117.Yet the Local Governments have only their share of 20.2% (shared with 717 others) and the states have only their share of 26% (shared with 35 other states) of national revenues to fix these roads”.
Noting that even with the least number of roads to manage, the Federal Government keeps the lion’s share of the Federal resources, Governor Fashola again wondered how efficiently the Nigerian Governmental system could provide “roads that are so critical to prosperity for her people”.
“These are the structural challenges of Government that we must overcome. They sum up the demand for a truer federal union that is being demanded by the 36 state governors in terms of fiscal and political federalism”, the Governor said.
Governor Fashola expressed joy that Lagos State has been able to liberate itself from the problems associated with the nation’s lopsided federal system as aforementioned especially the dependence on monthly Federal Allocations saying this has been achieved largely through effective tax reforms which have resulted in more taxpayers in the State.
“While these challenges exist, we are not folding our arms and twiddling our thumbs. On the contrary, we have become more determined in Lagos and more resourceful”, Governor Fashola said adding that aside the tax reforms and more taxpayers, his administration has focused on life saving infrastructure like the 10 Maternal and Childcare Centres each with a 100 bed capacity with two theatres to address infants and maternal mortality. Noting that the two specialists’ centres hitherto in existence in Lagos could not cope with 21 million people, the Governor said the administration has finished seven, six are operational, one is already being staffed for operation while one is uner construction.
In addition, the Governor said his administration in partnership with the third tier of government has taken a major step to further invigorate primary health care by selecting one PHC centre in each of the 57 LGAs and LCDAs for rebuilding into a 24 hour flagship Primary Health Care centre with two centres already commissioned while 10 will be up and running this year and others wrapped-up next year.
Still on life improving infrastructure, the Governor gave insights into the current massive housing development programme of the administration under the Lagos Home Ownership Mortgage Owner Scheme. According to the Governor, on road rehabilitation, an average of five hundred roads are being rehabilitated every year by the Public Works Bureau while setting up asphalt plants on divisional basis instead of the centralized asphalt plant and the Local Government Areas to tap into the availability of the major input in road construction in their respective areas.
The Governor said whilst his administration contends with these challenges and struggle to build infrastructure, its most enduring infrastructure would be the one it builds in people’s minds, especially the next generation.
“This is why we have committed time and resources to rebuild our education. We are seeing results in the right direction but the journey is still long”, the Governor said adding, however, that one of the “delightful pit stops” by which the “long journey” has been punctuated was that Lagos State University (LASU), the State’s only university, has been ranked 11th amongst all the universities in Nigeria.
Explaining that the University is currently the only state owned university in this ranking, Governor Fashola declared, “This is significant because it shows rewards for our efforts. It validates the far-sighted but tough decisions we took to re-position the university”.
“It puts a fine egg on the faces of those who sought to make political capital of a decision so fundamentally critical to our human development index. But this is not our destination. Our destination in the short term is to be the best in Nigeria, in the medium term to be the best in Africa and in the long term to be the best in the world”, he said, adding, “That process has already started. We are already building affiliations for LASU across the world. Nothing would please me more than to establish such an affiliation with this school and the John Hopkins University. It would have made this trip really worth making”.
Governor Fashola said with an annual growth rate of 5 percent, Lagos has surpassed the combined population of London and New York within a period of 40 years, rising from mere two million people in the 1970’s to 21 million in 2013 as against the populations of New York (7.8 million in the 70s to 8.1 million in 2013) and London from 7.4 million to 8.2 million within the same period.
Noting that the first major challenge of his administration was the population boom; rapid urbanization, which brought with them the challenges of infrastructure deficiency, inadequate transportation system and security, Governor Fashola expressed delight that these problems have been taken on with determination, resourceful and partnership with the people over the years.
Thanking the institution for the honour accorded him to speak to the multi-racial student population consisting of over 50 nations, Governor Fashola declared, “Speaking to young people, especially in universities, has become, for me, a passion. I feel that here I am using the privileges of my office in a positive way to connect young people to the future that they have to deal with – in a way better than I connected to that world”.
The lecture which, was coordinated by Director, African Studies of The Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies, Associate Peter M. Lewis, was followed by a robust question and answer session. The lecture was attended by a cross-section of the University Community including Nigerian Students, the founder of Accender Africa, Mathias Chika Mordi, the Chairman of The Nation newspaper’s Editorial Board, Sam Omatseye, and some members of the State Executive Council including the Commissioner for Economic Planning and Budget, Ben Akabueze, his Finance; Commerce and Industry counterparts, Tokunbo Abiru and Olusola Oworu as well as the Special Adviser on Rural Development, Babatunde Hunpe.