A Plea For City/Town Self ­Rule In Nigeria

It drives me crazy no one is talking about it.

In 1963, Nigeria adopted the United States Federal Republic structure, leaving behind the Parliamentary System of its colonial master, Britain.  In a Federal Republic, the executive, legislature and judiciary are each independent arms of government while one arm can perform the function of another in a Parliamentary System. In order words, elected legislators are also ministers in a Parliamentary System. Legislators cannot be ministers at the same time in a republic.

It was brilliant of our forefathers to have chosen to adopt the Federal Republic System. Here’s the conundrum though: US Economic Freedom Index, the overall health of the economy, increased 0.5% from 1999 to 2013, while Nigeria’s Economic Freedom Index reduced 0.6% over the same period. The point? The Federal Republic System is working for the US and not for Nigeria.

Same democratic structure, different directions? Maybe we should look a little deeper. Looking closely, our democracy lacked the bedrock of a Federal Republic­ harnessing the power of interest.

Interest is a loose concept I coined for things people do because they have to, because if they don’t there will be negative consequences. If they do, there will be positive consequences. And actually, democracy harnesses the power of interests in order to properly function. The Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) is an example of an organized interest group. They have vested interest in the proper functioning of their staff and one of the ways they showed that is by going on strike. Farmers groups, Nigeria Governors’ Forum, student associations, the lists goes on, are examples of groups having restricted interests. In general, the wellbeing of our children, wife, husband, parents, town, state, country and so on are things we have a vested interest in. We have to care about these units otherwise there would be negative consequences.

The closer these units are to us, the more we care about them, the further away they are, the less we care. It is more likely we would care about an issue happening in our town than in another town 3 hours away. It is more likely we would care about an issue 3 hours away than 10hrs away.

Nigeria does not fully harness this concept. In fact, we left the mechanism behind after we remodeled the republic­ type democracy from the US, and that is the root cause of our problems. Yes, that is literally the root cause of our problems. Because we lacked the mechanism that empower people the most, no wonder Nigerians feel they don’t matter. When you make people feel they don’t matter, you can expect the worse from them. The Biafran War, Boko Haram, and Niger Delta Militancy are examples.

So how exactly does Nigeria’s Federal Republic fail to harness the power of interest? The answer is the absence of city/town self­ rule. This sounds mediocre but is one of the most, if not the major, indicators of how the common people have control over their democratic process. China, a communist country, has a city/town rule. South Africa, a parliamentary ­republic also has a city/town rule. Overall, countries that practice city/town rule do better in the Economic Freedom Index. The difference is glaring.

City/town rule is common sense than anything else. It’s not a privileged rule that works for some countries and not others. This common sense comes from the concept of vested interest I mentioned above­ people have the tendency to care more for things closer them, physically or emotionally, than those far away. Therefore, giving people the authority to manage the closest reasonable entity to them does not only deliver the most efficient results but also make the people in control of their future.  A city or town is the most reasonable governance entity closer to the people, not a Local Government Area we currently have in Nigeria.

Our Local Government Area/Wards structure is a good idea, except the local governments are not the closest reasonable entity to the people, compared to cities/towns/villages, more so, the Wards have few to zero administrative powers. It makes all sense to give cities/towns administrative authority rather than local governments. Supervisory, education, jail, hospital, and so on are examples of roles Local Government Areas should play. We should give our cities/towns the authority to collect taxes, manage roads, water, electricity, sewer system, environment, police and so on.

Unfortunately, not every Nigerian think local control is our main problem. I don’t blame Nigerians but the system. Our current democratic structure has made us accept top to bottom rule as the normal; a power structure that is not only ineffective at its best, but create takers instead of creators. Top to bottom means taking care of others instead of given them the power to do so. This kind of system cripples innovation, encourages money laundering, fuel godfatherism, create hopeless followers, and the root cause of 99% of our problems.

Adopting a city/town rule would give many more Nigerians, instead of the few, the opportunity to shape the future of their country by themselves. It would make Nigerians creators of wealth rather than takers. It would attract people and businesses into our communities creating jobs and securing our future.

Below is an outline of the logic behind why city/town rule produces the best results:

●     People have stakes (something to gain/lose) in their city/town; give them the authority, they will not allow it to rot. If they do, they suffer the consequences and make corrections themselves.
●     Better managed cities/towns attract people
●     The more the people in a city/town, the more businesses will relocate
●     The more businesses, the more economic activity and income for the city/town
●     The more money a city/town gets in form of taxes and fees, the more services it would provide
●     Improved cities/towns gives rise to financially strong local governments
●     Better local government makes a great state
●     Better states make a powerful country.

The top to bottom democratic structure we currently have in Nigeria does not work and it will never work. It is about the few babysitting the majority, a structure that does not only discourage being independent, but also encourages corruption (Nigeria is 144 out of 177 countries in terms of corruption says Transparency International), while also very incompatible with economic stability, the list goes on.

Countries that adopt city/town rule tend to be relatively less corrupt and have a more transparent local, state and national governments than those who don’t. Benin Republic, Botswana, Ghana, and South Africa are examples of countries that have city/town rule and have much less corruption, good elections, and of course investment­ healthy environments because it is the majority not the few that control their future.

Even though our problems are too many and with no apparent solution, local control aka city/town rule will solve our problems one after the other. It will create jobs and infrastructure, ease regional and tribal tensions, produce good leaders who would rise from local to national, conduct credible elections, and corruption will fall greatly because now millions more people would be responsible for managing their resources.

It is the majority that build cities, towns and villages so give them the power to do so. Safe and friendly cities, towns and villages make a strong local government, state and a country. It is not the other way round like we currently have in Nigeria.

City/town rule will put Nigeria on the path to economic freedom and corrupt­free society.

Adamu Muhammad Dankore

 

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