Remarks At The 80th Birthday Of Chief Bisi Akande In Oyo State
SPEECH BY HIS EXCELLENCY, PROF. YEMI OSINBAJO, SAN, GCON, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE FEDERAL REPUBLIC OF NIGERIA, AT THE 80TH BIRTHDAY OF CHIEF BISI AKANDE IN OYO STATE, ON THE 16TH OF JANUARY, 2019.
First I would like to congratulate Baba Bisi Akande on his 80th birthday. At 80, Baba remains one of the most trusted and most revered voices in our nation today. The reason is simple. He has remained all his life, a straight shooter, frank and forthright sometimes, to a fault. His austere personal life, one man one wife, modest and even frugal lifestyle similar to that of Chief Obafemi Awolowo, is an example for the generation of politicians following. The example he sets is that it is possible to be truthful and still impactful. It is possible to live decently after office without owning the treasury.
I had the privilege of delivering your 70th birthday lecture in Lagos, where based on the work of our forensic experts, we demonstrated logically, the electoral fraud that the PDP perpetrated in the 2007 elections. Just as the proverbial leopard, they have not changed their spots.
Permit me a word or two on restructuring. I don’t think there should be much, the first is in order to achieve these objectives, we need stronger states. What does the concept of a strong state mean? It means two things. The first is what states must do for themselves. By that I mean, the three arms of government especially the Executive and the Legislature, working proactively and creatively as independent administrative and wealth producing economic entities.
The second is the devolution of more power to the states, enabling the states to control more of their resources and make more of their own administrative decisions, such as the creation of Local Governments; the state and community police, including the state prisons; creation of special courts and tribunals of equivalent jurisdiction to high courts. The point I am making is that states must have more powers and more rights.
The phenomenal achievements of the Western Regional Government of Chief Obafemi Awolowo in six years illustrate how the convergence of the two imperatives I have mentioned earlier can be used to transform the socio-economic destinies of millions.
He was Premier of the Western Region of Nigeria from 1954 to 1960. The Western region is what today constitutes Oyo, Ogun, Ondo, Ekiti, Osun, parts of Kwara and Kogi, Edo and Delta, Lagos (as far as Jibowu/ Ikeja, Agege).
The six-year period of the Awolowo government is often cited as one of the most progressive of any government in the developing world. Some of the major accomplishments include a major agricultural revolution, government supporting and subsidizing cash crop production, using commodity exchanges to enhance agri-business, several farm settlements, several Agro-allied and other industries including Oodua Textile Industries, Ado Ekiti, Okitipupa Oil Palm Mills, Oluwa Glass Ifon Ceramics, and Ire Ekiti Brick Industry, as well as several industrial estates or parks, including the Ikeja Industrial estate. A network of roads across the region, the University of Ife (now Obafemi Awolowo University), the 26-Storey Cocoa House Ibadan, Airport Hotel Ikeja, Western Nigeria Television Authority (first of its kind in Africa, ahead of many European countries and certainly ahead of South Africa).
But by far, the most significant of these achievements is the Free Universal Primary Education. In 1952 when the scheme was proposed, 381,000 children were enrolled in school. By 1955 when the scheme took off 811,432 children were enrolled and the numbers continued to grow.
The government devoted as much as 41.2% of the 1958/59 recurrent budget to Education, at that time, one of the highest in the world. At the same time, the region nurtured a vibrant civil service and judicial system, which is widely acknowledged as a model, even today.
So, how were Awo’s phenomenal achievements possible? There was no oil revenue and no Federal revenue. In fact, the Western region gave revenue to the central government. How did they do it? Mostly through taxes and revenues from agriculture, especially cocoa.
Free education which was audaciously launched by the Awolowo government was directly on the back of income taxes. A capitation or poll tax was imposed by the Western region government, mainly to fund free education, despite much opposition and protests. For those who follow his political history, Awolowo, of course, lost elections in the West on account of his insistence on free education. That kind of political courage is always difficult to find these days but that is the cost of leadership.
The truth is that a combination of visionary leadership and strong autonomous states is a winning formula for economic development, and that is really as simple as it is. Awolowo was also a visionary leader but he also had an autonomous region behind him.
But the process of creating stronger sub-nationals is possible even without making any major constitutional changes. Even within our current legal and constitutional framework, much is possible.
In the period from the civilian government of Ashiwaju Bola Tinubu, in Lagos in which I was privileged to serve, to date, the government of Lagos state demonstrated that it is possible to have restructuring, especially fiscal federalism and devolution of power to states but by a process of litigation as opposed to going through the legislature.
As of 1999, in my very first encounter with Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu, he made it clear that as far as we were concerned, one of the most legal objectives for us to pursue was fiscal federalism and devolution of power to our state. He asked me to study it and then look at how it could be done and we took a lot of time and look at how we could do it.
It was very clear for us at the time that going through the National Assembly was going to be a waste of time and we then decided that it should be through a process of litigation. As a matter of fact, we went to the Supreme Court twelve different times for what today is described as restructuring. As a matter of fact, the federal government at the time opposed every such move on our path. Today our dear presidential candidate of the PDP says that he is the expert of restructuring, but in those years when we were fighting for it, he opposed it every single path of the way. Every time we were at the Supreme Court, the Federal Government in which he served vehemently opposed it.
But fortunately for us today, we thank God we were able to record success which today is possibly the only significant achievement that we can say that we have scored in term of restructuring our country in fiscal federal federalism and devolution of power. I will give you a few examples, which the Lagos state government at the time, and which one or two state governments that were interested we were able to achieve.
The first of those achievements is that states could by law, create their own local governments. We argued before the Supreme Court that we would want a state to be able to create its own local government. In fact, at the time, we had created 37 local governments and after creating 37 local governments, the administration of Obasanjo and Atiku at the time ceased our local government funds. The refused to give us those funds because they said we have illegally created local governments.
So, we went to the Supreme Court and we get the order of the Supreme Court saying that the President has no power to cease the funds of a state. That’s a very important point from the point of view of fiscal revenue because it means that the Federal Government does not own the Federal Allocation itself, it is owned by the state government and the Federal Government. We are joint owners of that Federal part, there is no reason at all why the President of Nigeria can stop us from taking our resources or prevent us in any way from taking our resources.
Second is that the Supreme Court stated that we were perfectly entitled to create our own local governments but that we must submit the list of those local governments to the National Assembly for an amendment of the schedule to the constitution. But what we then did was to go ahead to create LCDAs, Local Council Development Authorities. We raised them to the level of Local Governments and it continued to function as a state with 37 local governments.
Today, I want to make a point, which is very important; something to develop a strategy toward restructuring. When we went to the Supreme Court, there were five other states with us who had also created local governments but by the time we got there, we were the only one standing because our Governor then, Ashiwaju refused to negotiate and said we must go ahead and ensure that we are able to score important victory for fiscal federalism.
So even the states who would benefit did not join us and that is why it is impossible to get much done through the National Assembly. Even states that would have been supporting us saying we have a right to create local governments went their different ways and you will see in every subsequent issue, most states did not support what we were doing.
The second point is that we took the case to the Supreme Court for the point whether or not, a state could raise its own taxes as it was done in the Western region of Nigeria under Chief Obafemi Awolowo, we can we raise our own taxes, can we do self tax for example, or can we take the lion share of VAT? We took it up with the Supreme Court; we filed a self-tax law because it is a consumption tax. So today states can pass their own self-tax law parallel via the VAT law.
When we challenged the VAT law, the Supreme Court eventually said they have no jurisdiction on the matter, so we took a technical exit from that point. But we have established very clearly that at last, we were entitled to pass our on self-tax law and that is the point, which we continue to advance.
The third point, which we took to the Supreme Court, is that a state has exclusive legislative and executive authority over urban and regional planning functions. Even with respect to federal lands in states, the Federal Government must seek building or other development control permits from the state. It is to the effect that the state has exclusive authority to make laws on urban and regional planning. Even where federal land is concerned the Federal Government must seek permission from the state.
Before then, the Federal Government in Lagos and other states were given their own development control permits. So for example, for those of us who are very familiar with Lagos, Burdillon area where the police have built a lot of shops, Federal Government gave permission because it was Federal Government land, the state government couldn’t do anything. Same at Rewane Road, and former Kingsway Road, they gave a lot of people licenses to be building car shops there. We then decided that it’s not the business of the Federal Government to come to a state and then begin people to give permits to build anyhow and charge fees. So we challenged it in the Supreme Court, the Supreme Court agreed with us that every state has the right to its own urban and regional planning. Many PDP states did not support what we did then.
One of the reasons why the court is a very effective place to do whatever restructuring we need is because we do not need a majority of people as litigants. If you have a good case, you can push your case and you can make it law by judicial decision.
The fourth point, I have taken the point already, is that the President has no power, even if he has good reason, to cease funds. There was a time when we decided that the Federal Government passed a law saying that they will supervise our statutory allocation that the Accountant General of the Federation will supervise allocation to local governments, we challenged that, we took it to court, we said that states have complete authority over their funds with regard to local governments. The Supreme Court stood down that law so that the law is no longer in existence.
One of the examples that we want to emphasize and so many others are examples of Lagos state passing Inland Waterways laws. So we were not subject to the Federal Inland Waterway law. We have the the authority to supervise all our inland water. The Court of Appeal has agreed with us that we can supervise all of our inland water. As a matter of fact, we argued with the Supreme Court that there should be resource control and we agreed with all other states on resource control, but we said that in our own case, the ports in Lagos should be able to get to own 13% derivation from the port in Lagos, nobody supported us, we were on our own.
I think the most important thing to bear in mind in respect of restructuring because all that I have mentioned are gains of restructuring, but those gains were gotten only through the courts. What happened with all of the reports, national conference this, national conference that is? Not very much as changed.
At the 2014 National Conference, when people were arguing about regionalization, looking at the conclusion of the National Conference, they concluded that 20 more states should be created. How would that be done? I think that as a region if we look at restructuring and all of that, you need to sit down and look at it from the point of view of the court system.
The only way that has succeeded so far is what was done in Lagos under Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu; going ahead to make sure that it is in the court of law, using the same constitution that we have today, helped us to actually achieve a lot and got a lot done.
In fact, the very first revenue allocation formula amendment was as a result of Lagos state counterclaim in the resource control case. That is why President Obasanjo at the time, was forced to change the revenue allocation formula.
So any amount of complaining or agitation would not help. We need to go and contest this issue in the court of law and when we contest it at the Supreme Court, it is possible for us to make a lot of progress and a lot of advancement.
I want to congratulate Baba again, and I pray that the Almighty God will preserve your life, you will live to 120 and by the grace of God, all of your struggles for the Yoruba race and for our nation, will yield fruits, and you will see the fruits and you will also benefit from those fruits in your lifetime in the Mighty Name of Jesus.
Thank you very much, God bless you.