By Kassim Afegbua
The raging controversy over resource control and derivation has once again assumed the driver seat in socio-political discourse in Nigeria as we speak.
More than anything else, tempers are high and emotions are rolling out, each one clutching at one argument or the other to make an impression about the subject-matter of derivation principle and the quest for resource control.
While the oil-rich Niger-Delta geo-political zone is insisting that it needed additional funding to compensate for long years of environmental degradation and neglect, the Northern region is saying that the principle of derivation as presently obtains is negatively skewed against the North adding that what is allocated to one South-South State eats up that of the entire 19 states in the North. Others are of the view that the oil-producing region has not been adequately catered for reason why the agitation for more funding has refused to go away.
I think very strongly that we all are naughts but not crazy. But for the kind of federalism that we pretend to be practicing, thoughts such as the one under reference would not occupy our sensibilities. But for the fact that we do not see ourselves as members of the same union, believing in same ideological and national objective, the quest of who gets what and how would not have arisen.
I find it rather obtuse to read commentaries from very seasoned and well-educated Nigerians, dwelling on the issue of who gets the elephant share of our national income based on earnings from oil. If we are truly desirous about building a nation of so many nationalities, if we truly believe in the doctrine of collective responsibility, the idea of how we share our oil revenue would not be a subject for national discussion. Every component part of the union is as important as the nation itself.
The moment we begin to feel that the South is separated from the North or that one region assumes primacy over the other, then we are in for serious trouble.
There is certainly no State that can live in isolation, same way that no nation lives in isolation. There must be mutually beneficial engagements that will further the aspiration of the nation as one united body comprising of citizens that share similar national aspirations.
The Nigerian narrative has become one of mutual suspicion with the representatives of each geo-political zone making effort to guard their goal post religiously. In the fullness of such wagging tongues, tempers are usually loose and comments are easily rendered in provocative tones.
If any part of Nigeria is considered to be living below standard, it should be a shame on all of us as a nation and people with common identity. If any part of Nigeria is enjoying development and making progress, it should be a pride to all of us as a nation. The idea of seeing one region as being more developed than the other brings to us collective guilt and shame.
WHAT IS DEMOCRACY TEACHING US?
I expect democracy to teach us the inherent attributes of entrenching a people-driven government with winner of elections emerging from majority votes. If a candidate from a minority tribe becomes the President of the country, it is certain that he must have received votes from the majority tribe. Therefore, what the majority lacks in economic terms, they get in political terms. And having political power means controlling economic power.
This is why people have to tone down a little when they make comments that tend to undermine the sanctity of our collective existence. A country blessed with different ethnic groups with several marriages consummated across cultural and ethnic backgrounds cannot easily fan the embers of separation or division.
Nigeria was not only developed with oil money, that is a statement of fact and we cannot for any reason ask that all that we did achieve as a country pre-oil era be destroyed because we now have oil money to build new ones.
Oil has been a curse on the nation simply because we are lazy and lack the creativity to invent new paradigms that would provoke production. We have neglected other revenue generating platforms and concentrated energies on oil revenue in a manner that exposes our greed and gullibility.
Democracy talks about all-inclusiveness. It preaches transparency and accountability. It encourages participation by all and sundry to make the choices more informed and the outcomes of elections more acceptable.
Given the participatory nature of democracy and the fact that the more people engage in it, the merrier, one would have expected that political players in the various geo-political zones would cultivate the attitude of mutual respect for their respective aspirations.
The South-South needs the votes of the North and vice-versa in order to fulfill the political aspiration of one another.
The votes of the South-South alone cannot make a Presidential candidate win election, ditto for the North. We simply need one another and the earlier we realized this doctrine of mutuality, the better. Of what political use is a man from one obscure village in the Ijaw speaking area screaming aloud, threatening hails and brimstones, calling everyone to order; when the votes they control in that region cannot make their candidate President, then there is a huge problem. This is where election rigging becomes an issue.
CORRUPTION AT THE HEART OF THE MATTER
Whether we like it or not, corruption has been the bane of our stymied growth as a nation. It is not that we lack ideas that can take us to that glorious height where developed nations have enjoyed considerable domination, but the way we think and reason, the way we discharge our responsibilities exposes our internal weaknesses and insincerity.
From North to South, corruption has been the common denominator. Visit those who pretend to be fighting the cause of the common man in the oil-rich Niger-Delta, what you see is blindfolding riches and wealth that cannot be explained. Bunkering has been the flourishing trade of many Nigerians who deal on oil and with the exposures and disclosures that we got from the oil probe, Nigerians now know where to turn when issues of under-development come to the fore.
We are all guilty on this count. From the rustic village in the South to the North, everyone has had a role in the collective poverty that now stares us in the face. No one ethnic group can claim morality over another on this issue of poverty. It depends on what side of the divide one belongs, but suffice it to say that our acquisitive disposition has not helped the nation to realize her flourishing dreams.
Our anti-corruption fight is also still being executed on the basis of ethnicity and opportunism. One moment an accused is arrested, another moment he or she is released. Rather than for us to discuss how much of energy we are likely to inject into the system, to make our system more effective and responsive, all we are proud at doing is how to make individual billionaires while the nation rots away in abject poverty.
Corruption has remained with us for a long time now and there is no sign that it is going to leave us soon. The anti-corruption agencies appeared to have been overwhelmed by the several court cases that are rusting away in our Courts.
The institutions to combat the menacing force of corruption are also weak, making the accused to rope in the accuser, and the guilty walk the streets tall and unblemished.
The derivation principle is also a product of political corruption. The federalism that we seem to be adopting is also dressed in the garb of corruption. The revenue sharing formula, as routinely executed as it stands, also exposes our collective laziness and uninspiring probing into other areas. How much of attention has government deployed into the oil sector to make it more responsive and productive for the nation. We are now importer of petroleum products simply because we fail ourselves and our nation in the area of maintenance of our refineries.
CROSSING THE NORTH-SOUTH BRIDGE
The raging discourse has thrown up several dimensions to the oil matter. What we should be looking at as a nation with common objective is the place of our Nigeria in the comity of nations. If we belabor ourselves with internal agitations to the extent of raising tempers and ruffling feathers, how much time are we going to deploy into discussing where we intend to move the nation.
There is the need therefore for all to be careful in the utterances we dish out for public consumption. The vicissitudes of war are not friendly tales for anyone to swallow. The footages of war and deprivations that we see every day in war-torn countries are not the kind of stories and visuals we want to bequeath to our upcoming generations.
We must run away from war. All those who are thinking that oil is the only answer to the sustenance of a country, may have to do a deeper thinking so that they won’t carry their luck too far. We must consciously promote harmonious inter-relationship amongst our peoples, so that the very basis for our common destiny would be achieved. I love to be called a Nigerian, home and abroad.
I love my green-white-green flag, and I love the energy and uncommon ingenuity of an average Nigerian mind. Once we are able to harness all these energies to make a statement about where we are headed, the sky will be the beginning of our excursion to that Olympian height. It is the process that would facilitate our march to breaking the bogey of the North-South Bridge. Cool your temper.