By Donu Kogbara
DEAR Readers, this week, I’m dedicating this Sweet & Sour page to a (summarised) article – topically titled Can We Restructure? written by Fidel Albert, a young Lagos-based lawyer from Akwa Ibom. It’s a very thought-provoking piece that deserves to be shared with as wide an audience as possible.
California, despite being just one of the United States of America rather than a country, has the sixth largest economy in the world. Its economy is larger than that of France or Brazil. It doesn’t have much oil, yet its economy is larger than other American states that are famous for their oil reserves, like Texas.
California generates much of its revenue from non-oil products and much of California’s economy is built around Stanford University, which has strong links to world-renowned innovation hub, Silicon Valley, and the highly successful companies – Apple, eBay, Cisco, Lockheed, Hewlett Packard, Google, Netflix, Facebook, Oracle, Tesla, etc – that have established strong presences there.
Technologies and inventions
Technologies and inventions spewing out of Stanford are caught mid-air and converted into money-spinning enterprises. And the multibillion yearly budget of any one of the above companies might be larger than the entire yearly budget of a Nigerian state like Akwa Ibom, for example.
California is also the headquarters of an entertainment industry made globally famous by Hollywood. The American movie industry contributes about $504 billion to America’s GDP (Hollywood contributes over 70 per cent of this figure).
In addition, California thrives on agriculture. According to 2014 statistics, 77,000 farms and ranches were raking in about $55 billion in annual revenue. California produces and exports over 400 agricultural commodities. The story could have been very different.
California could have sat back and focussed on getting a slice of funds generated by Texas’s oil. California could have depended solely on Federal allocations for its survival. California could, at the end of every month, have sent its Commissioner of Finance to Washington DC to receive funds that would have enabled it to barely pay its workers’ salaries and pay for not much more.
San Francisco could have resembled Ajegunle! But California is beautiful and does not depend on the centre for survival. It actually gives to the centre, which means that the Federal Government in the USA needs California, not the other way around.
You see, America is structured in such a way that states must look inwards to exploit their wealth for the good of the people who live in them. There is no free lunch for the lazy States. Under American Federalism, you are the captain of your own ship and the waves upon which the ship will sail. In America, local government, being closest to the grassroots, is deliberately made the strongest level of government. Items like Variances (adaptation of state law to local conditions), Public Works (yes, public works!!), Contracts for public works, Licensing of public accommodations, Assessable Improvements and basic public services are all left for local county governments to handle.
The State handles weightier matters such as Education and laws relating to property, banking, labour, insurance, elections, the civil service and so on. The Federal Government hardly handles any issues that affect the states. Nigeria will never do well until it restructures along similar lines. We pretend to have a Federal system but we are actually operating a unique form of unitary government, and it is weighing the polity down.
Can you imagine a country where the school curriculum is regulated by a national central body and states have no powers to vary or amend their curricula? So if our Minister of Education has absolutely no clue, the States must be burdened with antiquated school curricula until such a time (if we are lucky, before rapture perhaps!!) that we have an Education Minister who will realise how far behind we are and bring the curriculum up to date.
Universities in other countries don’t exist only to deliver academic excellence to the citizens of the countries in which they are based. Governments in other countries invest in their universities so they can also earn revenue from foreign students from countries like Nigeria, which has destroyed its own educational system. Nigerians spend over N1Trilion per annum to study abroad.
Abroad, schools are so important to society that the economies and lifestyles of whole cities completely revolve around schools. What would the British city of Cambridge be without Cambridge University? What would the American city of Cambridge be without Harvard University? If Nigeria had invested in its universities and was earning billions from foreigners studying here, who would be fighting over oil in the Niger Delta?
There is a Federal University of Technology in Owerri, FUTO. How many FUTO students have come up with technology products that might encourage car manufacturing or engineering companies to set up near FUTO? None! Recently, three students in Sweden conducted research and came up with a product that could improve wear and tear on tyres. The product became so successful that Volvo had to partner with these students to patent the product.
When this product hits the world stage, can you imagine how much revenue Sweden will earn? As a matter of fact, most of the world-class products we buy off the shelf today, at great cost, were invented by university students. But our students in Nigeria are not entirely without inventions. We invented campus cult groups like the Pyrates Confraternity, the Black Axe, the Eiye, the Vikings and what not! Students resume school with guns and bullets, rather than books and scholastic ideas, as though academic institutions were a war college.
Suffice to say that as long as these problems persist, we can forget about establishing a Silicon Valley in Nigeria, because there will never be a Stanford University here to provide an infinite supply of ideas and prodigies to feed the invention value-chain!
Nigeria cannot wake up from its slumber today because it cannot lift its head. The entire weight of its existence is concentrated in its head. From the viewpoint of government, the weight is in Abuja. From the viewpoint of revenue source, the weight is in the Niger-Delta. We need to urgently restructure and evenly distribute these pressure points and weights to defuse tension.
We need to revisit the exclusive legislative list in the constitution and systematically reduce the responsibilities of the Federal Government vis-a-vis the States. Resources have to be handed back to the States that generated them but place an obligation on each State to contribute an agreed percentage to the common federal purse to service obligations of the Federal Government.
There is no reason why Education, Policing, Ports, Inland waterways, solid minerals and so many other items should concern the Federal Government. There is absolutely no reason to fight for oil in the Niger-Delta. There are so many things that can bring more revenue to States in Nigeria than oil. South Africa has no oil, but it has Gold, and is richer than Nigeria. Let us fight for a system that will promote both equality and equity. Let us restructure Nigeria.
My Name is Fidel Albert and #IStandForARestruturedNigeria
Fidel can be contacted on firstname.lastname@example.org or 0808 677 4272 (text only)