•The northern regions could be the greatest beneficiaries of a restructured federation
•The truth is that a Nigeria where equity and fairness reign will be more attractive to all regions than secession into tiny countries.
•Government’s poor handling of the massacres by some Fulani herdsmen helped fuel antagonism and agitations for secession.
•Our economic plans would remain mere fantasy until the billions of dollars we have committed to the power sector count in regular power supply
•If restructuring happens, regions that show judicious application of resources would harness more taxes, develop infrastructure and attract economical useful migration from other regions.
Dr. Ugoji Egbujo
Nigeria, perpetually, a country of huge potentials. Independence came with great expectations. But it’s been 57 years. And it’s been unending tales, of greatness that could have been. Nigeria, frustratingly, always at crossroads. She is always never far from a breakthrough. But always never distant from a terminal catastrophe. After the civil war, and after a succession of military dictatorships, the worst once seemed to be over. Democracy returned with promises and hopes. But the return of democracy has brought back the nightmares of the 60s.
Wanton profligacy, ruthless corruption and theft of public funds, disenchanted citizenry, rise of ethnic passions, drumbeats of war. History, it appears, hasn’t been sufficiently cautionary. The nation often brags about an uncanny ability to pull back from the brink. And lets herself indulge in a superstitious sense of security. So efforts at true nation building are only strenuously mouthed. Everything, including the greatness and indissolubility of the union are assumed, taken for granted.
The nation is shackled by familiar demons. Mediocrity , prodigality and primordial cleavages . Same culprits, implicated all through the years. Resources are poorly harnessed and routinely lavished. Human potentials are left to rot. An outrageously high unemployment rate guarantees that. When the economy grows, only statistics grow. Sustainable development has remained the stuff of slogans. And politics has continued to thrive on charlatanism.
The ills that afflict the society are known even by children. They are seemingly incurable. No one seems to have the capacity to touch them, let alone eradicate them. Life expectancy is very low, infant mortality is very high. The middle class is very narrow, the gulf between the poor and the rich is terribly wide. Everyone is angry about the state of the country.
But no one is sufficiently angry to bring about substantial, visible change. Every leader who comes , comes to redeem. But he will redeem neither the decay of societal moral fabric nor dying social physical infrastructure. The country worries too much and does too little. She has no functional institutions. Her best energies are dissipated in creating political ethnic and religious tensions, in clannishness, in fanning embers of disunity.
Lack of cohesion and paucity of ideas and cynicism have left the country an outdated unwieldy contraption. A Bolekaja with an engine that puffs smoke of poisonous ethnocentrism; that greedily consumes fuel, wastes its natural resources and making no progress.
Nigeria needs urgent repairs
But Nigeria is not doomed. The way forward, however, must be painstaking political re engineering that enhances national cohesion and political accountability . It must be a clear path of foresighted economic policies that weans the nation off oil and improves the standard of living of the poorest. It must be an avenue for the enthronement of justice and fairness , that creates a shared sense of belonging. It must involve the construction of nationhood, the repair of societal moral fabric, and the lifting of hopes.
The nation is engrossed in political bitterness. The 2015 elections, the extended grief reaction of its losers, the comportment of its winners, have widened pre-existing cleavages and fuelled animosity. The nation needs healing. But the cracks are now too wide to be mended without fundamental foundational works. Ethnic championship has replaced patriotism. That substitution must be reversed. Mutual distrust has reached unprecedented heights. That must be squelched. The concentration of power at the center has entrenched bickering , suspicion and feelings of alienation. And national unity is deeply strained. The tension has to be defused.
The agitations for restructuring/separation are borne out of political and economic frustrations. The president thinks there is a consensus that the union is not negotiable. He is patriotic. But those who feel marginalized view such declarations of non negotiability as arrogant posturing of the oppressive majority. The president’s hard stance is mellowed by the position of his party. Bola Tinubu believes that no sustainable growth can be achieved until the country is politically re engineered. Obasanjo thinks that the restructuring the country needs is the refurbishment of minds and enthronement of best practices.
This term may mean different things to different people. But if it must achieve any lofty aims , it must entail, firstly, devolution of power to federating units. Many of the items on the exclusive list would have to be transferred to the concurrent list. And the federal government would be left with defence, foreign affairs, immigration and such like. Secondly, it must comprise the adoption of proper fiscal federalism. The federating units would control their resources and pay taxes to the center. The federating units must have meaningful autonomy. Only the control of the resources can yield that
Since many of the states are literally moribund, a forward looking restructuring must entail a third re arrangement. A merger of states to make regions viable federating units. The capacity of the federating units to be self sustaining and cultural affinity must be the important considerations in the delineation of regions.
The other components of restructuring could be worked out during the deliberations. Fears must be assuaged and compromises struck. Many observers believe the presidential system of government is too expensive. The truth is that the presidential system of government can be run more cost effectively. If the option of the parliamentary system is to be explored, the culture of wastefulness and vanity must still be dismantled. Unicameral legislature could save costs.
The major benefit of a restructured federation along the lines espoused above will be peace. Devolution of powers and true fiscal federalism would enhance autonomy and subdue feelings of alienation. But there would be development and much more. There would be a greatly enhanced and focused vigilance against corruption and theft of public resources.
The ethnic sentiments that have stood against proper identification and criminalization of theft of public resources will be reduced. Ethnic championship by thieving politicians will no longer earn them sanctification. These ills can’t be completely eradicated. Sectionalism will exist even in the regions. Political bitterness will not disappear after restructuring.
Latent prejudices will come to the fore. But Restructuring would enhance healthy competition amongst the regions. Regions who fail to institute good governance would witness massive emigration, capital flight and greater impoverishment. The days when leaders hid behind religious fervors to win votes and remain folk heroes would be gone. Leaders who foist servitude on their people would run the risk of dangerous uprisings sparked by contrast. People would look across and witness prosperity in well managed regions and channel their venom appropriately. Ethnic rivalry could prove useful. It will foster inter regional competition.
Historically, the North has been hesitant about restructuring. The Sultan of Sokoto has shown political maturity. He supports restructuring because the peace of the country depends on it. Emir of Kano laments the poverty and illiteracy of the North. But he knows restructuring would enhance political accountability . However , a majority of the leaders of Northern Nigeria remain in perpetual dread of a restructured federation. The fears of the north are not genuine. Atiku Abubakar says that northern elite who fear a restructured federation, with more autonomy for federating units, are lazy.
Many northern elites claim patriotism for their stand against restructuring. They suggest that the devolution of powers could be the prelude to balkanization. The truth is that a Nigeria where equity and fairness reign will be more attractive to all regions than secession into tiny countries. The ultimate panacea against separation are fairness and equity and not the sanctity of any constitution.
The North has a very large youthful population. The North has an abundance of arable land. The North has a heavy stock of solid minerals. The death of oil is imminent. The northern regions therefore, should be in the forefront of the demands for fiscal federalism. Devolution of powers would allow the north greater freedom at some cultural homogeneity they have always sought. The northern regions could be the greatest beneficiaries of a restructured federation
President Buhari and the Restructuring crusade
President Buhari’s body language speaks of indifference, at the best. He has deflected the responsibility to the national assembly. He has been vocal about the non negotiability of the union. But president Buhari admits that genuine grievances may exist. President Buhari is uniquely qualified for this special national assignment.
The one president who can engineer a restructured federation effortlessly is President Buhari. I agree with Professor Akinyemi. President Buhari is the political leader whom the conservative North trusts the most. The North will follow him. He is the leader of the ruling party. The ruling party should set the agenda. This item is first on the party’s manifesto. The president has integrity. He has to fulfil electoral pledges. President Buhari is a patriot. He must look at the future of the country and see that its progress rests partly on restructuring. He should then help dismantle the paranoia of the north and deliver on the manifesto of his party.
President Buhari’s health and political future
If President Buhari midwifes a restructured federation he would become our most successful president. But realistically, restructuring may not happen before Feb 2019 without grave risks of disruptions of the election schedule. So the president’s health is a very important factor. There is not in the horizon any nationally electable opposition. Atiku is still in the ruling party. Buhari has a great chance to initiate restructuring. If the president is unfit to run, he should nominate a candidate.
The political capital his endorsement would bequeath would be useful in any attempt at political re engineering. It is heart warming the ruling party has set up a committee to harmonize its position. It would be a fait accompli if it is championed by the president. A haphazard, uncoordinated transition could leave the country with a president destitute of the clout to engineer proper restructuring.
Nigeria cannot attract investment if it is bedridden with conflicts. No nation prospers by diverting lean resources away from health and education and social infrastructure into the containment of insurrections and counter-terrorism. Political discontents must be nipped off or smothered early. Trouble spots must be attended to tactfully but decisively.
Boko Haram insurgency
The government has reclaimed most if not all territories from the insurgents. But that war, unfortunately, now seems intractable. Displaced persons cannot return, suicide bombings and sporadic raids have not ceased. The cost of the war in human lives and financial resources is astronomical, unbearable. Pragmatism would suggest a negotiation of ceasefire and cessation of insurgency. But any terrorism crafted after the image of ISIS is not easily amenable to persuasion. Their very religious ideology is not compatible with the sovereignty of a democratic country.
Local politicians must find ingenuous means to starve the insurgents of support and recruits. Hopefully the decimation of ISIS in the middle east will spread gloom to their surrogates and suffocate the ideology.
The reconstruction of the Northeast must be pursued aggressively and cost effectively. Rehabilitation will not only return displaced persons to their natural habitats, it will return the region to productivity. The insurgency must be denied idle minds and frustrated hands.
Biafra and the IPOB
Dexterous carrot and stick application would calm nerves in the southeast. But the definitive solution would lie in devolution of powers and enthronement of equity and fair play. The southeast was not welcoming of a Buhari presidency. And the president did nothing to woo the southeast and to douse their suspicions. A sense of alienation blossomed. The IPOB tapped into a rich vein of discontent. The government mishandled Nnamdi Kanu’s incarceration. The government failed to recognize the political nature of the problem which truly may have been fomented by its political opponents.
Government’s poor handling of the massacres by some Fulani herdsmen helped fuel antagonism and agitations for secession. The IPOB was allowed to constitute itself into a security menace in the southeast. The storm has been contained. But the resolution of the political problems that birthed the bitterness and agitations must be tackled comprehensively. The majority of Igbos are not committed to secession. They long for a level playing field and sense of belonging in a fairer Nigeria.
A restructured federation where equity and fairness reign would silence all real and crocodile cries for Biafra. But even before the restructuring happens, the southeast should be soothed. Aba and Nnewi should be named centers of technological advancement. Local talent is rife. Two well resourced multi billion dollar technology villages would be more useful to Igbos than a million federal appointments. Appointment to the headship of one of the national security agencies could prove positive symbolism.
Niger Delta Militancy
The Niger delta is relatively calm. That became the pointer to the end of recession although the march is still on. The calm must be sustained. Carrot and stick tactics worked. But enduring peace can only be guaranteed by good governance, devolution of powers and fiscal federalism.
Effective policing will help cultural reformation. Effective boost will boost general well being, improve public confidence in government, and help economic growth. Our police force is lean, poorly motivated and poorly trained. The country must recruit massively into the police force. The manpower exists. She must refine the training and welfare of policemen.
But she must do more. She must rework the police structure and make the police directly accountable to their locality. The advantages of community policing are many. The federating units must own and control their police forces. Local councils should run police units. The council police would then be answerable to the local community whose stakeholders would be part of the police committees that would determine the funding and priorities of the police. Community policing would eliminate existing police vs community needs mismatches.
The opponents of community policing worry about the misuse of police. In a country where ethnic divisions are stark and moral fabric is weak, community policing can be a prelude to anarchy. But the abuse of police would lead to loss of investments and emigration ultimately. Regions whose police forces aren’t ethically grounded would ultimately suffer economically.
Elections and electioneering
Nigeria’s electoral process is flawed. Financial regulation is weak, absent. Money and thuggery and god-fatherism play prominent subversive roles in the emergence of party candidates and winners. Restructuring will not achieve a lot of its aims if the electoral process is not reformed. The quality of governance will not improve if the mandate of the people can be captured by money bags and rent-seekers.
Elections cannot be free and fair where the electorate live below poverty line and have no social safety nets. A hungry, illiterate , poorly informed electorate is a vulnerable electorate. Unfortunately, politics has become the time-tested, surest, route to wealth and fame. So skulduggery has become cultural. People win at all costs, to serve at no personal costs.
But transparency in the process can be enhanced by an immediate adoption of electronic voting. So that votes can at least count. The National assembly must speed up the process of the amendment of the electoral law. We will improve on the degree of freedom of the electorate to choose, perhaps later.
Nigeria is statistically out of recession. But poverty has remained widespread. NBS data shows that there was weak growth in last three quarters. Hostilities in the Niger Delta have abated. Crude oil prices have stayed around 50 dollars per barrel. The president rightly refused to celebrate the data. It would have been insensitive. The government’s Economic Recovery and Growth Programme hopes to correct the structural defects of our fragile economy .
The economy depends precariously on oil for 90 percent of its forex earnings. The economy is saddled with a public service that gulps 90 percent of the country’s earnings. The economy needs ventilation. Our economic growth would remain slow for sometime. The country spends 34 percent of GDP to service debts. And our debts are stockpiling. Our decrepit country can hardly finance capital projects. Only 18 billion naira was utilized for agricultural projects in 2016. The economic recovery programme has therefore a mountain to climb.
Nigeria must fight economic stagnation. She must trim her analogue public workforce. The public service must embrace technology and modernization. The public service isn’t only over bloated, it is rickety, and cannot support 21st century governance. Our debts are ballooning but our debt to GDP ratio of about 16.7 % isn’t alarming. We must borrow to finance public infrastructure.
But we must borrow smartly, long term, low cost. And we must borrow efficiently and for production. We must prioritize projects that would have multiplier effects on the economy. We must concentrate on projects that would diversify the economy. Then we must synchronize our endeavors. Railways are good. But I agree with Emir Sanusi, railways to nowhere are wasteful.
Fiscal policy : we must gather taxes and stem leakages
We depended on oil, too much. We didn’t pay taxes. Oil’s death is imminent. We must learn to gather and utilize taxes efficiently. The first step would be to prove to those outside the tax net that resources that accrue to the state would not be looted. No one truly feels any moral obligation to pay taxes in a country where public officials loot the treasury with impunity. Our tax – GDP ratio of 3-5 percent is one of the worst in Africa. ERGP aims to achieve a tax – GDP ratio of 15% by 2020. If restructuring happens, regions that show judicious application of resources would harness more taxes, develop infrastructure and attract economical useful migration from other regions.
Pushing taxation aggressively in a stuttering economy could be counter productive. The objective now must remain enhancement of compliance rather than any tax increases. The government can drag citizens into the tax nets with gratification rather than coercion
The central bank has struggled with inflation by mopping up liquidity and keeping a high MRR. It’s domestic borrowing rates are prohibitive. It has pushed commercial lending rates to the roof. Nigeria stands no chance of any economic regeneration with lending rates above 20%. The real private sector is shut out. The sort of manufacturing capacity utilization the country needs can only be attained with availability of competitively priced capital. The government must provide very low interest funds to target industries where we have comparative advantage.
Power Generation and Distribution.
The megawatt tales have continued. No economic transformation can be sustained if we do not dramatically improve power generation and distribution. The ERGP is hinged on stable power supply. We have an installed capacity of 13,000Megawatts but on the average we do not distribute more than 4000 megawatts. Our transmission capacity has not improved beyond 5-6 megawatts.
And our transmission lines are inefficient. The power sector has been bedevilled by irresponsible privatization, poor gas supply, vandalization of power equipment and gas pipes and unworkable pricing regime. Our economic plans would remain mere fantasy until the billions of dollars we have committed to the power sector count in regular power supply. Unfortunately, the confusion has not abated.
The power situation cannot be allowed to linger. The government must find ways to foster cluster generation and distribution. The government must have a frank talk with the GENCOS and DISCOS. It may have to declare a power emergency. The ruling party promised immediate power in its manifesto. Its hands may have been tied by the contracts entered into by the previous government. Regular power is a compelling necessity. It must be treated as a national security emergency.
Nigeria can only experience an industrial revolution when it achieves fairly stable power distribution and adopts a deliberate smart industrialization strategy. A smart policy must identify our comparative advantages. It will prioritize our local needs and export potentials. Then it will synchronize infrastructural development and tariff regime to boost return on investment. Such a policy will engage aggressive social mobilization. A literal conscription of citizens into the target industries will be the goal. Entrants will be showered with tax credits.
Census and Comprehensive Data Base.
No enduring national planning can happen without reliable census data. A census is imperative, urgent. Besides census, and before it comes, we must begin the building of a comprehensive national data base. It’s good news that the federal government plans to collate National ID card, BVN and Drivers licensing data into one base. That would enhance national security, reduce corruption, improve tax collection and greatly help national planning.
This government has done very well in agriculture. But it needs to invest much more. Rice production has soared. The country could cease rice importation in 2018. Wheat production has risen. Food sufficiency isn’t just an economic imperative, it’s a national security objective.
We must create a sustainable exponential growth in agriculture. We must do that intentionally. A social orientation programme would help but mass direct credit to poor farmers would entice many into agriculture. Intervention funds disbursed through commercial banks have helped but the service costs are high.
Cooperative societies could become channels of disbursements rather than banks. Loans could come in equipment , improved seeds and seedlings and fertilizer rather than cash. The government must improve and widen the permeation of agricultural extension services. A vibrant produce exchange mechanism must be established to absorb and store harvests during gluts.
An infectious social mobilization campaign will be invaluable. Farmers and industrialists should be given national awards.
Ease of doing business and tourism
To attract good foreign investment into the real sector the government must make the seaports and airports work seamlessly. But it must do more. It must improve policing. It must sustain a functional transparent exchange rate mechanism. It must ensure swift legal insolvency procedures.
The country has untapped tourism resources. Our political and business leaders should be encouraged to develop these tourist attractions. But they must do more. They must patronize them regularly. When last did a governor and his family share Instagram pictures of a two week holiday at the Yankari games reserve.
Nigeria could be great. Its greatness however, cannot be wished. It must be worked out diligently.