Senator Joy Emodi, the Chairman/Founder, Brickhall School, Abuja, wants an end to fixation on oil at a time the world is phasing out petrol powered vehicles.
I just finished watching, for the umpteenth time, the short documentary by the United States Information Service (USIS) highlighting the July 1961 state visit by the late Prime Minister, Alhaji Tafawa Balewa, to the US at the invitation of President John F. Kennedy.
From the royal reception at the airport to the crowds that lined the streets of Washington DC, to the great warmth accorded Balewa and his entourage at the White House, and the standing ovation he received from the US Congress, it was not in doubt that the eagle and an emerging world power had landed. Those were the golden years of our nationhood.
True and healthy, competitive federalism saw to the establishment of the first television station in Africa by the Western Region and the emergence of the Eastern Region economy as the fastest growing economy in the continent. The royal family of Saudi Arabia embarked on medical tourism to the University College Hospital, Ibadan, while the inauguration of the University of Nigeria Nsukka by the Eastern Region on October 7, 1960 was quickly responded to with the founding of the University of Ife (now Obafemi Awolowo University) in 1961 and the University of Northern Nigeria (Ahmadu Bello University), Zaria, in 1962.
Therefore, if Nigeria has continued on a downward slide into poor governance, battered consumer economy, and has become the butt of jokes in the comity of nations as a “fantastically corrupt” country; if we have lost our glory; if we have nosedived from a nation that sneezed and Africa shivered to one whose citizens are lynched on the streets of South Africa and deported, it is because we have steadily destroyed the foundations of federalism on which our founding fathers agreed to build, and were indeed building a prosperous and respected nation until the military struck in 1966.
To regain our respect and splendour, we must contritely return to the path of true federalism, doing away with all the disfiguring structures and excess loads imported into the building plan by successive military regimes.
Among other structural reorganizations, we need to return to regionalism based on the existing six geopolitical zones. Nigeria does not need a whopping 36-state structure. Duplication of governance structures and unwieldy bureaucracy has progressively channelled the lion’s share of our resources into recurrent expenditures, perennially leaving very little for provision service and infrastructure needed for socio-economic development.
We need to restore the federating units from wealth guzzlers to wealth-creating units. I agree with the columnist, Simon Kolawole, who once likened Nigeria to a father who has 36 children, but who rather than encourage all his children to be creative and hardworking so that they can be self-reliant, insists on redistributing the wealth of the resourceful children to all.
The states cannot exploit the mineral resources in their territories due to constitutional limitations. At the same time, they are too indolent to direct their minds to tourism, agriculture and industrialization because there is always a fat monthly welfare package from Abuja. Even states, which outlaw the manufacture and sale of alcohol and publicly destroy them, enjoy the lion’s share of VAT derived from alcoholic products in other states.
By amassing enormous powers to itself, by making itself the owner of virtually all the resources and the Santa Claus with the sole right to redistribute them, there is no incentive for hard work among the states.
Restructuring for devolution of powers and fiscal federalism are, therefore, an inescapable and urgent imperative to save Nigeria from the weight of her own contradictions. We cannot continue to have critical items like power, railway, and mineral resources on the Exclusive List in a vast nation like Nigeria. We cannot continue the ridiculous fixation on oil, searching for oil around the Lake Chad Basin when the world’s leading economies and major importers of our crude are already phasing out petrol powered cars.
Of course, we need a restructure of the mind, though not as a precondition for returning to true federalism. In fact, enthronement of fiscal federalism where each component unit earn a living by their own creativity, hard work, and taxes of its people will naturally curb corruption because citizens whose sweats create the wealth will demand accountability. They will also vote into office competent and honest leaders.
Lastly, no nation can rise above the capacity of her human capital, especially in a knowledge-based economy where the importance and demand for oil is fast receding. Japan, an Asian Tiger without oil or any known mineral and agricultural resources, is a living testimony of how investment in human capital can grow a nation. We must, therefore, invest in human capital development.