By Chukwuma Ajakah
Nigerian writer and public relations practitioner, Michael Owhoko anchors his optimism about the future of Nigeria on the willingness of the leaders and the citizenry to embrace the recipe he outlines in his new book, The Future of Nigeria.
Michael posits that the future of Nigeria is predictable if the stakeholders, including the leadership and the various federating units, can resolve through a referendum the nature and pattern of federalism that will be compatible with the people’s socio-cultural, economic and religious predispositions. He recommends that a referendum should be organized to resolve the country’s contending political issues “Let the people decide which way they want to go…For how long will the country’s leadership suppress the voice of the people? Amidst confusion over which direction to go, countries all over the world have explored the option of a referendum to resolve their political differences.” He believes that “If a referendum had been deployed all these years, perhaps this lingering call for a change in the country’s system of government would have fizzled out, and a new political order with the clear direction would have emerged… a referendum provides the opportunity to rediscover the country’s future through the assertion of the free will of the people.”
Michael observes that “Nigeria is a multiethnic society with diverse cultural differences. The heterogeneous nature of the various ethnic groups makes the country eminently qualified as a sociologically complex society, particularly when viewed against the people’s unflinching loyalty and primordial affinity to their respective roots and cultural values. This background shapes their thought processes, preferences, perceptions, and opinions, making the entire system take a complex form.” Noting that a correlation exists between the heterogeneity of Nigeria and its complexity, the author states that “Depending on who is looking at what issues and the side of the divide on which he or she is rooted, objectivity is downplayed for parochial interest. This is evident in all strata of society, particularly in institutions and during the policy decision-making process.”
The author also believes that ethnic, cultural and religious differences constitute a major challenge to national harmony and peaceful coexistence, pointing out that “Whereas other countries with similar circumstances are making progress, Nigeria is not only lacking in things that engender progress but also advancing in things that encourage relapse, thereby pulling the hand of the national clock backwards.” He contends that the multiethnic groups struggle to live harmoniously together, warning that “Unless we urgently act courageously to come together and discourse in frank terms the basis of our political union and how we will live together, we may as well prepare for eventual separation.” Moreover, he argues that “When people say the unity of Nigeria is not negotiable…it is a statement of arrogance because it makes a mockery of history. To find out what led to countries that have broken into smaller, independent states, and why.” Conversely, he asserts that “Time is not on our side, the earlier we all resolve to move forward with a common purpose as a nation, the better for us. Otherwise, we risk disintegration someday, either, either through peaceful or forceful means.”
The author explores multifarious topics through the nine chapters of the 104 pages of The Future of Nigeria. These include “The Historical Development of Nigeria”, “The Federal System as an Acceptable Social Contract”, “The Unitary System as the Origin of Nigeria’s Endless Dilemma”, “The Challenge of Petroleum Resources”, “Solid Minerals Resources Optimism”, “The Rise of Agitation”, “Rescue Efforts”, “The Hard Solution” and “The Future Outlook”. There are also subtopics and divergent thematic considerations such as “The Making of Nigeria”, “Fears of the Founding Fathers”, “Fiscal Federalism”, “Principles of Derivation”, “Abrogation of the Principle of Derivation”, “Resource Control”, “Oil as a Source of Revenue for the Government”, “Oil as Burden on the Niger Delta”, “Handouts as Alternative to the Derivation Principle”, “Developing Solid Minerals Market for Nigeria”, “Biafra as a Symptom of Discontent”, “The National Question, Injustice and Insincerity”, “Militancy as Sign of Frustration in the Niger Delta”, “A Country on the Precipice”, “Referendum as a Rescue Valve”, “A Blessed Nation with Potentials” and “Suppressed Hopes and Missed Opportunity”.
According to the author, “The fears of the founding fathers bordered mainly on the premise upon which the British founded the country. The colonial masters failed to take into consideration the ethnic and cultural differences which ultimately shape people’s perception and decisions. These factors which infuse our beings are principally responsible for the political disagreement and distrust among the founding fathers.” He notes that “The country could not forge ahead with a common purpose because the allegiance of the founding fathers was more to their respective regions than to the centre as represented by the federal government. As a result, there was an upsurge of frenzy fuelled by ethnic politics in almost every part of the country.”
The author also faults the abrogation of the principle of derivation, stating that “The principle of derivation as an element of fiscal federalism is to ensure equity by way of compensation to the area from where mineral resources are extracted. When cocoa, groundnut, and palm oil were sources of revenue in the country, the principle of derivation was applied. That was why areas like the Western, Northern and Eastern regions benefited from the 50 per cent derivation.” He observes that the derivation principle was abrogated when petroleum resources were discovered in the Niger Delta. He opines that “This revocation deprived the people of the Niger Delta of enjoying the 50 per cent derivation. This singular decision, more than any other consideration, is responsible for the crisis in the region today.”