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Restructuring Nigeria: Decentralisation for National Cohesion (1)

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Let me begin by extend­ing my deep sense of gratitude to the Royal Institute of International Af­fairs, for inviting me to par­ticipate in this current series of discussion on Next Gen­eration Nigeria: Account­ability and National Cohe­sion.
The involvement of this reputable British Institute in discussing and proffering suggestions on how to solve extant Nigeria’s problems is not only commendable but also, I believe, most relieving for the British establishment who must understandably feel a deep sense of vicarious responsibility for putting to­gether a country confronted with such grim future.
Nigeria became a united British colony by the amal­gamation of its Northern and Southern Protectorates in 1914. In 1960, it attained independence, fashioned a federal constitution which had three and subsequently four regions as its federating units. The pre-1960 and the 1963 constitutions of Nigeria were fashioned by the people of Nigeria as represented by the leaders of their ethnic nationalities. The coup of January 1966 and the coun­ter-coup of the same year oc­casioned by ethnic tensions and disagreements within the military led our country to disastrous consequences.
Our first Prime Minister, Rt. Hon Tafawa Balewa and the then premier of North­ern Nigeria, Sir Ahmadu Bello, as well as the then Minister for Finance Festus Okotie-Eboh, were mur­dered. A massive pogrom was unleashed on South Eastern Nigerians living in Northern Nigeria. A sitting Head of State from the South East, Major General Aguiyi Ironsi and a governor from the South West Col. Adekun­le Fajuyi were murdered.
The military suspended our 1963 constitution and adopted a unitary system of government to fit their command and control struc­tures. Opposition to this move by Southern Nigeria led to constitutional talks in Aburi, Ghana. The agree­ments reached at Aburi were jettisoned. War broke out and claimed more than three and a half million lives mostly from the South East. After the war, the military-authored two more con­stitutions, one in 1979 and another in 1998/99. The two military constitutions were finally approved by the Su­preme Military Council.
Under military rule, this organ (the Supreme Military Council) was the highest leg­islative organ for the coun­try. It was made up of senior military officers, a majority of whom were from North­ern Nigeria. The last consti­tution of 1998/99, which the military approved was the legal instrument that gov­erned Nigeria’s transition to democracy. It is still in use in Nigeria today. It was not sub­jected to a national referen­dum. It created 19 states out of the old Northern Region, 6 states out of the Western Region, 2 states out of the old Midwestern Region and 9 states out of the old Eastern Region.
An agreement by a con­stitutional conference con­vened by General Abacha divided the country into six geopolitical zones. This agreement was never incor­porated into a legislation even though it continues to be adopted for administra­tive purposes by Govern­ment and the political par­ties. The creation of states and local governments in these six geographical areas did not respect any equitable parameter.
Our present constitution is not autochthonous. It was not written by the people of Nigeria. It was not approved in a national referendum. In jurisprudence, its effective­ness will score a very low grade on account of its un­acceptability. Regrettably, it continues to hold sway and begins with a false proclama­tion, “We the People of Nige­ria….”
Our present constitution was written at a time of un­precedented increase in na­tional revenue following the massive discovery of oil in Nigeria and the global reli­ance on it as a source of fuel for machines. It had as its centrepiece, the distribution of national revenue and na­tional offices using states and local governments as units for division. It constructed a federation in name but a unitary government in prac­tice following the pattern enunciated in 1966 from the inception of military admin­istration in Nigeria.
Competition and drive for production by the fed­erating units was destroyed. Each state and local govern­ment waited every month for proceeds from oil generated revenue to be shared out to them. The federal govern­ment became enormously powerful, taking over min­ing rights, construction of interstate highways, major educational establishments, rail and water transporta­tion, power and several in­frastructural responsibilities previously undertaken by the regions. Competition for control of the federal government became intense and corrupted our electoral system. Corruption became perverse as the federal gov­ernment became too big to be effectively policed by au­diting and administrative regulations.
As I speak to you today, Nigeria has a grim economic outlook. Nigeria’s external debt has grown from $10.3 billion in 2015 to $15 billion in 2017. Her domestic debt has also grown from 8.8 tril­lion Naira in 2015, to 14 tril­lion Naira in 2017. Domestic debt component for the 36 states rose from 1.69 trillion Naira in 2015 to 2.9 trillion Naira in June 2017.
The Federal government has on two occasions re­leased bailout funds to enable states meet their recurrent expenditure requirements. Only about eight states in Nigeria namely Lagos, Kano, Enugu, Edo, Delta, Abia, Rivers, and Kwara have their internally generated revenue sufficient enough to cover their interest repayments on their debts without depend­ing on allocations from fed­erally collected revenue.
For the federal government close to 40% of its annual revenue was spent on servic­ing interest repayments on debts and, according to In­ternational Monetary Fund (IMF), this percentage is expected to increase further. According to Fitch ratings, Nigerian government’s gross debts is 320% of its annual revenue!! – one of the high­est in the world.
In the face of this economic reality, the Population Refer­ence Bureau predicts that Nigeria will in 2050 become the world’s fourth-largest population with a popula­tion of 397 million coming after China, India and the United States of America. This is only 33 years away.
In 2011, five Colonels in the United States Centre for Strategy and Technology, Air War College did a case study on Nigeria and the global consequences of its implo­sion and came out with a conclusion that, “despite its best efforts, Nigeria has a long-term struggle ahead to remain a viable state, much less a top-20 economy”.
Faced with this grim eco­nomic outlook and a struc­ture inimical to growth, what is, therefore, our way forward? Our growth model has to change for us to sur­vive as a country.
A model based on sharing of government revenue must give way to a new structure that will challenge and drive productivity in different re­gions across the country. This new model must take into account that the fac­tors driving productivity in today’s world are no longer driven by fossil oil but rather the proliferation of a knowl­edge-based economy.
The restructuring of Ni­geria into smaller and inde­pendent federating units and the devolution of powers to these federating units to con­trol exclusively their human capital development, miner­al resources, agriculture and power (albeit with an obliga­tion to contribute to the fed­eral government) is the only way to salvage our fledgling economy. Restructuring will devote attention to the new wealth areas, promote com­petition and productivity as the new federating units struggle to survive. It will drastically reduce corrup­tion as the large federal para­statals which gulp govern­ment revenue for little or no impact dissolve and give way to smaller and viable organs in the new federating units.
Those campaigning against restructuring in Nigeria have painted an unfortunate and untrue picture that those of us in support of restructur­ing are doing so in order to deny the Northern States who have not yet any proven oil reserves of the ability to survive. This is unfortunate. The new model we propose for Nigeria recognizes that revenue in the world today is promoted by two main sources namely, human capi­tal development leveraging on technology to drive the critical sectors of the econ­omy and agriculture.
Ten years ago, the top 10 com­panies in the world were the likes of Exxon Mobil, Shell, and Total. Today, the top eight companies in the world are represented by technol­ogy related companies. They include Apple, Microsoft, Google, Facebook, and Am­azon.

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