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Restructuring, destructuring and leadership failure

By Nafata Bamaguje
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Presently, the prevailing political sing-song is ‘restructuring.’ A few years ago it was Sovereign national conference. But after Jonathan’s ill-fated Confab, the talking point gradually shifted to ‘restructuring’ as the cure-all panacea to Nigeria’s multitudinous problems.

But there is no agreement as to what this restructuring should entail. In fact there are almost as many restructuring ideas as the loudmouthed proponents. So far the restructuring proposals include the following:

- Return to First republic 4 regions

- 6 geopolitical zones become federating units

- 19 more states as per 2014 Confab report

- Fiscal federalism

- 50% derivation/resource control

- Devolution of power to states/LGAs

- Destructuring i.e. dismemberment of Nigeria.

All the above restructuring/destructuring ideas emanate from the South, which seem to think they own Nigeria and should have their way, regardless of what the Northern majority thinks. Much of the agitation is driven by greed, selfishness and shortsighted ethno-regional bigotry inimical to long-term nation building.

Those of us in the North who object to aspects of this narrow minded crass ethno-regional jingoism masquerading as nationalism are disparaged as enemies of progress. “Progress” of course being defined by southern agitators.

Several of the restructuring proposals are half-baked harebrained schemes that fall apart on close scrutiny. The same people clamouring for implementation of 2014 Confab report which would create 19 more states, are the same people making noise about fiscal federalism.

Presently most states can’t pay salaries regularly, yet the Confab proponents are demanding creation of even more unviable states that will inevitably result in more dependence on handouts from the center.

The internal generated revenue of most southern states is nothing to write home about, yet their jingoists make loud noises about fiscal federalism.

Nothing in our present political structure stops any state from investing in infrastructure and productive sectors to boost revenue. So the sonorous demands to rewrite our constitution to allow for fiscal federalism are totally uncalled for.

“Fiscal federalism” for these bigoted Southern jingoists has nothing to do with harnessing the productivity of their people for job creating prosperity and revenue generation. It simply begins and ends with awoof oil money, which mostly (80%) now comes from our Atlantic offshore oil fields, that is federal territory… as it is in other federations around the world.

Yet the greedy southern agitators have the gall to deride we Northerners as lazy parasites, because apparently the presence of crude oil and natural gas in our Atlantic shores is by dint of their hard work.

Then there is the hype about devolution of power to states, which in itself is not a bad idea. But given the Nigerian situation is bound to worsen our already bad situation, as there is less accountability at the state and LGA levels.

Unlike at the federal level where the National Assembly provides some semblance of checks & balances to the presidency, most state Houses of Assembly are rubber stamp parliaments.

Consequently governors do pretty much as they please. They expend state resources with little oversight from the pocketed state legislatures. LGA funds are raided and confiscated with impunity… in a way and manner federal government would never do to states.

Several governors collected federal bailouts and Paris club refund amounting to hundreds of billions of Naira, yet refuse to pay workers’ salary. Some are owing up to year’s salary, not to mention pensions.

For these truant governors, it is far more important to build a war chest for 2019 elections. I fail to see how devolving more power and resources to such irresponsible governors would make our troubled federation better.

When INEC conducts elections at the national level, different parties win (APC, PDP, APGA, Labour etc). When state electoral commissions conduct LGA elections, only the governor’s ruling party wins. Yet we are supposed to trust these tin-pot tyrants with state police, which will no doubt be abused to intimidate political opponents.

Some governors already deploy political thugs during elections, so it’s not a far stretch that state police will become the governors’ official political thugs, in the same manner Native police were misused against political opponents in the First republic.

Devolution would also entail transfer of Federal universities to states, which will reduce them to less diverse discriminatory institutions, where admissions and employment will be tribalized, thereby compromising academic standards and undermining national unity.

Indigene/non-indigene dichotomy is already at play in most federal institutions (universities, COEs, teaching hospitals, FMCs etc), and will only get worse with devolution.

With these misgivings in mind, devolution by itself is unlikely to lead Nigeria to El Dorado, but will simply lead to devolution and worsening of corruption. Governors have not responsibly exercised the limited powers they have, to justify devolving more responsibilities and resources to them.

Thus none of the restructuring proposals will by themselves rescue Nigeria from our present morass, because they do not address our foremost problem – corrupt inept leadership.

As long as the same crooks are running the show, it won’t matter what political system we operate. We’ve already tried them all – Parliamentary democracy, presidential system, First republic regional federalism, unitary military rule and our current half-way house. Yet our failing nation continues its descent into the abyss.

This is why some Nigerians in parts of the country have given up on Nigeria, and are now agitating for secession. They are convinced Nigeria cannot work, and think their ethno-regional enclaves will do better on their own.

But the problems that bedevil Nigeria will also bedevil these new balkanized nations, because basically the same misruling elites who have failed to deliver in Nigeria will still be in charge. The visionless South east governors who have presided over what is arguably the worst governed part of the country, are not suddenly going to provide upright visionary leadership in an independent Biafra.

Presently the IGR of the entire south east zone is not up to Ogun state, but the Biafra agitators want us to believe the misruling South east elites who are responsible for this poor state of affairs, will suddenly become Lee Kuan Yews.

Niger Delta does not fare better. Despite being the least populous state and territorially one of the smallest, oil-rich derivation collecting Bayelsa state can’t pay salaries regularly. While Yobe whose per capita allocation is one-quarter of Bayelsa does so regularly. Yet Niger Deltans believe the North is the problem, as their militants blow up pipelines demanding for more revenue that is not even from their land.

Akwa Ibom is the largest derivation recipient even though it doesn’t produce a drop of oil, thanks to unconstitutional offshore derivation. Even after nearly 2 decades of collecting humongous allocations that dwarfs the budget of several African nations, this richest Nigerian state has no strategic investments or savings for the rainy day. If for any reason oil revenues suddenly stop, the state would be as worse off as Kebbi or Zamfara.

If Niger Delta leaders can’t manage their resources within Nigeria, they won’t do any better as a separate nation. At best they’ll end up like Equatorial Guinea or Gabon, small oil rich African countries that remain economic backwaters in the committee of nations, because just like Niger Deltans, their leaders never thought beyond free oil money.

Despite enjoying year round rainfall, and much more abundant arable land relative to its small population than Naija, Gabon cannot feed itself, as it even imports fresh vegetables from neigbouring Cameroun. That’s where a Niger Delta republic is headed, as her leaders so far do not inspire much confidence.

Given the stranglehold on the region by extortionist robber barons like Tompolo, a worse outcome like Angola is more likely. The southern African nation is not only Africa’s second largest oil producer, but rich in other mineral resources like diamond, yet is even more corrupt and backward than Nigeria.

As Niger Delta separatists hinge their hopes of free oil money, they don’t seem to have noticed the recent decline in global oil prices, which is unlikely to significantly improve any time soon since the world is moving away from fossil fuels.

In fact oil prices may drop even further, with the possibility of Niger Delta republic ending up like Venezuela - the oil-rich South American country whose economy collapsed with shortage of basic goods occasioned by calamitous fall in global oil prices.

As Africa’s largest market, with an estimated 170 million consumers, a united Nigeria represents the best hope for averting such calamity. With the right leadership, this large consumer base can be harnessed to build a prosperous fully employed industrialized economy that secures our non-oil future.

Given the fact none of our African neighbours comes close to us in market size and human resources, we could easily dominate the region, expanding our market base to well over 300 million consumers, furthering securing our economic future.

We can only accomplish this by properly investing our oil revenues to build a diversified economy. This requires developing economic potentials around the country, rather than waste disproportionately large chunks of our oil revenues pandering to the misplaced sense of entitlement in certain sections of the country… because apparently their grandparents buried crude oil in our territorial Atlantic waters.

Thus if we are to build the Nigeria of our dreams, we need to think and act holistically in the long term interest of the entire nation, rather than this divisive ethno-sectarian/regional bickering that is inimical to harnessing our true economic potential.

Simply rewriting our constitution - a.k.a.“restructuring” - will not provide the resolute visionary leadership that is required for national transformation. Our constitution is only as good as the leaders who operate it.

In this regard, the persistent blather about “military imposed constitution” is utterly nonsensical and unhelpful. Japan’s postwar constitution was forcibly imposed on it by the conquering Americans after WWII.

That did not stop the ambitious Asian nation from rising from its nuclear bombed ashes to build the world’s second largest economy, despite lacking natural resources. It was only recently that the much larger China overtook Japan as the 2nd largest economy.

Besides it’s not even true that our present constitution was unilaterally imposed by the military. Justice Niki Tobi panel largely adapted the1999 constitution from the earlier 2nd republic constitution, which was extensively debated by civilian representatives. 13% derivation came from the Alex Ekwueme led 1994 constitutional conference under Abacha.

Nigeria did not fare much better under earlier constitutions that wholly emanated from civilian representatives, otherwise we would not be where we are now. The First republic crashed and burned disastrously, culminating in a 3-year civil war, despite its civilian instituted ‘fiscal federalism’ constitution.

Thus as earlier stated, a constitution is only as good as those who operate it. This is what John Adams, America’s second president and one of her founding fathers meant when he stated – “our constitution was made for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.”

Edmund Burke, the 18th century English philosopher noted the same thing - “Constitute government how you please, infinitely the greater part of it must depend upon the exercise of the powers which are left at large to the prudence and uprightness of ministers of state.

In essence Nigeria’s fundamental problem is not our constitution or political structure, but the quality of leadership. This is not to imply that some political systems aren’t better at delivering results than others. But to highlight the fact that quality leadership is much more crucial.

Around the world, there are successful nations that are unitary and that are federal. China doesn’t practice American type fiscal federalism, yet built a rapidly growing technologically advanced economy with over $2 trillion foreign reserve. While the ‘fiscal federalism’ U.S. economy is slow growing and saddled with $20 trillion debt that exceeds her GDP.

In the absence of quality leadership, no political system can guarantee national advancement. We have seen how governors unaccountably embezzle billions of Naira in the name of security votes. We’ve seen some of them pay themselves outrageous severance packages and continue to draw huge pensions running into tens of millions of Naira after leaving office.

Our legislators are among the highest paid in the world, yet selfishly abuse the time honored legislative function of budgetary appropriation for personal gain in the form of “budget padding.”

Former president Jonathan disbursed $2.1 billion (N800 billion) to Dasuki for his 2015 reelection. Apparently it never occurred to the ex-president that his reelection would have been better guaranteed if he expended that humongous sum constructing the 2nd Niger bridge, fixing the East-West road or other dilapidated Federal roads around the country.

How would the much vaunted ‘restructuring’ address such corrupt ineptitude among our rogue misruling elites that is the crux of our failing nation?

We need to stop chasing shadows and face the real problem – poor leadership. Clearly this sham of a democracy we’ve been operating for the last 2 decades cannot deliver the leadership required for national transformation. We have to end it now and start all over.

“…Whenever any form of government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the right of the people to alter or abolish it, and to institute new Government… Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes… But when a long train of abuses and usurpations… evinces a design to reduce the people under absolute despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such government…” – U.S. Declaration of Independence (1776).