Unbundling Nigeria

The list of Nigerians calling for a restructuring of the country is growing. On Thursday, another big fish swam into [he was not caught in] the net: Emir of Kano Muhammed Sanusi II. Speaking as a guest at Olabisi Onabanjo University, Ago-Iwoye in Ogun State, the former Central Bank governor said that Nigeria would not make any meaningful progress without shedding its numerous officeholders [who contribute nothing but consume much] in a period of economic depression.

Like other progressive minds, Sanusi was referring to a poor country that maintains 36 governors, 36 deputy governors and 36 houses of assembly, each with the paraphernalia of office including fleets of vehicles, special and non-special advisers and assistants. It is, he said, a matter of common sense: “Simple arithmetic will tell you that if you have that structure, you are first of all doomed to spending 80 or 90 per cent of everything you earn maintaining public officers. It is really common sense but it seems to be a problem for us to understand it.”

But is it true we have failed to understand the situation? I think a majority of Nigerians know where the rain started beating us. Right on the same occasion at Ago-Iwoye, Professor Akin Mabogunje replied Emir Sanusi: Free oil money (or “awuf”) encouraged a culture of laziness and non-accountability that has spread from the civil service to all facets of our national life.

With Emir Sanusi on our side now, there is no question of a section of the country fearing a restructuring of the country that could deny it the free oil funds flowing from another section of the country. Great minds think alike, whether they are from the east, west, north or south. From the early 1990s, there have been calls for a sovereign national conference to chart a way forward for Nigeria. Gani Fawehinmi shouted about it until he died, as did Tony Enahoro, Abraham Adesanya and several other opinion leaders. Professor Wole Soyinka has continued to say there is no other way. Everyone that mattered and wasn’t selfish added their voice, especially after the annulment of Moshood Abiola’s election in 1993. During the 1995 political conference, Second Republic vice-president Dr Alex Ekwueme initiated the idea of dividing the country into six zones. As Atiku Abubakar admitted much later, a caucus in the 1995 conference shot Ekwueme’s proposal down because they felt he wanted to re-introduce Biafra through the back door.

Here we are, two decades later, and more people are calling for a return to regionalism. These days, Chief Emeka Anyaoku, 84, does not miss an opportunity to support this proposal at every forum. At the 2005 conference, he led the south-east conferees to demand a return to regionalism so Nigeria could move forward. Now, the culture of waste and avarice that has marked this Fourth Republic has brought Nigeria, once more, to the edge of a precipice. Oil no longer fetches enough money for the sustenance of 1, 300 offices that consume a third of the nation’s resources.

President Muhammadu Buhari must choose between change and charade. He has done well to block loopholes and expose some treasury looters, but he has no money with which to build infrastructure. All the money this government has saved still goes into servicing an over-bloated, unproductive public service. It is no surprise that the Buhari government has not built even a culvert, 10 months after coming to power.

How long shall we wait for Nigeria’s redemption? Population is multiplying, just as resources are diminishing. Jobs are vanishing even as the number of jobseekers is rising. Is Buhari a miracle worker?

Change could come in the form of “unbundling” or “reorganisation”, as the minister of state for petroleum resources, Dr Ibe Kachikwu, demonstrated last week. He told striking workers of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) that the corporation was being reorganised and not unbundled. Whatever is the difference between “unbundle” and “reorganise” won’t matter as long as jobs are not lost and Nigerians are served well. But when you split the NNPC into seven in order to make it more efficient, you have reorganised it!

What has happened to the NNPC is what we want should happen to Nigeria. Advocates of “restructuring” or “political reform” or “unbundling” desire a return to the dream of our founding fathers who, after several conferences before independence, found that what was best for Nigeria was regionalism or true federalism as was practised in the First Republic. The nation has been in irreversible decline since the military truncated regionalism. Nigeria is going nowhere until it restructures or reforms itself.

Collapsing the current 36 states into six regions will be useful in more ways than one. I repeat: “Patriotism beckons on the new leaders of the country, for Nigeria’s restructuring is a matter of WHEN, not IF. And the earlier it is done, the better for all of us. It is the only antidote to the ills of tribalism, nepotism, injustice and poor leadership that have caused a civil war, election rigging, and now terrorism. We simply cannot continue on this ruinous path. Change must come…

“Whatever needs to be done should be done now. We should not wait for another election year – there is no money to be wasted on electioneering anymore. And let no one be so hypocritical as to regard the introduction of a new constitution as a mission impossible. Just a few people sat down for a few days and gave us the 1999 Constitution. It won’t take more than a few weeks for the National Assembly (which passed 46 bills within 10 minutes in May this year) to produce a constitution based on the 2014 conference.” [This column, October 4, 2015]

Oil has been recognised as a curse rather than a blessing. This curse is being removed by low prices. Nobody should now shiver when they hear “resource control” or “regionalism” because there are more and better resources in the north than in the south. Under a new constitution that recognises six semi-autonomous states instead of 36, however, no state would be foolish enough to pay a legislator N200million per annum for shouting “aye” or “nay” once a week. No president would spend N2billion or N4billion on “prayers”.

Until we return to regionalism, those who campaign for a diversification of the economy do so in vain. So long as states converge on Abuja every month to share oil funds, so long will nobody seek alternative funds from solid minerals and agriculture. The majority of Nigerians today are those born after independence in 1960; they never saw groundnut pyramids in the north or where palm-oil and cocoa determined the wealth of the east and west respectively. All they have seen is oil wealth shared by public servants and often stolen and hidden in foreign banks.



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