We have lived a lie
It was Onyeka Owenu that sang the song “Run, Jonathan, Run”, imploring the man who grew up as a boy without shoes to run for President.
The first words of our 1999 constitution reads: “We the people of the Federal Republic of Nigeria…”. Those words, ostensibly lifted from the preamble to the Constitution of the United States of America, have not been backed by the Nigerian spirit. The various micro-nations that constitute the Federal Republic of Nigeria have never engaged each other in a conversation about what it means to come together to form a federation. There has been no agreement about what it would mean to transform from being just Igbo, Ijaw, Hausa or Yoruba to being Nigerian. Questions have not been answered about what each micro-nation brings to the table and what conditions will guarantee social justice, and equality for everyone without any micro-nation feeling exploited or cheated.
The Federation has just been foisted on everyone, and for the fear of having nothing else as an alternative, everyone played along.
Furthermore, the initial social contract that ensured post-independence balance has expired for the following reasons:
1. It approximated the diversity of the Nigerian nation. Nigeria isn’t just North and South as the British saw it. It is more complex. There are other diverse interests that are far from represented by the pre-independence approximations.
2. It was limited to the sharing of power at the center. The assumption that if power is equitably shared, the effects will trickle down equitably to the people was false. It has never worked and it never will. First, the limited opportunities for representation at the center can never reflect the true diversity of interests evident in the nation. Secondly, and most importantly, the assumption relied heavily on the personal inclination of each representative to be accountable to the interest that they should represent. We have learnt that there is no interest greater than self-interest.
3. It never worked. Fifty two years later, power has never been equitably shared, neither have been any social benefits.
We need to get over the oil addiction
Since the first commercial export of oil from Oloibiri in 1958, economic activity in other sectors of the economy has dwindled as everyone responded to the allure of oil money. Over time, this has resulted in huge economic distortions that have plunged Nigeria’s per-capita income to 25% of what is was in the mid-1970s. Oil and gas now account for about 95% of all export earnings and 85% of Federal Government revenue. Every other sector has either remained stagnant or have declined over 50% from the levels that they were 25 years ago and today, over 80% of government spending gets recycled into foreign exchange – to pay for what has become another expensive Nigerian addiction – imports.
The implication is that, practically, only about 9 states (some say effectively 6) subsidize the Federation in its current configuration. Everyone else has become dependent on this bizarre form of welfare. This is dangerous for the following reasons:
1. At 37.5 billion barrels of reserves left and an estimated exploitation rate of 2.5 million barrels per day, Nigeria has only 41 years of oil production left. We might as well be the last generation to have lived in a period that had Nigeria as an oil producing state. The next generation will be reading about the oil rigs the same way we read about the groundnut pyramids – in textbooks. There will be no productive, sustainable, replacements that we have invested in to continue to yield collective revenue when we no longer have the oil.
2. Given the other social contract issues I have highlighted above, the micro-nations whose land the oil resources come from have a right to agitation or even secession. The sense of entitlement that the rest of Nigeria feels over the oil from the region might just be completely misplaced. Afterall, the transfer of petroleum resources in the delta region to the Federal Government was effected by decree – Decree No. 51 of 1969 – an imposition that the Niger-Delta tribes have contested till today, at the cost of thousands of their own lives. Given recent events, their cause might acquire new sympathies.
The International Dimension
Nigeria needs to wake up to the reality that it produces a critical global resource – oil. As global powers scramble around the world, trying to secure access and control of this critical resource, it would be naivety to think that Nigeria can somehow be immune to the mighty forces at play. As was evident in the 1800s when European expansionary empires began to consider the immense resources in Africa as strategic assets in their competition with each other, it is possible that history will attempt to repeat itself. It is not difficult to imagine that covert and overt manipulation are already being employed to ensure that the stewardship of this strategic resource is better aligned to the long term prosperity of global imperialistic establishments.
It is also naïve to begin to imagine, that Nigeria, as it is now, stands a chance in a full on confrontation with the subtle demands of these global powers. Our dependence on imports is an economic vulnerability that can be exploited, if need be, to bring the nation to its knees. This combined, with our porous borders and our sectional differences means that, as it stands, we are as vulnerable as ever. And with “Boko Haram” breathing down our necks, underscoring the inadequacy of our national security, it might even be Nigerians calling for a foreign intervention force. This won’t be far from what the global “doctors” prescribe.
What must we now do?
1. It is imperative that we begin the push that would lead to a new social contract for the Nigerian people.
2. This new social contract must fundamentally align the economic, political and social expectations (as well as responsibilities) of the constituent micro-nations. For instance, the reasons why the south-east and south-south were not particularly interested in the fuel subsidy protests are based on valid political expectations that need not be ignored if a true Nigerian solution is the objective.
3. The social contract must also define new roles for the government, citizen and private sectors within the new context of national cohesion, economic development and good governance
4. These new roles might mean that we would not need a big federal government. It might mean that we resolve to strengthen the roles and the checks for local and regional government. It might also mean that we realize that we do not need, neither can we afford to fund 36 states, an FCT (that produces little) and 774 local governments.
5. It might also mean that we take a pragmatic and more long term view of our residual oil resources with the view to fully recover its value and re-invest in long-term sustainable enterprise with the Niger-Delta as a priority.
6. We might realize that a fiscal federalism system will be socially just, even if it hurts some parts of the whole. We might propose transitional strategies to alleviate the pain before the possible non-viable constituents achieve self-sustenance.
7. We must be ready to tell the masses these truths. The new breed of intellectuals must accept the responsibility to shape the public opinion away from survivalist opportunism to collective and responsible development.
8. We must also evolve a non-confrontational strategy to ferry Nigeria safely through the demands of the global oil grab. I suspect the key might be in fundamentally changing the way we see our own oil.
9. It would be an immense ideological challenge and it is neither going to be easy nor quick.
Finally, it is possible to be carried away by the fundamental perspectives herein expressed. Therefore, it is imperative to state that, we still need to, in the short term, drastically improve what we are doing to fight corruption, increase citizen engagement with government and propose a more pragmatic budget for 2012. There is no reason why all of this can’t happen concurrently with a complete overhaul of our socio-political space.
Given all of the above, it should go without saying that there is now, more than ever, a need for a resource that is scarcely found in Nigeria – Leadership.
It was Onyeka Owenu that sang the song “Run, Jonathan, Run”, imploring the man who grew up as a boy without shoes to run for President. It appears popular will is now singing a fitting sequel: “Lead, Jonathan Lead”, imploring the son of the canoe carver to grab a paddle and row the Nigerian canoe out of the treacherous creeks it has now found itself.
History will be unkind if he fails.
See Part One: “We must not repeat the mistakes of our fathers.”