Why is Nigeria like this — I mean grossly underdeveloped? I’ve been asking this question all my life. And until Nigeria exits the underdevelopment club, it is one question that will remain relevant. I believe that it is in asking this central question, and in attempting to provide well-reasoned answers, that we can begin to focus the development debate more productively. Unfortunately, the way we are in Nigeria, issues are always jumbled up and insults are traded with such ease that it is practically impossible to have a decent conversation on national development. Sure, we do not need to reason alike, but at least we should be able to reason together. This I believe.
Commentators and analysts have attributed our backwardness to many factors: the 1914 amalgamation by Lord Lugard, the political structure, the revenue formula, corruption, poor leadership and such like. The proffered solutions include restructuring, Balkanisation, diversification of the economy, aggressive anti-graft war, good governance and such like. I do not intend to analyse these positions today. My intention, rather, is to highlight some of the issues that shape my own perspective in the hope that they can become useful in this unending debate. I do not suppose to have answers to the questions, but I am going to question the answers.
A common argument is that without “resource control” and “fiscal federalism”, we are grounded. While resource control can address the issue of equity and fairness, does it resolve the issue of poor leadership? Does more allocation mean more development? The Niger Delta states, for instance, have been getting 13% extra since 1999, in addition to the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC), Ministry of Niger Delta and Amnesty Programme. Can we say the vast majority of the Niger Delta people are better off today? Maybe bigger allocation, as good as it is, does not automatically mean bigger development. Maybe there is a bigger problem somewhere.
I have heard many northern governors boast about “our agriculture” in response to demands for resource control by the oil-producing areas. I’m forced to wonder: what is stopping them from unlocking the billions of dollars in agriculture? Wait. I know the response. Let Nigeria break up first and then we will start to develop our agriculture. Really? Is there any law that says you cannot start earning the billions right away? Why must Nigeria break up before all the agro-allied potential is tapped? Can somebody explain the logic to me? Many governors still can’t figure out how industrialised agriculture can generate more billions than oil. Pity.
Talks on restructuring in the north focus mainly on adopting the Sharia code. Many northerners will tell you they want to be ruled by Islamic laws. Which is very fine by me. But is that why the governors are always in Mecca and Medina for lesser hajj? Every month, they go for Umrah with loads of government officials — all at public expense. It wouldn’t be a problem for me if they finance this “religious” lifestyle with personal resources. Or if they continue with the lifestyle long after leaving office. But with no access to free money, the story changes. That tells me something about the misuse of state resources in the midst of poverty.
And why are these governors always going for Umrah? Let me guess their prayers. O Most Merciful and Beneficent God! Come and provide water for my people so that they will stop dying of cholera! Come, O Merciful God, and provide healthcare for my people! They are dying of curable diseases, but our hospitals lack basic equipment and personnel! Really? But why don’t they start by diverting the Umrah budget to at least one hospital in their states? Let them buy equipment and drugs, and let’s see if God will not save the lives of many of these helpless poor patients. Let them use the Umrah budget to sink a few boreholes and see if God will not save more people from cholera deaths.
The south-west is the geo-political zone reputed for its “fiscal federalism” and “true federalism” activism. Which I support, by the way. But without any amendment to the constitution, Lagos has moved its monthly internal revenue from N600 million in 1999 to N25 billion in 2016. I’m not lying. When Asiwaju Bola Tinubu became governor in 1999, over 90% of Lagos revenue was from federal allocation. By 2007 when he was leaving office, federal allocation had reduced to less than 50%. IGR had jumped to N6 billion under him. Today, federal allocation contributes only 30% to Lagos. Believe me, we are yet to hold the sovereign national conference.
As I write this, Lagos Governor Akin Ambode is targeting monthly IGR of N30 billion from 2017. And I am wondering why other south-west states have to wait for a sovereign national conference before making good use of what they have to get what they need. I recently travelled through Ekiti state — one of the states with the least allocations — and I shook my head throughout the journey. Ekiti has one of the most wonderful landscapes in the world. While awaiting the restructuring of Nigeria, the state can generate billions of naira from tourism alone — by taking advantage of the landscape to create sights and sites. And this is without spending state money!
Kogi state must rank as one of the most pathetic. Lokoja, the state capital, is gateway to 22 states of the federation. There is a huge economy that can be built around this alone. But when I visited the city two years ago, they did not have simple motor parks, so how can they even do the more complicated things? Meanwhile, Lokoja is host to the confluence of River Niger and River Benue, with the huge tourism potential that comes with this. But there is not one decent hotel in Lokoja! This is a historical city that can brand itself “Nigerian Marrakech” if there is anybody thinking in the state house. I can say this of many other states in Nigeria.
Igbo kwenu! Kwezuenu o! You see, until we have Biafra and leave the Nigerian zoo, we can never develop. Nigeria is holding us back. This Lord Lugard contraption must be dismantled. I hear you very well, loud and clear, my brothers and sisters across the Niger. But can something be done while we wait for Biafra? We don’t know when the dream sovereign state will become reality. It could be 2016 or 2056 or never. The wise thing, then, is to look within and see how Igboland can be far better than it currently is — even in all this “97% vs 5%” brouhaha. The governors are in a good position to call on the best brains for the development of the south-east, with or without Abuja.
To start with, the Igbo have distinguished themselves all over the world in virtually every field of human endeavour: science, technology, creative industries, law, sports, commerce, education, journalism, medicine, etc. Therefore, I don’t believe anybody is doing the Igbo any favour by giving them appointments. But that is not the point. Who says Aba cannot become Taiwan without leaving the Nigerian zoo? Who says Nnewi cannot assemble 10 million mobile phones per year — without confederalism? No electricity? True. But many parts of Lagos are powered by IPPs, not PHCN.
It can be done! Billions of dollars are crying to be tapped in Igboland!
Nigeria is like this, I dare to suggest, partly because we have been bewitched into blaming our problems on circumstances beyond our control. I would accept these excuses if we have put in our best and still cannot get results. I would accept these excuses if the bulk of the allocations had been spent on improving the quality of life of the masses rather than on chartered flights, 4WDs, state-of-the-art governor’s residences, weekly Umrah, hyper-inflated contracts and hopeless trips to China and Turkey in search of the legendary “foreign investors”. I would accept these excuses if we had used our brains appropriately the way the Arabs and the Chinese are using theirs.
I conclude. Somebody is reading me and yelling: “Shoot the bastard!” Before you load the bullet, listen carefully: I have not said you should not hold your sovereign national conference, or have your Sharia, or get your resource control. I, too, believe Nigeria needs to be reformed economically and politically. But listen to me: in spite of all the excuses we give for “why Nigeria is like this”, in spite of the spite for Lord Lugard, in spite of the “bad” constitution, there is still a lot of lemonade we can make from these lemons. However, we are too lazy, too conceited, too deluded, too bitter, too parochial, too blinded to see the opportunities. All we can see are the problems. Shame.
“The way we are in Nigeria, issues are always jumbled up and insults are traded with such ease that it is practically impossible to have a decent conversation on national development. Sure, we do not need to reason alike, but at least we can reason together”
The ease with which people are accused of blasphemy and murdered in cold blood in northern Nigeria must now become a matter of urgent national importance. On Monday, eight persons (reportedly all Muslims) were burnt to death by a mob at Abdu Gusau Polytechnic, Talata Mafara, Zamfara state, following an allegation of blasphemy. I preach respect for beliefs and cultures all the time, but more important is respect for the sanctity of human life. I plead once again that the religious leaders and the government must establish a system for people to channel and manage their grievances properly to avoid such stone-age mob action. Anarchy.
President Muhammadu Buhari’s economic emergency bill to tackle the crippling crisis is still being fine-tuned, I suppose. The media leak, however, has raised a few questions that need to be given a second look. Many of the powers being sought can be exercised through a simple administrative process, like granting visas on arrival and improving procurement speed. Some indeed require fiat, especially because of legislative and bureaucratic bottlenecks. By the way, though, nearly 15 months after coming to office, Buhari is yet to constitute the National Council on Privatisation (NCP), meaning the privatisation process is effectively on hold. Emergency.
FACTIONS AND FICTIONS
First, a “breakaway” group of Niger Delta Avengers declaring ceasefire in the attacks on oil installations. Now, a “breakaway” faction of the Indigenous Peoples of Biafra (IPOB) denouncing the agitation for Biafra. Some years ago, we had a “breakaway” faction of Boko Haram declaring ceasefire. We all remember the outcome. I advise all the forces behind these “breakaway” factions to get real. This drama has never worked and will never work. Government must work sincerely and seriously towards addressing these agitations so that we can make meaningful progress. More so, the peace of the graveyard serves no purpose. Duplicity.
In my article on agriculture last week, I sought to do two things: one, challenge the conventional wisdom that farming is the magic cure for our petrocentric economy; two, draw attention to the need to optimise value derived from both farming and agro-allied industry. It is clear, from the reactions I got, that many Nigerians want the sector to be naturally attractive — beyond the seasonal rhetoric anytime oil prices crash. We must concentrate resources, energies and policies on how to get much more value and become world beaters in both agriculture and agro-industry. Better techniques, better infrastructure, better finance, better incentives. Explosion.