By Benedict Ahanonu
Due to the level of corruption in Nigeria which was recently described as fantastic by British Prime Minister, David Cameron, the recurring question across the world has been, is oil a blessing or a curse to Nigeria?
In answering this question, many might be tempted to say that it is a curse because it was part of what inspired the fratricidal civil war.
Since the discovery of oil in enormous quantities in Oloibiri in 1956, the economic status of Nigeria instead of improving seemingly plunged into recurrent distress as successive governments did little or nothing to use the God-given wealth to develop the country and improve the living conditions of the people. It is not unkind to say that Nigeria as it stands today, cannot make real economic and political progress with this kind of lopsided presidential system of government that is a corrupt adaptation of the American system.
Fact is that what is obtainable in Nigeria, can best be described as Unitary-Federalism, where the government at the centre owns almost everything. In the United States from where the system was copied, it is operated in the true sense of it.
It is lack of true federalism that gives rise to intermittent regional insurrections and militancy because some people feel cheated in a system where every section should have equal stake, and equal opportunities, but the reverse is the case.
If there is true federalism in Nigeria, the level of complacency buoyed by outright lack of sense of direction in terms of revenue generation on the part of the federating units would have attenuated as fiscal federalism would allow the regions exploit their resources maximally, develop at their own pace and pay tax or royalty to the centre as it is done in the United States.
Every part of Nigeria has got one form of natural endowment or the other. For instance, Nasarawa State alone has about 14 solid mineral deposits which if meaningfully exploited, have the potential of turning around the economic fortunes of that state. But because of the over-dependence on oil revenue and handouts like the ongoing disbursement of bailout funds from the Federal government, the solid minerals of Nasarawa are left in the hands of illegal miners.
Without doubt, the crisis in the Niger Delta is deep-rooted and fanned by a combination of years of neglect by government and failure of leadership by some Niger Deltans who had hitherto sought to gratify themselves at the expense of the poor people in the region; hence, while other parts of the country were developing relatively, the region was left to rot away. The oil blocks were commandeered by others and the real people in the delta were left with polluted streams and rivulets.
Certainly, if there is true federalism, there would be no need for the Amnesty Programme, 13% Derivation, Niger Delta Development Commission, NDDC, Niger Delta Ministry and the like. There will be no need for northern legislators in the National Assembly to shoot down the novel and innovative Petroleum Industry Bill (PIB), designed to give the poor Niger Delta dwellers meaningful livelihood simply because they don’t want major oil companies to pay 10% of their profit which is not Nigerian money to the Niger Delta Region and people.
If there is true federalism, nobody would want to vandalize oil pipelines and power facilities. If there is true federalism, the Niger Delta Region will not be in the present precarious state. If there is true federalism, the Biafran agitation, will die a natural death.
If the Aburi Accord which was rejected by Gen. Gowon and his cohorts had been implemented, Nigeria by now would have gone past the present state of hopelessness and there wouldn’t have been any civil war. I am happy that Gen. Gowon is still alive and witnessing the dramatic turns and twists in a country for which he prosecuted a war that claimed the lives of millions of innocent people.
It wouldn’t be asking for too much, if President Buhari should in partnership with other strategic stakeholders reviews the structure of the federation which is skewed to favour some parts more than others and I strongly believe that there will be no need for quota system and federal character principle if there is true federalism in Nigeria.
There is a profound need to allow fiscal federalism which will enable states and regions exploit their resources, make all the money, develop at their own pace and pay tax to the central government. This is very important. Although it might not sound nice to some people but it remains a hard fact. The U.S. has domesticated her own federalism in such a manner that it has become less-burdensome and less expensive but reasons why we can’t do same in Nigeria are hard to explain.
The principles of the Nigerian federalism are faulty. The Federal bureaucracy is unwieldy with many appointees and departments and agencies gulping scarce resources that would have been better used to develop the country and improve the lot of the people. Most of the government agencies and departments like the National Orientation Agency and Federal Road Safety Corps are mere duplication and oil boom creations that generate more activities than output contributing nothing to the national treasury and why the Oronsaye Report on Civil Service is left to gather dust remains to be told.
Why is the presidency maintaining a fleet of 11 presidential aircraft and at what cost are they being serviced? Obama still flies U.S. Air Force 1, while David Cameron still flies economy class of the British Airways. Why is President Buhari retaining 11 airplanes? Is it not wasteful?
All over the world, it is only in Nigeria that government is the largest employer of labour, and year after year, recurrent expenditure outweighs capital expenditure. No country survives this way as government is not a charity organization.
• Ahanonu writes from Abuja