Nigeria’s Political Economy and National Conference

21 Oct 2013

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President Goodluck Jonathan

By Dr. Akanni Omole

Nigeria as a mere ‘geographical expression’ in his book ‘Path To Nigerian Freedom’. Thereafter, he single-mindedly devoted his entire life to fashioning out with others a nation out of the agglomeration of ethnic nationalities.

The nearest we have progressed to nationhood was pre-independence when Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe, Sir Ahmadu Bello, Chief Obafemi Awolowo, Chief Dennis Osadebey and Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa ran Nigeria competitively and cooperatively until the Northern leadership in support of Chief Samuel Ladoke Akintola opted to fish in the troubled political waters of Western Region where my father’s two respected friends and political leaders locked horns. Chief Samuel Ladoke Akintola as Premier of Western Region chose to defy the Action Group Party leadership of Chief Obafemi Awolowo, former Premier of Western Region. Thus was set in motion a series of events still tormenting Nigeria till today. Chief Anthony Eromosele Enahoro hit the bull’s eye and was spot-on with his prediction of an endless quagmire in the West Regional crisis of 1962. Military after military and democracy in and out time and again yet we appear to be still sleep-walking which we mindless regard as maturing political nationhood.

In my book ‘Planting Ideas (Selected Interventions in Nigerian Political Economy 1985 – 2005), very graciously and very kindly publicly presented  in 2006 by His Excellency Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu, former Executive Governor of Lagos State and Her Excellency Erelu Olusola Obada, former Deputy Governor of Osun State and more recently former Acting Minister of Defence, I had prescribed an eclectic roadmap to a National Conference which brings on board the Presidency, National Assembly and the Six zones of our country. I dare say at this juncture as a senior citizen of this nation, who has closely observed and has written remarkably on our beloved country over the decades, that if honestly and patriotically conducted without hidden agenda the National Conference appears the single roadblock to national disintegration or alternately the feasible roadblock to another military rule as the final option to checkmate national disintegration and war.

Nonetheless the very recent cautious and unenthusiastic response of Asiwaju Tinubu and civil rights icon Femi Falana SAN and others to the prospects of another National Conference are products of precedents of political gimmickry and needless, unproductive grandstanding, cold hidden agenda and self-interested calculations in the more recent 1995 and 2005 National Conferences.

Patriotic national interest always gets shoved aside and supplanted by temporary political self- interest  chess game of conveners of national conferences. This time, to me, it will be too dangerous and too explosive and incendiary to play self-interest, hidden agenda games buying time with another national conference at this time of severe national angst, discord and uneasiness. Will this National Conference be the soothing balm, and that is the trillion naira question. Good governance is the key according to Simon Kolawole, former Editor of ThisDay Newspapers in his very recent Simon Kolawole Live!, Sunday ThisDay page and this cannot be faulted. Again, can we get better governance with a better national structure and more patriotic political leaders?. Yes, we can!

2015 politically does not look bright to me and the seed of the apocalyptic anticipation perhaps was sown in the 2011 political events in the ruling party – People’s Democratic Party (PDP).     General Owoye Azazi, former National Security Adviser and an old friend was right and spot -on in his diagnosis. If what we heard and read in the newspapers can be gospel truth, or ‘gaskiya’ as the Hausa/Fulani will pronounce, then the PDP ought to have fielded a Northern candidate for the 2011 Presidential election going by their party’s internal zoning arrangement. The subversion of this internal political arrangement has proved lethal to the political economy.

It is increasingly obvious now that Femi Fani- Kayode’s prognosis on 2015 remains our albatross to which we must begin to search for a peaceful solution. Hear prolific Femi ‘ whatever happens in 2015 and whoever wins be it a Northerner  or Goodluck Jonathan of the South-South, I see blood on the horizon and I see disaster approaching….. (Nigeria: ‘A Time To Think’ ThisDay, Wednesday October 2, 2013 page 19). The North in the main appears bitter and largely views Jonathan as a usurper, while the South-South appears unwilling to let go whatever the cost. The die is cast.

Our nation is already at the cross roads. Most Nigerians already know and believe that Goodluck Jonathan again intends to contest the 2015 Presidential election on the platform of PDP regardless of the intense intra-party fireworks and seeming implosion. The major opposition party All Progressives Congress (APC) along with others are squaring up to dislodge PDP and the stakes seem immense. Recent sporadic threats and intimidating outburst from Jonathan’s acolytes only muddle up things.

In my previous newspapers articles, I commented on my assessment of the Jonathan’s administration. There have been major achievements in Banking Reform and very supportive intervention funding by Central Bank of Nigeria and Monetary Policy in the real sectors (Agriculture, Manufacturing, Power, Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises MSMEs etc) with constant eight-month long single-digit inflation rate of  8.2% in August 2013 down from 8.7% in July 2013, comfortable external reserves of $45billion in September 2013  and stable exchange rate, reforms in Power Sector, Petroleum Sector, Agriculture, Works, Trade and Industry and aspects of fiscal policy among others.

Economic growth has been fairly impressive and consistent at above 7% annually for some years but unemployment remains stubbornly and unpleasantly high at 24% in 2011 from 12% in 2006. Youth unemployment is even much higher and troubling at over 50% particularly for graduate unemployment. The World Bank and Economists acknowledge Nigeria’s growth trajectory but decry the non-inclusiveness or jobless growth phenomenon. Poverty has escalated and worrisomely stares us in the face from 27% in 1980 to  63% in 2010 and growing. In essence, while 17million Nigerians were poor in 1980, we now have 112million or more poor in 2010 according to the National Bureau of Statistics. As an economist, I hold that with CBN monetary policy and banking policy intervention funding of the real sector and stabilization of our deposit money banks and the burgeoning power sector reforms, it is quite predictable that employment in manufacturing, agriculture and artisan informal sectors will spike and relieve us of the uncomfortable economic growth without employment dilemma.

Thus it will be unfair to view Jonathan’s administration a failure since significant economic growth and development building blocks are being emplaced though there is severe citizen discontent and impatience.
A number of state governments of all parties are also on the move as typified by Lagos State where I domicile. Apparently, they are hamstrung by paucity of revenue about which they have vociferously complained.

However there is no longer any doubt that the federal government has become overbearing in Nigeria’s political theatre and too saddled with undertakings that are better left for the state governments and local governments. The federal governments is also too arrayed with political and economic power over the states, which is clearly antithetical to a true federalism and peaceful coexistence. In ‘Planting Ideas’ I had advocated that the federal government be divested of several of its current functions by whittling down the exclusive legislative list, pruning the concurrent legislative list while the residual legislative list broadens. This is power devolution. Of course revenue sharing  that is currently lopsided in favour of the federal government should be reviewed to do justice to the increased functions of states and local governments as the Governors Forum has clamoured.

I had reiterated my standpoint in ‘Nigerian Economy And Its Ailing President’ (ThisDay, Monday, January 25, 2010 p 43) thus ‘On the political economy front it is unlikely that this Yar’Adua administration or any other post- 2011 PDP federal government will be able to continue with business as usual in Nigeria much longer without power devolution or fiscal federalism or true federalism, which no doubt will in the spirit of early post-independence governance in our country empower component units of our federation, engender robust competition and inward -looking revenue generation and economic development with the nation moving forward less acrimoniously and more visibly . Every zone and state in Nigeria , north or south, will be beneficially more up and doing particularly in internal revenue generation (IGR). With more self- reliance in the component units of our federation and the federal  behemoth trimmed with reduced economic dominance both by reduced federation account revenue allocation and responsibilities for the federal government (federation account allocation to favour the states and local governments more and the exclusive/concurrent legislative lists pared or whittled down to the benefit of the residual legislative list) the objective of the 7-point economic agenda and movements on Vision 20-2020 can become more achievable as Yar’Adua’s   eternally indelible contribution to political economy whether or not he remains as our president for the rest of his current tenure or post -2011. It is noteworthy and significant that a political and administrative pragmatist like President Ibrahim Babangida has stridently and relentlessly harped on this inevitability in recent times.

In short, a major objective of the National Conference should be to restructure our nation for more viability and economic competition and cooperation in our zones/states as handed over to us by our great founding fathers Awolowo,  Azikiwe and Sardauna, Sir Ahmadu Bello (who I particularly admire) and Denis Osadebey. The federal government should handle the unifying factors like external affairs, monetary and banking policy, defence,customs and immigration etc. We should now seriously consider state police if our state governors must continue as the chief security officers of their respective states. Both the federal and state authorities in Nigeria have shown the tendency to mishandle and misuse power hence abuse and misuse of the state police can no longer stand to justify not establishing state police under proper exceptional controls.
The craze for federal power has become harmful and deleterious to the good health of our country and it is time to demystify federal power and reduce the urge for acquiring federal power by all means  and matter of life and death by our breed of politicians. The national conference should shift the centre of gravity in Nigeria from the federal to the zones  and states.

In  ‘Planting Ideas’ I did not support sovereign national conference because it can be disruptive and I believe that no state governor or state government will opt to establish a collateral political authority outside the executive, parliament and judiciary during its tenure. Just as there are inter-ethnic differences in the federal polity so there are divisive intra-ethnic differences even within the states, so why advocate a sovereign conference in the federal polity if not in the states. My support in ‘Planting Ideas’ was and still is for eclectic national conference involving the Presidency where an enabling bill should emanate for passage into law by the National Assembly and eventual harmonization or ‘joint session’ dialogue between national conference representatives and those of National Assembly to support gray areas in the National Conference recommendations before final passing into law and entrenchment into the constitution by the National Assembly and State Houses of Assembly. All these can be fast-tracked before 2015 elections. A referendum is at this point superfluous and cannot be accommodated by the 1999 constitution which in any case still remains in force.

If we succeed and devise power devolution and fiscal federalism with the national conference it is obvious that a group of state will initially benefit tremendously particularly Niger-Delta States while other states particularly Northern states may be negatively affected. My contention is that the Northern states remain the most potentially wealthiest part of Nigeria. Since the  death of Sardauna, the North has not had similarly good leadership whether military or democratic and the more recent military leaders from the North like very respected General Ibrahim Babangida and General Abdulsalam Abubakar were more national in outlook and did not actually treat the North, as it actually was, a disadvantaged region. Perhaps the Northern elite benefited but the masses of the North terribly lagged behind. The good news is that the North will gain most from power devolution and fiscal federalism if they adjust their thinking caps, convert their agriculture (the North contributes over 20% to Nigeria’s GDP through agriculture alone, while petroleum and gas contributes just 14%), reinstate Marketing Boards by the states and export their agricultural produce.

In my article ‘Halting  Nigeria’s Drift Into Neo-Liberal Black Hole’ (Sunday Vanguard October 5, 2008 pg 46) I wrote “If the Northern Governments in particular will take my  above advice to reinstate commodity boards which Falalu Bello very commendably restated, the so-called ‘poverty is a Northern phenomenon’ will surely be put to shame with agriculture contributing 40% of GDP in Nigeria and the Northern contribution is at least 25% in a nominal GDP of about $140 billion, it means that approximate value of Northern agricultural products particularly in the current escalated global food and commodity prices is over $30billion. Surely, even an internally generated $20billion from agricultural exports alone would go a long way to diminish so-called Northern dependence on crude oil-fed federation account allocations and avail further means to attack widespread citizen poverty.

In essence, the priority of the North in my view now should not be federal power at all cost in the present over-bloated and imperial federal government (though the North has a clearly justifiable claim) but rather unleashing the latent wealth of the North in agriculture, solid minerals and even crude oil exploration in a devolved federal structure. The national conference should map out how federation account revenue allocation can, to start with, boost the capacity of the state governments to derive more internally generated revenue, and special intervention funding or intervention agencies initiated dedicated to economically disadvantaged states similar to the massive intervention funding in Niger-Delta.

The Northern and Southern Protectorates and Lagos Colony have constituted Lord Lugard’s Nigeria since 1914. We are nearing our centenary year. The country has survived a virulent civil war (1967 – 1970) and violent ethnic, religious and social upheavals.  There is no reason why this nation will not continue to survive as a single, indivisible entity.
The national conference is a family meeting of ethnic components (nationalities) and other special interests in this nation. Family meetings do not break or disrupt families, they rather unite and strengthen family members for individual and collective progress.

Omole,  an economist, consultant and author writes from Lagos

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