UNMASKING RESOURCE CONTROL

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James Onanefe Ibori

MONDAY COMMENT2

 Nigeria should be run on basis of fiscal federalism, writes Tony Ademiluyi

Many supporters and friends of Chief James Onanefe Ibori contend that his incarceration in the United Kingdom was political. They opine that the real reason he was a Guest of her Majesty was because of his belief in resource control and his clamour for true federalism which would make the centre less attractive. The current 13 per cent is too minute for the development of the Niger Delta and the governors want much more of the large pie.

One of the errors that the late General Johnson Aguiyi-Ironsi made was in making Nigeria a unitary state. That decision is still haunting Nigeria till date.

Abuja is too powerful and it makes nonsense of the constitutional powers that the governors are supposed to possess. Many states are insolvent because the mindset of the governors has been conditioned to running to the centre to collect bailouts to pay salaries and run recurrent expenditure. How tragic!

The 1963 constitution was a locus classicus for true federalism and should have been retained rather than the 1999 constitution that is a unitary state-favoured document. The military had a strong hand in the drafting of the 1979 and 1999 constitutions as they didn’t totally want to relinquish power to the ‘bloody’ civilians.

Governors weren’t elected to just pay salaries. Many are handicapped as they hardly generate sufficient revenue from their respective states to do massive infrastructural developments.

Let’s take a critical look at the security challenges. Most governors are the chief security officers of their states in name but not in practice as the commissioners of police take their orders from the Inspector-General of Police. This gives armed bandits the time and leeway to kill and maim innocent citizens since the governor isn’t in control of the police. While I personally support veteran journalist Kadaria Ahmed’s position in blasting the Zamfara State governor, Alhaji Abdulazeez Yari for being irresponsible for ruling from Abuja, his hands would also have been tied if he had sat in Gusau as the bureaucracy in the police force would have made him extremely helpless.

Some aspects of the exclusive list will also be divested to the concurrent. For instance, the issue of seaports building. Imagine if there were seaports in Anambra, Bayelsa and Ondo amongst other states that have easy sea access, Lagos will automatically become decongested as businessmen will move to these other cities in droves. The rural-urban migration will be drastically reduced as well as the crime rate.

Resource control will inadvertently lead to state or community policing whereby the policemen are indigenes of the states they work in and live and are well acquainted with the neighbourhood. Many crimes including the herdsmen crisis would have been forestalled if this police model was the reality.

Chief Obafemi Awolowo would not have built the entire infrastructure in barely five years under this unitary system arrangement. Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe wouldn’t have declined entering into the alliance with the Action Group to become Prime Minister if the regions were weak. Sir Ahmadu Bello would have become the nation’s first prime minister if the nation operated a unitary structure.

Before independence, there was healthy competition among the three regions. The west had its cocoa, east had its coal and oil palm while the north had its groundnut pyramids and cattle. A certain percentage was remitted to the centre and the premiers were not going cap-in-hand to Lagos, the then capital to beg for funds to meet the needs of their civil service.

 The 13 per cent derivation currently given to the south-south zone is rather small and smirks of a great injustice. The lopsided unitary system has made the nation witness the ugly scenario where the holders of the highest oil blocs hail from outside the Niger Delta. The zone has been raped with all manner of oil spills and long lasting damage to her rivers so that her inhabitants can no longer fish anymore. Resource control would mean that the states will control the allocation of the oil blocs and there will be more justice as more indigenes would be owners of them. Also the international oil companies operating in that area would be forced to do more in terms of corporate social responsibility since they would be dealing directly with the state and not the centre.

It will also correct some imbalances currently plaguing the system. Lagos State for instance remits the highest VAT on alcohol and cigarettes but the biggest beneficiaries are the northern states which are supposed Sharia law bound. States will be forced to look inwards to generate their internally generated revenue while still remitting some to the centre. We will also witness the shift from natural resources to human resources. The reality is that this is where the world is heading to and we mustn’t be left behind. Oil would most likely lose its global relevance two decades from now. What is the supposed ‘Giant of Africa’ doing to diversify her economy from the sole dependence on oil?

A state like Ondo with a seaport will become a major exporter of bitumen as it has one of the highest deposits in the world. If a dry port is built in Osun State, it will enable her become a major exporter of agricultural produce. Consider the fertile lands in Oyo and Benin and if a dry port is built in these places. It will solve our current major challenge of food rejection at the international market when the states know that there won’t be any bailout funds for them coming from Abuja.

Nnewi will become an automobile hub and the vehicles made there will be exported abroad while the government gains through taxes. The seaport in Anambra will bring in lots of businesses which will translate into more jobs for the people especially the restless youths. Aba will be a cluster for the production of clothes and footwear and there will be a nationwide campaign for the wearing of clothes and shoes produced in Nigeria which will make these industrious traders up the ante of their game as their eyes will be set on capturing a fair share of the export market. The need to imitate foreign clothes and shoes will be totally eliminated as Nigerians will take pride in putting them on.

The individual states will identify their areas of comparative advantage and develop them accordingly. There will be healthy rivalry amongst the states as they strive to outdo one another to provide nothing short of the best for their inhabitants and indigenes. The urge to go abroad at all costs – going by road to Europe will be reduced as the enabling to succeed at home will be greatly enhanced.

In every dysfunctional system there are beneficiaries who don’t want the party to cease. There are politicians, special interest groups and businessmen who are profiting from this current political structure. It will be a herculean task to dislodge them but it’s not impossible to do so.

The onus rests on the National Assembly to prepare the grounds for the holding of a Sovereign National Conference so that this thorny issue of resource control can be heartily debated on for a more peaceful coexistence. The occupiers of the red and green chambers are elected representatives who should be recalled if they end up doing the bidding of the conservatives who want the current structure to subsist.

Power should indeed ultimately belong to the people.

Ademiluyi wrote from Lagos