BARRING any change of mind, the Muhammadu Buhari government would convoke a summit soon to discuss Nigeria’s seemingly intractable economic problems.
I understand the dire straits in which the Nigerian economy is. But I am insisting, without any equivocation, that this problem, to parody the words of my uncle, Gbolabo Ogunsanwo, in another context, ‘is no Magna Carta for mandibular walkabout.’
The price of oil, the country’s economic mainstay, is down and Nigeria can hardly settle its bills. Many states are actually bankrupt and cannot pay workers’ wages let alone embark on any capital project. Debts, the type two or more generations from now would still find burdensome, have piled up while the infrastructure for which much of the money was borrowed remains decrepit. The real sector, already on its way to extinction on account of poor infrastructure appears to have received a ticket for the fast track with the value of the naira, the national currency, on an irreversible flight downhill.
Soon, experts from all fields of human endeavour would be invited and there would be a deluge of ideas on how to save the ship, some useful, some not so useful, others impracticable and not a few plainly asinine. None, however, would be new. Enough is on the shelves of government gathering dust.
Whether Buhari would hold that summit simply because it has been suggested by some well-intentioned people, including the iconic Wole Soyinka; or because the government is genuinely clueless about how to save Nigeria from ruination and actually needs to hear from a broader section of the nation; or even because a conversation on the economic well-being of Nigerians would provide a useful diversion from the reality of their economic ill-being, there is nothing wrong with a summit. The sound of our voices is one piece of music Nigerians love so much and listening to that music at its loudest, cacophonous best may be therapy for this tough, unbearable times.
Ibrahim Babangida did it over an International Monetary Fund, IMF, loan, in the 80s and after so much verbal masturbation, the result, still with us till today, was what such frenetic dissipation of talking energy without purpose produces: Nothing good.
If anything, it turned out the government of the day had actually made up its mind on what to do and merely sent the people on a talking match for its own sake with a view to dubiously giving them a sense of participation.
So let the Save-The-Economy talks begin.
Before the flag-off, however, it is important for all Nigerians to reflect on what the purpose of Nigeria is. Or what it should be. The lie the country has become must first be deconstructed and its essence, its truth established, before the process of building any successful economy on it can start.
Nigeria must first be a truly federal state, true to itself in truth to that description.
At independence, under the leadership of the quadruplet of Nnamdi Azikiwe, Obafemi Awolowo, Ahmadu Bello and Abubakar Tafawa Balewa, Nigeria held out so much promise in a truly federal union. It promised and was delivering life lived fairly well, unity not questioned and equity not undermined.
Since the truncation of that journey and, sadly, with every attempt at democracy including the ongoing one, the lie has grown bigger by the day and Nigeria, as run by its leaders, has defaulted in its promise to Nigerians. What was once a country has over the years been distorted into an entity which defies all description, neither federal nor unitary. Sadly too, it neither prospers to its full potentials nor fulfil its purpose to its people.
Yet, Nigeria’s purpose is manifestly clear, even if the same clarity of purpose cannot be ascribed to its ruling elite: a rainbow nation in which all find a shade, an umbrella under which all, big or small find shelter, a land rich enough, square metre for square metre, for all to dig or till and to feed or prosper from. Diverse in people and diverse in resources, Nigeria has it all.
But this diversity, a most potent strength, is one attribute Nigeria has done its best to deny or even undermine because of laziness or convenience which has engendered the conventional wisdom that oil alone is what can sustain the country and that an acknowledgment of our political diversity, which would necessitate adoption of economic diversity models as well as the need for individual hard work, undermines the nation’s unity.
As with all fallacies, this has, of course, resulted in a multiple deck of fallacies, culminating in distrust, inequity, poor governance and the kind of economic stagnation Nigeria is in today.
To say the least, the trouble is Nigeria’s leadership which has been relentlessly unreasonable in the quest for solutions to the country’s problems. Selfishness, greed, corruption over free money from oil and a false empire mentality combine to bring the Nigerian elite into one united army against the country’s progress. Members of the ruling class may disagree over how to loot and under-develop Nigeria but they are forever in agreement over keeping the country in a false federation that guarantees its continued pillaging.
In the best of times, when there was so much money to go round, Nigeria never failed to advertise its wobbly structure as crumbling under the weight of its own self deceit and contradictions, a beauty shouting out loudly that all was meretricious!
The architectural design of Nigeria’s federal system is faulty and the economic structure built on it is incapable of breeding prosperity for the people. Because of this distorted federal structure, too much of the resources are concentrated in an idle central government which has caused so much waste in untapped resources, inequity in the distribution of the tapped, marginalisation of most, exclusion from economic empowerment, poverty and discontent for the majority.
So, in the quest for solutions to the current economic hardship in which Nigeria is mired, another summit would seem to me unnecessary. Rather, an immediate implementation of the report of the 2014 National Conference is the first step the country must take in the journey out of the crisis. It is not enough to build an economy. An economy can only be built in a certain kind of country. Otherwise, every success would be ephemeral while life-long failure, with both material and human casualties, is guaranteed.
As I once wrote on this page, no unit or interest in Nigeria has all it wants. But all have enough in those 2014 recommendations to begin the work of genuine development, to find a reinvigorated faith in the union and find the money to develop each unit by tilling or digging its own soil.
Anything other than a thorough interrogation of the purpose of Nigeria and how to make the country have a rendezvous with its destiny will never work. Unless we do away with a system that shackles the country to the hegemonic fantasies of a few, unites the people in poverty by caging their creative abilities, and breeds the coalition of a deprived majority, prone to easy manipulation by a thieving minority, any summit or recommendations there from can only be mere talk, a waste of time and a waste of money.
That conference report has done a bit of what is needed to get Nigeria started.
It contains more than 600 resolutions as well as practical recommendations for the upward journey of Nigeria to true federalism and economic prosperity.
On state police, which is sure to guarantee security and invite business investments, a modified governance system that incorporates elements of both the presidential and the parliamentary style, reduction in the cost of governance, abrogation of the local government as a tier, a new revenue sharing formula that raises the states’ accrual to 35 per cent and reduces the centre’s to 42 from about 56 per cent, that document contains suggestions that, if taken, should kick-start Nigeria’s journey to political stability and economic prosperity.
In addition, it contains doors of opportunity for the entrance into such core issues as true federalism and devolution of powers which should end inequity in resource exploration and utilisation which are at the root of the abject poverty of states as well as the people across the nation.
For instance, in recognition of the need to harness all resources for Nigeria’s economic development, it has been recommended that “states that wish to merge may do so in accordance with the extant constitution” while “states may also create zonal commissions to promote economic development, good governance, equity, peace and security.”
Suffice to say that there is nothing wrong with Nigeria today that cannot be rectified by what is right with the country. The solutions and step-by-step implementation plans are already on the shelf.
Once again, Nigeria’s economic problems today may be enormous. But they are no Magna Carta for any mandibular vagabondism! Enough of talk. Let there be real action!
Put in place a system that frees all of Nigeria’s resources, one that liberates all of the people’s creative energies, unshackles all of their hands and lets them all loose on the work of building Nigeria.
Afterwards, let’s have a summit on the results!
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