‘Restructuring, way out of Nigeria’s economic woes’
Eghosa Osaghae is a professor of Comparative Politics and the Vice Chancellor of Igbinedion University, Okada, Edo State. In this interview with MICHAEL EGBEJULE, he speaks on the socio-economic and political challenges of the country and the need for restructuring among other issues.
What’s your assessment of Nigeria’s democracy 56 years after?
You cannot assess Nigeria’s democracy 56 years after, because Nigeria has not been a democracy in all of these years. You want to assess democracy down the latest phase from 1999. But if you want to assess the state of the country itself, and how it has fared politically, it’s a big plus to Nigeria, if, inspite of all its problems, it has remained one. Many will say it’s a troubled state, troubled by many things: economy, social problems and issues of governance, those who occupy political structure of the country.
I think that by and large, the fact that the country has survived calls for celebration. That also means that we should review many of these problems that we have faced. The economy has been in doom and just a recycled economy; that is a lot of heavy mono-cultural economy. If you depend on fuel commodity, as we do as an oil dependent economy, when there is a good one in the international market, we have a boom, and when there is a bad one, we have a burst. Now, how does a country like Nigeria manage to get out of this kind of inevitable process?
Nigeria is a federal system; federalism is not a magic work. What federalism does is to provide a framework within the issues of political accommodation; equity, resource and resource sharing can be tabled and hopefully resolved. Those who say federalism has failed in Nigeria are not entirely correct, because we have had problems in Nigeria. We have had problems of governance, corruption and over-centralisation. These are problems that have weakened the workings of our Federal system. What federalism does is that, when the changes of a political society, for instance, demands are changing. Federalism has resilience, as a man-made constitutional divide to respond to these demands in terms of new instrumentality. Basically, we have moved from a region-centred federal system to a nation-centred federal system and now people are saying we need to go back and to dilute the over-centralization of our federal system, we will need to restructure; first, we need to understand the context of restructuring.
Federalism is a continuous system of bargain. We don’t have a federal system that provides an adequate framework. Structuring and restructuring are elements built into the very definition of federalism. We don’t have a federal system that provides an adequate framework for intergovernmental issues. Look at the contradictions; those who are advocating for restructuring that have very fundamental economic dimensions are the ones also opposing the sale of federal assets.
If you want to do restructuring, this is the time. If you want to take the resources out of the hands of the Federal Government and who says the state government cannot buy those assets? Who says the state government cannot even become more active? But in terms of restructuring, I think the approach that we need is the approach of state activism. State autonomy and state finances are not things that the Federal Government can award.
States that have access to their own funds can build airport, can get into solid minerals, can do many things, but the excuse is that, these are matters in the exclusive list. There is something called judicial review, the state must test the constitutional waters. You don’t have to wait for federal government for you to do this or that, many states have done things that I would not have talked about. Lagos state have been getting itself in hospitality business, the hotels, the entertainment centres and the Federal Government join issues with them, and they went to court and Lagos state won – states must do that.
The Federal Government says it is going to withhold allocations for local council, because states are creating councils. I expect on state to draw up its own constitution. I expect another state to adopt its own flag – these are symbolic forms of autonomy, more economically attractive. These whole business called ‘resource control’ has an ideological package that suggest that you are going to control the resources by fighting the federal government. States can control their own resources without a fight, like I said build a port, go into agriculture, do the kind of things that states like Lagos is doing. Federalism has being quite helpful, and continued to provide a framework within which all these things are being worked out. It also gives hope that we will get there.
Is the call for the sell of national assets in the right direction?
It is an integral part of restructuring. The Federal Government has too much, which suggests why it has become inefficient and unable to manage the resources. Look at all the refineries; there is too much concentration on the Federal Government. Things have to work and incentives given. I am saying that the process of effective Federal Government system needs very huge power.
What is the way out of the present economic recession?
Recession is endemic to the mono-cultural nature of our economy. For as long as we are an oil dependent country, for as long as we depend on one or few products, for so long, we will continue to have something that we cannot handle. People talk about diversifying; Nigeria is already making a lot of money from Nollywood. We need to focus more on the private sector, keep the private sector working again; there is too much governmentality about the whole thing.
Government is responsible for too many things and therefore, once government has a problem, all of us feel it; I think we need to reenergise our private sector and that private sector, has to on its own, defend the territory and attract foreign investment. We need to have an indigenous private sector, which is what we want to be hearing. So, diversification does not mean only going into agriculture alone, our universities must become more viable and they must generate money. A situation where all universities depend fully on government resources is not one that can be sustained.