The news last Monday that the Niger-Delta Avengers had finally announced what seemed like a definitive cease-fire must have come as a relief to many of us for different reasons—although it cannot be disputed that there would be many who would have benefited enormously from the carnation and chaos and therefore would not be too happy by the cessation of hostilities and this new resolve to give peace a chance.
Many an innocent soul in the region had lost lives, properties and livelihood. Even those who might not have been directly deprived would have been worried stiff at the enveloping uncertainty and brutality.
To the rest of us outside the region, the sigh of relief is no less palpable. It means oil might be able to flow again. It means the pressure on the naira would be reduced and we might be able to go back to our indulgences—foreign travels, foreign clothes and accessories and even foreign raw materials.
So dependent are we on oil that the euphoria which greeted the news early in the year that Lagos State had discovered oil in commercial quantities simply meant for us, that we would be less dependent on the Niger-Delta oil—not on oil itself. It seems that despite all the talk about economic diversification which has been going on for at least three decades, all we are really waiting for is the next oil well that would be discovered by foreign multi-nationals using foreign technology, using foreign labour.
We seem, even for the sake of national pride, to be unable and unwilling to diversify or even to add value to what God and nature had given us since 1958. This unfortunately, also seems to be my reading of President Buhari’s directive to NNPC to intensify oil exploration in the Chad and Benue regions. The lesson from the shut-in of oil by the Avengers is not to look for another oil well somewhere else. It is to diversify our economy and look for different sources of revenue from all over Nigeria. In doing so, we really don’t have to re-invent the wheel. We have a viable template in the United States of America whose presidential system we copied.
I want to believe that the late Head of State, General Murtala Mohammed was looking with a third eye when he opted for the US type of presidential democracy. He saw what might not be easily discernible; that Nigeria could be as great as America if we followed their template. A close scrutiny will reveal that a lot of what makes America great is also present in Nigeria.
There is the population—we are a quarter of the black race; there is the abundant natural resources—we are also God’s own country in that regard; there is the varied vegetation—from desert to mangrove swamp which can accommodate different kinds of agriculture; there is the diverse culture—which can be used for good or ill; then there is the more than ample human resource—at home and in the diaspora- to turn the fortune of the country round. Yet where the US is in the first three positions in every index of human development, we are usually to be found in the last three. The fault is not in our stars but in our system.
The one thing that makes the US great despite its many imperfections, is that it is a land of opportunities. It is that phantom, intangible thing called ‘the American dream’. When the blacks swamped the track and field in athletics there was no quota system to stop them; when the blacks moved into basketball, there was no legislation; when they found their groove in music and developed a natural inclination for showbiz, there were no laws to hold them back; when the likes of Jesse Jackson started the race in the political arena and the likes of Barak Obama took the baton with his audacity of hope, it turned out the seemingly formidable barrier was made of glass after all.
When the Latinos came in they also found their opportunities and fortunes. The message is clear; you can be anything you want in America if you apply your God given talents and your luck holds. And because of this, a lot of Nigerians who would have been stifled in their own country are thriving in the US.
Compared to America and indeed any of the developed world, Nigeria is over regulated and over centralised. The power at the centre is enormous and its uses and patronages are a disincentive to growth. President Buhari at his first coming as Head of State made what became a famous statement when he said: ‘We have no other country but Nigeria and we must salvage it together’. Yet it was General Babangida who released the stranglehold on the economy then by abolishing the import license system which only enriched the rent seeking elite.
If President Buhari loves Nigeria as much as he says, then he must release her. Too many barriers, too many regulations are holding Nigeria and her development prostrate. Restructure the states and make them viable. Let the Niger-Delta region do that it wants with its oil; let the regions that have gold, tin, nickel, coal, bauxite etc have control over what is on their soil and in their soil as long as they all pay the necessary taxes. Let the local economy along with education, infrastructure and security be the preserve of the respective regions. Just as it is done in the US.
The idea of states coming to Abuja for monthly allocation has to stop. It is anti-creativity and growth. With time, we will find that the richest states are not the ones with oil; just as California is far richer than Texas. A state once lobbied against having a film village sited in its domain without thinking about the economic consequences of its action.
Would it have done that if it didn’t have Abuja to run to? Especially if it realises that Hollywood nets over 500billion dollars for California. The same thing with a state that bans the consumption of alcohol and yet benefits from the V.A.T on alcohol from other states. It is an anomaly. Just as it is unfair to take an oil bloc from somebody’s backyard and allocate it to someone from another region in the name of one Nigeria.
A restructured economy is one that is free of distortions—be it import license, oil block license, fuel subsidy, forex subsidy, duty waiver, political and ethnic patronage etc. it is one that is inclusive. It is one that allows states to look inwards and compete healthily against each other. It is one that allows intellectual properties to thrive.
Release the energy of Nigeria and release the entrepreneurial spirit of your people. Then sit back and watch Nigeria become the destination of choice for foreign and local investors. Any leader who can rise above parochial sentiments by restructuring Nigeria using the US template properly would probably become the father of modern day Nigeria. Will our President rise to the occasion?