Despite the perpetual whirring sound of governments, Nigeria slowly sinks anyway in the quicksand of intractable problems. These problems - poor governance, resource waste, disabling inefficiency, Boko Haram terrorism, Fulani herdsmen savagery, etc - have become so insurmountable that citizens now simply live with them as they live with bad weather. Except that nasty weather eventually passes on.
We have been careless with Nigeria. We didn’t cherish it. We didn’t nurture it. We have been negligent in allowing Nigeria to slide into a future where its teething problems now constitute roadblocks to its progress. The mud in which we are mired is now above the chin. We have got to renegotiate Nigeria before the mud creeps to under our nose.
Nigerians who are genuinely cynical about restructuring will be right to argue that all Nigeria needs is good leadership with efficient institutions. Problem is, our operational structure is the root cause of why we are not getting good leadership and why we have lame and useless institutions. Right now, whoever is the president has to yell before any of our slumbering institutions comes alive for a few hours only to die off again.
Former Nigeria strongman, Gen. Yakubu Gowon (rtd), recently opined that restructuring of Nigeria is impossible because “there would be various definitions of restructuring by various ethnic groups.” He went on to concur that he didn’t think “the states would be financially viable” to enable [restructured] regions “run their states properly.” Gowon is not alone with this logic, and I’ve never quite got it each time. That there will be many definitions of restructuring does not in itself vitiate the need for restructuring. We are borrowing jumbo loans and selling junk bonds to float Nigeria as it currently exists, anyway. The socio-economic viability of the entire Nigerian state is precisely the driving force for restructuring!
I have noticed that the Nigerian political class who are still sitting on the fence about the subject feign ignorance and confusion over it for want of a clear definition of restructuring from those calling for it. Strangely, even some among those not sitting on the fence still expect a single idea of the restructuring of Nigeria for all citizens. Twelve elites from the North which included Bashir Tofa, Fatimah Balla, Sam Nda-Isiaih, etc, recently released a proposal for Nigeria to restructure back to the 1967 12-state structure (ironically Gowon’s structure). They too alluded to the point about the South not having the same idea of restructuring and almost impressed it upon their reader that theirs could pass for a unified One-North idea on restructuring. Nothing could be more misleading.
The notion or expectation that restructuring would mean the same thing to all Nigerians at this early stage in the timeline is both irrelevant and unrealistic. It is inherent in contemporary Nigeria that restructuring will mean different things to its frustrated constituting blocs. The following are some extant dangers that call for renegotiation of Nigeria, as soon as possible.
Inefficient and Costly Government
The current 4-tier federal structure comprised of bicameral Legislatures, the Executive and Judiciary is supported by 36 undeveloped States and 774 primitive Local Government Areas (LGAs). Each of the feckless 109 senators and vacuous 360 representatives earns more than the President of the United States of America. The whole administrative pyramid simply works as a pay center for sharing revenue accruals among the tiers of government and the states, every desperate month. The workforce across the entire overwrought system stands at over a million. At least, 23 states are owing workers’ salaries and gratuities up to 42 months of active workers and 11 years of pensioners, in some states.
Suffices to say all but one of our thoughtless 36 States are not viable because they lack the capability to generate revenue internally (IGR). All depend on federally shared revenues to survive. Benue State currently has a monthly wage burden of N7.8b compared to its total income (Federal allocation plus IGR) of about N6b. Samuel Ortom, the State governor, bemoaned, “So, if you are paying salaries alone, you have a deficit of N1.8b a month.” It is obvious that there is absolutely no way Benue State could ever become a Ghana like this, let alone a South Korea. It bears repeating, such a public finance model is both foolish and unsustainable.
The result is we consume over 70 percent of our GDP in recurrent expenditure just to maintain an idiotic administrative structure, leaving inadequate resources for actual developmental capital programs. Apart from inability to pay its bloated workforce, the system, of course, doesn’t work. Nowhere in Nigeria is developed except in the freaking head of the political leadership. Nigeria cannot afford the cost of its present bogus administrative structure. Borrowing loans to fund budgets and pay salaries is not sustainable. We need to restructure our way out to stay alive, together.
Separatist and Autonomy Agitations
The new wave of tumult and agitations over political controls by blocs is another issue that is bursting Nigeria at the seams. The internalized grievance of revenue generating states over their shares from the center has smoldered for years. The Federal Government controls the incoming revenues generated by the states and shares at 52.68 percent to the center, 26.72 percent to the states and 20.60 percent to the LGAs. Well, the sharing formula translates to 13 percent of local resource to oil producing states which generate over 90 percent of Nigeria’s external revenue. Lagos State which generates 55 percent of all value added taxes collected does not have a safe harbor in the sharing allocations anymore than the consumptive Adamawa State has. These bellwether states want majority control over their assets.
The fight over resource control is the reason the Niger Delta militants of the SS developed the capacity to decimate Nigeria’s daily oil barrel output anytime they want by blowing up crude oil pipelines. To date, Nigeria’s only creative solution is to pay N65,000 monthly, per head, to additive batches of 30,000 Niger Delta youths, specifically to dissuade them from blowing up the pipelines. They call it amnesty. But it never ends, you’ve got to keep making blackmail payments to keep hungry, angry and jobless youths calm. Not surprising government recently increased the annual Amnesty budget from N20b (2016) to N30b (2017) plus another N5b in milestone payments. It will probably take a millennium like this to emancipate the Niger Delta as a community, if at all.
Concurrently, separatists of the Igbo SE vow their Igbo land could have become a Singapore had it not been for the suffocating marriage with Nigeria, they want out of the union altogether. The SW Yoruba defiantly insist they will not be satisfied with Nigeria until it restructures to a true regional confederacy with autonomy to each region. Over time, the Yoruba position emerged as the absolute consensus minimum for the whole of Southern Nigeria. As usual, Nigeria’s most creative solution to all of these internally generated low-intensity conflicts (IGLICs) is to ignore the SW, shoot and appease the SS and do fatal snake dances on the SE. Makes you wonder how far and how fast Nigeria expects to go doing business like a sailor.
In fairness, Nigeria has limited options in its response to national problems due to contradistinctions in its genetic makeup. So IGLICs steadily expand in seriousness and scope rather than go away. It is time to start thinking renegotiation of Nigeria in earnest.
Terrorism and Herdsmen
Nigeria is in the middle of two wars it is unable to win. Boko Haram (BH) terrorism has raged across Northern Nigeria since 2009, killing hundreds of thousands and displacing over 5 million for the purpose of, get this, establishing an Islamic state. The entire NE region is today a wasteland of death and destruction littered with internally displaced person (IDP) camps housing over 1.5 million forlorn citizens. This war has perforated through years of sham states of emergency and monumental corruption between treacherous government leadership and unconscionable war generals. Government remains unable to dislodge BH from its stronghold in the NE Sambisa forest, prevent barbaric attacks by the ragtag BH soldiers on communities and military barracks or actually kill Abubakar Shekau, the BH head devil, for real.
Weaponized Fulani herdsmen are from the other side of hell of BH’s. I call them, the crazy Fulani herdsmen (TCFH). TCFH insist on roaming their cows through communities killing landowners and destroying farms, typically in nightly and early dawn rampages. To date, thousands of Nigerians have been raped and slaughtered along grazing tracts across the country. Government set up countless useless commissions of inquiries during the day but begged the savage TCFH at nightfall with “amnesty” cash payments to stop the killings. I am not kidding.
As neither dopey tactic worked, the government decided to create a grazing free zone across Nigeria to placate TCFH, but landowners vowed that would be over their dead bodies. The real problem is, a bloc of Nigeria actually believes in the rights of the Fulani herdsmen to roam their cowherds as they please! A few of the States that have experienced senseless TCFH killings of their citizens have banned cow roaming through their states, but already the bans are under test with violations by TCFH. So, mindless killing of life and destruction of crops and livelihood continue.
How many countries are there on the planet with such a shitload of contradictions as we have in Nigeria? And how many of such countries survive it without changing their modus operandi?
Official Looting and Incompetence
Hard to tell whether it is looting that breeds incompetence or incompetence looting in Nigeria. But it is easy to see that our permissive system breeds both of them. Nigeria is buried in rubles of scandalous looting and legendary incompetence. The political leadership cannibalizes over 80 percent of the country’s resources routinely, leaving the citizens without jobs, food security, electricity, good roads, quality education, not even a keyhole access to potable water.
One greasy portion of the constitution that continuously lubricates our national corruption machine is the provision of executive immunity for president, vice president, governors and deputy governors, while in office. By this regulation, the rapacious Nigerian politicians find free hands in plundering entire national receivables without questioning or auditing. This provision has a spill-over effect unto the top echelons of the political system in which not only do immune officers remain protected even after leaving office, too many lackeys and associates are available to courier, store and launder stolen public funds under state shelter of the protected.
There is probably as much argument for keeping the immunity clause in our constitution as there is for removing it. But something has got to be done about giving unsupervised rights to crooks and the scoundrel in charge of the national treasury.
Foreclosing the idea of restructuring to simple devolution of power from the center to the states, as the duplicitous Nigerian political firmament is currently positioning itself, would be gross simplification of our problems. State governors are already too powerful, reveling in overexposure of their states to debt and wreckage. Majority of them are narcissists and functional illiterates with no experience for their high office. Their concept of how to manage a state is not any more basic than having state civil servants work for free while they spend the state allocations on contract awards for roads, hospitals, public programs, even votes. After just 4-8 years in office, governors escape in golden parachutes and outrageous life pensions leaving the states with debts and dirt poor people in disrepair.
Nigeria is in a hung state. I don’t see the Eldorado hills ahead of us as we remain incapacitated by structural problems. Devolution of more power to state governors without a leash is ultimate nonsense. We will require major amendments to our famously outdated constitution. The current marauding legislators will not be thrilled to carry this out because doing so will terminate their life of greed, looting, and wanton waste.
Referendum is it! Replace the House of Representatives with a House of elected traditional rulers who are actually closer to the people but collectively receive a chunk of our GDP in salaries for merely being decorated sidekicks to their state governors, cut down the bicameral legislatures to one, reduce legislative assembly to part time, merge the state assemblies in a zone into one zone assembly, slice Nigeria up into grazing free tracts for the herdsmen, cut the BH some slacks, state security or regional security, etc. It doesn’t matter if we have a library full of menu items for restructuring. Referendum is the modern way of the world to resolve sticky national issues.
Referendum is not tantamount to a breakup of Nigeria if we screw it together well. The exigencies of a failed Nigeria will force brethren ethnic blocs to gravitate and work with each other for self-preservation. Each zone will chew its restructuring items to powder in numerous town hall debates, then cast them in local proposition ballots for people of the zone to select by vote. Then each zone takes its selected items to the sovereign national conference(s) at the center.
Time is of the essence. The white man left now 57 years ago. Our problems, na we own.
We’ve got to think out of the box.
Let the referendum debate begin.
Dr. Salako writes from Boston, MA. USA. He is a frontline social critic and commentator on Nigeria and Africa. He may be reached by email at [email protected]