Between ‘True Federalism’ and ‘True Leadership,’ By Amir Abdulazeez


By Amir Abdulazeez

Three things are apparently no longer in doubt as far as the Nigerian project is concerned. One, as much as 75% or more of the 36 oil-money dependent states, cannot independently sustain themselves economically to a significant level, now and perhaps forever. Two, Nigerians may never be able to sincerely and patriotically shelve their ethnic, religious, political and selfish differences to pursue collective national prosperity. With the more divisive orientation we are giving to the upcoming generation of Nigerians, we can even be certain about this. Three, leadership failure has done so much damage to Nigeria and her citizens that no one can precisely predict how long it will take for citizens’ hope, trust and confidence on leadership at ‘all’ levels to be fully restored.

The solutions to some or all of the above problems have been argued by some people to lie with what they call ‘true federalism’. Others bluntly call it ‘resource control’. Although, we are operating under a federal system already, proponents of true federalism wants the system to be reviewed so as to give less power to the center and more autonomy to the states. With this, they say, states can have more control (some say full control) over their natural resources and economy and thereafter remit ‘some’ of their earnings to the Federal Government. While advocates of this kind of restructuring think it is the best way to achieve national development, obvious reality points that many landlocked states or regions in Nigeria outside the oil-rich areas would simply collapse economically under such an arrangement.

Few days ago, the Ijaw Youth Council (IYC) warned via a communique after a one-day stakeholders’ conference that violent agitations won’t end in Nigeria unless we begin to practice true federalism. The group, according to media reports noted that while the 2009 Presidential Amnesty Programme brought temporary peace to the Niger Delta region, the crucial issues that forms the basis for the agitation i.e. resource control and true federalism are still left unaddressed. The IYC insisted that ‘the only solution to intermittent crisis in the Niger Delta region, which has led to recent resurgence in attacks on oil installations by militant groups, is for the Buhari-led government to address the resource control and ownership question’.

While true federalism may have some benefits-the major of which are making every section of the country to sit up and become productive and self-dependent for effective national development as well as allowing everyone to develop or under develop at his own pace; in our own case, it may have little or nothing to do with solving Nigeria’s problems, especially the aforementioned. The simple truth is that, there is no reform or structural adjustment that will thrive without true leadership. The problems of the Niger-Delta region and all other regions in Nigeria are typical examples of leadership failure and poor resource management. If you are to have all the resources and autonomy in this world, you will still remain in problems if you lack good leadership that gives priority to prudent and optimal resource management. If we like, let us discover oil or gold in every state in Nigeria, we may never witness development until the day we collectively unite to bring to an end the menace of bad leadership and squandering of resources by few among us at all levels-from federal to local governments.

Out of the 17 years of uninterrupted democracy in Nigeria, the South ruled for 13 years while the North had ruled for the remaining four. Many northerners decried marginalization and often cite this as the major reason why the region is much backwards as compared to the south. The somewhat shallow argument is that Obasanjo and Jonathan had agendas of destroying the North. However, the truth is that the North’s failure is largely due to lack of a clear and implementable development plan, poor resource management and corruption by many state governors, local government chairmen, political and traditional leaders as well as others in the position of authority.

This is the same problem that the Niger-Delta region is facing. The region has the highest federal allocation apart from the 13% derivation allocation. The monthly federal allocation of Akwa-Ibom State is more than half the allocations of all the six states in North-Eastern Nigeria. In addition, there is an annual allocation for the Niger Delta Federal Ministry, the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) as well as a Special Presidential Amnesty Programme. Apart from all these, a son of the core Niger-Delta ruled for more than 5 years. All of these did not significantly change the fate of the region. What guarantee do we have then that resource control would change its fortunes, especially with the same set of leaders still in place? Is it not then therefore a question of good leadership that pays attention to good resource management which has been badly lacking in the region as well as the other parts of Nigeria?

The majority of the calls for resource control are not apparently in any way done with a patriotic motive. It is more of a secessionist tactics which some are not bold enough to clamour openly and directly for. One problem with Nigeria is that every region is clamouring for the downfall of the other regions to its maximum advantage as if we have been divinely foretold that all the regions cannot develop all together unless at the expense of each other. Every region wants to have everything for itself. It is obviously certain that the call for resource control is not only a Niger-Delta affair, if other regions possessed some resource which is as valuable or more than oil, they will equally call for resource control so that they can have it all for themselves. If it was to be declared that cocoa is the most valuable resource in the world, the South West may call for resource control, if it is tomato or groundnut, the North West will call for resource control. That’s the kind of one Nigeria we are pretending to have.

The fact that God in His infinite wisdom decided to locate Nigeria’s oil resource in the Niger Delta or its most valuable coastal areas in the South West doesn’t mean other regions didn’t proportionally contribute to the artificial extraction and development of these resources. It equally doesn’t mean that God wants only people of such areas to benefit. What we have to do is to ensure we do adequate justice to the Niger-Delta environments that are producing the nation’s economic lifeline and the only way we can do this is through purposeful leadership at all levels. Nigeria’s wealth is more than enough for all of us, as long as it would be properly managed.

There are several reasons why the so-called resource control or true federalism is neither the solution to Nigeria’s problems nor to that of the Niger Delta and other regions.

First and foremost, it has been longed acknowledged globally that abundance of natural resources in general and oil in particular is not a guarantee to prosperity; only a consistently good and purposeful leadership is. Nigeria and most developing countries are experiencing what is called ‘resource curse’. The resource curse refers to a situation whereby a country has an export-driven natural resources sector that generates large revenues for government but leads paradoxically to economic stagnation and political instability. According to the African Development Report (2007), it has often been asserted that petroleum, in particular, brings trouble; waste, corruption, consumption, debt over- hang, deterioration, falling apart of public services, wars, and other forms of conflicts, among others. Thus, natural resource- abundant countries tend to grow slower than expected considering their resource wealth and, in many cases, actually grow slower than resource-scarce countries. The fundamental issue here is how governments administer resource wealth and how they use natural resource revenues. Today, only few resource-rich countries like the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, and Qatar are using revenues from their oil to construct mega-cities out of desert land, thereby also generating considerable economic activities and additional incomes.

Secondly, if the true federalism agenda is to be implemented the way some of its advocates would want, it literally means that the rest of the non-oil regions whose states even as at now cannot pay salaries would collapse economically. The Federal Government as well as the other regions may have to beg the oil-producing areas for resources to survive. If this is the case, why don’t such advocates just call for secession so that they can have all their resources and forget any obligation of remitting anything to Nigeria? If this happens, then everyone else would out of utmost necessity look for how to survive.

Thirdly, the operators of a system significantly determine the success of the system more than the nature of the system itself. The people that are likely to occupy leadership positions in the Niger Delta post resource control era are the same people who led the region from 1999 to date. They are the same people who squandered the allocated resources of the region without corresponding development. It is needless to cite the Ibori, Alamieghsieha and many other undiscovered scandals as typical examples. Unless we device a means of holding Nigerian leaders at all levels truly accountable, no amount of resource control will improve the fortune of the masses, not even in the Niger Delta.

Fourthly, the future of the world is that which oil does not feature significantly. It is also becoming obvious that developed countries are busy with finding ways to reduce the consumption of many natural resources which they depend mostly on developing countries to get. If someone is planning a future in which he wants to keep exploring and producing oil, we can only say that he is out of touch with the global reality.

The dilemma we are facing is that maintaining the status quo of ‘loose federalism’ isn’t a solution, neither would the so-called true federalism. What we need is true leadership. Every region is claiming marginalization especially when one of its own is not in power. It is advisable that the Buhari government should revisit the report of the 2014 National Conference and see how it can implement some of the recommendations with regards to not only the resource control advocates’ interests but the interests of the whole country at large.

Twitter: @AmirAbdulazeez