Restructuring Nigeria: Decentralisation For National Cohesion
A speech by the President General of Ohanaeze Ndigbo, John Nnia Nwodo at Chatham House, London, on Wednesday September 27, 2017
LET me begin by extending my deep sense of gratitude to the Royal Institute of International Affairs, for inviting me to participate in this current series of discussion on Next Generation Nigeria: Accountability and National Cohesion. The involvement of this reputable British Institute in discussing and proffering suggestions on how to solve extant Nigeria’s problems is not only commendable but also, I believe, most relieving for the British establishment who must understandably feel a deep sense of vicarious responsibility for putting together a country confronted with such grim future.
Nigeria became a united British colony by the amalgamation of its Northern and Southern Protectorates in 1914. In 1960, it attained independence, fashioned a federal constitution which had three and subsequently four regions as its federating units. The pre-1960 and the 1963 constitutions of Nigeria were fashioned by the people of Nigeria as represented by the leaders of their ethnic nationalities. The coup of January 1966 and the counter-coup of the same year occasioned by ethnic tensions and disagreements within the military led our country to disastrous consequences.
Our first Prime Minister, Rt. Hon Tafawa Balewa and the then premier of Northern Nigeria, Sir Ahmadu Bello, as well as the then Minister for Finance Festus Okotie-Eboh, were murdered. A massive pogrom was unleashed on South Eastern Nigerians living in Northern Nigeria. A sitting Head of State from the South East, Major General Aguiyi Ironsi and a governor from the South West Col. Adekunle Fajuyi were murdered. The military suspended our 1963 constitution and adopted a unitary system of government to fit their command and control structures. Opposition to this move by Southern Nigeria led to constitutional talks in Aburi, Ghana. The agreements reached at Aburi were jettisoned. War broke out and claimed more than three and a half million lives mostly from the South East. After the war, the military-authored two more constitutions, one in 1979 and another in 1998/99. The two military constitutions were finally approved by the Supreme Military Council.
Under military rule, this organ (the Supreme Military Council) was the highest legislative organ for the country. It was made up of senior military officers, a majority of whom were from Northern Nigeria. The last constitution of 1998/99, which the military approved was the legal instrument that governed Nigeria’s transition to democracy. It is still in use in Nigeria today. It was not subjected to a national referendum. It created 19 states out of the old Northern Region, 6 states out of the Western Region, 2 states out of the old Midwestern Region and 9 states out of the old Eastern Region.
An agreement by a constitutional conference convened by General Abacha divided the country into six geopolitical zones. This agreement was never incorporated into a legislation even though it continues to be adopted for administrative purposes by Government and the political parties. The creation of states and local governments in these six geographical areas did not respect any equitable parameter.
Our present constitution is not autochthonous. It was not written by the people of Nigeria. It was not approved in a national referendum. In jurisprudence, its effectiveness will score a very low grade on account of its unacceptability. Regrettably, it continues to hold sway and begins with a false proclamation, “We the People of Nigeria….”
Our present constitution was written at a time of unprecedented increase in national revenue following the massive discovery of oil in Nigeria and the global reliance on it as a source of fuel for machines. It had as its centrepiece, the distribution of national revenue and national offices using states and local governments as units for division. It constructed a federation in name but a unitary government in practice following the pattern enunciated in 1966 from the inception of military administration in Nigeria.
Competition and drive for production by the federating units was destroyed. Each state and local government waited every month for proceeds from oil generated revenue to be shared out to them.
The federal government became enormously powerful, taking over mining rights, construction of interstate highways, major educational establishments, rail and water transportation, power and several infrastructural responsibilities previously undertaken by the regions. Competition for control of the federal government became intense and corrupted our electoral system. Corruption became perverse as the federal government became too big to be effectively policed by auditing and administrative regulations.
As I speak to you today, Nigeria has a grim economic outlook. Nigeria’s external debt has grown from $10.3 billion in 2015 to $15 billion in 2017. Her domestic debt has also grown from 8.8 trillion Naira in 2015, to 14 trillion Naira in 2017. Domestic debt component for the 36 states rose from 1.69 trillion Naira in 2015 to 2.9 trillion Naira in June 2017.
The Federal government has on two occasions released bailout funds to enable states meet their recurrent expenditure requirements. Only about eight states in Nigeria namely Lagos, Kano, Enugu, Edo, Delta, Abia, Rivers, and Kwara have their internally generated revenue sufficient enough to cover their interest repayments on their debts without depending on allocations from federally collected revenue.
For the federal government close to 40% of its annual revenue was spent on servicing interest repayments on debts and, according to International Monetary Fund (IMF), this percentage is expected to increase further. According to Fitch ratings, Nigerian government’s gross debts is 320% of its annual revenue!! – one of the highest in the world.
In the face of this economic reality, the Population Reference Bureau predicts that Nigeria will in 2050 become the world’s fourth-largest population with a population of 397 million coming after China, India and the United States of America. This is only 33 years away.
In 2011, five Colonels in the United States Centre for Strategy and Technology, Air War College did a case study on Nigeria and the global consequences of its implosion and came out with a conclusion that, “despite its best efforts, Nigeria has a long-term struggle ahead to remain a viable state, much less a top-20 economy”.
Faced with this grim economic outlook and a structure inimical to growth, what is, therefore, our way forward? Our growth model has to change for us to survive as a country.
A model based on sharing of government revenue must give way to a new structure that will challenge and drive productivity in different regions across the country. This new model must take into account that the factors driving productivity in today’s world are no longer driven by fossil oil but rather the proliferation of a knowledge-based economy. The restructuring of Nigeria into smaller and independent federating units and the devolution of powers to these federating units to control exclusively their human capital development, mineral resources, agriculture and power (albeit with an obligation to contribute to the federal government) is the only way to salvage our fledgling economy. Restructuring will devote attention to the new wealth areas, promote competition and productivity as the new federating units struggle to survive. It will drastically reduce corruption as the large federal parastatals which gulp government revenue for little or no impact dissolve and give way to smaller and viable organs in the new federating units.
Those campaigning against restructuring in Nigeria have painted an unfortunate and untrue picture that those of us in support of restructuring are doing so in order to deny the Northern States who have not yet any proven oil reserves of the ability to survive. This is unfortunate. The new model we propose for Nigeria recognizes that revenue in the world today is promoted by two main sources namely, human capital development leveraging on technology to drive the critical sectors of the economy and agriculture. Ten years ago, the top 10 companies in the world were the likes of Exxon Mobil, Shell, and Total. Today, the top eight companies in the world are represented by technology related companies. They include Apple, Microsoft, Google, Facebook, and Amazon.
The example of Netherlands in agriculture is also relevant here. The Netherlands is the 18th largest economy in the world. It has a land area of about 33.9,000 square kilometres. Niger State, one of Nigeria’s 37 administrative units has about 74,000 square kilometres. Netherlands has over $100 billion from agricultural exports annually, contributed mainly by vegetables and dairy. Nigeria’s oil revenue has never in any one year reached $100 billion. Northern Nigeria is the most endowed agriculturally in Nigeria. Its tomatoes, carrots, cabbages, cucumbers, yam tubers, grains, livestock and dairy feed the majority of Nigerians in spite of its huge reserve of unexploited export potentials. In a restructured Nigeria, Northern Nigeria with the right agricultural policies will be the richest part of Nigeria.
Our analysis here must be viewed from the background that datelines have been fixed by OECD countries and China for the cessation of production of automobiles and machines dependent on fossil oil. This development and the new technology for production of shale oil in the United States has made world dependence on Nigeria’s crude oil a rapidly declining phenomenon.
This brings me to the question of what form Nigeria will assume under a restructured arrangement and how this restructuring can be brought about. Two basic models have been canvassed for restructuring in Nigeria. A conservative model aimed at maintaining the status quo has been proposed to mean simply a shedding of some of the exclusive powers of the federal government like issuing of mining licences, permission for constructing of federal roads and shedding of regulatory powers over investments in critical sectors of the economy like power. This model merely scratches the surface of the problem. It avoids fundamental devolution of powers.
The second model calls for a fundamental devolution of powers to the States as federating units and a lean federal government with exclusive powers for external defence, customs, immigration, foreign relations and a federal legislature and judiciary to make and interpret laws in these exclusive areas.
This second model proposes states at the federating units with two different approaches. The first approach simply wants the states as the federating units and a federal government with limited powers. It wants the states to control a percentage of revenue accruing from their areas and contribute an agreed percentage of such revenue to the federal government.
The second approach proposes the states as the federating units with a regional government in each of the six geopolitical units whose constitution will be agreed to and adopted by the states in the geopolitical region. The regions will have the powers to merge existing states or create new ones. There will be regional and state legislatures and judiciary dealing with making and interpreting laws made in the respective political entities. This approach proposes a revenue sharing formulae of 15% to the Federal Government, 35% to the local government and 50% to the State governments.
To achieve a national consensus on this subject requires a national discussion. Regrettably, the ruling party, APC which promised restructuring in its manifesto after two years and four months in office is still appointing a committee to define what sort of restructuring it wants for Nigeria. To make matters worse, none of the other political parties has come up with any clear-cut route for achieving a consensus on this matter.
The National Assembly itself is a reflection of the deep ethnic divisions in the country and the Northern majority conferred on it by the military makes it highly unacceptable to Southern Nigeria. Recent resolutions made by it on devolution of powers have not helped the situation. Happily, the Senate President has promised a revisit of the subject matter.
In the recent past, self-determination groups have sprung up in Nigeria. The self-determination groups include IPOB, MASSOB, YELICOM, Arewa Youths, Niger Delta Republic and Republic of the Middle Belt.
Of all these groups IPOB and Boko Haram have been designated as terrorist organisations by the federal government. This development in relation to IPOB is unfortunate. Boko Haram is an armed organisation which has attacked and occupied Nigerian territory hoisted its flag and appointed local authority governments.
It has abducted and abused Nigerian women, kidnapped and imprisoned many and killed over two hundred thousand people. It is still involved in guerrilla warfare against Nigeria yet the Federal government is negotiating with them. No member of Boko Haram captured by the military is under trial. Members of this Federal government are on record for condemning the previous government for brutal murder of Boko Haram members and condemning the retired Chief of Army Staff for zealous prosecution of the anti-terror campaign. Members of the sect who confess to a change of mind have been received along with their abducted female partners in the Presidency and rehabilitated.
The declaration of IPOB as a terrorist organisation is in my view hurried, unfair, and not in conformity with the intendment of the law. Whereas I am not completely in agreement with some of the methods of IPOB like its inappropriate and divisive broadcast, the uncontested evidence given by the Attorney General of the Federation in an interlocutory action claiming that IPOB attempted and/or actually snatched guns from law enforcement agents are, if proven, merely criminal offences. They do not constitute enough evidence to meet international law definitions of a terrorist organisation. Happily, the United States Embassy in Nigeria only three days ago shared this conclusion and asserted that the United States Government does not recognise IPOB as a terrorist organisation. This same unarmed IPOB that is being stigmatised by the Nigerian government had its members murdered in Asaba, Nkpor, Aba and Port Harcourt simply for having public demonstrations without the federal government ordering a judicial inquiry. Instead, after I called for one and Amnesty International provided evidence that 150 of them were killed, the Chief of Army Staff set up an inquiry composed of serving and retired army officers thus abandoning the rules of natural justice which prescribes that you cannot be a judge in your own court.
The Igbos in Nigeria feel the treatment of IPOB as unfair, discriminatory and overhanded. They see the move as an attempt to encourage a profiling of Igbos in the international security arena.
We know of other self-determination groups in Nigeria that are armed and have destroyed government and private sector installations and wells that government prefers to negotiate with rather than label them as terrorist organisations.
Fulani Herdsmen otherwise called the Fulani militants have ravaged farms in the Middle Belt, South West, and South Eastern Nigeria killing many farmers in the process. In January 2016, they killed 500 farmers and their families in Agatu in Benue State. In Enugu State, they murdered more than 100 farmers in Ukpabi Nimbo in April 2016. Photographs depicting them with automatic rifles trend in the entire world media, yet not one of them is facing criminal charges, nor is Operation Python Dance being conducted in the areas where they ravage and kill and the Federal government describes them as criminals and not a terrorist organisation notwithstanding their classification by the Global Terrorist Index as the fourth deadliest terrorist group in the world (see British Independent Newspaper, 18th November 2015). The London Guardian Newspaper of 12th July 2016 indicated that Fulani herdsmen killed one thousand people in 2014.
Let me seize this opportunity to once more thank the Royal Institute of International Affairs for inviting me as President General of Ohanaeze Ndigbo to speak here today. In Nigeria, Ndigbo whose social cultured organisation I lead are, notwithstanding their historical experiences in Nigeria, the most loyal ethnic group to the concept of one Nigeria. We are the largest ethnic group other than the indigenous group in any part of Nigeria. We invest and contribute to the economic and social life of the communities wherever we live. We are proudly Christians but very accommodating of our brothers of other religious persuasions. We are grossly marginalised and still treated by the Federal government as second-class citizens. No Igboman, for instance, heads any security arm of the Nigerian Armed Forces. Our area is the most heavily policed as if there was a deliberate policy to intimidate us and hold us down.
Our endurance has been stretched beyond Hooke’s gauge for elastic limit. The deployment of the Nigerian Army under the guise of Operation Python dance to the South East was unconstitutional under S. 271 of the 1999 Constitution.
Deployment of the army is only allowed in circumstances of insurrection, terrorism and external aggression not in killing of priests, or fighting kidnapping. And in those circumstances where they can be deployed, leave of the Senate must be sought. This brazen impunity in dealing with matters which concern the South East is provocative.
The Arewa Youths Council by issuing a quit notice for Igbos to leave Northern Nigeria and declaring a Federal Republic of Nigeria without Igboland had committed serious infractions of the law. First by declaring a new Republic of Nigeria which excises the South East unilaterally, they were committing treason. By issuing a proclamation for Nigerians to leave any part of Nigeria forcibly they were infringing on the fundamental rights of innocent Nigerians, as guaranteed by the Constitution to live and do business anywhere. By commencing an inventory of Igbo property in Nigeria for seizure by October 1st, 2017, they were attempting conversion. By proclaiming a mop-up action of those who did not comply with their order by October 1st, they were, without doubt, inciting genocide. Yet in spite of all these, orders to arrest them by the Kaduna State Government and the Inspector General of Police were not enforced nor were they prevented from holding court with governors and leading elders from the North.
The only hope for change in Nigeria today is the rising call for restructuring pioneered by the Southern leadership forum, supported lately by ex Vice-President Atiku Abubakar, former President Ibrahim Babangida and leaders of the Middle Belt including Dan Suleiman and Prof. Jerry Gana.
Our expectation is that now that our President is fully recovered and back to work, he will address the situation by constituting a nationwide conversation of all ethnic nationalities to look into the 2014 National Conference report and the trending views on this subject matter so as to come up with a consensus proposal that the national and state assemblies will be persuaded to adopt.
To continue to neglect a resolution of this impasse will spell doom for our dear country. Our argument is further reinforced by a two-year extensive study by the UNDP titled, JOURNEY TO EXTREMISM released in September 2017, which indicated that exposure to state abuse and marginalization, not religious ideology, are better predictors of radicalisation.
It also indicates that those living on the periphery of their country with less access to education and health services are more vulnerable to be recruited into violent extremist groups. In Nigeria, millions of unemployed graduates from universities waiting for up to 10 years without gainful employment are restive, agitated and veritable cannon fodders for escalating restiveness.
In conclusion, I hope that the Royal Institute of International Affairs, the British Government and British interests associated with Nigeria will continue to offer useful advice to our polity that will lead to an early resolution of our situation.
I thank you for your kind attention
John Nnia Nwodo
Chatham House, London
Wednesday 27th September 2017