The National Conference has more or less come to an end. Though the delegates will meet again early in August to adopt the report of the conference, it is clear that not much else will change from the recommendations they have made which have been fully reported in the media. Though the Conference has made a lot of recommendations in its 4- months sitting and after over 7 billion of our National income has been expended, it is a pity that the conference seems to have failed to resolve the key problem confronting the Nation.
Yes, they have recommended additional States for the Country, autonomy for the local Governments, scrapping of the State Electoral commissions, adjustment of the immunity clause, the introduction of State Police and many others, yet these, as good as they are, and for which we commend them, are not the real issues bothering our Nation and which necessitated the convening of the National conference. Since the political crisis of 1993, Nigerians have clamored for a National conference - sovereign or not; not just because they wanted more States or wanted the immunity clause expunged from the constitution. They have desired the reorganization of this destabilized Federation to restore its stability, period!
A painstaking review of the political history of Nigeria will come up with the verdict that our trouble started with the destabilization of our Federation. Up till, January 15,1966, we had a fairly stable federation. There were originally three Federating units- Eastern Nigeria, Northern Nigeria and Western Nigeria. Later Western Nigeria split into two, creating the Midwest Region. Nigeria stood on these four solid and robust legs. At that time, each region had a thriving economy dependent on agriculture and a growing manufacturing sector. Almost all the industrial Estates in Ikeja, Portharcourt, Ibadan, kaduna and Kano were built in the early sixties. Though oil had been discovered in commercial quantities in Oloibiri, in present day Bayelsa State, it had not become a political weapon.
At this time, the Regions competed with each other in revenue generation and development projects, remitting 50% of their income from Natural resources to the Federation account. At this time, the schools had teachers and if you passed Cambridge, you were sure of a good and decent job. The hospitals and healthcentres were in good shape, they did not have CT scans but they were functional and we had no idea of what 'os' or 'out of stock' meant. We went to the dispensary and collected all the drugs prescribed by either the doctor or the health superintendent, we did not know the difference.
Then,you could travel by road or train( local or express )from PH to Kano without hassle. Nigerians, no matter their tribe or creed lived freely and safely where ever they wished. They did not have to register or carry identity cards. They owned property and were treated equally, without apparent discrimination in every part of the federation. Many went to school on county council or Regional Government scholarships. Though politics, post independence became quite boisterous, the centre remained largely unattractive. That was why the late Alhaji Ahmadu Bello,the Sarduana of Sokoto who was the leader of the Northern Peoples Congress(NPC) declined to go to the centre to become Prime Minister, but rather asked his deputy, Alhaji Abubakar Tafawa Balewa to take up the position. He was content with remaining in the regional capital of Kaduna, because there was really no significant attraction in the centre.Though I might add that our political leaders at that time were more honorable, if you know what I mean.
But on January 15th, 1966, things fell apart and the centre could no longer hold. The Military apparently came to 'save' Nigeria with their 'puritanical' fervor but ended up with a Nigeria 'disabled'. They abolished the Constitution, dissolved the federating units, centralized power under a unitary command system in sympathy with their operational structure and took over everything- schools, hospitals, hotels, news media and indeed the commanding heights of the economy. They did not only kill but thought ordinary Nigerians to hate and kill each other precipitating a civil war that led to the death of more than 1 million Nigerians. And then we ended up with an inverted Federation where the centre was now creating the Parts, from 4 to 12 States to 18 to 21 and to 36 and soon may be to 55 and we sincerely believe that this fractionalization and 'brittilization' will create stability. No way! This 'brittilizatio' will only worsen the "sharing mentality" and intensify the struggle to control the centre. As the federating units become weaker, the centre becomes stronger, because that is the natural order of things. To deal with the intense centripetal forces caused by '55 Children' struggling for the food meant for' 4 Children',you need very strong muscles . This will result in multiplicity of agencies to keep gathering the children, some errant and some rebellious. Today, we complain that over 70% of the National budget is spent on Recurrent expenditure with less than 30% left for capital development. Who knows, then we may have 120% of the budget used to run our bureaucracy! Not with the kind of mentality that is driving the National Assembly to think of establishing another Electricity regulating body when the existing National Electricity Regulatory Commission (NERC) is yet to be fully utilized!
Since 1966, Nigeria has rolled from one crisis to another. So much blood has been shed. So much resources have been wasted in either the efforts to quench the crises or to repair the damage or to appease the combatants; resources that could have been better used to develop the Nation and bring us out of embarrassing poverty.In the 2012 Federal Government's budget, about 1 trillion naira was allocated to security. In the 2014 budget, nearly 1 trillion naira is budgeted for the security forces. And this week, the President sent a request to the National Assembly to allow him borrow 1 billion dollars( approx 170 billion naira) to support the military in its 'war' against Boko Haram. How long shall we allow our Nation to go through this rigmarole and torture! Just because people want to control the centre and decide who gets what! or because some feel, they are not getting their due share,as we saw during the reign of Militancy in the Niger Delta. No one has been able to calculate the true cost of that reign and it's continuing cost to the Nation! After Boko haram who knows what more lethal variant will arise that will consume more blood, money and toil.
My point is that central to all these seasonal hiccups and repeated maladies are the twin issues of the structure of the Federation and fiscal federalism. Those were the critical issues that the National conference was set up to resolve in my view. And these are the same issues that have destabilized our Federation for years and the same issues we needed to confront to restore stability.But it is so sad that on both scores they seem to have left me wondering. Instead of strengthening the Federating units, they prescribed a weakening and for fiscal Federalism, they postponed the evil day. So sad!
Mazi Sam Ohuabunwa OFR