A Nation of Jokers -By Shaka Momodu

Filed under: National Issues |

Shaka Momodu

I am back to this topic because it remains at the core of all the problems we have in this country – a country cursed with a short-sighted and hopelessly partisan leadership. And unfolding events have made it even more imperative. In June last year, I publicly took a stand with my article titled, Restructuring: The Change Nigeria Needs. All the issues I addressed in that piece have assumed a fierce urgency today.

You see, a ruthless gang of ethnic and religious irredentists has successfully foisted on us a fraudulent federal structure that is anything but federal as we were thought in elementary secondary school. The system is not working. At best, it has stymied the country’s progress and set it back by several decades. It promotes mediocrity, rent-seeking behaviour and patronage, while leaving the country eternally potentially great. More so, the system has created a mountain-size sense of injustice, a fraudulent revenue sharing formula devoid of any sense of equity and fairness, created an atmosphere of righteous anger everywhere and produced millions of frustrated youths agitating for the break-up of Nigeria or a restructuring of the country to make it deliver on the original vision.

Yet, those who should at a moment like this, stand out from the useful idiots, and act for the ages in the overriding national interest, have chosen to advance the “true lies” of those who want the status quo to remain; while pretending this wind will blow over. I must state here that it will not. They have resorted to name-calling, shameful genuflecting, reprobation and pitiable excuses. Some of us are undeterred. Who cares what names they call us anyway? And let me use the powerful words of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. to let them know we are not about to give up: “We shall overcome because the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.”

We are determined to bend the arc of our nation towards a new chapter, a new beginning founded on fairness, equity and justice. Again, who cares that opponents of restructuring feel threatened by the promise of a new nation? And anytime they provoke us by telling us why we can’t have a restructured Nigeria, let us respond to that provocation with Luther King’s timeless words: “We shall overcome….”

Let us shame those putting up puerile arguments against what is urgently necessary for Nigeria to move forward. Let us hold them to account for their foolish argument against a restructured Nigeria. Their intellect is of no value to the New Nigeria of our dreams. And whether they like it or not, the ancient truth will prevail and this country will be restructured someday.

The Senate of this fraudulent federal republic just rejected devolution of powers to the states in the exercise of its own powers. Well, I never really pay much attention to what goes on in the National Assembly, particularly the Senate, because the vast majority of the senators are experienced raiders, certified certificate forgers, election riggers and self-serving profiteers with solid backgrounds in thievery and mischief. The majority of our oversight-loving senators have nothing to offer Nigeria. They are jokers. I have never had confidence in these self-serving “representatives of the people”. Their so-called mandate was rigged. And as usual, they did not disappoint themselves and most of us by their rejection of the panacea that would have eased tension in the land and set the country on a new path.

Time and again, I have asked myself: why is there this paranoia to do the right thing, or why perhaps is there a reluctance to do what is right and expedient for Nigeria to make progress? The truth is I can’t find the answer. The truth also is we have no national heroes neither do we have towering figures and patriots of national calling to galvanise the people, fire their imagination and rally them around a strong vision. Nigeria, our dear motherland, has been held hostage by ethnic and religious lords and visionless opportunists and pickpockets that either find themselves in power or are a hair’s breadth away from power. They have kidnapped the future of the youth and denied them the chance at a fair start.

It’s as if the more some of us criticise them for their total lack of vision and foresight, the more they plunge inexorably forward in their chosen path that is bound to lead us to collective perdition as a nation. It has baffled me to no end why our leaders are so bereft of ideas or a vision of a progressive future. Is it not puzzling that the wrong people are more often than not desirous of public office? Alas, it has haunted me everyday why we take one step forward and ten backwards. Is it in our gene? Is anything wrong with our stars? I certainly don’t think so. But I can’t resist asking, what is wrong with our people?

Talking about visionary leadership and nation building is my life’s passion. I am deeply inspired by the progress in other societies. So I can’t stop talking about it. It is the only way forward to lift society from backwardness to prosperity. Unfortunately, this critical quality is lacking in that mix of nation building here. For example: why can’t our leaders construct roads? Why can’t they fund our education system? Why is our healthcare in such an embarrassing state? Why can’t our leaders provide electricity? Why can’t our leaders provide pipe borne water in our cities and villages? The answer is a failed leadership presiding over a flawed system.

Only recently, the Minister of Finance, Kemi Adeosun, was reported to have revealed that 55 per cent of Nigeria’s Value Added Tax (VAT) comes from Lagos State. She noted that 87 per cent of Nigeria’s VAT was derived from five states including the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), while 13 per cent of Nigeria’s VAT comes from 32 other states in the federation. According to her, “Fifty-five per cent of Nigeria’s VAT was collected in Lagos; FCT, 20%; Rivers, 6%; Kano, 5%; and Kaduna, 1%.” Adeosun, according to the report, also urged the states to do more to generate revenue and not solely depend on federal allocations, while stating that the country’s abysmal “tax-to-GDP ratio is at six per cent, which happens to be one of the lowest in the world”.

At the heart of that revelation lies the grave injustice of our fundamentally flawed federal structure. At the table of brotherhood where the wealth of this nation is shared every month, the depth of the inequity and injustice of the system plays out. Lagos contributes 55 % of the entire VAT collected, Kano 5% and Kaduna 1%. But on the basis of the number of local governments, Kano with its 44 LGs collects 44 portions of that VAT revenue which includes taxes arising from alcohol consumption. Jigawa State, which was created from Kano State, has 27 LGAs and contributes less than 1% of VAT to the national wealth; also collects 27 portions, more than Lagos with its 20 LGAs. In other words, Kano/Jigawa combined collects 71 portions of the 55% VAT revenue generated by Lagos. Katsina State, with its 34 LGAs, contributes less than 1% VAT to the national treasury, but collects 34 portions, more than Lagos, which brings the lion share to the table but gets far less than other states that contribute next to nothing to the national plate.

If that is not an unfair and unjust system, then someone will have to tell me what is. But here is where it gets even more interesting. Whatever these states contribute to the overall VAT, they will still collect multiples of the amounts at the table because of their large number of LGAs while Lagos and Rivers get just a fraction of what they contribute. This is a yawning injustice that cannot go by any other name no matter how much we try.
What kind of system allocates less to the states that bring more and allocates more to the states that bring less to the national plate?

Why does Kano with the 2006 Census figure of 9,383,682 have 44 local governments and Lagos with 9,013,534 have 20 local governments? Why does Katsina have 34 LGAs with a population of 5,792,578? Obviously, more emphasis was placed on landmass rather than population. Where in the world is that done? And more importantly, why was the number of LGAs in the country locked in the constitution? And since representation in the House of Representatives is on the basis of constituencies, which is determined by population and landmass, again with more emphasis on landmass, the North produces far more representatives in the House than the South. The same applies to the Senate where representation is on the basis of equality of states. And here, the North will always produce majority of senators since it has more states than the South (19 to 17). With this combined majority, the North can perpetually determine whatever happens in the National Assembly; and continuously frustrates restructuring or devolution of powers to states.

The critical danger to Nigeria’s future is the 1999 constitution where the current grundnorm draws its oxygen from. Those who drew up this document are perverted riggers. Their motivation was more clannish than nationalistic. By all the nonsense they included in that document, they clearly showed that they were out to protect and project the interest of one region over and above that of the others.

A visionary leadership will embrace restructuring in the knowledge that it is Nigeria’s last best hope and chance at remaining a united and progressive country.

By the way for those who think for a moment that the North will suffer if restructuring is done, I say, think again. Every state in this country is blessed with one resource or the other, especially Northern States – solid minerals, limestone, fertile soil for agriculture, etc. Imagine if all the states tapped and harnessed these resources in their zones to optimum levels. The size of our economy will be unmatched in Africa and beyond. But dependence on oil and monthly allocations of cash to states have made us lazy and unimaginative. I believe the North will benefit more from restructuring but the elite from that zone just don’t see it.

Buhari’s Obsession With Oil

Another example that illustrates how poor leadership is ruining Nigeria has to do with our lack of forward-thinking leaders. Britain recently announced a ban on all petrol and diesel cars by 2040. That’s about 23 years from now. Many other countries in Europe have followed suit. Back home in Nigeria, there is no concrete plan or policy to prepare the country for such a time when the ban will go into effect bearing in mind that our economy is almost totally dependent on the sale of crude oil (forget all that empty talk of diversification). Instead, the Buhari government is ramping up its desperate search for the elusive oil in the Lake Chad Basin.

In an editorial published August 8, 2016 titled, Buhari’s Obsession with Chad Basin Oil, THE PUNCH correctly captured the motivation behind Buhari’s desperation to find oil in the North thus: “Enthusiasts of the Lake Chad oil also cite the discovery of crude in other parts of the Chad Basin in Niger Republic and Chad as a motivation for the sustained search. The immediate-past NNPC Group Managing Director, Ibe Kachikwu, who is the Minister of State for Petroleum, has indicated that drilling will start in the last quarter of this year. Looking closer, however, disturbing partisan signs are visible. The search for oil in the Lake Chad area started almost 40 years ago, initiated when Buhari was the Federal Commissioner (Minister) for Petroleum under a military regime. Returning a few years later as head of the military junta that toppled the civilian government in 1983, he again gave full backing to the exploration by the state oil company. Now, in his ‘third coming’, this time as an elected president, he has returned to the unfinished business.

“Though the NNPC has been opaque about its expenditure, it was Jerry Gana, who in 2013, as the chairman of the Northern Nigeria Economic Summit, put a figure of N27 billion spent as at that time on oil and gas exploration in the Lake Chad Basin, in addition to a fresh $340 million.”

Buhari must find oil in Lake Chad, otherwise we’ll know no peace. And he is prepared to risk lives to find that oil. After declaring a false technical victory over the Boko Haram sect, he ordered the NNPC to again resume exploration work. The recent massacre of over 50 NNPC consultants and exploration experts from the University of Maiduguri searching for oil and the troops guarding them in Magumeri area of Borno State by Boko Haram was a direct result of Buhari’s directive. He bears responsibility for those lost lives. They were sent on a suicide mission to satisfy one man’s quest for oil at all costs in the north so he can damn the Niger Delta, and they did not return home to their families. Why was a renowned company like Shell or Mobil with vast experience in exploration and proven technology not commissioned? Maybe, they saw through the government’s political/security shenanigans.

And if you think that, that massacre, coupled with the fact that the world is setting target dates to turn away from oil, will dim Buhari’s partisan obsession with oil in the North, then half the world is not enough as a gift to me.

It is a pity that our visionless and clannish leaders are anchoring the economic future of the country on a commodity with fading relevance.