It would have been better if members of the Nigerian Governors’ Forum could quickly end their verbal warfare or continue it behind-the-scenes because those exchanges are reducing people’s faith in the country. And this is precisely because it has assumed the regional fault line in Nigerian politics. The governors are too key a layer of power in Nigeria to be re-enforcing the assumed incongruity of Nigeria inadvertently. The states they govern are where the real Nigerians are found, trading, farming, running their small scale businesses and so on. That is why I support discretionary leverage governors enjoy so that a governor can manage diversity in his or her state. Managing diversity is one of our key problems in Nigeria and it requires a lot of discretionary powers to act.
The problem though is that, at the moment, the governors have not convinced the average Nigerian to appreciate this logic. The image of governors is that of a set of people wielding power that is unconstrained by any authority, unlike the Federal Government which has to contend with media surveillance at Abuja or a NASS that can assert itself. We see whether they would win or lose more as a layer of power in Nigerian politics.
The problem now is that the governors are not clear among themselves what they need. They all argue that they can do more if they get more money but the demand has assumed the North-South regional character. The governors in the South-South, for example, insist on a 50% allocation of federal oil revenue to be allocated to them because, according to Governor Uduaghan of Delta State, resources required to revamp the region is enormous. His colleagues in the North have objected to even the existing 13 % derivation being enjoyed by the oil bearing states even when bulk of oil exploration are in the sea. There are other issues the governors don’t agree among themselves, notably the issue of state police and amending the constitution to a single term for the president and governors. Obviously, the Northern governors could see that such an amendment will automatically clear the way for President Jonathan to contest in 2015. Unencumbered by the moral and legal issues involved in being sworn-in more than twice, Jonathan will be an unbeatable incumbent in 2015, thereby keeping the North out of the centre for another 6/7 years after OBJ’s 8 and Jonathan’s 5, (by 2015) interrupted only by Yar’Adua’s 3.
It is not totally unhealthy for the governors to disagree among themselves on crucial issues of state. However, there are three problems with the way the disagreement/debate is going on. The first has to do with the fact that there is no conceptual framework from which everyone is taking off. For instance, what is the basis for Governor Uduaghan’s advocacy for 50% of federal oil allocation to South-South? Is it on a compassionate ground or on ground of special consideration or on the ground of say so? Is that the practice in other rentier states?
The second problem with the debate is that Uduaghan has not tied the percentage to any model of developing the Niger Delta and we do know that there are many Nigerian experts, particularly Professor Okey Ibeanu, who have developed models of how to develop the Niger Delta. It is only proper that request for extra funds from the centre in respect of developing the Niger Delta should come with a specific model or huge sums of money will simply vanish into unknown vaults as has been happening.
Many Nigerians are absolutely concerned with the environmental degradation in the Niger Delta and it has been said again and again that if the Nigerian State were an intelligent and sensitive state, it did not require Niger Delta insurgency before development was taken to the area.
The third problem with the disagreement/debate among the governors is that they lack a popular content. Take the case of state police, for example. Lagos State governor, Babatunde Fashola argued that there is no logic against state police by those who oppose it. He said it is needed to enable the governors to maintain security better. It is a plausible argument but the kind of security challenges we face in Nigeria such as mayhem, carnage, ethnic targeting are not security challenges any state police can cope with. Most times, the military have to be called in.
I started this piece by saying that, in my view, the discretionary leverage governors enjoy today is, to a very large extent, justified. That governors need resources and whatever else to manage diversity in their domains but managing diversity is more about allocative and social justice than ruthless policemen and women. It bears repeating how harmonious ordinary Nigerians live among themselves right into hamlets and villages. I have seen this in Jigawa. I have also seen it in Ibadan, Oyo State.
The problem comes when the elite, the governors and their fellow travelers, sow the seeds of division by refusing to develop the country, thereby compelling the millions left behind by development to seek meaning of life in hate ideologies. In the few places where any development occurred like Lagos, Nigerians of all religious, ethnic and whatever identity are co-habiting very peacefully because Lagos is a big economic pie. Somehow, everyone ends up getting something relative to his or her life chance. But in Kaduna, Kano and Jos, religion and ethnicity are so easily deployed as instruments of offensive and defence because of creeping economic insecurity.
So, better if their excellencies tie the debate to some popular ideological grounds. It will be more interesting and issue based then. Given the class diversity of the governors, this might be a mission impossible. Out of the 36 governors, there are only two financial, one agrarian and 7 bureaucratic bourgeoisie. The rest are some 6 middle class intellectuals, 5 petit bourgeois traders while the remaining ones cannot be easily classified. With this class diversity, it can be difficult for any collectivity to locate their debate in an organic context. And that is where the problem may lie but Nigeria needs the NGF as a counterweight to existing uncertainties. Abi?
…Northern Governors, Oil and Agriculture
Governor Wammako of Sokoto State spoilt my day last Wednesday when he came to Abuja to announce that he has found oil in commercial quantities in his state but the details will await further briefing of federal authorities. Haba, Excellency, we want to know the details right away. Oil is the world today. It is at the heart of all the wars today. Oil find in the North today will change not only the debate about federalism in Nigeria but also the global equilibrium, even if it is one cup. Any announcement about oil find should, therefore, have been a conclusive one, shy of nothing else. Whatever briefing of the Federal authorities should have been a matter of the protocols thereto.
This is not about doubting whether or not his state might have found oil but the essence for a categorical statement about something that can be a turning point. It is hoped that the briefing of the FG will not take eternity.
The point though is that even if there is oil in the North today, it is not an alternative to agriculture and agro-industrial development strategy. While oil may be good, a Northern desperation for instantaneous revolutionalisation of agriculture has no alternative. An agrarian revolution in Northern Nigeria is achievable within one year, the benefits are local and global all at once and it has no side effects. It costs almost nothing in financial terms because labour is abundant and it harmonizes the North and the South into a truly unified Nigeria.
By Chief Audu Ogbeh’s testimony, only the governor of Borno state is doing anything wonderfully well in agriculture. It is a contradiction that he alone is doing this. Why is this not the case with Benue, the self-advertised bread basket of the nation? What is Kano-Jigawa axis up to in vegetable, tomato, onion and grains production? Why is masa and waina not served in state functions in Bauchi? What value has Katsina added to local creativity in balangu and kilishi which her very ordinary masses have almost transformed into an international cuisine? And is there any cheering news about agriculture from Adamawa where the master himself is in charge? I have listened to Murtala Nyako talk agriculture. He has the comparative global statistics and details about agriculture to the minutest details. Murtala Nyako also knows everything constraining or confronting agricultural change in the North, from the cultural to the geographical.
Agriculture has to be taken more seriously, more urgently and more politically because resource nationalism in Southern Nigeria has gone beyond where any other sense of the nation state appeals to majority of the key players there. This is a challenge the North should respond to practically by rooting its economy in production instead of devising speculative checkmating strategies. It is only through production that the Northern part of the country would no longer be seen to be dependent on the South, with particular reference to revenue. It is about time the North appreciates the feeling of the South in this regard because democracy is never possible between two unequal players. In terms of source of the revenue upon which the government of Nigeria is run at the moment, it is the feeling of the South that it is the senior partner. It is so obvious to them that they no longer want to accept that rents on natural resources are normally paid to the central government. Or that there is a historical basis for a strong centre in Nigeria.
Onoja is an Abuja based columnist