By Abubakar Atiku
Let me begin with a rhetorical question: why do I, Atiku Abubakar, favour a restructured Nigeria?
The answer is simple: because I am proudly Nigerian and favour a united Nigeria that offers every man, woman and child a brighter future where each and everyone has a chance to build and share in this great nation’s potential.
The restructuring I want to see happen is changing the structure of our country to take power from the elite and give it back to whom it belongs: the people. It will help to bring the benefits of the change that our people were promised in the last general elections.
For a number of years now we have been making the case for the restructuring of our federal system. This is in response to the cries of marginalisation by various segments of country as well as the understanding that our federation, as presently constituted, impedes optimal development and the realisation of our peoples’ aspirations. As you all know, virtually every segment of this country has at one point or the other complained of marginalisation by one or more segments, and agitated for change.
Before I proceed, let me caution us all that restructuring, by whatever name, is not a magic bullet that would resolve all of Nigeria’s challenges or those of any section, region or zone of the country. Listening to some people, even those who seek to dismember the country, you would think that once their dream is achieved their part of the country or the country as a whole will become paradise.
Yet, as we all know, life is not that simple. We need restructuring in order to address the challenges that hold us back and which restructuring alone can help us address, and which will remain unaddressed unless we restructure. Period. This also answers the cynics who question whether restructuring is even important since it won’t solve all our problems. No system would.
To me, restructuring means making changes to our current federal structure so it comes closer to what our founding leaders established, in response to the very issues and challenges that led them to opt for a less centralised system.
Perhaps it is because I spent a decade in the private sector before coming back to the public sector as Vice President that I have the benefit of a paradigm that sees opportunity where others see crisis, but that is my world view.
The issue of restructuring is beyond resource control. There are other and even more important issues in this whole debate which I will address in this speech, but as resource control seems to be the one issue that many blocs are fixated on, let me take some time to address it first.
My vision of restructuring, will not make some States richer and others poorer. Restructuring is a win-win for all Nigerian states. So let me make it clear beyond any possible doubt: the Restructuring I am proposing will not reduce the share of our nation’s oil revenues that any state currently enjoys. However if we are to grow our revenues we need to change the way we think of our resources and nurture them for the benefit of all.
So, let us start by not thinking as if our resources consist only of oil. Oil is not infinite. In fact, within the industry, the oil majors and multi-nationals are looking for ways to further invest in alternative energy because in the next 10-20 years the proportion of the energy market share that fossil fuels hold will shrink and almost vanish even as those of alternative energy are set to rise dramatically.
Automobile manufacturers such as Volvo and Peugeot have announced plans to phase out petrol and diesel cars. This is not a conspiracy. It is a fact. The man just elected as France’s President, Emmanuel Macron, has told the world that petrol and diesel cars will be illegal to make or sell in France by 2040. Norway has said it will do the same but earlier: by 2025.
On a recent visit to the United Kingdom I noticed that senior members of the Conservative Party were driving the Toyota Mirai, a car that runs on hydrogen and emits water instead of harmful carbon monoxide. Professor Tony Seba, a world renowned global economist, has published his findings that all new cars will be electric by 2025.
So the world is not waiting for us to see reason and reengineer our economy. If we do, they will work with us. If we do not, the world will leave us behind.
For the last decade, Nigeria has made an average of $30 billion per annum from oil. This may look like a lot of money, but when you factor in our population of close to 200 million people growing at one of the highest rates in the world at 2.6% per annum, that money starts to look relatively small. We must begin to look for other and more sustainable sources of income that are also realistic.
Africa, especially sub Saharan Africa, imports 82% of her food from outside the continent. Every year, Africa spends $35.4 billion on food imports from Europe, Asia and America.
I have been to virtually all the world’s continents and to many of her nations, and scientists everywhere agree with what the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA) says, that Africa and particularly Nigeria has some of the most fertile soils on planet earth. Why can’t most of that $35.4 billion, which is bigger than our annual revenues from oil, come to Nigeria instead? It is not coming now because our focus is on how to share the $30 billion we get from oil every year and when your focus is on sharing, you cannot be creative.
The whole purpose of restructuring is to eliminate those policies that feed the mindset that drives the sharing behavior so that we can have a paradigm shift towards a mindset that drives creative and productive behavior.
We do not have to look too far. We are already seeing it in Nigeria.
I just told you that I was recently in the U.K. One of the things I learned on that visit is that Britain is very pleased with the increase in vegetable imports from Nigeria, especially pumpkin leaves. You in the Southeast call it . One state, Anambra, has decided to take her share of the $35.4 billion Africa spends importing food and is now exporting to other nations including the U.K.
Some oil producing states are owing workers’ salary, Anambra is not owing. A number of oil producing states took the Federal Government bailout, Anambra did not take it. Anambra State is proof that restructuring is good for our states and will not bankrupt them.
If Anambra, a state that suffers from soil erosion and has a very high population density, can export £5 million worth of pumpkin leaves to foreign nations, 1 million tubers of yam to Europe and millions of dollars-worth of scent leaves, locally known as nch?anw?, then much larger states like Kano, Borno, Kaduna, Kwara, Ogun and Rivers should be able to do even more.
Our national wealth is being drained by a select few instead of building a country for all of us. It has to end. We need to return resources and power back to the local level, and from the elite to the people.
Only by restructuring can we guarantee unity, equity and security for our nation… When people hear the term restructuring, all sorts of emotions are evoked. Why is this so? Some feel a sense of impending triumph; others feel a sense of impending loss and defeat. But it doesn’t have to be so. If our people see that restructuring will benefit all of us, some of the contentions will abate. We can move quickly to demonstrate some of those benefits with those aspects of restructuring that do not require constitutional amendment.
Take education and roads for instance. The federal government can immediately start the process of transferring federal roads to the state governments along with the resources it expends on them. In the future if the federal government identifies the need for a new road that would serve the national interest, it can support the affected states to construct such roads. Thereafter the maintenance would be left to the states, which can collect tolls from road users for that purpose. The federal government does not need a constitutional amendment to start that process.
We do not need a constitutional amendment to transfer federal universities and colleges as well as hospitals to the states where they are located. The University of Nigeria, Nsukka, the Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria and the University of Ife (now OAU) were built by regional governments when we had a thriving federal system.
The excessive concentration of power and centralisation of resources in the federal government led the government to extend itself into virtually every aspect of our lives including as an investor in an array of businesses. And almost as a rule they were badly run.
The Nigerian federation is a work in progress. We just have to continue that work, a truly serious work, to build bridges across our various divides. That’s what we need in order to create the kind of country where our young people can thrive and realise their full potentials, young people such as Ms Immaculata Onuigbo, the best graduating student and Valedictorian for the Class of 2017 at the American University Nigeria, Yola. We owe it to them and the generations to come.
Excerpts of a speech by Abubakar, former Vice President, at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka on Wednesday.