The Plebiscite World
Opinion

The Imperative of Restructuring Nigeria. By John Nnia Nwodo

  1. Why Should We Restructure?

a. We should restructure because the constitutional history of Nigeria shows that the only constitutions of the Federal Republic of Nigeria made by all the ethnic groups in Nigeria were the 1960 and 1963 Constitutions. In 1954, the Lyttleton Constitution made regional governments independent of the central government in respect of subjects and legislative powers were allocated to them. It also established a unicameral legislature for the Federal Government and each of the three regional governments. Lagos was taken out of the control of any regional government and made the Federal Capital Territory. Public services were established in each of the three regions; the judiciary was reorganised so as to establish regional judiciaries, while autonomy was granted to the Southern Cameroons, which up till 1954 was part of a larger Nigeria and the Northern Cameroons. For the first time, ministers were given specific portfolios. The Lyttleton Constitution thus became the transition instrument to Nigeria’s independence in 1960 under a federal structure, with democratically elected federal and regional legislatures.

From July 25 to 26, 1963, a national constitutional conference was held in Lagos, which led to the enactment of the 1963 constitution. The constitution replaced the position of the governor-general appointed by the British monarchy under the 1960 arrangement, with the position of a president elected directly by members of the Nigerian Federal Legislature. In place of the Privy Council, the Federal Supreme Court became designated as the final appellate judicial authority over any person or matter in Nigeria.

1979-1999

Nigeria’s democracy was overthrown in a military coup in January 1966. Between January 1966 and October 1979, Nigeria was ruled by three military regimes. The last one under General Obasanjo bequeathed Nigeria with a constitution which overthrew our presidential parliamentary system of government. The constitution was drafted by 49 out of fifty members of the Constitution Drafting Committee. Their final draft was reviewed and amended by the Armed Forces Ruling Council that issued a decree enacting it into law.

During Generals Babangida and Abacha’s military administrations, there were some amendments to the Constitution, which were not carried into a civilian democracy, until General Abdulsalami Abubakar assumed office and appointed a Justice Niki Toby committee, which after a tour of the country, prepared a draft Constitution that the Supreme Military Council of 24 officers (chosen without recourse to geographical representation) amended as they pleased and promulgated into law. That constitution is now the law in use in Nigeria.

This 1999 Constitution has been adjudged by many legal experts as not autochthonous. This means that it was not derived from the people. It was not made by their elected representatives, and it was not subjected to a plebiscite or referendum. In law, it is not cognisable as a legal constitutional document, yet it remains our grund norm, our source of binding authority on how our country should be governed.

b. The 1999 Constitution overthrew the sovereignty of the regions over their national resources and domestic security, unleashing in the process an unprecedented domestic security and economic well-being.

Under the 1960 constitution, the three, and subsequently four, regions of Nigeria were viable and promoted sustained development in all sectors of the economy. In Northern Nigeria, groundnut pyramids grew exponentially, and so did cotton mills, tin, animal husbandry and grains thrive. Ahmadu Bello University grew into a reputable institution, boasting of one of the best architectural faculties in Africa.

In Western Nigeria, cocoa production flourished and financed free education at all levels, leading to the establishment of the University of Ife, with an internationally renowned Pharmacy Department. The first television station in Africa was established in Ibadan and also the first stadium in Africa.

Import substitution industries grew, extending to Lagos, which increasingly became the industrial hub of West Africa. In Eastern Nigeria, the first Iron and steel factory in Black Africa was built in Enugu, the second cement factory at Nkalagu, the first gas factory in Emene, the second beer brewery in Umuahia and two soft drink plants in Onitsha and Enugu. An American oriented University of Nigeria, Nsukka grew, threatening the pioneer status of University College Ibadan, then a campus of University of London.

Military rule and the imposition of a non-federal constitution changed all that. The unitary system of government destroyed competition among regions. It led to a scramble for our collective resources and the foundation of unbridled corruption in government.

Quota, as opposed to merit, became the primary consideration for appointment to public offices.

States and local governments, which did not reflect any demographic equality, were created and used as the yardstick for representation in the legislature and the executive.

Nigeria began to slide. The following examples will jolt you. Last year the World Poverty clock described:

a. “Nigeria’s population in extreme poverty as rising by 5.7 people per minute” and as the country with the most people living in extreme poverty in the world, at 82 million (people living in extreme poverty), thereby overtaking India which was previously the world’s country with the most extreme poverty;

b. The Nigerian economy has grossly underperformed relative to her enormous resource endowment and her peer nations. It has the sixth largest gas reserves in the world. It is endowed in commercial quantities with about 37 solid mineral types and has a population of over 170 million people. Yet, its economic performance has been rather weak and does not reflect these endowments, compared with emerging Asian countries, notably Thailand, Malaysia, India, India, China and Indonesia, that were behind Nigeria in terms of GDP per capital in 1970. These countries have transformed their economies and are not only miles ahead of Nigeria, but are also major players in the global economic arena;

c. In 2017, Oishimaya Sen Nag Phd, an Indian writing in worldatlas.com ranked Nigeria as the world’s greatest producers of cassava, with 47,406,770 tons, followed by Thailand with 30,227,542 tons, Indonesia with 23,936,920 tons and Brazil with 21,484,218 tons). Cassava is the basis of a multitude of products including, food, flour, animal feed, ethanol, alcohol, starches for sizing paper and textiles, sweeteners, prepared foods and bio-degradable products. In none of these exports is Nigeria a leading exporter. Instead Nigeria is a huge importer of ethanol;

d. Nigeria is the second largest grower of tomatoes in Africa, coming after Egypt. Notwithstanding this, we are the highest importer of tomato puree in Africa;

e. Nigeria is the third largest grower of cattle in Africa and the largest grower in sub-Saharan Africa, with an estimated annual production of 19,830,000 cattle. Cynthia Egboboh, writing in Business Day on July 6, 2019, reported that Nigeria spends $1.3 billion on the importation of dairy products like milk, yogurt and cheese. She quoted Bello Umar, Nigeria’s permanent secretary, Ministry of Agriculture, who at the fourth Global Dairy Congress in Abuja said that, “Nigeria produces 13 per cent of dairy in West Africa and 0.01 per cent of global dairy at a production capacity of 50,000 litres daily, less than 20 per cent of local potential annually on.

f. Nigeria is also the world’s sixth largest producer of crude oil. In spite of this, the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) reported that, “Nigeria consumes between 55 million and 60 million litres of petrol every day” and that the Federal Government is expected to spend N750.81 billion on petrol subsidy in 2020.

External debt accumulation has seen the Federal Government’s external debt grow from $10.7 billion in 2015 to $21 billion in 2018, which is up by $10.3 billion – a 135 per cent growth.
Domestic debt has also moved from N8.83 trillion as at December 2015 to N12.77 trillion in December 2018 – a whopping 44 per cent in three years.
The cost of servicing of Federal Government debts have grown from 32.72 per cent in 2015 to 61.59 per cent in 2017.
Our daily production of oil has reduced from 2.8 million barrels per day in 2011 to 1.174 million barrels in December 2020.

We must restructure to revamp our agricultural potentials. When I speak of restructuring, some of my Northern Nigerian friends have suggested to me that I do not want the North to partake in the oil revenue of Nigeria. Well, I have just outlined the indisputable fact that oil is a fast dying resource for earning foreign exchange. The truth is that the most reliable source of revenue now is agriculture.
America has discovered a new oil production technology called shale oil production, based on the liquefying of rocks and similar solid hydrocarbons. Likewise, energy production from solar and waste has improved exponentially over the last two years. China and the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) countries have also put a dateline of 2020 – 2024 for the cessation of production of machines dependent on fossil oil.

Right now in Germany and China, the demand for electric cars have surpassed demand for cars operated on fossil oil. Bloomberg predicts that in the next six months, the American production of shale oil will increase to 12 million barrels a day, if it survives the low demand occasioned by the coronavirus crisis. It also predicted last year that, following the price war between Russia and Saudi Arabia, the world oil price will fall to $30 per barrel. It fell to $3 per barrel following the COVID crisis but has risen to $50, following the present winter season.

In the face of this grim economic reality, the population reference bureau predicts that by 2050, Nigeria will become the world’s fourth largest population of 397 million people, coming after China, India and the United States of America. This is only 30 years away!

Any other country in our situation would have declared a state of emergency long ago to plan for the day that the oil price will fall finally.

Saudi Arabia is investing $110 billion to develop its estimated 200 trillion cubic feet of wet gas by 2036. When completed, it will provide a $8.6 billion annual income and add $20 billion annually to its gross domestic product. This is apart from the production boost its economy will receive from an increased, cheaper and diversified source of energy.

Right now, research has reached an advanced stage in the United States on a new all-solid-state hybrid solar cell based on organic-inorganic metal halide called Perovskite (CH3 NH3 PBX3) which, using solar power technology, has the capacity to turn sunlight into energy and expand science or medical imaging in newer and more profound dimensions. The photoelectric power conversion efficiency of the Perovskie solar cells has increased from 3.8 per cent in 2009 to 22.1 per cent in 2016, making Perovskite solar cells the best potential candidate for the new generation of solar cells to replace traditional sino solar cells in the future.

Light absorption conversion has become better, more efficient and a threat to the oil based economy.

Research is also advanced in the U.S. and Europe on 5G telecommunications, which will achieve the improved speed of internet communications that will promote new models of self-driven cars, better movie downloads, improved road navigation and a new medical diagnostic tool called the Tricorder. China is already deploying 5G technology through its mega telecommunication company called Huawei.

A new cellphone battery called graphene batteries will be developed soon to replace lithium batteries. These graphene batteries will charge in 20 minutes, instead of the average 90 minutes for conventional lithium batteries. It can stand 1,500 charge cycles, instead of the 300-500 cycles of lithium batteries.

Isreali prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, has recently informed the world of his country’s new digital explorations. Apart from discovering the cure for cancer and the capacity to make life interminable, Israel can, through drone technology, determine the chemical deficiency of a plant in a farm without setting foot there. It can also cure the deficiency through drone technology without entering the farm. U.S.A has also advanced drone technology, with the capacity to go to war, shoot from self-driven drones and kill decisively without risking any human life in the field.

Recently, this technology was used to exterminate an Iranian General considered a huge security threat to the United States. These discoveries underline the importance of education in national development.

Acccording to UNICEF, one in every five of the world’s out-of-school children is in Nigeria. Even though primary education is officially free and compulsory, about 10.5 million of Nigeria’s children aged between five and 14 years are out of school.

BBC Hausa editor, Jimeh Sale, after meeting with Adamu Hussaini, Nigeria’s permanent secretary in the Federal Ministry of Education, declared that Nigeria has the largest number of children who are not being educated in the world. Mr. Hussaini said that most affected were girls, street children and children of nomadic groups.

The BBC editor concluded that government funded schools in Nigeria have practically collapsed over the years because of poor funding. UNICEF claims that 60 per cent of out-of-school children in the country come from Northern Nigeria.

We must restructure to revamp our agricultural potentials. When I speak of restructuring, some of my Northern Nigerian friends have suggested to me that I do not want the North to partake in the oil revenue of Nigeria. Well, I have just outlined the indisputable fact that oil is a fast dying resource for earning foreign exchange. The truth is that the most reliable source of revenue now is agriculture.

The outcome of the constitutional conference must be subjected to a public plebiscite, in which all adults in Nigeria shall have the right to vote. This process should be open, it should be supervised by international agencies to validate its transparency and thereafter usher new elections on the basis of its provisions and structure.
Netherlands is today the largest exporter of food in the world. Its cross-sectional area is about half the size of Niger State. It is the world’s largest exporter of potatoes. Its revenue from vegetables and dairy contribute more than $100 billion to its economy annually. The secret is education, better mechanised farming, growth of green farm technology, drone monitoring systems and land reclamation through the building of dams.

Northern Nigeria is our greatest treasure in agriculture. The zone is blessed with diverse livestock and dairy productions. It grows various tubers – potatoes, yam, cassava and cocoyam. Its poultry growth is also huge, with vegetable and fruit production outstandingly plentiful due to favourable weather conditions. Under a restructured Nigeria, Northern Nigeria will earn more from food production than the Netherlands.

We must restructure because our current electoral system is dysfunctional and does not elicit confidence. I watched with complete and utter disappointment, social media vidoes of underage children voting in the most recent local government elections in Kano State. No reasonable government will tolerate this kind of brigandage. If we had stronger regional governments, it will be perhaps better to manage such infractions.

Nigeria is the only country where you have to wait for years in the courts to get justice. We have unwittingly altered the credibility of our elections by waiting sometimes up to one year to have an electoral dispute resolved. This has brought our law courts into disrepute, so much that journalists and lawyers alike cast aspersions at them.

We must restructure to reduce insecurity in our country. Whilst I was working on this presentation on Monday, January 18, I paused to read the news of the day and saw the following headlines:

Bandits kill octogenarian, 14 others in Zamfara, Kaduna attacks
Cops arrest Police Sergeant for robbery in Port Harcourt
Robbers kill 22yr old IT prodigy in Lagos
Gun men hack Catholic priest to death, kidnap brother in Niger State.
Bandits abduct 17 persons in Niger State
All these in one day!

While several other crimes may not have been reported, the continued menace of the Boko Haram in the North-East and consequent decapitation of our civilians and soldiers continues unabated.

The influx of Fulani insurgents in North-West Nigeria and the numerous kidnapping of leading personalities there appear beyond redemption.

Now a government, Zamfara State, has taken over the mining of minerals in its domain and sells gold to the Central Bank, not minding the unconstitutionality of the exercise.

In Europe and America, the modern philosophy of security is local policing. There, the local authority police are the first responders to any crime. This is because they understand the terrain and the local usages. It is only when there is a threat that their numbers may be overwhelmed that the federal authorities intervene. Our civil services rules have now been thrown overboard and service chiefs can now overstay their tenure, notwithstanding its consequences to morale and upward nobility of serving officers.

  1. When Do We Restructure?

We must do all we can to restructure before the next election in 2023 because the level of dissatisfaction in the country, as evidenced by the last ENDSARS protest, gives one the impression that any delay may lead to a mass boycott or disruption of the next elections to the point that we may have a more serious constitutional crisis of a nation without a government on our hands.

  1. How Do We Restructure?

To restructure Nigeria, we need a constitutional conference of all the ethnic groups in Nigeria. To use the current National Assembly as the forum for constitutional amendments grants a tacit recognition of the overthrow of our democratic norms by the enthronement of a military constitution by which they are composed.

The outcome of the constitutional conference must be subjected to a public plebiscite, in which all adults in Nigeria shall have the right to vote. This process should be open, it should be supervised by international agencies to validate its transparency and thereafter usher new elections on the basis of its provisions and structure.

This process, in my view, will ultimately refocus our country, breed a democratic culture that emphasises more on selfless service rather than individual enrichment, promote genuine unity instead of ethnic bigotry, and challenge our capacity to exploit our abundant potentialities to make life more abundant for our people.

*John Nnia Nwodo, a lawyer and economist, was the Ninth president-general of Ohaneze Ndigbo.

*Being excerpts of text of a presentation made at the 18th Daily Trust Dialogue held on Thursday, January 21, at the NAF Conference Centre and Suites, Gwarimpa Express Way, Kado, Abuja.

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