Sunday, July 2, 2017

Nigeria: What kind of restructuring?

Nigeria: What kind of restructuring?

By Chuks Isiugo

That is one question that has popped up now and then amid the current noisy, and sometimes rancorous debate about the future of Nigeria. It is a question that is at once pertinent and crucial, if a country that lost its way can get back on the track.

Perhaps, that question should be preceded by yet another question: Why restructure? You restructure when a construct has become weak and rickety. When a structure has outlived its usefulness, is no longer sustainable or delivering the service it was designed for. When the structure has become misshapen.

The fact is that the structure of Nigeria today isn't what it was designed to be. It was designed as a regional structure, where the three, and later four constituent parts were semi-autonomous, controlled 50 percent of their resources and were able to shape their destiny. As the tragedy of Nigeria's post-colonial era unfolded, and the state was captured by a faction of the elite in the ensuing one-upmanship, the distortion began.

With the oil reserves found in the country's southeast as the big spoil, all subsequent administrative creativity exhibited by members of the famous Class of July ‘66 was aimed at taking more than their fair share of the oil wealth, through the creation of states and local government areas and the award of oil acreages to selves and cronies. In other words, all those administrative units created by a succession of military regimes, from Gowon to Abacha, were all effected with an eye on sharing the oil wealth. None was designed as a genuine administrative units to improve the management of production and the economy, but rather as conduits for siphoning the oil wealth produced in the Niger Delta.

That is why we need to restructure because the oil age has ended. If you want to be hopeful, you can say it's about to end, and a give it a few more years, even a decade more. But for all practical purposes, the foundation on which the current Nigerian system is built has been undermined irredeemably. In societies where the ruling elites are forward thinking, they would have acted before the economic imperative. Now the imperative is upon us and people are asking, why restructure? They don't get it that if they don't restructure the force of circumstance will do it for them.

Abubakar Atiku seems to get it. And he's been warning the feudal elite of the north to move in time before the tsunami comes. Ibrahim Babangida, of all people, now gets it too, and has joined the chorus.

For years, especially following the annulment of the June 12, 1993 elections, groups such as the National Democratic Coalition, the Movement for National Reform (led by Anthony Enahoro), the Afenifere Group of the Yoruba southwest and the Eastern Mandate Union led by Arthur Nwankwo, have consistently called for restructuring the country, to return to the independence mandate. These were political agitations not backed by the economic imperative. They were mostly ignored without consequence.

Now it can no longer be ignored without grievous consequences. Despite President Muhammadu Buhari's military bravura and feudal arrogance, it took faceless, non-state actors called the Niger Delta Avengers to teach him that the region's oil could no longer be taken without their consent, even in this twilight of the oil age. It was a lesson he should've learned beforehand, and Nigeria could've avoided recession.

Technological advances in oil production will ensure the abundance of the fuel, and Nigeria would be hard-pressed to find buyers should it overproduce as it did in the past. With advances being made in alternative energy, including electric cars, wind and solar energy, it is estimated that the equivalent of all of OPEC’s production today (about 32 million barrels a day) won't be needed by the 2030s.

So this is Nigeria’s conundrum. Why won't you restructure faced with such a daunting future? Isn't it better we rejig the structure, and create units that are economically sustainable, release the feudal brakes holding back Nigeria, free pent up energies now bursting its sides and allow the wheel of progress to take us to the future?