National contradictions Tinubu must resolve in 2024, By Michael Owhoko

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Any Nigerian with a rational and open mind knows thatthe  complexity of governance in Nigeria today is rooted in the country’s political system, which by any stretch of the imagination and logic, is unsuitable for a heterogenous society with over 250 ethnic groups that are characterised by incompatible cultures, varied histories, backgrounds and interests. 

These ethnic groups were hitherto independent nations that ceded their sovereignty to the Nigerian state under federalism, a political system that took cognisance of their peculiarities, as agreed upon by the country’s founding fathers. But ever since this system was subverted and replaced with a unitary state structure, Nigeria has been embroiled in unending suspicions, distrust, disunity, disharmony, nepotism, hegemony and rivalry among the various ethnic nationalities, which is indicative of its inappropriateness. 

The unsuitability of the unitary state structure, an inequitable revenue sharing method, the breach of the country’s secular status, a dishonest quota system and the political location of industries, are major national contradictions undermining Nigeria’s potentials. Except to hide under the cover of pretence, it is a common knowledge that Nigeria’s progress is held down by these national paradoxes. They are aberrations and drawbacks that are fundamentally responsible for the country’s stunted growth. These are what President Bola Tinubu must address in 2024 to set the tone for an equitable and prosperous Nigeria. 

Efforts outside this trajectory amounts to a sheer cosmetic administrative routine and waste of valuable resources incapable of restoring hope. The unitary system of government has become a Frankenstein monster that is pushing the country towards the precipice, with diminished national and global stature. Until a more suitable political template is introduced, Nigeria will continue to drift in circles like a regional giant with no illuminating potentials to inspire public confidence. 

Federalism has been tested in Nigeria, and it worked. It is a system of government in which all the federating states and central government are financially independent, autonomous, interdependent and co-equal, with neither the federal government nor the states being inferior to each other. This is the political system that best suits the country’s cultural diversity and sociological complexities, and which is capable of achieving equity, justice and balance. 

In a plural society like Nigeria, a unitary system is a misfit, lacking the capacity to promote unity. It engenders acrimony, disaffection, nepotism, primordial nationalism and marginalisation, owing to conflicting cultural aspirations. The emergence of separatist movements and other related self-determination groups are some of the challenges facing Nigeria today, justifying the need for federalism to stem the tide. Otherwise, the country risks more ethnic nationalities surfacing to seek autonomy from the federation.

With about 68 items on the Exclusive List and 12 items on the Concurrent List, the 1999 Constitution is in structure, content and spirit, a unitary document, through which the destiny of the states and people of the country are determined and centrally regulated, using revenue allocation as tool of coercion and subservient corporatism. This Constitution has failed Nigerians. The states or geo-political zones want independent holds of their future within the context of their distinct cultural aspirations.

As a way out, the concept of the 1963 Constitution should be invoked to allow states take control of the mineral deposits found in their domains. In other words, fiscal federalism with the derivation principle, allowing retention of a 50 per cent minimum of accrued revenues found in or generated by the states, should be introduced. All states and geo-political areas in Nigeria are evidently endowed as God has provided every habitat with natural resources, including agricultural crops, for subsistence. This will not only give states the necessary financial autonomy, but will encourage them to harness and optimise their potentials, just as it will encourage hard-work, healthy competition, and discourage indolence.

Government’s involvement in religion is also a national contradiction and aberration. Nigeria is a secular state, as affirmed by Section 10 of the 1999 Constitution, which says that the government of the federation or of a state shall not adopt any religion as state religion in Nigeria. But the Federal Government’s behavioral disposition undermines this clause, when viewed against the backdrop of its contribution and participation in religious matters. 

By establishing the National Hajj Commission of Nigeria (NAHCON) and the Nigeria Christian Pilgrim Commission (NCPC) to oversee and facilitate the process for participation of Muslims in Hajj or Umra in Saudi Arabia and pilgrimage of Christians to Jerusalem and other holy sites, the Federal Government has adopted Islam and Christianity as official religions, contrary to the intention of secularism.     

The deception of Nigeria’s secularity status is further exposed by Nigeria’s membership of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), a religious body representing “the collective voice of the Muslim world”, and working “to safeguard the interests and ensure the progress and well-being of Muslims.” Nigeria’s membership is a tacit endorsement of the country as an Islamic state, as depicted by its commitment to the dues obligation of the OIC.  

Religion is a personal affair, and individuals are at liberty to practice their faiths as deemed appropriate, as long as it does not violate the right of others. The huge amount expended by Federal Government annually to fund NAHCON and NCPC, as well as meeting financial obligations in OIC, is an infringement on the right of Nigerians whose taxes are used to service these private interests. 

After all, government’s involvement in religion has not reduced moral decadence in Nigeria, as most beneficiaries of these pilgrimages to Hajj and Jerusalem are involved in corruption that have contributed to the country’s woes. Rather than waste the country’s resources on these unprofitable ventures, such money should be used to shore up decaying infrastructure across the country. 

President Tinubu should therefore dissolve NAHCON and NCPC, and remove Nigeria from membership of OIC, as part of strategies to maintain the secularity of the state. Any state government whichsoever desires to fund its citizens to holy sites is free to do so at its own expense. The Federal Government must hands-off religion to save taxpayers’ money for more useful ventures. 

The quota system is another national contradiction. It is part of Nigeria’s problems, and a source of bureaucratic ineptitude that should be discarded for excellence. This system has been consistently abused and manipulated by government officials to serve primordial and entrenched interests. The system has also deprived millions of brilliant Nigerians opportunities to serve their fatherland on account of their states of origin.   

When merit is sacrificed on the altar of representation, what you have is incompetence and failure. Nigeria is currently paying the price of poor performance in government, owing to quota application in the recruitment process in its ministries, departments and agencies (MDAs). The outcome has been inefficiency and poor service delivery, with no value addition. 

Sadly, the quota system is applicable to the educational sector that is supposed to be the substratum of research and development. Unqualified students are admitted into federal unity schools and universities, while brilliant ones are unable to secure placements. In some cases, the appointment of professors and award of PhD degrees are based on a quota system, leading to the production of quota scholars lacking the capacity for research and discovery. What an irony for a country that is striving to compete in global affairs!

The quota system is a recipe for failure and poor performance. It is not applicable in the private sector because of the above mentioned gaps. This may have also informed why the powers that be have deliberately refused to introduce the system in the selection of players for the national team, the Super Eagles. They know that if the obnoxious quota is applied, the performance of the Super Eagles will be outright tragedy for the country. 

Another national contradiction is the political location of industries. Oil and gas companies involved in the exploration of crude oil in the Niger Delta should be compelled to relocate their administrative headquarters to areas where they have a minimum of 70 per cent of their operations. This will not only accelerate development of the region, but help in resolving the current poverty and frustration, resulting from negligence and degradation in the region. The Nigeria LNG Limited, which moved its administrative headquarters from Lagos to Bonny Island, Rivers State, where its operational base is located, is enjoying support from its host communities. The company should be commended and emulated.

Therefore, to reset, reshape and reposition Nigeria for a stronger brand identity aimed at maximising its full potentials to achieve national progress, regional influence and global respect, President Bola Tinubu must address and nip these national contradictions in the bud by next year, 2024. 

Mike Owhoko, Lagos-based journalist and author, can be reached at www.mikeowhoko.com.

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