Nigeria-Cameroon border
Nigeria-Cameroon border

It is not by providence that Nigeria is where it is today but by choice of those who have ruled her in over five decades of her existence.

Many Nigerians have a warped imagination or notion that Nigeria is the giant or pride of Africa but they can’t be more wrong except in the area of population.

At independence, Nigeria was the hope of Africa and it was expected to build the future destination for other Africans to look up to. When and how Nigeria lost the compass is no secret.

Hear the Late Nelson Mandela on this, “YOU know I am not very happy with Nigeria. I have made that very clear on many occasions. Yes, Nigeria stood by us more than any nation, but you let yourselves down, and Africa and the black race very badly. Your leaders have no respect for their people. They believe that their personal interests are the interests of the people. They take people’s resources and turn it into personal wealth. There is a level of poverty in Nigeria that should be unacceptable. I cannot understand why Nigerians are not angrier than they are“.

In almost every indices of progressive nation, Nigeria heartbreakingly lags behind many African countries. Take for example revenue, Nigeria has the 5th fattest revenue in Africa after South Africa, Algeria, Egypt and Angola. With her over 180 million people, Nigeria’s national income is $19.280b, while Angola which is just ahead of Nigeria rakes in $47,090b for its 25 million people. Egypt with about 89 million people see at least $72.700b enter their coffers yearly while Algeria with 39 million people take in $73.700b. South Africa which is expectedly at the failure of Nigeria is at the top of the chart with $102.800b for its 54 million people. When you do the math by dividing the revenue with the population you will see how far low Nigeria has gone.

Government after government have come and gone promising to revamp the economy, open other revenue sources and make Nigeria less dependent on oil but they routinely fail. Why is the failure of our past governments in diversifying revenue sources for the government a hundred percent failure? The structure of Nigeria is the reason. Nobody no matter how smart or good intentioned you are will be able to succeed in doing that with a unitary federalism in a multi ethnically diversified country like Nigeria where suspicion, mistrust and uncertainty run deep.

At independence, Nigeria was a hope for the whole of Africa, a nation scrupulously put together by the British but still had hope to sell to the rest of Africa for a brighter future. The regions had control over the resources of both natural and human within their bounds and there were healthy competitions which resulted in massive production of palm oil, cocoa and building pyramid with harvested groundnuts. Something happened to that success breeding structure before we found ourselves in this unitary federalism where failure is assured. What really happened?

Ironsi on taking over the government in 1966 assumed that regional autonomy was the breeding point of disunity in Nigeria and abolished federalism with decree 34 and instituted unitary system which is inconsistent and incompatible with the nature and composition of Nigeria as a country. After Ironsi was removed and killed through highly bloody coup alleged to have been led by Gen. Yakubu Gowon, Nigeria was reversed to federal system only politically without its fiscal structures. Even the political stricture was a limited version of what it used to be.

Prior to Ironsi’s regime, every region was run like a semi-autonomous component of a greater Nigeria. Regions controlled their resources and an agreed percentage due to the government at the center was appropriately remitted. Development was faster because every region understood that their destiny lies within. We had the era Pyramid was built with groundnut, we were world largest exporter of cocoa and palm oil, coal was equally exported and so many other minerals. That was how Awolowo’s government could grant and sustain free education for western region but today even with our so called petro dollar, no state can grant and sustain free education. Governor Okorocha of Imo state tried it and failed woefully and Imo state is yet to recover from that venture.

There are many undeniable advantages fiscal federation will bring to the table once it comes on board again. Fiscal federalism will domesticate our ever roaming and nomadic governors who have virtually moved their offices to Abuja where each picks up financial hand out monthly like civil servants. Fiscal federalism will bring growth in the whole of 36 states that will collectively increase Nigeria’s GDP. Devolution of power which is crucial to new Nigeria, can only be implemented soundly in a fiscal federation. Recent events in Nigeria especially as it relates to security have eerie echoes of Nigerian security situation in the 60s which points to the need for a workable and sustainable state police. Have we thought of the positive effect enthronement of fiscal federation will have in our power sector? The much centralized control over power will be devolved and exponential power generation will be recorded by different government at the circumference which will impulsively lead to more investments and job creation. Nigeria will return to its leading role in black race which its positive effect on black struggles all over the globe can never be overestimated.

Obi Ebuka Onochie writes via