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Restructuring: Why? When? How? By John Nnia Nwodo

I am delighted to be here today to join very notable Nigerians to discuss a topic of great importance to our country at this point in our history.  I thank the management and staff of Daily Trust Newspapers for this opportunity.

Because of the limited time available to speakers for this topic, I shall adopt a very simple question and answer format in dealing with my presentation.

Why should we restructure?

We should restructure because the constitutional history of Nigeria shows that the only constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria made by all the ethnic groups in Nigeria was 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 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.  Regional 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 25th to 26th, 1963, a national constitutional conference was held in Lagos.  This conference led to the enactment of the 1963 constitution.  The constitution replaced the position of the Governor-General appointed by the British Monarch 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 Presidential constitution, which overthrew our Parliamentary system of government.  The Constitution was drafted by 49 members 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 made a draft Constitution, which 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 that is in use in Nigeria.

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

The 1999 Constitution overthrew the sovereignty of the regions over their national resources and domestic security unleashing in the process an unprecedented fall of educational standards, domestic security and economic wellbeing.

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, cotton mills, tin, animal husbandry and grains thrived.  Ahmadu Bello University grew into a reputable University 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 internationally renowned Pharmacy Department. The first television station in Africa was established at Ibadan and the first stadium in Africa in the same Ibadan.  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 The University of London. Military rule and the imposition of a nonfederal 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 was created and used as a 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 “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”.

The Nigerian economy has grossly underperformed relative to her enormous resource endowment and her peer nations.  It has the 6th 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 economic performance has been rather weak and does not reflect these endowments, compared with emerging Asian countries, notably Thailand, Malaysia, India, China and Indonesia that were behind Nigeria in terms of GDP per capita 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”.

In 2017, Oishimaya Sen Nag, Ph.D., 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 (3) 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.

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.

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 6th, 2019 reports that Nigeria spends $1.3 billion annually on importation of dairy products like milk, yogurt and cheese.  She quoted Bello Umar, Nigeria’s Permanent Secretary, and Ministry of Agriculture, who at the 4th Global Dairy Congress, Africa in Abuja said that “Nigeria produces 13% of dairy in West Africa and 0.01 percent of global dairy at a production capacity of 50,000 litres daily, less than 20% of local potential”.

Nigeria is also the world’s sixth producer of crude oil in the world.  In spite of this, 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.

On March 5th, 2019, Punch Newspapers published that Nigeria spent N2.95 trillion to import premium motor spirit, also known as petrol in 2018.  This was an increase of 50% from the previous year. Data from the Pipelines and Product Marketing Company, a subsidiary of NNPC indicate fluctuating monthly consumptions.  In January 2018, PMS import averaged 56.5 million litres per day, In February, it jumped to 86.4 million lpd.  In March, it stood at 66.8 million lpd.  In April, 70.7 million lpd, May, 36.7 million lpd, 34.5 million lpd in June, 36.5 million lpd, in July, 58.4 million lpd in August and 59.8 million lpd in September.

These fluctuations had nothing to do with changes in domestic demand.  They were largely attributable to cross border smuggling because of dishonesty, poor border security and the differential in price between Nigeria and other neighbouring countries making it difficult to sanitize our fuel supply and distribution matrix.

This high cost of importation and high subsidy payments to make pump price affordable is a sad story of a country that in spite of being the sixth largest producer of crude oil cannot produce petrol at an affordable price nor prevent subsidised and imported fuel from being smuggled into neighbouring countries and sold at higher costs.

Looking at our economy holistically the following indicators between 2014 and 2018 tell our performance history.

What general deductions can we make here?

External debt accumulation has seen federal government external debt grow from $10.7bn in 2015 to $21bm in 2018 up by $10.3bn. 135% growth rate.

Domestic debt has also moved from N8.83tn as at Dec 2015 to N12.77 trn in Dec 2018- a whopping 44% in 3 years.

The cost of servicing federal government debts have grown from 32.72% in 2015 to 61.59% in 2017.

Our daily production of oil has moved from 2.8 million barrels per day in 2011 to 1.174 million barrels in Dec. 2020.

America has discovered a new oil production technology – called shale oil production based on the liquefying of rocks and similar solid hydrocarbons.  Similarly energy production from solar and waste has improved exponentially over the last two years.  China and 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, demand for electric cars have surpassed the demand for cars operated on fossil oil.

Bloomberg predicts that in the next six months American production of shale oil will increase to 12 million barrels a day if it survives the low demand occasioned by the Cardio-virus crisis.  It also predicted last year that, following the price war between Russia and Saudi Arabia, World oil price will fall to $30 per barrel. It fell to $30 per barrel following the COVID-19 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 Nigeria will in 2050 become the world’s fourth largest population with a population of 397 million 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 oil price will fall!!!

Saudi Arabia is investing $110 billion to develop its estimated 200 trillion cubic feet of wet gas by 2036.  When completed it will provide $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 of turning sunlight into energy and expanding the science of medical imaging in newer and more profound dimensions. The photoelectric power conversion efficiency of the Perovskite solar cells has increased from 3.8% in 2009 to 22.1% in 2016, making Perovskite solar cells the best potential candidate for the new generation of solar cells to replace traditional silicon solar cells in the future.  Light absorption and photoelectric conversion has become better, more efficient and a threat to oil-based economy!!

Research is also advanced in the US and Europe on 5G telecommunications, which will achieve improved quality and speed of internet communications that will promote new models of self-driven cars, better movies 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.

Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, 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 by drone technology determine the chemical deficiency of a plant in a farm without setting foot on the farm.  It can also cure the deficiency by drone technology without entering the farm.

The USA has also advanced drone technology with the capacity to go to war and 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.

According 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 5 – 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 in the world who are not being educated. Mr.  Hussaini said that the 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% of the children out of school in Nigeria come from Northern Nigeria.

We must restructure to revamp our agricultural potentialities. 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-drying resource for earning foreign exchange.  The truth is that the most reliable source of revenue now is agriculture

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 $100billion annually to its economy.  The secret is education, better mechanised farming, growth of green farm technology, drone monitoring systems and land reclamation by building of damns.

Northern Nigeria is Nigeria’s greatest treasure in Agriculture.  Northern Nigeria is blessed with diverse livestock production with its capacity for dairy production.  It has various tubers of potatoes, yam, cassava and cocoyam.  Its poultry growth is rich and its vegetable and fruit production in Nigeria’s different weather conditions are outstandingly plentiful.  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 films of underage children voting in the last local government elections in Kano State last week.  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 sometimes up to one year to have an electoral dispute resolved in the courts.  We have unwittingly dragged the credibility of our law courts into disrepute so much so that journalists and lawyers alike cast aspersions at them.

We must restructure to reduce insecurity in our country.  Whilst I was working on this speech on Monday, 18th January 2021, I paused to read the news for the day.  I 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

Gunmen 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 continue unabated.

The influx of Fulani insurgents in North West Nigeria and numerous kidnap of leading personalities there appear beyond redemption. Now a state government, Zamfara has taken over the mining of minerals and sells gold to the Central Bank not minding the unconstitutionality of the exercise.

Modern philosophy for security is local policing.  In Europe and America, 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.

When do we restructure?

We must do all we can to restructure before the next election in 2023 because of 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.

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 adult Nigerians 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 based on 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.

I thank you for your kind attention.

Nwodo, a lawyer, economist, and former Minister and the immediate past President-General of the Ohanaeze Ndigbo, delivered this speech at the 18th Daily Trust Dialogue, Thursday, January 21, 2021, in Abuja

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