by C. E. Oyibo
All of Nigeria's problems come down to one thing: an over-concentration of power at the center—the readiest manifestation of which is the following. All oil revenues accrue to the federal government, from which a paltry 13% is disbursed to the oil-producing states (based on the subsisting derivation principle) and the balance is allocated to the 36 states and FCT.
To call up the the relevant history, Nigeria's pre-independence 1960 constitution provided in section 134 (1) that "[t]here shall be paid by the federation to each region a sum equal to fifty per cent of (a) the proceeds of any royalty received by the federation in respect of any minerals extracted in that region; and (b) any mining rents derived by the federation during that year from within that region." Not precisely one's definition of regional autonomy, but fair enough.
Starting in 1966, under the Gowon's military regime, the derivation allocation dropped to 45% and experienced other drops during the successive military regimes until it hit its lowest level, 1.5%, under the Buhari administration. Today, the derivation allocation is 13%—a small win for the Niger Delta agitators for resource control.
The military regimes, which ruled by decrees rather than acts of legislature, arrogated to the federal center untold powers and essentially propagated authoritarian and inequitable provisions into, at first, the 1979 constitution, and later, the 1999 constitution. The 1999 constitution, a product of military fiat (let's eschew pretensions to the contrary), continues to be in effect in Nigeria today. And as egregious as the constitutional provision that vests minerals rights in the federal government, the Land Use Act of 1978 vests ownership of state land in the Governor of the state, such that, technically, everyone who owns land in Nigeria merely holds a temporary lease over that land.
This is not simply a Niger Delta or oil issue. It is a matter than affects our country in its most basic constitution. As long as the federal government continues to control oil revenues, disbursing 13% to the oil-producing states and sharing the rest among the other states and FCT, Kogi and Oyo will not have incentives to produce iron ore, Ondo and Ekiti will not have incentive to produce bitumen, Jos will not have incentive to produce tin and bauxite, and so on and so forth.
Incentives are highly crucial for motivating people to produce. Why would non-oil producing states make the effort to develop their own resources if they are guaranteed free monthly allocations from revenues generated from another part of the country? Equally importantly, why would non-oil producing states make the effort to develop their own resources if 87% of any revenue generated will be confiscated by the all-powerful center?
We must devolve power from the federal center and towards the people , in whatever form they constitute themselves (6 regions have been proposed as preferable to the current 36 states; I agree). In order to resolve this question in an orderly, rational fashion, we must convene a sovereign national conference and write for ourselves a new constitution that rids us of unwanted vestiges of military caprice. We must pay attention to property rights—particularly to vesting surface and mineral rights in the land owner rather than in governments. (Property rights are, by the way, prerequisite to a vibrant market economy). Nigerians should not permit themselves passivity. We know what we must do: insist on a national reckoning through an SNC, fashion a true federalism with autonomous regions that control their own resources and whose people contribute to the federal center through taxes. In the end, it will be true indeed that we get the government we deserve.
C. E. Oyibo is writing his thesis for a master in urban planning and policy (economic development) at the University of Illinois at Chicago.