The Case For A Paradigm Shift And Constitutional Change By: Onye Nkuzi 

In my last article I focused on Nigeria’s inability to learn the most important lesson of 1982; good times do not last, commodity price fluctuations are guaranteed and failure to prepare for bad times leaves a nation at the tender mercies of IMF (you can ask Greece). I also explained that it is almost impossible for the generation that gave us the unitary petro-state to lead a charge for the diversification of revenues in their old age. This article is for younger generations. For Nigeria to be of any use to itself (or Africa), it requires a paradigm shift in its internal political architecture, legal/regulatory framework and economic management. I intend to discuss these key themes. Even those who have taken a cursory glance at the Nigerian Constitution cannot help but notice that it is obsessed with a very powerful centre, sharing and equal representation. Nigeria is a very large, very diverse and very complex nation and there is a limit to which an obsession with uniformity can deal with the challenges of such a nation. Our obsession with uniformity has led to a unitary state which is woefully unequipped to deal with our diversity. The tag Federal Republic is almost meaningless. Sharing is a very socialist principle. Socialists are extremely good at devising new formulas for sharing resources and empowering a few to direct the allocation of resources. However, a focus on sharing does not incentivize creativity or productivity. Nothing illustrates this as much as the monthly parade to Abuja by state commissioners of finance to share crude oil rents at Federation Account Allocation Committee meetings. The burden of our obsession with sharing (or “sharing the national cake”) is borne by the Niger Delta – 50 years of non-stop environmental disaster and an unresponsive centre lacking the capacity to deal with Africa’s worst environmental disaster. This burden will not be borne ad infinitum by the Niger Delta and future generations will either have to deal with the consequences or proactively diversify internally generated revenue. Diversity is a very interesting concept; most Nigerians think of diversity as cultural/ethnic diversity, but diversity is a lot deeper – political diversity and economic diversity are extremely important dimensions of diversity. The United States of America is an ethnically diverse entity like Nigeria, but its constitution recognises the importance of political diversity in a way the Nigerian Constitution does not. In the United States, states are semi-autonomous sub-national units; the US constitution provides the general overarching framework and state constitutions fill in the details. US state governors have the political autonomy to be creative, to drive the kind of change that leads to economic investment and to pioneer new modes of governance. Political diversity and economic diversity are linked. If sub-national units are empowered and incentivized to make/take responsibility for far reaching economic decisions (not like in Nigeria where Abuja decides whether a bridge can be built across the Lagos Lagoon or whether the Calabar Channel should be dredged) then the entire nation benefits from the increased productivity and economic growth. This is one secret behind America’s success as a nation. Individual states are empowered to think out of the box in the management of their economies. California was described as a laboratory for new ideas in government – and despite its present day troubles, California did provide many new ideas in governance. California’s economy is about the same size as Italy’s. California is possible in the United States of America, but not in Nigeria with its unitary constitution. Over-dependence on crude oil rents is a major stumbling block to political and economic diversity. As long as crude oil rents are available, there will be few incentives for either genuine constitutional change or diversification of internally generated revenues. State governors will only begin to “think outside the box” to develop their state economies when their backs are against the wall (crude oil rents are no longer assured). Resource Control is an idea whose time has come. We often misunderstand what roles each tier of government is supposed to play. Neither Abuja nor the president will diversify Nigeria’s economy/internally generated revenue; that job is for empowered sub-national units. The best Abuja can do is to empower them to do so. The principles encapsulated in this essay must form the basis of a new Nigerian Constitution. The generation that gave us the unitary petro-state will stubbornly stick to the ideas of their youth, but these changes are not optional for younger generations. We either have to make these changes voluntarily or have these changes forced on us in less than one or two decades; but by then it might be too late. With a combination of the Shale Revolution, a hydrocarbon supply glut and a rapidly expanding population, Nigeria’s days as a petro-state are numbered.


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