Restructuring (non-technically): Derivation or Ownership?

“Restructuring.” Its meaning is debatable and for many, it is about oil, resource control. Surprisingly, many see resource control as the receipt of an increased top-up percentage of “derivation” by oil-producing states from oil revenues issued by the federal government (FG) as fiscal allocations. Where is the control in receiving a token part of the revenues from resources mined under your jurisdiction? Derivation no matter the percentage is not reducible to restructuring. A synonymous concept to restructuring is “federalism”, the structural devolution of power from central government to federating units [granting them autonomy] within the national structure. If achieved in Nigeria, restructuring will effectively end the unitary system of government introduced by the military government since 1966. Very little is said about the “ownership” of natural resources in the mainstream Nigerian debate on restructuring. Is ownership a taboo word when it comes to oil and federalism?

Ownership will always trump derivation as a rational restructuring choice. Derivation has also been a pacifier rent strategically shared among the local rentier class and never intended to bring development anywhere it is disbursed. It is better for states to have 1% or 30% ownership of natural resources than get 50% or 90% derivation revenues from mineral resources. This logic will necessarily have to be a condition of autonomy of the devolved federating units and their resources when restructuring has been achieved.
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Somehow, the federalism implied for Nigerian adoption is of two general formats, (1) Nigerian federalism before the military intervention by way of coup d’état in January 1966, and (2) American federalism as a benchmark and guiding principle. This is where the problem of choice and application begins. The first format of federalism suggests the need for “political regression” – a return to the 4 regions system overseen by Tafawa Balewa or the twelve states system created by Gowon. Some also advocate for federalism within the format of the 6 geopolitical zones in a similar way to the 4 regions or 12 states system. This format seems by consensus to reject the current 36 states system. The second format suggests adopting the US-styled federalism, tacitly, expecting the FG to let devolved autonomous federating units (regions, states or local governments) or even private individuals to own resources within given jurisdictions in Nigeria outright.
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There is nothing wrong whatsoever with political retrogression as long as it is compatible with “Intelligent Retrogression” (IR). IR, “going back to our roots” was originally advocated by Rev S.R.B. Attoh-Ahuma, an early 20th Century Ghanaian philosopher and more recently revived by Ghanaian economist George Ayittey, is a profound call to return to the way of life that is deeply and customarily embodied by Africans, with emphasis on the pre-colonial. While the purpose of IR is intended for deep indigenous reflection and guidance, it could also be also useful for the return to a post-colonial system of governance that once worked well in Nigeria’s past. IR necessarily rejects the unitary system of government vehemently. Peter Ekeh also affirms that members of African societies are loyal and moral towards the “primordial” [indigenous traditional] public but they are amoral and subversive towards the “civic” [foreign (colonial)] public. Will restructuring take into account enriching civic institutions with primordial ones to Nigerian institutions more instrumental [effective] than ceremonial [nominal]?
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There is also nothing wrong with the decentralised ownership of natural resources. But would the FG even entertain such a request cum demand? Ownership is a relationship that entitles an owner to legally use a property or asset as he or she pleases without breaking the law. Moral ownership is a relationship that does not entitle an owner to use a property or asset as he or she pleases no matter how rightful such a claim is outside the law. Niger Deltans morally own the oil but the FG by way of federal law owns all oil resources centrally. This is where Nigeria’s unitary system of government fails too many of its citizens. The tyranny unitary law is the problem and restructring is the only vialble solution. Does the Midwest, for instance, and other regions have the collective will and wherewithal to demand the ownership of their resources? It is evident they do and they will.
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The reason ownership should not be underestimated is the fungibility of a federating unit. A German economist once enlightened me to the fact that Britain as a colonial power if it so wished, could have sold Nigeria to Norway or the USA just like you sell a corporation! The FG once owned Bakassi. Now the Government of Cameroon owns it. Just like that. This is why self-ownership and autonomy are very important. But also important is the human and financial cost of the degradation of the land that is mined for natural resources.
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After decades of pollution, there is no clean up of the Niger Delta in sight. The FG has treated the Niger Delta as a “sacrifice zone”, all its wealth good for revenues and none of the responsibility for the aftermath. Transaction costs inform us that if you pollute someone else’s land that person bears the cost, not the polluter. Someone got a Nobel Prize for that. In reality, experience and common sense inform us that there is more incentive for an individual to clean up his own backyard, ceteris paribus, than if a stranger or neighbour. Political distance is as much a problem as physical distance from the central government. Restructuring is the best chance of cleaning up the Niger Delta.

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The future of Nigeria, is federalism with devolved autonomy and ownership. Derivation is a rent that no longer suffices to add value and progress to Nigeria.
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Grimot Nane

One response

  1. Are African people still loyal and acting moral towards the “primordial” indigenous traditional political and social settings?

    What’s good and beneficial about the defunct regional system or the 12 states federal structure that can’t be implemented or improved upon in the current 36 states dispensation?

    What’s virtuous and lustre about the characters and behaviours of the Nigerian people (north or south) which the political structure has so smothered and has not allowed to shine through?

    Has the federal structure so overpowered and disabled the states and local government operators that they lack the capability to effectively use their revenue allocations (meagre as they maybe) to create and manage social and infrastructural change for their people?

    Why are we so obsessed with revenue allocations, resource control and ownership while ignoring the roots and braches of the problem – our character, behaviour. The average politician, civil servant, the military, traditional chief, civil society, ordinary people including the youth) are generally impulsive, impetuous, imperious, and acts in impromptu manner without giving any rat’s arse about if their action or inaction imperil their communities, organisations, states and country as long as they are benefiting.

    There’s nothing wrong with any system which cannot be fixed with concerted and genuine efforts. Even the countries we envy and escape to as unwanted refugees have issues with their political and social structures and systems. It will ever be work in progress.

    Nigerians are simply wired wrong and we ignore this fact to our continuing peril.

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