Who will say, ‘To hell with Oil Money?'(2)


Idang Alibi

Due principally to the derivation principle in force and the quality of leadership provided by the likes of Awo, Zik, Ahmadu Bello, Okpara and the rest in the First Republic, Nigeria witnessed very rapid development. I believe that if easy oil money had not come and we maintained high quality leadership, Nigeria would today be in the same global economic ranking as Brazil or South Korea.

But because of oil and the jettisoning of the derivation principle because some could not bear seeing ‘a tiny section' of the country take a lion share of such quantum of money, a whole new set of negative attitude came into force in our country. And i will dare say it here that unless we as a people summon courage to say, ‘to hell with oil money', rapid positive development will not take place in our country soon. This is not a curse but a statement of reality motivated by patriotic love for Nigeria.

I say this because those who claim that what Nigeria needs now is not a conference of whatever appellation to redress some of the wrongs that are seriously affecting our development, but a change in our attitude or values, are being less than honest. The structure or system of a polity quite often fosters a kind of attitude or value. If derivation is in place and we were less dependent on ‘free' oil money but were ‘sweating' for the money to sustain the system, there would be less corruption and wastage.

How many of us have realised that because we have jettisoned derivation what dominates our daily thinking and our debates in this country is sharing and not production? Sharing of posts; sharing of money, sharing of oil blocks, sharing of beautiful women; sharing of choice lands and sharing of everything that is conducive for subsidised living at the expense of national development? No one talks about what we should do to increase our national patrimony.

It is truly a great tragedy that this polity of ours is organised towards one goal: how to position and get a share of the national oil cake. Quota, federal character principle, zoning, the struggle to have more states and more local government area councils, the existence of Northern Governors Meeting, Southern Governors Meeting, Eastern Governors Meeting, Northern Speakers Meeting, Northern Secretary to Government's Meeting and similar other fora, are all a part of the strategy to get more of the mismanaged oil wealth. The reason we still do not have a reliable and acceptable national population census, why we cannot have a national identification card and why we cannot and may not be able to have a reliable voters' register are traceable to our decision to lie about our figures so that we can have more than our due share of oil money.

And for me the greatest tragedy that has befallen our country as a result of oil and the competition for its sharing is the total sacrifice of merit in favour of selfish or other parochial considerations. See this whether in recruitment to fill certain sensitive positions or in the way we look at issues. We cannot, for instance, punish the crime of stealing national wealth because we see those who loot oil money as heroes because the money belongs to no one!

When some of my countrymen argue that we cannot have a sovereign national conference because we already have in place elected men and women in the Executive and Legislative branches, I get amused by their supposed cleverness for I do not see how that constitutes an impediment to what many who are genuinely concerned about Nigeria are agitating for. Ladies and gentlemen, what genuine patriots are calling for is a velvet revolution to stem a violent revolution that may arise in the land if the present situation is left to continue to rot. Nigeria does not need a tinkering with; she requires a complete overhaul and re-coupling if she is to be in a state to fulfil her great destiny.

A friend of mine whose intelligence and patriotism I respect so much told me a month ago that some of us who have made it our calling to worry about Nigeria should be of good cheer for according to him whatever happens Nigeria will witness some change as we cannot simply continue this way. He told me that even if nothing is consciously done to change things, that change will come on its own because Nigeria is simply ripe for a change. Some of us agree with his diagnosis or prediction but the one small trouble I have with his correct thinking is that managed change is usually better than a spontaneous happenstance which can go terribly awry.

If my memory serves me right, we were taught in History class in secondary school that the reason other empires in world history had violent revolutions and Great Britain was spared that trauma was that the ruling class in Britain had the wisdom at every point in time to anticipate trouble and engage in reform, granting concessions where necessary to stem the tide of a possible violent revolution. Any ruling class that lacks the sagacity to recognise when reform is material risks a violent upheaval.

For me, a nation is like a limited liability company. It is a matter of course that shareholders meet annually to inquire into the health of the company run on their behalf by a Board of Directors. They own the company and are, or ought to be, interested in how those to whom they have delegated authority to make policy for and run the company are doing. They meet to inquire into the health of the company as well as take a decision as to whether or not the Board of Directors is doing well and whether or not it is desirable to kick them out or retain them. Except for a very tiny few who are profiting and those who keep hoping that one day they will get a chance to profit from the horrible manner successive Board of Directors of Nigerian Incorporated Unlimited have been running the company, everyone is tired with the way things are going on in our company.

If Nigeria can be likened to a public limited liability company, the argument that a sovereign national conference cannot possibly be held because we already have some elected officials in place does not hold water at all. It is like arguing that a shareholders meeting cannot take place because we have a Board of Directors in place! If a board of directors is in place courtesy of the shareholders it means that we the shareholders have the powers to decide that the current board of directors should give way because we want to restructure the company, decide on a new operating principle including the size, powers and nature of the board to make the company more profitable. And who are these members of the board who will say we cannot do so if we are determined to do so? Can the clay tell the potter that he has no powers to make new pots but that he should make do with the pots he already has? A part of why Nigeria Incorporated is operating at a loss has something to do with the structure, power and policies guiding the operation of the company, including the very idea of the type of governance structure we have.

There comes a time in the life of a people, company or organisation when the people must disregard or dispense with niceties, or suspend protocol or set aside with rules in order to more decisively deal with the problems assailing them. Such a time has come in the life of our country Nigeria. This is not a time to hide our heads in the sands and pretend that all is well. All is not well with Nigeria at all. So many things are horribly wrong with Nigeria. Nigeria is ailing for a number of reasons: corruption, waste, size of her bureaucracy, power sharing arrangement, lack of faith in the very concept of one Nigeria, lack of vision on the part of those entrusted with the responsibility of driving her quest for development, an ingrained attitude on the part of many that things will not just work with the arrangement we have in place now. These times call for something to be done. One of them is dialogue by whatever name called so that ideas can be cross-fertilised to be able to fix Nigeria.

How can anyone argue that the shareholders cannot meet because we have a board of directors in place when we have the powers to tell the existing board that they should step because the decision we intend to take may include the fate of the board of directors as well? What i am saying in effect is that the argument should not be about whether such a conference is necessary. The conference has long ago moved from ‘'necessary'' to ‘'absolutely necessary'' and from absolutely necessary to a ‘'categorical imperative''. We should be talking plenty and not fear any talk about the present and future of our country.

Do we know what is staring us in the face in this country? The level of dissatisfaction among virtually every part of this country with the state of affairs is truly disturbing. I know it is part of a negotiating technique for even those who have a fair share of the national cake to join those who have cause to complain in grumbling. But in our own peculiar case everyone seems to have one thing or another to complain about. Under such a circumstance, the way out is for us to organise and talk. It is not talk that will lead to disintegration. It is not talking that will precipitate our doom. I have never seen anywhere where people fear to talk and seem to give the impression that they prefer war or burying their heads in the sands.

What should preoccupy our attention now is what some call the ‘'modalities''. How should the talk be organised? What will be the items on the agenda? Are we going to pay heed to what is called the doctrine of settled issues according to Obasanjo, Babangida and other retired generals who fought the Civil War or will we insist that everything should be brought to the table so that consensus can be reached on every and all issues? How will the conference be financed and directed? Who will be our Thomas Jeffersons, George Hamiltons, etc? Who will produce our Federalist Papers? Who are the statesmen that will show themselves up to be recruited to drive the talk? God willing, at a future date, I will take up all these issues in a piece I intend to entitle Modalities for a Sovereign national conference: My suggestion.



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