By Omoh Gabriel
Once again the social economic milieu in which election are conducted in Nigeria has open the old wounds of state of origin and the associated norm of federal character. As a result of the level of poverty on mind of the citizenry, poverty of the individual in their welfare, the ordinary citizen is being used by politicians to visit discard acts on innocent Nigerians. In Lagos for instance some individuals boldly asked some sets of Nigerians not to come out on election day. Many Nigerians especially the youths are bruised and it is time to beginning the healing process. For who ever has been elected must develop policies that will unite the nation. For quite some years now the Nigeria nation has witnessed a wave of unprecedented call for restructuring of the polity and the trooping out of Nigeria of young and skilled youths. This development is traceable to the feelings of being marginalised by the various nationalities that make up Nigeria. Many feel they are not getting their fair share of the nation’s resources while some are getting more than they deserve. This threatening social upheaval is rooted in economic deprivation of the masses. While some group of politicians, whether Hausa-Fulani, Yoruba or Igbo have individually or collectively shortchanged Nigerians, the poor Hausa-Fulani, the poor Yoruba or Igbo suffers the same hunger, deprivation, insecurity threat and economic marginalisation as any other. The unfortunate thing however, is that the poor and needy Nigerians have not been able to come together to find a lasting solution to their common problem.
Two things are now very needful for Nigeria as a nation. The very first thing is for who ever form the government at all levels to become creative and productive to steer the economy and usher in lasting prosperity. If Nigerians are gainfully employed, feel secured, can find good schools for their children, functional hospitals not consulting clinics, regular power supply and an enabling business environment, they will not bother from which tribe the president or governor comes from. It is the inadequacy of opportunity in the country that has created the milieu that has given rise to agitation as those in power are seen to be appropriating what belongs to the nation to themselves and their region of origin. Nigeria social political situation is comparable to the multi cultural circumstances in America. They have a diverse group. They are able to cope with social pressure because there is opportunity for all. The average American does not bother if a family produces the president or senator or Governor for several years. The system works because they are gainfully employed. Nigeria leaders must work at improving the economy and ensuring that the welfare of all Nigerians improve on continuous basis.
The second thing is that Nigeria must come out of the so called state of origin stigma. Nigeria is a country inhabited by Nigerians. It does not give any body a sense of belonging after leaving in any part of Nigeria for several years and still be called a settler or non indigene. These so called non indigenes pay taxes, levy and other dues more than the so called indigenes, yet they are strangers who can not own land in their place of settlement. The Federal Government should as a matter of urgency delete the use of state of origin from the statute books and replace it with place of birth or settlement. This will give every Nigerian a sense of belonging to pursue his or her legitimate economic dream anywhere in Nigeria. Nigerians by the current agitation have come to agree that the greatest challenge facing the development of this great nation is not necessarily corruption, but lack of national identity and sense of belonging in the country.
Nigerians owe their loyalty to either the north or south or tribe. Politicians who want to get undue advantage not necessarily for the north or south, usually fan the embers of North/South dichotomy. In the late 70s, when General Murtala Muhammed came on the Nigerian political scene, he had a vision of what he thought Nigeria should be that it was not. As a military general, who participated in keeping Nigeria one, he was consumed with the passion for a united Nigeria, a Nigeria that is free from the encumbrance of North-South dichotomy. He wanted to see a Nigeria where there was justice and fair play to all, no matter where they came from. That was what led to his renaming states he created and those created before him according to landmarks instead of the North, South, West and East naming of states in the country. The ideals of Murtala was catching on, in that most Nigerians were beginning to see themselves as belonging to Nigeria and not region before the men with flowing agbada returned to the scene to reintroduce the North-South equation and ethnic arithmetic into the body politics of Nigeria. It was at the Constituent Assembly that these old politicians, whose interest is their pockets and stomach, smuggled into the national dialogue, geo-political zones. It was in a bid to continue the old political economy and ethnic arithmetic that has dragged the nation backward for years.
The PDP then latched on it by its constitution insisting on power rotation and sharing according to the defined six geo-political zones. These zones were artificially created along political leanings and not comparative economic advantage of any sense. The idea of political zoning, which ought to have been a party affair within the PDP, was turned into a national issue depriving the nation of the best hand to serve the fatherland, Nigeria, at the highest political level. As Nigerians continue the debate on the merits and otherwise of restructuring the nation, it must agree to dispense with issues of zoning, state of origin, federal character, and catchment area admission policy in federal schools that have dragged the nation back. State of origin in Nigeria’s body politics is the evil machination of Nigerian politicians that has hindered even economic development. A Nigerian is a Nigerian. Restructuring must free Nigerians from this baggage. A Nigerian can be born anywhere but must be free to live, work and own properties anywhere in the country he chooses to live in without let and hindrance.
The constitution that will come out from the restructuring exercise must make it a criminal offence for any official of federal, state or local government or private sector employer to ask any Nigerian of his or her state of origin. Nigerian politicians should be ashamed of themselves to have allowed this for so long. Countries like America, Australia and Canada are asking millions of citizens of other countries to migrate to their countries yearly and such migrants are given equal opportunity. This is because of the economic advantage a growing population confers on a country. China today is an economic powerhouse because of its market size and a huge productive population that offers cheap and affordable labour to international businesses on the one hand and a huge market from the middle class. In China, it is not just that there is corruption, it is of high magnitude, yet the country is moving forward economic wise. Here at home, we have human resources we are wasting on the basis of state of origin. Many Nigerians who ordinarily would have been gainfully employed have no access to such job opportunities because of their state of origin. It is an act of political intolerance to see a fellow Nigerian as a foreigner in his homeland. It is this political intolerance that would make a state governor to deport a Nigerian from his state to his home state. It is only in Nigeria that there is deportation within a nation’s sovereign borders.
A Nigerian from Sokoto must be able to live in Rivers, work in Rivers and become a governor there if the people so desire. Same for an Edo, Ijaw, Yoruba or Ibo men living anywhere in the northern part of the country. It is by so doing that Nigerians can ever give their best for the nation. This is what will encourage mobility of labour and douse the current tension in the land. Nigerians will not be interested where the president or governor comes from if the economy is growing and absorbing able-bodied men and women as they come out from schools. Nigerians will be gladdened to see any president where ever he comes from who will guarantee them 24 hours of power supply, access roads, security of life and property, freedom of movement of goods and services and food on their table. The restructuring effort being canvassed must be ready to confront the issue of federal character that has enthroned mediocrity in public service. A Nigerian from anywhere in the country must aim at being the best. It is unfortunate that today, the question of federal character has been stretched to a ridiculous limit. Nigerians must deal with it if it intends to develop knowledge economy. It must also deal decisively with the question of catchment area in university admissions in federal institutions that have made it near impossible for national integration. Restructuring for the sake of political convenience of the ruling class will amount to nothing if these key issues are not addressed.
Nigeria it will be recalled after Independence was on the right path of economic growth and development. It had visionary leaders who were interested in the welfare of the people. Industries were springing up in every region of the country. In the North, Ahmedu Bello who held sway was pre-occupied by setting up farm settlements, textile industries. It was the same story in the East where Michael Opera set up farm settlements and a number of manufacturing companies. In the West, Chief Awolowo, apart from the popular free education, set up a number of industrial estates which attracted several companies from abroad. It is this simple reason that the West is the most educated and industrialised part of the country.
At this time, the Nigeria economy was in top shape and at take off stage in economic development mantra. The Nigerian economy was rated along the same indices with Brazil, Indonesia, Malaysia and the rest of the now talked about BRICKS countries. Then Nigeria had development plans that guided the nation. In the North pyramids of groundnuts and cotton were part of foreign exchange earning commodities. In the West, cocoa was found in abundance. in the South South and South East palm oil and kernel were export commodities. These brought pride to the Nigerian nation. The various regions were autonomous entities and there was competition among the regions on internally generated revenue. The military intervention and the discovery of crude oil in commercial quantity radically altered the course of Nigeria’s economic development. While the military discarded the fiscal federalism structure of the country and made the states to become federal allocation collector, the discovery of oil made Nigerian leaders to sleep walk and refuse to plan believing that the money flowing from the ground will solve all the nation’s problems. As Nigerian leaders were sleep walking and basking in the euphoria of petro-dollar earnings, Nigeria’s population was growing faster than the resources. Peter Drucker, the management expert, in his book the practice of management wrote “Innovation is the specific instrument of entrepreneurship, the act that endows resources with a new capacity to create wealth. Nigeria leaders failed to yield his management counsel, and today here we are with agitation for separation.