Excerpts from a paper presented by Mr. Okey Ezeh at the 2018 Law Week of the Nigerian Bar Association, Owerri Branch.
Distinguished ladies and gentlemen, permit me to begin my presentation today with an anecdote involving the great physicist, Albert Einstein, who only in January this year was honoured as Time Magazine’s Man of the Century.
Einstein was once reported to be traveling from Princeton on a train when the conductor came sauntering down the aisle, checking and punching the tickets of every passenger. When he got to Einstein, the great man reached in his vest pocket. He couldn’t find his ticket, so he reached in his trouser pockets but it wasn’t there.
He checked in his briefcase but there was no ticket. With increasing anxiety, he looked in the seat beside him yet he still couldn’t find it.
The conductor said, “Dr. Einstein, I know who you are. We all know who you are. I’m sure you bought a ticket. Don’t worry about it.”
The legendary scientist nodded appreciatively. The conductor continued down the aisle punching tickets. As he was ready to move to the next car, he swung around and saw the great physicist this time down on all fours with palpable worry etched on his brows searching frantically under his seat for his ticket.
The conductor rushed back and said, “Dr. Einstein, Dr. Einstein, don’t worry, I know who you are; no problem. You don’t need a ticket. I’m sure you bought one.”
Einstein looked at him and in a measured tone said, “Young man, I too know who I am. What I don’t know is where I’m going.”
A Nigeria without restructuring is like that passenger with name recognition and sufficient endowments to arrive his desired destination but ends up drifting endlessly on a bumpy trajectory as a result of the lack of possession of a navigational compass or roadmap that defines the route and destination.
The birth of Nigeria as a sovereign nation on October 1, 1960 raised great hopes the world over. It was believed that a giant that would lead that Black race had been born. The draft resolution that recommended Nigeria’s admission to the United Nations was never debated in the real sense of the word, neither was it questioned. Rather, the United Nations General Assembly that held on October 7, 1960 saw almost all the world leaders take turns to speak of Nigeria and its great development and leadership potentials in Africa.
The trust reposed in Nigeria was a testimony that nascent country was abundantly endowed with the human and material resources requisite for greatness.
In demonstration of its leadership role in Africa, our first Prime Minister, Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa, while making his maiden address to the UN on October 7, 1960 announced that Nigeria would send its troops to serve in the United Nations Peace Keeping Force in the troubled Republic of the Congo. The UN Secretary General, Dag Hammarskjold, immediately appointed Brigadier Aguiyi Ironsi of the Nigerian Army as the first African to command the UN Peace Keeping Force in the Congo. The position of Nigeria as the Giant of Africa was quickly established.
Before long, the expectations of the world began to dwindle, the lowest ebb of which became a military incursion that truncated the First Republic on allegations of ineptitude and corruption. A counter-coup and then a pogrom eventually culminated in a thirty-month civil war that gulped the lives of over three million Nigerians.
The Second Republic was as well dismissed by the military, and the country kept groping for the realization of the objectives of its nationhood, and economic development remained more potential than actual.
Over five decades of preoccupation with development in Nigeria have yielded meager returns. The economy of the country has been stagnating or regressing. Unemployment is widespread, health prospects are getting poorer, infrastructure has broken down, industries are comatose, agriculture remains crude, crime keeps escalating, and education has taken a nosedive. The truth is not so much that development has failed than that development has not really started.
Development, in the parlance of Walter Rodney, implies increased skills and capacity, greater freedom, creativity, self-discipline, responsibility and material well-being. We have it on Rodney’s authority that a society develops economically as its members increase jointly their capacity for dealing with the environment. This capacity for dealing with the environment is dependent on the extent to which they understand the laws of nature (science), on the extent to which they put that understanding into practice by devising tools (technology), and on the manner in which work is organized (mode of social production).
A lot of factors have been implicated in this disappointment of development in Nigeria. Depending on the analytical prism one chooses to use, cultural plurality and its centrifugal tendencies, avarice, corruption, military interregnum, lack of patriotism, resource curse syndrome, improbable economic policies, confusion of agenda, dwindling oil revenues and lack of diversification of the economy have almost always been readily offered as an explanation to the failure of development in Nigeria.
Singly or conjointly, these factors have serious implications on development. However, they are the symptoms of the failure of development, never the cause. The greatest impediment to the development of Nigeria is rooted in the structure of the country, in view of which restructuring has become an idea which time has come.
There is always a tendency for some people in Nigeria to view the call for restructuring as a political thing. There is even some apprehension within certain circles when the subject of restructuring is raised. It is wrongly viewed as a threat to the unity of Nigeria. To some, the surest way to keep Nigeria one is to kill restructuring. But I do have an unyielding belief that the only way to kill Nigeria is to kill restructuring. Also, the surest way to keep Nigeria united is to restructure it, for the structure we currently operate has gone completely dysfunctional, ever drifting to its terminus.
Essentially, a restructured Nigeria will engender healthy economic competition among the regions and induce them to unleash their development potentials in the areas they have comparative advantage. It will address the incoherence and disarticulation in Nigeria’s economy. Every coherent economy possesses certain regional and sectoral reciprocity and complementarity, or what economists describe as ‘backward and forward linkages’. The rentier, mono product, oil-dependent economy has never helped Nigeria. Again, the retrogressive quota system that breeds mediocrity in the educational and employment sectors has never served our collective interest. Restructuring means progress, accelerated development and economic interdependence.
For instance, the South East region will bring to bear its galaxy of stellar citizens with wizardry in creativity and peerless entrepreneurial spirit to evolve into an unrivalled manufacturing hub in Africa. The region will become synonymous with automobiles, airplanes, construction equipment and textiles manufacturing in Africa. Aba alone has the capacity to meet the textiles needs of the entire continent. Imo also will spring surprises that will create a better life for its people. The use of the flared gas in the Ohaji axis to generate power will be an obvious opportunity for increasing the power generation capacity of the Region. Government will partner with credible investors to set up Independent Power Plants in the State by harnessing Imo’s abundant gas potentials.
A simple investment will transform Okigwe and create value-added processing in cashew nuts and transform the landscape by harnessing the huge granite deposits through the establishment of industrial quarries that would serve the whole of the South East. Those cashews you see there that seem to be growing in the wild were deliberately planted because of the peculiar topography of that area. The Okparas in the 60s were visionary enough to think about the topography of the area. So, the answer was to plant cashews, which were supposed to protect the top layer of the soil and generate income. But today this vision has been aborted. We have not maximised these potentials. If you go to the United Kingdom, for instance, there is a departmental chain called Asda. In London, if you go into any of the Asda outlets, look across the counters. You are going to see cashew nuts. Pick it up and look at it. You will see ‘Produce of Uganda’, ‘Produce of Rwanda’, ‘Produce of Kenya’ and ‘Produce of Ghana. You are not going to see ‘Produce of Nigeria’. But in Okigwe we have comparative advantage in the production of these materials.
Restructuring will also avail us a veritable chance to look at palm oil. We have over four thousand hectares of oil palm in Adapalm. But these hectares are almost obsolete. A lot has changed between the 60s when they were planted and now. We now have improved, high-yielding, pest-resistant seedlings, and this is the variant that countries like Malaysia and Singapore are using. But we have not been able to add value.
Today, palm oil is far more valuable and lucrative in the international market than crude oil, because when you extract petro chemicals, it comes at a cost. If you sell a barrel of crude oil at sixty dollars, that will be the gross price. To extract one barrel of crude oil, you will spend between twenty-two and twenty-five dollars, in addition to its collateral demage to the environment. So it is infinitely better to focus on agriculture because it has a future; it has sustainability. We have limitless ability to produce palm oil and we have comparative advantage in its production. And if you look at the ECOWAS sub-region, for instance, the demand for palm oil and palm oil-derived products outstrips the supply.
Across the country, the potentials are limitless. The South West will experience economic explosion resulting from the strategic nature of its location and its access to the sea. It will quickly raise an army of financial giants and globally recognized corporate executives.
The solid minerals in the Middle Belt will be harnessed for the development of the Region and also exported to earn foreign exchange. The people will take advantage of the great opportunities in the entire agricultural value chain to become gainfully employed. The region will become the highest exporter of food in Africa and will as well generate huge revenues from tourism.
Stronger trade relations will be established between the Northern Region and the Arab World, and the Region will consistently and incrementally attract inflows of foreign direct investments resulting from such relations. It will generate dependable power supply through solar energy. The wolf of insecurity will be permanently kept out of the Region, as employment opportunities will be enormous for the teeming youths who are susciptible to indoctrination and violent extremism as a result of endemic unemployment.
The agitations in the South South for resource control will fizzle out and militancy and sundry crimes associated with the Niger Delta Region drastically reduced through greater transparency in the management of oil revenues and an indigenous security archtecture which is conversant with the terrain of the Delta. Also, opportunities in the oil and cognate sectors will open up, and the youths will take advantage of them.
Generally, Nigeria will fulfill its expectations as the Giant of Africa. Popular participation in the public sphere will ultimately gurantee good governance. In view of that, Nigerians will attain high indices of economic prosperity.
Thank you so much.