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The Case for a Paradigm Shift and Constitutional Change

In my last article I focused on Nigerias 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) 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. Having said that, 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 Africas 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 subnational units; the US constitution provides the general overarching framework
and state constitutions fill in the details. US state governors have 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 Americas 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. Californias economy is about the same size as Italys.
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 are supposed to
play. Neither Abuja nor the President will diversify Nigerias 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
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, Nigerias days as a petro-state are numbered.