One quality which stands former Vice-President Abubakar Atiku heads and shoulders among many contemporary politicians and statesmen is his pro-active thinking. He thinks and mostly acts ahead of time. Without comparing him to God – because he is not – as a political strategist, he has the capacity to see the end from the beginning.
One such instance is his reasoning and consistent call for the urgent restructuring of Nigeria. When he made this call in June this year and many Nigerians, especially the northern folk, did not agree with him, little did they realise how futuristic he was in proffering this solution towards solving Nigeria’s myriad of socio-economic problems and challenges.
Why, most Nigerians reasoned, would a northerner and a supposed beneficiary of the present system think along the line of restructuring? Why would a northerner want Nigeria restructured when the main beneficiaries, as it seems, are the same northerners? How on earth would an Atiku ever think of changing the system that, supposedly, has fetched him so much power, wealth and fame?
Like a true philosopher that he is, he believes that postponing the restructuring of Nigeria is like adjourning the evil day. Looking at the Nigerian nation, he canvassed his position in Kaduna: “I believe that restructuring will eventually happen whether we like or support it or not. The question is whether it will happen around a conference table, in a direction influenced by us and whether we will be an equal partner in the process. Or will it happen in a more unpredictable arena and in a manner over which we have little influence? It should be at a table and we need to be at that table. A nation is an organism; it grows, it evolves, it changes, it adapts. And like other organisms if it does not adapt, it dies.”
He spoke while presenting a paper in Kaduna during a memorial conference which was put together in honour of the late Military Governor of the defunct Northern Region, General Hassan Usman Katsina. The speech attracted so much review but he was grossly misunderstood by many. As a statesman per excellence, Atiku thinks in terms of the overall interest of Nigeria first and foremost. For him as a person upon whom God has bestowed so much, it should not really bother him whatever happens. However, looking at the current situation of things, he strongly believes things should be done the other way.
Hear him: “Who among us who went to primary and secondary school in the 1960s had much to do with the federal government? Did the northern regional government wait to collect monthly revenue allocations from Lagos before paying salaries to its civil servants and teachers or fixing its bridges and roads?”
Against the backdrop of the feeling and general belief that the north is the major beneficiary of centralisation, he appealed to his northern kinsmen not to oppose the call for restructuring, saying, “I am not trying to be a messenger of doom but to alert us to the serious challenges ahead if we do not take immediate corrective actions both in our economic and our politics.”
His counsel: “As our history has shown, a strong centre does not translate to a strong and better base. We should begin to think strategically about how to develop this region (North) as a collective and our states in each geo-political zone should embark on how to work together to share responsibilities,” he added.
In pontificating for restructuring, the former vice president and Turakin Adamawa, many read politics into it and thought that in so doing, he was looking the Muhammadu Buhari Administration in the eye. Far from this. What Atiku is soliciting is a restructuring which will be a win-win situation for every nationality in Nigeria.
To those who believe it is an ill wind that will fetch the north no good, his candid opinion is that “national integration was achievable in Nigeria when we (North) do the little things that will help in that regard including intangibles such as values, ideology and sense of investment that help to foster sense of national integration.”
The truth of the matter is that Nigeria is a country which has been blessed without measure by God. There is no part of the Nigerian geographical entity that is useless, contrary to the belief of many, especially the southern folks. It is the South-South that has the bulk of the nation’s petroleum resources and there is no argument about this fact. But in reality, the discovery of oil which brought the country stupendous wealth overnight was the main undoing of this nation.
All of a sudden, Nigeria which was being run through the regions’ agricultural resources, abandoned the farms and everyone trooped to the urban centres. In the process, we became a monolithic economy while every state had to start waiting for funds from the Federal Government to pay bills and carry out development activities.
This is very much unlike during the First Republic when on occasions, the Western Region lent money to the Federal Government. In a complete turnaround of fate, apart from Lagos State that can stand on its own, there is no single state in the South West that can be run without the handout from Abuja. In the same vein, the Northern Region and the Eastern Region ran their economies without recourse to Lagos, which was the Federal Capital and, ipso facto, the seat of the Federal Government. We fed ourselves and exported food items. Today, the story has changed completely and the question is, should things continue like this?
Before the advent of petroleum, the economy of the Eastern Region, which much of today’s South South belonged to, was driven largely by the revenue from palm-oil. The economies of the Western and Northern Regions were depended largely on cocoa and groundnut respectively.
The governments of the various regions did not engage in direct farming but provided enabling environments and, through the marketing boards, co-ordinated purchase of commodities from farmers and depended on taxes to drive the economies.
Up till the late 60s, it was common to see tax collectors in town stopping adults and checking tax receipts the same way the police, road safety, vehicle inspection and customs officers check vehicle particulars today. The popular Agbekoya (farmers’) revolt of 1969 was in protest against the personal income tax regime of the government. The farmers believed they were being over-taxed. Apart from civil servants and people employed by corporate organisations, what percentage of Nigerians pays tax today? Apart from big companies, how many private sector operatives pay tax today?
For as long as the situation remains like this, Nigeria is the loser.
In terms of agricultural and mineral resources, is there any part of Nigeria that is not endowed enough to cater for itself if the right things and leadership are in place? The answer is a resounding no. The South South produces oil but no one, for heaven’s sake, drinks oil. At least 95 per cent of cattle farming in Nigeria is done north of River Niger. About the same percentage of the beans consumed in Nigeria is grown in the north. It is amazing that that water-based fruit, water melon comes from far north, the fringes of the desert while much of the dried fish consumed in the southern parts of Nigeria comes from the Lake Chad axis of the North East.
Nigerians cannot be called lazy by any standards. Their drift from the farms was induced by the government and not by the people. With the discovery of oil meant cheap money, cash earned without sweating. The tendency in such a situation is to leave the farms. But it has impoverished the majority because it has been said that 85 per cent of the nation’s oil resources is controlled by less than five per cent of the population. We never realised that there could be alternatives to oil as a source of energy.
Also, in terms of mineral resources, there is no part of Nigeria that is on the leeward side of God. Nigeria is blessed all round and that is the truth of it. The volume and quality of solid minerals buried in the soil in northern Nigeria is so amazing.
The Turakin Adamawa’s reasoning is that by restructuring Nigeria, national unity and integration would be fostered while continuous agitation for resource control and creation of more states by different geo-political zones would be laid to rest. Mutual suspicion and distrust among the various ethnic nationalities would become a thing of the past. Then at this stage, Nigeria would live up to the billing of being a federal republic and not in name only.
Coming from his part of the country, it takes a leader of leaders, a man among men and one endowed with political sagacity to think ahead and know that at the end of the day, if Nigeria is restructured, it is neither the South nor the North that will emerge the winner but indeed and ultimately, the Nigerian nation, leaving no component part impoverished or begging for help.
Adebisi is the Chairman, Board of Trustees, Atiku Cares Foundation