“Nigeria remains highly dependent on oil… 70 percent of government revenues come from taxes on the oil and gas sector, and oil and gas make up more than 90 percent of exports” –Ngozi Okonjo-Iwela, Minister of Finance, October, 2014.
“Man is intended for action. Useful and skilful industry is the soul of an active life. But industry should have her just reward. That reward is property, for of useful and active industry, property is the natural result”
– James Wilson, “On the History of Property” (1790-91).
Part 1: Introduction
As Nigeria basks in the aura of a potential for positive change that the ascendancy of President Muhammadu Buhari portends, the country’s elites must do a painstaking self-examination, both to understand the genesis of the negative change that led to the clamour for a positive change and, more importantly, to avoid wasting the energy of change: we must courageously embrace the tasks required to ensure that the nation never drifts again. In order to achieve this, we as elites of the various groups and peoples of Nigeria must, first, collectively, take and bear responsibility for not providing patriotic leadership to our peoples and to Nigeria, especially given the critical role history has placed on us to lead Africa economically as well as to provide the role of mediator and intermediary for global peace and consequent equitable and sustainable development worldwide. The Nigerian Narrative provides a forum for the requisite leadership deliberation to engender elite leadership rebirth. To kick start the discussion, I offer my own thoughts, to wit, that we must return to the mid-1950s to mid-1960s rapid development path. I will argue that this is necessary to rescue from hopelessness our scandalously albeit avoidably unemployed and underemployed peoples. We can get things right now because the conditions to make Nigeria’s rebirth happen, particularly the political will, is currently present in a critical mass of the leadership of government and elites of Nigeria.
Let me begin by explaining why I limit economic failure to only five heads of government of independent Nigeria, namely, Gowon, Babangida, Obasanjo, Abacha and Jonathan. There are two reasons. One, they each served for at least five years as government and country leaders. I am of the view that five years is long enough to create at least a foundation for structural economic reform. Indeed, Babangida’s tenure shows that one can have profound economic changes in five years, whether wrong changes as in his case – or right ones as Buhari can do if he takes Economy 101 seriously. Secondly, the economic problem of Nigeria started and continued mainly with this group of five Nigerian leaders: my take-off point, as I will explain shortly, is 1969.
In order to understand the economic failure of the governments of General Yakubu Gowon, General Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida (IBB), President Olusegun Obasanjo (OBJ), General Sanni Abacha and President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan (GEJ), it is critical to understand the legal treatment of property in Nigeria, be it personal or group property.
As a premise, I am of the view that British colonisation of Nigeria can reasonably be discounted from current economic underdevelopment in Nigeria. This is because as colonised peoples we were not a free people. Britain, understandably, imposed all manner of legal regimes (notably the Mineral Oils Ordinance of December 31, 1914), which provided in its Regulation 3 that “It shall not be lawful for any person to search or drill for or work mineral oils within or under any lands in Nigeria except under a license or lease granted by the Governorunder this ordinance.”
Britain naturally did everything to further her forceful expropriation of the economic rights and interests of the various Nigerian peoples. I say, understandably and naturally, because Britain could not have colonised peoples to develop them. It could only have colonised them to stunt their development. This was not hatred or racism. It was necessary to do it for Britain to grow and develop. Colonialism, like the economic strategy of slavery before it, was a strategy to transfer underdevelopment from Britain to Nigeria. I would not deny that the current global economic regime is geared towards continuing the exploitation of Nigeria for the benefit of Britain. I would equally admit that Britain was interested in indirectly continuing the exploitation of Nigerian peoples even after independence. I however maintain that all of the above are not the critical rationale for our current gross economic underdevelopment, which I will shortly show was triggered by General Gowon’s regime in 1969. An underdevelopment that founds the social crisis North and South of Nigeria and that is only epitomized by the Jamā’atu Ahlis Sunnah Lādda’awatih wal-Jihad (‘Boko Haram’) and the earlier militancy in the Niger Delta.
In October 1, 1960, the various peoples of Nigeria acting as equal partners gave to themselves the 1960 Independence Constitution, which was affirmed in the 1963 Republican Constitution. Neither the 1960 nor the 1963 Constitution, which galvanised rapid development due to healthy rivalry and competition for economic excellence that it created between the North, East, West and Mid-west of Nigeria; none of those political union Constitutions have been jettisoned by the constituent peoples of Nigeria that made those two Constitutions as the basis for their union. Specifically, no constitutional referendum has been conducted to support the abandonment of those progressive Constitutions.
– Jide Olagunju
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