- Rivers governor wants resource control
Rivers State Governor Nyesom Wike could have been so critical of the Federal Government that his views no longer count for much. But his contention that the Buhari administration should spearhead an amendment to the constitution that would enable states develop their resources and pay royalty to the centre deserves some attention. In receiving the Minister of Solid Minerals and Steel Development, Dr. Uchechukwu Ogah, in his office in Port Harcourt last week, Governor Wike said the practice in a federation is for the federating units to control their resources, to enable them exploit and put them to optimal use.
The governor was not the first person to raise the issue. Political scientists and politicians have been pointing out the incongruity in vesting all mineral resources in the Federal Government since the current constitution came into operation in 1999. The setting came into operation during military rule that is by nature centrist, since it runs a command system. This has stultified the states as against the situation in the First Republic when the regions were challenged to run at their own pace.
In the First Republic when the unadulterated federal system was in operation, each region not only controlled its mineral resources, but concentrated on developing the agricultural potential suitable for it. In the North, arable crops, cotton, groundnuts, among others, provided income for the people as well as the government, while in the Western Region, cash crops like kolanuts and cocoa were the sources of income, while the people found sustenance in subsistence farming.
The regional government also had farm settlements in the various parts to provide employment for the teeming youths, while marketing boards assisted the farmers in modulating prices of the products. The region was prosperous enough to institute the famous free education programme as well as started a television station, the first in Africa, among other laudable projects. The Eastern Region under Chief Michael Okpara, too, embarked on massive cultivation of palm oil trees in all parts of the region. It was indeed a golden age.
The politically motivated creation of states without attention to economic viability and the oil boom that turned oil curse have combined to rob the country of the needed vitality. However, the truth be told, the quality of leadership at all levels has become appalling. Unlike the ‘club’ of Ahmadu Bello in the Northern Region, Chief Obafemi Awolowo and Dr Nnamdi Azikiwe in the West and East, respectively, the current set of leaders at the sub-national level seem bereaved of ideas. They have exhibited the lack of initiative that would elevate their states economically and contribute to national prosperity. Almost all the states, with the exception of Lagos and perhaps Rivers, are dependent on the federal distributable pool for survival.
Many economists have observed that this is shameful. Countries that were at the same level of development with Nigeria in the past have since left us behind. Countries like South Korea, Taiwan, Malaysia and Indonesia are all far ahead of the supposed ‘giant of Africa’ by all counts. This cannot be blamed on the Federal Government alone, though. Unless the states sit up and assume that the hydro-carbon resources are wasting assets that are set to belong to the past soon, majority of Nigerians will continue to wallow in squalor and abject poverty, living on less than a dollar per day. The COVID-19 scourge should be seen as an opportunity by leaders at all levels and all sectors to roll up their sleeves and promote the values of hard work and productivity, without which Nigeria will remain in the ranks of the least developed states.
Governor Wike has two years within which he should not only rally his colleagues in the Nigerian Governors Forum to ensure a restructuring of the fiscal system of the federation but also to boost internally generated revenue.