Resolving Nigeria’s Resource Ownership and Management Challenge

January 23, 2023
resource ownership and management Jerome-Mario

By Jerome-Mario Chijike Utomi

Victor Hugo is the French poet and novelist who is credited with the phrase, “Nothing is more powerful than an idea whose time has come.” Much of his original French works had more to do with shifts from the battlefield to an arena of minds being open to ideas.

Accordingly, Hugo‘s postulations have become ‘a word made flesh and now dwell among us.’ A good example of such an idea whose time has come in Nigeria is the ceaseless call for resource ownership and management by ethnic groupings, socioeconomic pressure groups and well-meaning Nigerians.

The latest of such, and the most interesting of calls, came from Eric Omare, lawyer, Niger Delta advocate and former President of Ijaw Youth Council (IYC), during a recent interview with a Warri, Delta state-based news tabloid, GbaramatuVoice Newspaper.

Omare remarked, “Well, to resolve the Niger Delta question, there are different layouts. The larger Niger Delta problem is that of the question of resource ownership and management, which has not been addressed. Resource ownership and management means that the people who own the resource must be at the forefront of managing that resource and until that question is addressed, we will continue to see agitations. Resources meant for the Niger delta must be used for the development of the Niger Delta region.”

“In other words, there must be judicious use of resources met for the development of the Niger Delta, and that is the only way we can address some of the development actually in this world, but the bigger picture is that the question of resource ownership and management which put the people in Niger Delta the people who produce the oil at the forefront must be addressed for us to have a permanent peace and sustainable development in Niger Delta region,” he concluded.

Though he said it in a different way, venue and time, in the real sense of it, Eric Omare may not have said something new or different from what Nigerians have been worried about all these years. However, his latest call for resource management further supports the belief that restructuring the nation is an idea whose time has come.

For this piece, the need for restructuring of this nation should be compared with, and likened to, the indispensability and inseparability of the blood from the body. The nation is currently structured and standing in an inverted pyramid shape with more power concentrated at the top and the base not formidable enough, making collapse inevitable if urgent and fundamental steps are not taken. This state of our polity as it stands urgently needs to be revisited and possibly reversed.

No matter how long it takes us to live in denial, devolution of power has become inevitable as most of the items contained in the exclusive list would serve their best purpose when handled by the states and the local governments. The padding of the exclusive list of activities has made ‘Abuja’ appear as a general surrounded by many lieutenants instead of the order way around. The truth is that for true federalism to be practised, there is an urgent need for the nation to make the centre less attractive and for federating regions or states to be strengthened with greater autonomy.

Also, making it imperative the need for the nation to be restructured in ways that will assist regions, states, communities, and towns in managing their God-given resources is the awareness that the federal character, which was created to take care of restructuring, tends to enjoy more moral burden than good intention. Its provisions and operational matrix are perceived as ‘goodness without good luck. This is evident as it is based on the spirit of equitable distribution of political positions and socioeconomic booties among federating states and regions as against the promotion of meritocracy. This provision has long been undermined by deconstructionists and ‘political Maradonas.’

More than anything else, it is important for the piece to underline that the problem that necessitated this agitation is more man-made than natural. The deliberate demonstration of impunity, as well as superiority by one group or region, led to this burning agitation today.

As succulently remarked, ‘never be so foolish to believe that you are stirring admiration by flaunting the qualities that raised you above others. By making people aware of their inferior positions, you are only stirring unhappy admiration or envy that will gnaw at them until they undermine you in ways that you may not foresee’. It is only the fools who dare the god of envy by flaunting his victory.’

In addition to the above, this agitation is further fed by misrule and a very high propensity for corrupt nepotistic practices on the part of our leaders. These leaders in question have allowed themselves to become the primary reality that the people worry about as a result of their nefarious actions and inactions.

What is playing out today in Nigeria is the result of the practical demonstration of the will of man against the rule of law as practised in the time past. Leaders without ‘disciplined thoughts and actions’ are the people holding sway on our political fronts, and that informs the reason for our not having a  disciplined political and socioeconomic culture as a nation.

Again, leaders and mindless politics also contributed to this. They have not been able to draw a distinction between politics and leadership as they play politics all the way. In doing so, they use the people to further their own end, which is unpleasant, selfish, narrow-minded and petty. Their politics involves intimidating people, getting things done by lying or other dishonoured means’.

To change the current narrative, this piece believes and still believes that there is an urgent imperative to have this nation restructured in ways that will give Nigerians power to control their resources.

As noted in my previous interventions,  what I think the masses are saying by their call for restructuring is that the padding of the second schedule of the exclusive legislative list of our 1999 constitution with sixty-eight (68) items has made Abuja suffer ‘political obesity’ and need to shed some weight via power devolution.

What the people are saying is that the over-blotted exclusive list has made our nation currently stand in an inverted pyramid shape with more power concentrated at the top and the base not formidable enough, making collapse inevitable if urgent and fundamental steps are not taken.

What the proponents of restructuring are saying is that the majority of the items are too trivial for the Federal Government to handle and should serve the greater good of the people if left in the hands of both the state and the local government. This is the hub of the masses’ expectations.

Items such as; Police and some government security services, mines and minerals, including oil fields, oil mining geological surveys, control of parks, stamp duties, public holidays, taxation of incomes, profits and capital gains, and insurance, among others, to my mind, should find their ways back to the states and the local councils.

Courageously, it will not be out of place if the states and local councils are allowed to handle the outlined responsibilities currently handled by the Federal Government and, in the end, pay tax(es) when necessary to the federal government coffers. By so doing, the federal government will be freed from handling the tiny details which prevent them from looking at the bigger national issues.

In the same vein, it will empower states/regions and local councils that have been technically rendered redundant. This, in my view, is the synoptic baggage of what Nigerians are asking for and achieving it is a simple assignment.

Therefore, as the nation braces up for the general election, this piece holds the opinion that it is time for all Nigerians to prime and position for this major national transformation. Nigerians must approach the election with sharp vision and clear goals that glaringly demonstrate that their credibility and call for change are built not in words but in action.

Another key point on the part of the masses is that to achieve this, all must undress the garment of tribal loyalties, which in many cases has proved to be stronger than a common sense of nationhood. Nigerians must remember that they cannot solve the political and socio-economic challenges in the country with the same thinking used when it was created.

Most importantly, they must, as a matter of urgency, graduate their ‘thought system and loyalty to a level of being united rather than sectional in ways that transcend race, tribe, and class and must develop a world perspective on the affairs of their nations.

Utomi Jerome-Mario is the Programme Coordinator (Media and Policy) at Social and Economic Justice Advocacy (SEJA), Lagos. He can be reached via [email protected]/08032725374

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