By Shola Abayomi.
Former national chairman of the People’s Democratic Party, PDP, Dr. Okwesilieze Nwodo, has called for the return to regional system of government in Nigeria as a panacea for the economic and political insecurities in the country.
Nwodo, in his view, said the crude oil which is the mainstay of Nigeria’s economy was no longer sustainable and therefore, the need to return to the system of government which enables each region of the country to exploit their divergent natural resources to develop at their own pace.
Nwodo who was a former governor of Enugu State also said that parliamentary system of government would save Nigeria from collosal wastage of funds during elections.
“In the first republic, even though there was a Nigerian constitution, the federating units had their constitutions as well. So, the states were semi-autonomous and independent. Therefore, they raised their internally generated revenue from the resources in their regions. They were able to meet their regional budgets and at the same time, contribute a quota to the central purse of the federal government.
“They had opportunities to partner with foreign investors and to exploit the natural resources within their regions and there was no exclusive list as such that debarred them from venturing into any aspect of governance and economic activity which they wanted to do.
“Today, the reverse is completely the situation. Here, all funds accruing from our natural resources are gathered in a central purse and now, we have one feeding bottle, feeding the 36 states and the the federal capital territory, Abuja. The main source of the revenue happens to be a single economy: oil and gas and as the market value of the commodities are dwindling in the international market and with coronavirus shutting down the world economy, that feeding bottle cannot go round again.
“Since the federating units have no power to utilize the natural resources in their states or engage in the development of key infrastructure which can help them to develop because of the exclusive list of the federal government, they are all tending towards malnutrition. Only six of them now are self-sustaining without federal allocations.
“So, you can see the magnitude of the difference between the regional government which we had in the first republic and the states as we have them today. The current situation is neither providing economic nor political stability as we had it in the first republic.That’s why a lot of people are clamouring for the restructuring of the country.
“We need to restructure Nigeria into a proper federation. We can’t be having a unitary government and call it a federation; it is an abnormality. In a federation, the units agree to survive and having survived, come together for common interest and provide for that common interest. I think, it is a better arrangement,” said.
While talking about different milestone achievements recorded during the first republic, Nwodo said: “Let me start with the North. They had large farmlands and because of that, they farmed cotton which they added value to by producing cotton materials and exporting the cotton raw as well. The Northern Region also farmed groundnuts and because of that, they had groundnut pyramids. They also exported hides and skin from their cattle business. They made a lot of revenue from agriculture from which they built the Ahmadu Bello University and constructed many roads across the region.
“Their revenue was largely agrarian. They provided healthcare and other basic amenities to the people of the region. They didn’t lack anything.
“Western Nigeria exported cocoa and rubber and they were the mainstay of their economy. Because of the rubber, some tyre factories such as Michelin were set up in Lagos and Port Harcourt for the production of vehicle tyres and other components. The region made their money from that.
“The first television station in Africa was built in Ibadan from that revenue. They built the University of Ibadan and good road network from the revenue. They provided basic amenities and gave free education to their people, from primary up to university level from the revenue. There is no state in Nigeria that is doing that now.
“If you come to Eastern Nigeria, we depended mainly on palm produce. From the revenue, we built the first university in Nigeria, the University of Nigeria, Nsukka. The East had the biggest network of roads in the whole of West Africa; we had electricity generated from coal in the region; coal was equally mined and exported for foreign exchange. Indeed, Eastern Region was the fastest growing economy in the world under Michael Okpara. We built the first iron and steel industry in Nigeria at Emene and we had our television. In fact, when I was growing up, I didn’t know anything like blackout because of the quality of electricity we enjoyed in those days
“These regions survived very well on their own and were favourably competing to out-perform one another. We have really lost it with the system we are operating.”
On the need for parliamentary system of government, he said: “I am one of those who want us to go back to the parliamentary system of government. The amount of money we are spending to elect our political office holders is colossal.
“In parliamentary system, you become the premier of your region or the prime minister of the country by winning election in your region; not in the whole federation. You become prime minister because you are the leader of your party and you appoint ministers from those who had won elections in their constituencies.
“You can imagine the amount of money it costs a member of the House of Assembly to contest election in his constituency and then he becomes the governor of a state, compare to what somebody spends under the system we operate now to be governor.”