By Anayo Okoli, Chimaobi Nwaiwu & Ikechukwu Odu
ENUGU —ONE of the remaining members of the Zikist Movement and First Republic Aviation Minister, Chief Mbazulike Amaechi has said that what made the former three regions in Nigeria succeed with the little revenue they were getting that time was mainly good management.
According to him, the East depended on palm produce, and they formed a Palm Produce Marketing Company, PPMC, all the produce from Eastern region were bought by middlemen and sold to the marketing board, the marketing board now was responsible for exporting the products.
”The West depended on Cocoa and they had a Cocoa marketing board from which they built the famous Cocoa House at Ibadan and the North had groundnuts marketing board. These marketing boards bought all those produce and exported them and that was how they were able to sustain themselves. The Federal revenues came from the Nigeria Customs and they had a way of sharing the revenues.
”If your region attracted more money it got more federal revenue from the Federal capital. Some of the milestones and achievements they made in terms of development were many.
“They realized that education was very important, they invested a lot of wealth in education because they needed educated men and women to handle the running of the government of the country. So Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe just a year or two before independence built the University of Nigeria Nsukka, the first full-fledged university in Nigeria.
“Following Zik, Alhaji Tafawa Balewa upgraded the University College at Ibadan which was the first Federal institution; he upgraded it to a full-fledged university in 1962.
”Chief Obafemi Awolowo set up the then University of Ife from the money made from the Marketing Board, then the Saduana of Sokoto, Ahmadu Bello, founded the Ahmadu Bello University.
“There was that spirit of rivalry and healthy competition; those nationalists were more interested in achievements than their personal enrichment, unlike what we have now. They were never interested in personal wealth which is the order of the day with the leaders we have today in the country.
”It is unfortunate and regrettable that the present day leaders of Nigeria and Nigerians did not toe the path of our founding fathers and have allowed some of the things they established to go down irretrievably, those things that they established were on and operational until 1970 to 71 when oil wealth came.
“The Military that took over power and allowed the Cocoa board and other marketing boards in the regions to die; they mismanaged them and killed all of them. They were not educated and interested in export again. Today in Nigeria even Liver Brothers a notable manufacturing company then is importing oil from Malaysia, Nigeria cannot produce oil again.
”The same thing happened in the West, all the products that were produced and exported from money made from Cocoa marketing and exporting are now being imported into the country. Some of the military saw oil wealth and started carting it away and abandoned all the other things that were generating money for the country, and with that they retarded the development of the country.
Way forward for Nigeria
”A lot depends on the leadership, Nigeria and Nigerians should endeavour to produce a real honest political leader, somebody who knows what leadership is all about. Even if he is not versed in economics to manage economy, he can hire ministers and advisers to do the job.
“The President is not necessarily supposed to be an expert in every area of his leadership or administration. The most important is to have good quality of people to set good examples and once he lays the foundation of good example the people behind him will copy from him and he will get the best of what hr want to achieve.
“Look at the way the country is going down, it is because the only source of wealth in the country now is oil and a little money being made from gas. Look at the way it is managed, somebody who was the Managing Director of Nigerian National Petroleum Cooperation, or what do you call it’ NNPC, for six months will be able to buy a whole region for himself, but the refineries are going down without any functioning and industries are not built yet one person that managed NNPC for six months to one year is richer than a state in one old region.
“Meanwhile, the place where the oil wealth comes from is totally abandoned with no development and the people there live in abject poverty.
”To start the construction of a simple bridge in Nigeria takes 20 years, leaders and politicians are full of deceit, it is not only in the present government, it was the military government that started the deceit, they were making money and deceiving people and shutting their mouth with guns, and the present government to some extent was at the head of the military and today he is in military in civilian dress, but it is all right if he can lead the country right no problem, what Nigeria needs is a good man to lead well.
”I suggest that the country should go back to the arrangement where the states manage their affairs, it was easier for the country that time and it did not give room for high level of corruption and looting we are seeing these days.
‘’Let them go back again, probably to Parliamentary system of government because the Presidential system is not working. Nigeria will have peace and be better if we go back to the old arrangement.
“What the government is doing now will make the country explode, there is so much injustice against some sections of the country and there will be no peace if they continue that way.
“A minority set of people think and behave that they are a government within the present government because they commit all sorts violent crimes and go free because nobody questions them. They go to towns and villages to kill and sack people and still walk free; you will not have peace that way in Nigeria.”
Former governor of Enugu State and national chairman of the People’s Democratic Party, PDP, Dr. Okwesilieze Nwodo, also advocated for return to regional system of government as a panacea for the economic and political insecurities in the country.
According to Nwodo, the crude oil which is the mainstay of Nigeria’s economy is no longer sustainable and therefore, the need to return to the system of government which enable each regions of the country to exploit their divergent natural resources to develop at their own pace.
“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 fund accruing from our natural resources are gathered in a central purse and now, we have one feeding bottle, feeding the 36 states and 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 is dwindling in the international market.
“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 not providing economic or 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,” Nwodo said.
In the opinion of Chief Abi Onyike, the spokesman of Alaigbo Development Foundation, ADF, regional administration system is the way to go to move the nation and its economy forward.
“In the first republic, governments at the centre and the regions made significant achievements in the developmental stride of the new nation. The Eastern regional government was then the fastest growing economy in the world.
“The region was equally dubbed as the fastest developing rural area in Africa. Eastern region built the first indigenous university in Nigeria, the University of Nigeria with Faculties in Engineering, Medicine, Journalism, Agriculture etc.
“The region built the biggest commercial emporium (market) in Africa at Onitsha which attracted traders from Ghana, Sudan, Egypt, East Africa and West Africa. Eastern region produced the first Vice-Chancellor of University of Ibadan, Prof. Kenneth Onwuka Dike and the first Vice-Chancellor of the University of Lagos, Prof. Eni Njoku.
“The region established the first indigenous regional newspaper, The Eastern Outlook and the first modern library services in Nigeria.
“But after the military coup of 1966, the system of government became a monolithic federation. Power was concentrated at the centre; states and federating units were created and split, leading to a decline in regional development and initiative. Since then Nigeria has been on a retrogressive decline,” Onyike said.