Colonel Abubakar Dangiwa Umar, Retd, former military administrator of Kaduna State spoke the minds of millions of Nigerians when recently he cautioned against Nigeria’s continued dependence on the oil and gas resources from the Niger Delta region for virtually all its financial requirements. In a statement he titled “Beyond our oil economy”, Umar said the dependence on oil revenue shared monthly among the three tiers of government, a system he described as “food is ready federalism” had become unsustainable and would not take the country anywhere near where it hopes to be on the global ladder of social and economic development.
Nigeria as presently politically and economically structured, he further argued, only exists for the sharing of these assets, describing that situation as precarious, “more so because prices of oil in the international market are rapidly declining.” He called for immediate change of attitude if the country must witness rapid and meaningful development. And the way to go, he said, was for the country to start practising true federation by “unleashing and unbundling” the vast economic potentials of all the federating units.
Over the years, Umar has endeared himself to Nigerians with his bold and forthright analyses of the Nigerian situation. He has left no one in doubt that he has a firm grip on the problems that have crippled and frustrated the country desire for development. On many occasions Umar offered pragmatic and patriotic suggestions for navigating the country out of the morass but most of the time, his views and those of many other knowledgeable and patriotic Nigerians are ignored by those in a position to implement them.
Umar has spoken again and at the most auspicious time. Oil prices have fallen very low and revenues from its proceeds have also declined drastically. This has gravely affected the volume of funds at the disposal of all the tiers of government. In most states and local governments areas, projects are stalled due to lack of funding. Salaries of workers are in arrears for several months. Most of them are living on local and foreign debts. Recently, President Muhammadu Buhari, in reaction to the clamour by the state governors for urgent intervention, approved bale out funds for them. The states are yet to draw the fund. But even when these funds arrive, they are unlikely to significantly help in pulling the states from the brink of insolvency.
That is why we invite governments at all levels and their economic managers to draw a lesson from what Umar and other patriotic Nigerians are suggesting towards a new attitude for achieving financial self-dependence. That lesson is that all the federating units in our democracy must look beyond revenue from oil for their activities. The reason is that it is no longer advisable for the federal, states and local governments to depend on revenue for this source because of the vagaries that have now become the character of that industry. This means all the tiers of government must identify and develop other sources of revenue if they must survive.
The greatest gift to this country is fertile land. Every state of the federation has rich agricultural land in abundance. What the federal, states and local governments in the country have been unable to do is developing these immense agricultural potentials into dependable economic resource base. This attitude of negligence must change at all level of governance. The federal government must pay greater attention to the development of other mineral resources in the country. They are many and of immense economic value in both local and international markets.
State and local governments must identify and promote at least one major agricultural commodity with the potentials for generating revenue and promote their production in commercial quantity. Most of the states have more than one of such export crops. What is important is for them to realise the need for aggressive approach to the production of such commodities. A very well developed agricultural sector will not only improve the financial disposition of the states and local governments but will create millions of job opportunities as well. This can be achieved through the encouragement of large scale commercial farms by individuals and companies with the competence in that industry. The concept of agricultural cooperatives which existed in the past should be revived to encourage high level collaboration in the sector. State governments should play the role of facilitators by creating enabling environment for this new approach to agricultural production to succeed.
In addition, states and local governments should become more creative and aggressive with their internal revenue generation machinery. Revenue collection machinery should be overhauled to become less corrupt. A situation where substantial parts of revenues collected end up in private pockets does not augur well for the financial wellbeing of the states and local governments. On the whole, we call for a radical and positive attitude towards the adoption of new policies that can lead to financial independence of the federating units. They must free themselves from the apron strings of the now very unreliable federation account and develop policies and programmes for self-sustenance.