Remarks by the Chairman, Atiku Abubakar, GCON, former Vice President, Federal Republic of Nigeria, at the launch of Tola Adeniyi’s book, Belly of the Vultures, at the NECA Event Centre, Hakim Balogun Street, Alausa, Ikeja-Lagos
1st March, 2018.
I welcome you all to this launch of a very important book by one of our most distinguished media men, administrators and political strategists.
The great thing about being Chairman of an event such as this is that you need not say anything other than “welcome, let’s begin”, and to declare it closed at the end. This is more so because we have a book reviewer.
But I will say a little more because in times of crisis, leaders are supposed to use platforms such as this to weigh in on important national issues. However, I will not take the focus away from the book and its author, Chief Tola Adeniyi.
So let me restrict my remarks to a few disclaimers about the calls for the restructuring of our federation. As many of you know, I have been a very strong advocate for the restructuring of our federation to make it work better, to make it more productive, to make it more united and, therefore, to make it stronger.
i. The first disclaimer is that Restructuring is not going to solve all of Nigeria’s challenges, though it will help with some very important ones. I say this because some of those who argue against restructuring keep saying that it is not our main problem. Some say it is good leadership that we lack. Others say it is corruption that we should focus on instead. Well, my positon is that all are important and should be addressed. But to pretend that the critical issues thrown up by the current deformed structure of our federation will disappear as soon as we have good leadership or tackle corruption is to miss the point. In fact, it is disingenuous. Our current structure facilitates corruption and makes it more difficult for the kind of leadership being clamored for to emerge.
This is a structure that emerged at a time of military rule and sustained by the oil economy. Some of the enduring features of that oil economy have been excessive centralization, corruption, oil dependency and low productivity. When we restructure, we will be forced to pay greater attention to production rather than rent-seeking. We will improve security (with a decentralized police force) and, therefore, improve the environment for investment and job creation. And the federating units will have greater autonomy to decide on their priorities and peculiar challenges. So restructuring is critical for us although it is not a magic wand that would solve all our problems.
ii. Restructuring is not a sectional thing, or sectional demand. And it will not benefit only some sections of the country and hurt others. It will benefit the whole country. Those who fear that it is designed to hurt them to the benefit of others or to benefit only them at the expense of others are grossly mistaken. A country, including its economy, is like an organism. Thus what affects one part affects the other parts and the country as a whole. The existing structure impedes our progress as a nation irrespective of what specific sections think. Similarly, restructuring, if properly done, will benefit the whole nation, whatever the short-term inconveniences a section or sections may feel.
iii. The pursuit of restructuring for purely political reasons misses the point. While the strengthening of national unity, which it would promote, is important, it is also critical for our economic development and wellbeing, which, in turn, are also important for political peace. Our current structure, which is based on oil rents, is vulnerable because oil has probably reached its peak as the chief energy source for the world economy. You probably know that the world’s major automobile manufacturers and oil consumers have announced dates between 2025 and 2040 to end the manufacture and sale of fossil fuel-only vehicles.
And massive investments in renewable energy around the world have been pushing its cost down that it has become very competitive with oil and gas. The drive towards renewable energy and away from oil seems irreversible now. This is important for all of us and especially for those in the oil producing region, where some people sometimes talk about restructuring as though it is designed to punish the north. The good news for the north is that a restructured Nigeria is in the North’s long-term economic interest. We should not be fighting for a bigger share of what is a disappearing resource. It amounts to a fight for a bigger share of the past, and not the future. So both the oil bearing sections and non-oil bearing sections of this country need to pay more attention to agriculture, fisheries, renewable energy, biotechnology,information technology, Nano-technology, artificial intelligence and so on.
iv. The vilification of those who advocate for or oppose restructuring is not helpful. I want to believe that both sides are motivated by their love of our country. They just have different ideas of how best to achieve unity and development. We need civility in this dialogue. An issue that can only be resolved through negotiations would not be helped by demonizing those who hold contrary views. It will be more difficult to persuade people to your point of view or to negotiate with them when you call them names and imply that they like the country less than you.
I commend the author, Chief Tola Adeniyi, in whose honour we have gathered today for his efforts in putting this book together, much of it his newspaper articles. He is one of those writers who know how to communicate – in simple language, with great wisdom, wit, humour and fun. He even pokes fun at himself just as he spares no person of worth. I am sure that the book, which reads like a current history of our country (and our world) will generate more discussions and add to our repertoire of facts, debates and opinions on our nation-building processes.
Thank you for your attention.