It was a tense atmosphere recently, at the Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife, Osun State, where Governors Abiola Ajimobi and Rauf Aregbesola of Oyo and Osun states, respectively, had gone to participate in the seventh annual lecture of the Nigeria Association of Muslim Law Students of the institution.
Participants had listened, almost in tears, as the two governors took turns to educate them on the poor economic situation of the country with infectious speeches that also sought to proffer solutions. They lamented the continuous reduction in the allocations to the states from the federation account in a way that would suggest to the discerning that all is definitely not well with the largest economy in Africa.
Both Ajimobi and Aregbesola said, unequivocally, that Nigerians would have to leave the fast-fading claim of a petro-dollar economy and return to agriculture. Only recently, Aregbesola had openly complained that in November, the state’s allocation was not more than N55million, an amount he said was barely sufficient to settle government’s utility bills, much less pay workers’ salary.
He particularly must have had sleepless nights, especially when workers at a time called for his resignation because Osun could not pay them for about seven months. But all the governors seem to be singing the same tune. At a recent meeting of the Nigerian Governors Forum in Abuja, the Chairman, Governor Abdulaziz Yari of Zamfara State, announced a consensus reached by the Forum, that the states could no longer pay the N18, 000 minimum wage which, he claimed, was foisted on them when a barrel of crude oil was still selling for about N215.
Now that oil price had dropped sharply to a paltry N41 per barrel, the states would naturally have to tighten their belts in response to unavoidable financial stress. Yari’s announcement has since pitched the governors against the workers, with the organised labour issuing threats that they would make the states ungovernable for the governors, should their salaries be tampered with. Even before things got to that sorry pass, President Muhammadu Buhari had scheduled the states to avoid a breakdown of socio-economic order across the country.
All said, the bottomline is that the Nigerian economy, built on the quicksand of the petrodollar, is today in serious crisis, occassioned, mainly, by the fall in the price of petrol at the international market. While there seems to be no definite way out of the current financial crisis, the situation may have thrown up the need to re-assess our economic structure.
In the 50s and 60s, when Nigeria was still a confederate of regions, each of the three subsisting regions was selfsufficient through their exportable agro-allied produce. In the North, we had the groundnut pyramids; in the West, cocoa and palm-kernel; and in the East, coal. But the era of the oil boom, beginning from the 70s, soon made these foreign-earnings to, first recede, and eventually disappear.
While not necessarily advocating a return to confederacy as was the case in those days, the current economic reality dictates that Nigeria should look inwards and tap its various agricultural and other natural potentials to achieve economic greatness. Each state should focus on its natural endowment with a view to boosting its internally generated revenue, rather than spending precious time, sulking over the dwindling oil money accruing to the federation account.
Besides, jaw-dropping revelations of corrupt practices by public-office holders, who fleeced the country and laundered the loot abroad, have again brought to a sobering dimension, the need for stricter sanctions that will effectively nip corruption in the bud.
While the ongoing war against looters by the President Muhammadu Buhari administration is welcome, it must also be noted that this bleeding economy needs urgent attention. The best way to start, in our candid opinion, is for government to map out priority, income-yielding agricultural and industrial ventures that it can fund with the full participation of the private sector. Once a step is taken, the direction becomes clearer.