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Oluseun Onigbinde: National Conference: Three things I’ll like us to talk about

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Oluseun Onigbinde: National Conference: Three things I’ll like us to talk about

by Oluseun Onigbinde

I am not wholly enthusiastic about the National Conference for which President Jonathan has appointed a committee to determine the basis of its agenda. The previous ones were talk shops bereft of tangible actions and the conveners had clandestine motives which they sought to achieve through the conference.

However, it will be wrong to preempt the intent of the President Jonathan in convening this conference. I am more worried about the funds expended for such event which will start with a geographical tour across the country. Several committee reports have been submitted to Presidency but how many of such have been implemented? How many years does this administration have to complete its term before proper politicking takes the center stage?  If we are to have an intellectual discussion about the Nigerian space, here are the three things we need to consider:

1. Population: What exactly is the population of Nigeria which is a core component of the Federation revenue sharing? Are we ready to allow a fair census in Nigeria? Are we ready to keep a full profile of the Nigerian especially as regards education, access to financial services, occupation and other progressive indicators? Feyi Fawehinmi in this analytical piece states that: 

“It depresses me to report that each geo-political zone’s share of the population in 1991 was exactly the same share in 2006. Not even a 2% swing between zones.” 

When Festus Odimegwu in his uncontrolled outburst considering his position called the Nigerian census a timeless fraud, he was leading us to a discussion. This is the basis of the geopolitical structure that determines revenue allocation and federal appointments. Let us talk about that.

2. A Nation beyond Oil: In 2012 Budget Implementation Report, Nigeria’s net oil revenue (including Excess Crude payments) stood at N6.49tn. The net revenue from non-oil  component stood at N1.7bn. This means that 80% of the inflows to the federation coffers come from oil and gas. It is worth nothing that more than 80% of gross oil revenue comes from four states (Bayelsa, Delta, Rivers and Akwa-Ibom). 

To understand the precarious position of the Nigerian state, let’s take Benue State (Food Basket of the Nation) as an example. Benue State officially had a total revenue of N63.2bn in 2012. Of this amount, only N5.52bn (monthly average of 460m) was generated as IGR representing 8% of the total revenue. Other federal transfers in form of augmentation, Excess Crude Account, SURE-P, statutory allocation was N54bn. Benue State has a personnel cost of N39bn, meaning it must fork out N3.25bn every month for its workforce. Now imagine the federal revenue of N54bn was halved, it will quickly grind to a halt.  Such is the predicament of most Nigerian states with the exception of oil producing states, Lagos and Kano with huge IGR to meet short-term obligations.

How do we activate the levers of the production in Nigeria so that there is more to distribute to meet the huge developmental challenges of the country? What does every executive governor strategically think as his state’s competitive advantage and how can we effectively harness it? How can we explore our untapped potential, expand the tax bracket, reform the oil industry  as we move to full blown federalism in the medium term? That’s another point to consider.

3. Strong Institutions: One core discussion is to take a review of the institutions that strengthen our democracy. This has to do with how prudently we manage the resources of the country to meet the huge needs in society. How do we apply transparency, accountability and civic participation to management of public resources at all levels with clear definition of roles for executive agencies, revenue  and audit institutions, procurement bureaus, civil society and other citizens? How do we get citizens to have access to timely information about how their public finances are managed?

How do we get an efficient and professional police devoid of being poisoned by the dictates of the executive? What are the cases for state police and what institutions will be available to safeguard its abuse? How do we freely and fairly vote in the country when INEC and its officials compromise under political pressure?  How do we ensure the rule of law is upheld at all times?

These are my initial points which should form the core of our discussion. I believe in the unity of Nigeria and let no one use the National Conference to theorize about the mistake of Lord Lugard. A peace-loving average man yearns for good governance that provides equal opportunity to live a better life. How we can sustainably deliver this has to be our concern. Sadly, we have a more pressing challenge right now and it is about the security of our country as regards the mayhem unleashed by Boko Haram.

– Follow this writer on Twitter: @seunonigbinde

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Oluseun Onigbinde is an electrical/electronics engineering graduate who's had experiences working in two of Nigeria's premier banks; co-leading Green Acts, a hibernating non-profit organization dedicated towards climate change and sustainability awareness; and now serves as the Team Lead of BudgIT (yourbudgit.com), a civic startup he founded in 2011 during a technology bootcamp, which uses technologies of any form to make government budgets more accessible, transparent and understandable to Nigerians. Onigbinde believes in the right of all citizens to have equal access to information. He contributes to Data Journalism Handbook, is a member of the Open Spending Wiki Group, a 2012 Ashoka fellow, and winner of The Future Awards as well as the Nigeria Internet Group Prize for social entrepreneurship. He has dreams of leading a thriving public policy think-tank with a social mission of a better and informed society, driving open data across the entire Nigerian literacy chain and also publish a collection of short stories. He loves God, family, rap music, Chelsea and Juventus football clubs.

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