By Simon Kolawole
Dearly beloved Nigerians, I have a number of proposals today that may interest you. Or upset you. One, I respectfully propose that we concession the Niger Delta to the Netherlands for 17 years. Do not change the revenue allocation formula. Do not increase the derivation formula; retain it at 13%. In fact, scrap the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) and the Ministry of Niger Delta. Just hand over the Niger Delta as it is now to the Dutch and ask them to “build, operate and transfer” the region by 2033. Just a change of leaders. The same followers, the same land, the same water, the same creeks, the same share of national resources and the same 1999 constitution.
Let me fantasise: in just 17 years, the Niger Delta would have a massive network of well-built roads, electricity would shine bright everywhere, schools would be brimming with brilliance, quality healthcare would be within the reach of the people — and the lives of the Niger Deltans would be reformed and transformed. Let me fantasise further: skyscrapers, refineries, power plants and holiday resorts would dot the landscape. In fact, the bridge from Port Harcourt to Bonny Island would finally be built. Just a change of leaders. The same followers, the same land, the same water, the same creeks, the same share of national resources and the same 1999 constitution.
My second proposal. The south-east, in my view, is one of Africa’s most blessed regions in terms of human resources. Hand it over to the Japanese to build, operate and transfer by 2033. Don’t abolish quota system. Retain federal character. Forget confederalism. Don’t stand on any Aburi Accord. Simply hand over the place to the Japanese on a 17-year concession agreement. Just a change of leaders. The same followers, the same land mass, the same palm wine, the same kola nut, the same share of national resources and the same 1999 constitution. By 2033, you would swear you have mistakenly strayed into another country.
Join me in my fantasy. The first thing the Japanese would do is to come up with a policy that would make all south-east councils buy their official cars from Innosons Ltd. All south-east government vehicles would be from Innosons. All lawmakers would use Innosons cars. All official cars would be from Innosons. All contractors would patronise Innosons. You know what would happen? Innosons would be so overwhelmed with orders they would explode! Positive vibration! They would start assembling vehicles for export to Africa and beyond. Innosons would become our own Honda. Soon, Simonsons would spring up to rival Innosons.
What we know as the south-east today would become the manufacturing hub of Africa. Whatever you want to buy would be produced from there: mobile phones, electric kettles, shoes, bags, shirts, TV sets, computers, wallets, fans, air conditioners and photocopiers — all thanks to the Japanese. No, not that the Japanese would set up these factories. It is the same south-easterners (and foreign investors) that would be energised to troop to the region as a result of the leadership the Japanese would offer — easily discernible in clear vision, cohesive and intelligent policies, creative incentives, tenacity of purpose and an unwavering, genuine focus on development.
My third proposal: let us sign a 17-year lease agreement with the Dubai rulers to help us run the north-central. As usual, I am proposing different leadership only. Other variables would remain. The same followers, the same land, the same water, the same yams, the same mangoes, the same share of national resources and the same 1999 constitution. I will not even suggest modernising “our agriculture”. I am talking about travel and tourism. Look at Lokoja, Kogi state, the confluence of River Niger and River Benue. Picture the billion-dollar travel and tourism industry that Sheikh Al Maktoum could engineer there within 17 years!
Imagine what Al Maktoum can do to Jos — that beautiful, temperate city that used to be the home of expatriates! In 17 years, we would be discussing Jos in the same category as Marrakech, Pattaya and Cape Town as preferred tourist destinations. Imagine what Dubai rulers would turn Zuma Rock to in 17 years! This mighty mountain would play host to Nigeria’s own Disneyland. You would soon be seeing “Zoom to Zuma” commercials on CNN across the world, shortly after the airing of “Incredible India”! It would be a destination for local and international fun-seekers. And to think Zuma is just a few kilometres away from the Abuja international airport…
I’m writing just 1300 words, so space would not allow me to discuss concession opportunities for the south-west, north-west and north-east — or what could happen if we lease the federal government of Nigeria to Rwanda for 17 years. Let me now time take questions and observations so that we can close our discussion and shut down. Your first observation is that I’m being too simplistic. You said I make it look like it is so easy to build roads, fix electricity, provide quality health care, improve education standards, develop tourism and create a manufacturing hub. You said I am living in fantasy. Thanks for the compliments, but I am not fantasising.
Pack your bags today and pay a visit to Bonny Island, where the Nigeria Liquefied Natural Gas (NLNG) plant is located. You won’t believe you are in the same Niger Delta. The roads are perfect. Electricity is 24/7. Water flows without inhibitions. The schools, whether conventional or vocational, are of the highest standards. I am not talking about what would happen by 2033 — I am talking of what has been on Bonny Island all along, courtesy the NLNG. If you want further evidence of what oil money can do, you can also visit the Europe-like staff quarters of the multinational companies in the Niger Delta. Yes, it can be done! I repeat: it can be done!
Your second question is that I make it look like there are no ethno-religious and political problems inhibiting Nigeria’s progress, and I talk as if there is no need to change the constitution, ditch federal character, increase derivation to 50%, or break Nigeria to pieces.
No, Ma’am, you misunderstood me. I will never understate the political and ethnic problems plaguing Nigeria. I am not 100% naive. I see, feel and observe the complexities everyday. What I’m saying, Ma’am, is that in spite of these challenges, in spite of our “bad” marriage, we can still make progress! That is why I suggest, in my proposals, that we should change only one variable — leadership.
Your own question, Sir, is why a 17-year concession? Why not 10 years? Why not 50 years? It was deliberate, Sir. We have had an unbroken democratic experience since 1999, and I am saying that if our leaders are actually interested in developing this country, 17 years is enough to go very far. My proposal is for us to have a different kind of leaders for the same period of time with the same followers, the same climate, the same humidity, the same temperature, the same vegetation, and the same share of resources. The concessionaires would still contest elections every four years but no Nigerian politician would be eligible to run until after 17 years.
I can see that professor is unhappy with me. How on earth can I be asking for a re-colonisation of Africa by proposing that we hand over to the Dutch, Japanese and Emiratis? I’m sorry, Prof, I am only speaking in parables. I am saying if the Dutch could build a country on water, if the Emiratis could create an oasis in the desert, if the Japanese could develop without natural resources, then developing Nigeria would be a piece of cake! We are blessed with all the brains, all the resources to develop this country. Our leaders must use their brains — or lease one. Forget oil. Forget FAAC. With proper leadership, the needed billion dollars would flow in from all over the world!
I will take one more question and then go home. A Nigerian who lives in the UK took his family to Dubai for the first time in August and called me from there. “Simon,” he said, “these people have two heads.” We both laughed. So your question is: are you sure there is nothing really wrong with us? If these things are doable here, why are we not doing them? Professor Chinua Achebe famously wrote in The Trouble with Nigeria (1983): “The trouble with Nigeria is simply and squarely a failure of leadership. There is nothing basically wrong with the Nigerian character. There is nothing wrong with the Nigerian land or climate or water or air or anything else.”