BusinessDay

Southern Governors: Start with forest restructuring!

While we commend the 17 Southern governors for their historic Asaba meeting that ended with 12 courageous resolutions, the major problem as always with Nigeria is the implementation of plans. Of the 12 resolutions, there is an emerging consensus that the most important is the call to restructure Nigeria.

Other key resolutions include i. The commitment to the unity of Nigeria on the basis of justice, fairness, equity and oneness. ii. Ban of open grazing of cattle across Southern Nigeria. iii. The development of alternative and modern livestock management systems by the states with the support of the federal government. iv. Urgent convocation of a national dialogue to address national pressing issues such as secessionist demands. vi. Review of appointments into federal agencies (including security agencies) to reflect federal character. vii. Creation and functioning of seaports in other states to create jobs and higher economic activities.

As pertinent as the resolutions are, the challenge and question that the 17 governors must answer is how they will work with an unwilling Federal government to achieve their resolutions. In both strategy formulation and execution, a key factor that enhances success is scenario analysis. While there are views that the Federal government cannot ignore the resolutions of 17 governors (wishes and demand of entire Southern Nigeria), it is also advisable to think and plan for worst case scenarios.

Let us imagine a worst-case scenario where the Federal government refuses to cooperate in the implementation of any of the 12 resolutions, is there any option for the states to achieve some of the resolutions? The answer is yes! With our present structure of governance, the state governors can achieve some of the resolutions and indirectly coerce the Federal government into cooperation without any confrontation.

All that the Southern governors need to do to achieve some of the resolutions is a strategic restructuring of our forests to turn it into forests of revenue and growth as compared to the present use as forests of insecurity and blood. First, it will require the deployment of about 50-100 bulldozers per state to provide good access roads across the forests of every state. With the access road provided, the second step will be the proper mapping, clearing and replanting of our forests with well identified economic trees.

Using the improved seedlings (trees) proven to generate over N25, 000 every year per tree means that each of the 17 Southern states can generate additional N500 billion revenue every year with about 20 million trees per state. As the improved seedlings fruit after three years of planting, all that will be required to do is to clearly identify about ten economic trees that states can choose from. Examples of such trees include Palm, Coconut, Soursop, Avocado, Guava and Bitter Kola. At a subsidized rate of N250 per seedling, the 20 million trees will cost each state in Nigeria about N5billion and N85 billion for the 17Southern states.

In addition to the additional annual revenue of N500 billion per state and 8.5 trillion for Southern Nigeria, some aspects of the 12 resolutions would have been achieved. First is that each of the Southern states would have been empowered with additional N500 billion annual revenue or tax that can be used to develop other agricultural sectors including alternative and modern livestock management systems. Two is that insecurity will significantly reduce and the ban on open grazing will naturally take place with better use of our forests. Third is that the dependence on national revenue allocation for survival of the states would significantly reduce with additional N500 billion annual revenue or tax from economic trees.

While Indonesia made about US$18.4 billion from palm oil (about N9 trillion) in 2017, Nigeria’s encumbered 2021 federal budget is about N13.00 trillion (with only N7.89 trillion expected total aggregate revenue). In the same vein, while India’s coconuts are valued at about $10 billion, Philippines $6.7 billion and Indonesia $4.5billion, the three countries account for about 60 percent of the $35.6 billion global coconut market. As Indonesia makes about $23 billion from just two economic trees- coconut and palm trees, Nigeria is running around the world looking for our next borrowing source.

On the need and urgency to restructure Nigeria, the Federal Government’s response so far gives the impression that the government is really disconnected to the realities of our time. It reads like the behavior of a very stubborn man who refuses to attend to the deteriorating health of his sick children. While he claims to be interested in their survival and attending to their welfare, the cries for urgent help from the children are being suppressed with the thinking that their ill-health is fake or possibly caused by his enemies. Most regrettably, the sickness is real, old and eating the remaining organs and bonds of the family! As PMB government maintains that is focused on attending to the challenges of 200 million Nigerians, it is important for the government to realize that central to survival of Nigeria is the need to restructure the country.

It is also important to note that while there are different versions of what restructuring means, it cannot be used as an excuse to delay or reject the unquestionable importance and urgency. As the APC as a party advocated for restructuring before their triumph into power, advancing the argument on the multiplicity of restructuring versions as a reason for the delay or rejection of the demand is not tenable. If they don’t understand, they should implement the version they advocated, or the version generally agreed by Nigerians during the 2014 national conference.

In one my contributions about three years ago, I cautioned that restructuring is a demand that its time has come and that it will happen irrespective of the stand of the party in power. With the exponential increase in agreements on the urgency and importance even from unexpected quarters, I further implore the PMB government to seize the opportunity and start the process. This will bequeath the PMB government with the greatest legacy. As it is something that will eventually happen irrespective of the position of PMB’s government, it will be to their greatest advantage to jump on the driver’s seat given the fact that it is the voice of the people which is the voice of God!

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