By: Sir Henry Olujimi Boyo (Les Leba), first published in May 2006


Throughout this year we have republished various articles by Sir Henry Boyo from the archives, discussing the poor monetary frameworks, strategies, selfish leadership and currency exchange rates that contribute to oppress Nigeria. These articles have not only lamented about the state of our nation but have provided insight as well as practical strategies that could be implemented to turn a new chapter for us as a people. 

Despite some of these articles having been published as far back as 13-15 years ago, the deep concern underlying each is rightfully marked because we remain a struggling nation in the face of numerous solutions.

Last week’s article was titled “Global Financial Crisis and Us”. However, this week’s article titled “When Justice Reigns” takes a turn to examine the wealth we have as a nation-ironically- in the face of our increasing poverty. Nigeria boasts natural resources, arable land, man-power…we used to be known for our palm, coal, and other treasures, so why are we not at the forefront of the world’s richest nations? What has become of our industries? This article walks us briefly through history and provides the necessary caution. My fellow people, how can we forge ahead as a nation, if we do not remember from where we have emerged? Kindly read on.

(These articles are also available on the Late Sir Henry’s web portal, www.betternaijanow.com.)

“When justice prevails, our country will join the club of rich nations and significantly, more Nigerians will enjoy affluence rather than the current abject poverty”.  Let us be clear, the apparent poverty of our people cannot be blamed on the absence or inadequacy of agricultural and mineral resources in our geographical space.  Indeed, vast expanses of the length and breadth of this country sit on very fertile land, such that in some regions, fruits and vegetables sprout unattended from carelessly dispersed seeds!  

We may not also blame our peculiar poverty in Nigeria on the absence of industrially or commercially valuable mineral resources.  In fact, if the recent publications of the Ministry of Solid Minerals are anything to go by, we are indeed abundantly blessed with significant deposits of valuable resources in addition to the more popular minerals such as coal, gold, tin and of course, the current ‘hot cake’, crude oil and gas!  In contrast, a small country like Israel and some of the more successful and people welfare-oriented countries such as Holland, Japan and Saudi Arabia have absolutely no major deposits of mineral resources or indeed, bounteous arable land space.

So, in spite of our enviable natural endowment, why are we poor?  It is tempting to conclude that in spite of the added advantage of a home market of over 150m people, that we have not been able to exploit our environment to the benefit of our people because of the quality of our human resources!  The truth, however, is that Nigeria has produced more secondary and university graduates than any other country in Africa and home-grown Nigerian expatriates in all disciplines from medical to aerospace and management provide credible support services to the economies of most of the successful countries in the world!

So, in this event, why have home-based Nigerians failed to perform creditably back home?  The answer to this very important question can only be in our environment.  We most certainly do not have an enabling environment where hard work and merit are appropriately rewarded.  Instead, what we have is a social and political environment that promotes mediocrity as a tool for national unity!

Prior to the forced demise of the first republic in 1966, the four existing political regions were bound together by a charter of equality such that each region took responsibility for coordinating its own internal matrix of agricultural, mineral and human resources to the benefit of their respective communities.  To this end, each region kept 50% of the revenue derived from the mineral resources in its territory and the balance income went into the federal pool.  The income from agriculture was more nebulous and consequently, the four existing federating units made constitutional contributions to the centre for funding federal responsibilities such as the judiciary, foreign affairs, the police and our national defence institutions amongst other requirements.  Truly, it was an era when there was no free lunch and room for the lazy dog and each region had sufficient motivation to be productive.  The result of this competitive energy saw Northern Nigeria as prime exporters of hides and skins, gum Arabic, bauxite, tin, cotton and groundnuts; indeed, the ground pyramids of Kano had become internationally famous cultural icons.

The Eastern region on its part was famous as the world’s largest producer of palm produce; the story is often told of how Malaysia came to the East to pick palm seedlings and learn the tricks that subsequently transformed it into an exporter of vegetable oils to Nigeria.  Furthermore, the mines at Enugu produced high-quality coal which powered the success of the Nigerian Railways in moving goods and people to and from the nooks and crannies of Nigeria.  Western Nigeria was in the top league of cocoa exporters’ era, while the Midwest region thrived on the export of rubber and timber.  

All the regions provided functional health and educational institutions and reduced unemployment by the direct engagement of the government in providing vital roads, public sanitation and various agricultural and commercial support systems.  Indeed, their enduring legacies in education provided the platform for the development of a host of Nigerians, including the acclaimed expatriate Nigerians who are creditably contributing their quota positively in all parts of the world!  So, what suddenly went wrong that all the regions lost their competitive agricultural, commercial, and productive edge, in spite of improved seedlings and related agricultural technology!  

Well, as we all know, the political crisis of 1966 brought in the men in khaki from the barracks; we later emerged from a civil war with a military or unitary style of administration, and this meant that the regions were emasculated and the centre became very powerful and soon commandeered all lands and consequently regional resources as federal property!  Fortuitously at this time, oil which was discovered in 1956 in Oloibiri in the Niger Delta had begun to swell our export revenue beyond our expectations!  What with absolute power in the hands of a small military elite, favours were soon dispensed from the bulging national treasury on the whims and caprices of our warlords without due process or any sense of accountability!  Gradually, the work ethic waned and it was not uncommon to be fabulously rich without doing anything as booty from the Niger Delta was shared arbitrarily.  The golden eggs laid by the goose were used to adorn the nests of ‘cousins’, both far and near as additional states and hundreds of local governments were created with no economic viability but with a promise of a monthly revenue allocation from the ‘loot’ captured from the colonial subjects in the Niger Delta.  The rest of Nigeria remained tightly supportive of this oppression in the spirit of what may best be described as honour amongst thieves!  The booty of unmerited monthly allocation soon killed the motivation to pursue erstwhile successful agricultural, productive and commercial activities throughout the country and the whole country readily held out their begging bowls each month for federal subventions rather than work!

It was inevitable that big-time corruption crept in quickly into our national culture, as the recipient of allocations in the increasing number of states in the country were not accountable to anyone in their respective states; after all, the beneficiary states had not created the revenue from the sweat of their people’s labour, so the people were grateful if they got as much as the crumbs that fell off the table of the local political administrators!  The myopic ones amongst us would want the booty sharing to continue and would propound the most misguided arguments to support their cause, but true lovers of our country know that Nigeria will only progress when the stealing from the Niger Delta stops, and Nigerians all over the country turn once again to exploit the God-given advantages in their regions.  Only then will the groundnut pyramids rise again, and palm produce, leather, coal, rubber, cocoa, cotton and numerous other minerals and resources engage our considerable and enviable labour force and in turn transform our economy and propel Nigeria into the orbit of a middle-income country and possibly a superpower in due course, but first, justice and true federalism must prevail in our country!

Save the Naira, Save Nigerians!