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Nigeria @ 61: Still in Search of Peace…

THEWILL APP ADS 2

October 03, (THEWILL) – Nigeria’s 61st Independence Anniversary marked on Friday, October 1, was no doubt an occasion for sober reflection. It was also an occasion to reflect on the gains made so far and to explore ways of fostering a better Nigeria.

However, the absence of the beautiful parades and colourful ceremonies that used to characterise that day in virtually all the states was a sad reminder of the sorry state that the country has, unfortunately, found itself in.

Although the leadership at the various levels is still basking in the euphoria of yet another Independence Day anniversary, the bitter truth is that, despite all the grandstanding and denials, it is not yet Uhuru for the largest black nation on earth.

With the economy almost at ground zero, hunger and imminent famine in the land and senseless killings and general insecurity across the country, to say that Nigeria, a once prosperous country that was aptly referred to as the ‘Giant of Africa’ and a ‘Big Brother’ to other African nations, is, sadly, still searching for peace and unity at 61, would be an understatement.

And despite all the assurances given in the presidential speech delivered by President Muhammadu Buhari to mark the occasion, the reality on ground is that Nigerians have never been as divided as they are presently.

The political elite is not helping matters as they have consistently failed to deliver on promises, singing discordant tunes on matters of national interests. Instead, they are mostly pre-occupied with the pursuit of personal gains and that of their regions and ethnic groups, instead of fighting for the general good of the country.

Things are so bad that what one hears daily are resounding calls for division of the country into its primary constituencies in the event of the failure to democratise, run a federation and restructure it to meet the yearnings for peace, progress and prosperity.

The BACKGROUND

In his 101- paragraph, 37 minutes Independence Day address that focused on the topical issues in the country, ranging from insecurity to the weak national fabric, social media and remedial policies being undertaken by his administration, President Muhammadu Buhari raised a serious point in paragraphs 27 and 31.

He said in paragraph 27, “I will therefore take this opportunity, on this special day that symbolises the unity and oneness of our great nation, to ask all Nigerians to embrace peace and dialogue, whatever your grievances.”

In paragraph 31, he said, “Nigeria is for all of us. Its unity is not negotiable. And its ultimate success can only be achieved if we all come together with a common goal of having peace and prosperity for our nation.”

Embracing peace and dialogue and coming together with a common goal of having peace and prosperity for our nation recognises the potential for disagreements with full blown crises if dialogue is hardly embraced and a common goal is missing in a diverse and multi-ethnic country such as Nigeria. But then, this has been on the front burner since Nigeria gained political independence from Britain 61 years ago.

Carrying them out has been the bane of our underdevelopment and stunted growth with the collateral damage that has led to calls for resonating separation and succession in the land. Consequently, like a domino effect, lack of transparency and due process in governance; weak institutions and loss of value for life; corruption and absence of virtue in public and private places as well as almost complete breakdown of law and order, rule the day.

The politicians and the military have ruled the country almost equally for the past 61 years, with the politicians taking 32 years and the military 29 years, intermittently. Both groups have claimed growth and developmental infrastructures aimed at the well-being of the people.

But the verdict today lays bare those claims. Everything is in the public domain; the banditry and bloodshed currently going on in the northwestern part country; the terrorism going on in the North-East; the calls for secession in the South-East and South-West added to the downward spiral of the economy punctuated by the free fall of the naira at almost N600 to a dollar, leading to a fall in the aggregate demand for manufacturers and small-scale business, with a record unemployment rate, high cost of living and falling standards, high youth unemployment and general insecurity.

WHY DIALOGUE AND COMMON GOAL HAS ELUDED US

Leadership failure came tops in an investigation conducted by THEWILL by sampling opinions nationwide. Many blame the political leadership because of the primary role it plays in the allocation of resources and giving direction to state policies.

“The ruling elite, particularly the leadership of the ruling party has failed this country,” said Chief Willie Ezugwu, Secretary General of the Conference of Nigerian Political Parties, CNPP, in an interview with THEWILL.

He said,“We blamed the People’s Democratic Party for running the country aground after 16 years in power and massively voted in the opposition All Progressives Congress. Has anything changed? Both parties look like Siamese twins. That is why any member can defect from one to the other when they feel like it. That is why at 61 Nigeria still cannot get it right and there is corruption, insecurity, as well as a complete breakdown of law and order.”

In the views of Chief Olabode George, members of the political class did not get their acts right during the military era and brief period of civil rule.

He told this newspaper, “When I listen to the people talking, I keep wondering if I am in the same country. Let them go and read what led to the collapse of the First Republic. We, the military came to rule, but we found out later that it was not our role to manage politics and we rushed out. The founding fathers came up. The constitution we are running is still not very effective. We have an opportunity to revisit it. We revisited it through the National Constitutional Conference of 2014. We said there will be a need for changes. Why are we behaving as if we are already in Eldorado? We are not there yet.”

Taking an economic view of the topic, Dr Olu Fasan, an economist and Visiting Fellow at the London School of Economics said the problem is structural and leadership. Answering questions put to him during the week, he said, almost, annoyingly, “Look, we do this review every year at Nigeria’s independence anniversary. It is a futile exercise because there is no willingness to change for the better. Nigeria is 61, but what can anyone point to as progress in this country? “The economy is comatose, the politics is broken and socially life is miserable for the people with extremely high levels of unemployment and poverty.

“The first problem is that Nigeria is structurally flawed and you can’t build an edifice on a flawed foundation.

“That brings me to another point: leadership and the quality of those holding political and public offices in Nigeria. To be honest, the quality of leadership and public-office holding in Nigeria is extremely poor. That is partly because the right people are not being elected or appointed into public offices and partly because of the lack of accountability and checks and balances.”

Dr Nnaemeka Obiaraeri, a certified financial engineer and investment banker faults what he calls the ‘1999 feeding bottle constitution.’  According to him,  an analysis demonstrates clearly, how impoverished, unproductive,  beggarly and useless 99 per cent of Nigerians have become under  the  fiscal,  socio-economic, governance and resources production and distribution framework of the current 1999 feeding bottle constitution

Obiaraeri, who is the Managing Director/CEO, Taurus Capital and Advisory Services and Taurus Oil and Gas Limited, said the country has a large unproductive population , a large number of people contributing little or nothing to the economy, whose potentials are not being utilized.

“Everyone is looking at one source of income/revenue: oil.  As a result, we have many factors of production lying below. Look at this analysis:

“The value of the total goods and services produced and captured formally in Nigeria (domestically) in Q1 of 2021 was N2.99 trillion or $5.66 billion. If you annualise these quarterly receipts (all things being equal), it will come to annualised productivity value of N11.99 trillion  or $22.6 billion.

“Note that the total domestic production of goods and services in Nigeria in 2020 was formally captured to be N10.17 trillion or per capita productivity of N50,800 or N139 a day. Extrapolating from the latest 2021, Q1 numbers (based on the phoney population figure of 200million), this simply translates to the very pitiable domestic  per capita productivity of N59,960 or $113.

“This simply means that the total value of domestic goods and services produced by every Nigerian in the whole of 2021 will amount to N59,960 or $113; or N164/$0.30 per day.”

THE WAY FORWARD 

Economic diversification, restructuring, reorientation policy reforms, equity, accountability and rule of law featured most in many responses from our respondents.

George said the teaching of history at all levels of education in the country would play a major role in getting the country back on track because of its reformative and teachable quality. Indeed, it was for this reason that President Buhari in 2017 directed the Federal Ministry of Education to make History a stand-alone subject and Vice-President Yemi Osinbajo added his voice at two public meetings to give further push to the presidential directive.

Findings by THEWILL at the National Research and Development Council, Yaba, Lagos, show that while a curriculum has been developed for schools, particularly from primary six to JSS 1 and through to SSS3 in respect of Buhari’s directive, many schools across the country are yet to be led in that direction. Even then, it is only public schools that are slowly embracing the directive. Many private schools are feigning ignorance.

It is such negligence that makes George to wonder, “I don’t know why the government cancelled the teaching of History in schools. It is a fundamental error and that is why you see us committing the same mistakes as we move from one term to the other. Is this the way we will continue to do things?  God bless this nation. Is it human resources, mineral resources, agricultural resources that we don’t have? Go to other parts of the world and see how our younger generations are being sapped away. Why are we still fighting the tribal nonsense?

“Is there any human being who can perpetrate himself? These things we are doing will be on the pages of history books. If you don‘t teach History, you are telling the younger generation that there is no need to look back. So if you don’t look back at the problems of the past, how do you avoid them in future? You will keep on making mistakes. But I will keep on shouting at the top of the mountain because some people will read them in the future.”

Former Minister of Education, Prof Tunde Adeniran, called for attention to priorities and values. He said the ruling elite need to pay attention to the leadership recruitment system in the country.

“Our process of leadership recruitment is faulty. We need to get it right and we need to concentrate more than ever on the younger generation, our youths and encourage them to key into the core values that used to define us as a people and as a nation. Hard work, love of our neighbours, be our brother’s keepers, aspiration to excel, trust worthiness, devotion to duty and of course, the determination to make Nigeria proud of us as a people and for us to be proud of our country as a nation.”

On restructuring, Obiaraeri said that the current bad shape of the economy makes a mess of everyone in the system by deliberately pushing a majority of Nigerians to parasitically leech and depend mainly on the crude oil from the Niger Delta and VAT from Lagos State. He urged the 36 state governors, President Buhari and members of the national and state assemblies to quickly lean on the High Court ruling on VAT collection by states to totally restructure Nigeria and return her back to the 1960/1963 republican constitutional, socio-economic and governance architecture.

He said, “If we are truly honest to ourselves, we have to agree on how to devolve more powers, resources and authority to the constituents units and the people and checkmate the massive roguery and political banditry going in Nigeria since 1999; This will be done  in such ways and manners that can enable us to have a daily per capita productivity of goods and services  of at least N2,000 a day or N720,000 per annum  by 2023/2024.

“If we restructure today and return Nigeria back to the 1960/63 fiscal and governance framework that engenders productivity and healthy competition amongst the constituent units by 2023/2024, Nigerians at home will be able to generate about N79.64 billion or $150.2billion if all the estimated adult working population of 110 million Nigerians are put to active productivity of goods and services within the system.

“At a worst case scenario, even if we are able to put 50 per cent of the working population to active productivity of goods and services, Nigerians at home will still be able to generate at least N39.8 trillion/$75.13billion annually.

“10 per cent income tax on these worst case scenario numbers will give us about N4.00trillion /$7.5billion and N2.97trillion in VAT alone.

“Nigeria has the capacity to grow her economy annually by over 35 Trillion / $80billion YoY.  If we put in place that contemporaneous and productivity engendering constitutional and fiscal architecture that our forebears, Nnamdi Azikiwe,  Obafemi  Awolowo, Ahmadu Bello, Anthony Enahoro, etc signed onto in 1960.

“If we cannot agree to work together, let us go their separate ways and stop this atmosphere, culture and fiscal framework  of destitution,  death and misery we have created for a majority of us.

Dr Fasan supports devolution of power to what he called regional economic powerhouses. He suggests that Nigeria must be restructured so that governance can be decentralised and manageable.

“My vision is of regional economic powerhouses, where each region can generate economic prosperity and improve the welfare of their people. In the current situation, where most constituent parts of Nigeria look up to an over-powerful central government, progress will continue to elude Nigeria. No country succeeds by over-centralising economic governance. The Federal Government should focus on ensuring financial, monetary and exchange-rate stability; essentially, making sure that the macroeconomic fundamentals are right. Microeconomics should be utterly devolved.

According to him, that does not only mean devolution to regional governments, but it also means that the private sector must be the real driver of economic growth.

He maintained that Nigeria must be a free-market economy where the private sector can flourish, an economy that is able to export high-quality, value-added products and services, and that can attract high-quality investment in the productive sectors.

“Being a devolved and open economy and taking advantage of AfCFTA would help to make Nigeria an export-led and investment-driven economy, instead of an oil-dependent, mono-product economy that it currently is.

“Restructuring must also aim at engendering national unity and political stability. Of course, without national unity, internal cohesion and political stability, economic progress is not possible. To that extent, Nigeria needs a new Constitution that can ensure power is shared and exercised in an inclusive and equitable manner.

“If, for instance, some ethnic groups appear to enjoy political hegemony, while others feel they are consigned to servitude that will not engender national unity and political stability. So, restructuring must ensure that significant power is devolved to the regions, but also that power at the centre is shared and exercised equitably. I am, ordinarily, not a fan of zoning, but if zoning is the only way to achieve that, in the interim, until every geopolitical zone or region feels a sense of belonging, so be it!”

Like Chief George, Fasan raised the question of education, again saying that the citizens need to be educated and told about the principle of ‘garbage-in, garbage-out.’

“If you elect the wrong people to power, you get the wrong kind of governance. Secondly, we need to create the right accountability mechanism and incentive structure that generate good performance from elected and appointed office holders. There must be an effective system of holding people accountable for poor performance, and, of course, of rewarding outstanding performance.

“In short, Nigeria needs radical transformation. It needs root-and-branch reforms. It won’t make progress unless it is properly restructured. That’s my message at the country’s 61st anniversary,” he added.

Dr Yemi Farounbi, former Ambassador to the Philippines said best way to halt what he called the aimless drift into the oblivion and quench the desire of many people to leave Nigeria by migration or participating in separatist movements, is to have both the National Assembly and the Federal Government   give the country a new hardware, that is a new Constitution that clearly defines a common dream for us all.

“We need a Constitution that reduces the burden of resources and functions at the Centre, a Constitution that makes the Federating units coordinate with the Centre and not subordinate, as a Constitution that enables optimum good for a maximum number of people.

“Secondly, there’s also the need for a spiritual and cultural renewal and rebirth of the country. There has to be enthronement of those values of our society such as hardworking, integrity, honesty, godliness, good neighbourliness, self discipline, humility,etc.

“Would be leaders must be examined on the basis of their vision for the country. They must be made to explain the content of such vision, in measurable terms of quantity, quality, time and cost.

Speaking on Channels TV programme, Sunrise Daily on independence day, Prof Khalifa Dikwa, lecturer at the University of Maiduguri,  said political parties must uphold discipline like it happened in the first and second republics when even the president could be censured on party matters by the party’s national chairman. That showed how institutions were more powerful than their appointed and elected officers.

“That way values have a way of filtering into the society and the mindset of respect for institutions, every other ethnic nationality and consequently the rule of law and order happens in society,” he submitted

POLITICAL PARTIES AND 2023

Following Dikwa’s argument, political parties need to uphold their roles as agents of mobilisation, education and aggregation of the views of their members and the public for implementation by government. Giving voice to the yearnings of the people is one of the best ways to run inclusive governance with all its attendant impact on equity, fair play and justice.

Already the two major parties are waking up to that responsibilities. With the ongoing crises in the country, the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) and the opposition People’s Democratic Party (PDP) are responding to the yearning of the public.

The APC was forced to halt its open-door policy of embracing defectors perceived by its members as persons of questionable character into its fold, ahead of the 2023 poll.

In that light, the PDP, whose constitution recognises zoning, zoned its national chairmanship position to the North against the run of play. The Southern Governors Forum, sensitised to the need for self-preservation in the region in the face of general insecurity in the country, as well as the general mood in the country and their personal calculations, called for a power shift to the South. To assuage that call and mood, particularly in the South-East whose leaders are fighting for consideration for the presidency, both parties looked prepared to bell the cat.

For President Buhari, who said in paragraph 96 of his independence address tht “as we begin to celebrate 61 years as a nation, we need to be conscious that Nigeria does not start and end with the Federal Government. This country is a great collective where government at all arms and levels, as well as the private sector and more importantly individuals, have a role to play,” the youths of this country may be the answer in the long term to the divisive, corrupt and iniquitous system the elite have colluded to run in the past 61 years.

When he noted in paragraph  98 of his address, “I fully understand the anxiety of many Nigerians on the inability of this country to go beyond a never-ending potential for becoming a great nation to an actually great one,” he offered a solution that every Nigerian may find hard to disagree with.

He said in paragraphs 86, 87 and 88, “The youths of this great country remain propellants for our today and provide guarantees that we would have a secure tomorrow.   It is for this reason that I remain focused on expanding opportunities for their participation in politics and governance.  The recent appointment of young people to positions of authority and their track records so far gives me the confidence that we need to bring more of them into governance and this I promise to do.”