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OPINION: BATTLE OF THE MIND IN NIGERIA

Naira

To the casual observer, Nigeria’s present biggest battle is against “terrorism.” Even at that, such observers would likely be referring to the harassment of Nigerian residents through organized assaults by groups such as Boko Haram, “Bandits”, nomadic herders, kidnappers, IPOB, and criminal gangs.

Some may allege that the “battle” against “corruption” is the biggest battle that the Nigerian “government” is engaged in. And their understanding of “corruption” is “politicians and public officials stealing public funds or collecting bribes from government contractors and vendors.” They understand the “battle against corruption” to consist of “arresting and locking up corrupt government officials.” And when they refer to “government”, they mean the Federal Government of Nigeria (FGN).

As the mind is ordered, so the whole body reacts. Out of the content of the mind, words are spoken, hands are directed, and legs are mobilized.

What information is the mind of the Nigerian being fed; who controls the dissemination of this information; through what means is the information broadcast upon the mind; and how genuine is this information?

When some Nigerians from a particular region of the country rise and claim anger against the “Government of Nigeria”, they certainly are either deliberately or ignorantly oblivious of the State Governments and Local Governments within their region. Their mind has been filled with certain misinformation to believe that the single obstacle to their arrival in the Promised Land is the “obduracy of the Federal Government”, which has “marginalized” their region. What disturbs some interested observers is that this allegation depends on who is the head of the Federal Government at the time. I cannot recall any region of Nigeria that has not made the allegation of “marginalization” against the FGN at some time in Nigeria’s interesting history.

 Alright, the preponderance of Nigerians are angry against perceived injustice, oppression, deprivations, and “marginalization” (one word that is next only to the word “corruption” in popularity in Nigeria’s socio-political vocabulary), and would like to break away from Nigeria, and form their wonderful new countries. Wait a minute; but, truly, why are they angry? Many complain that they are without jobs, or lucrative jobs, and so cannot afford the basic necessities of life. This is the root cause of this anger, it is an economic problem, which exacerbates physical insecurity because of the sense of hopelessness and feelings of anger that economic deprivations spawn.

The mind of the Nigerian tells him, “The Federal Government of Nigeria owes you economic debts, education debts, health debts and social debts. It is the biggest hindrance on your path to success.” And, like the enchanted, having accepted this false narrative, the Nigerian becomes impervious to reason, and is ready to stone those that would disagree.

Let us reason together and unravel the appropriate distribution structure of both responsibility and culpability within the matrix of our Nigerianness.

Presently, out of every 100 naira that accrues to the Federation Account (FA), the FGN gets 54.68 naira, the State Governments (SGs) get 24.72 naira, and the Local Governments (LGs) get 20.60 naira. Besides, SGs earn additional revenue as Internally Generated Revenue (IGR), which they do not and are not required to remit to the Federation Account.

Since the FGN is for all of Nigeria, from its share of 54.68 naira, it budgets for infrastructure (including “federal roads” in the 36 States and FCT) and services for each State in the Federation, which is SUPPLEMENTARY budget for the States! Let me give an analogy. It is like a family deciding that from the family income, 45.32 per cent would be given to children for their discretionary spending, while the balance of 54.68 percent would be dedicated to children’s school fees, food, utility bills, house rent, medical bills, and family investment. That, whatever additional personal income accruing to any of the children would not be shared, but rather would wholly belong to the child.

The minds of Nigerians must digest this fact and the implications: The State Governments take the 20.60 naira belonging to the Local Governments, and abandon them to decay. Consequently, the local government system in Nigeria has collapsed! Majority of the Nigerian very poor live in the rural areas, and many of the social services there are the responsibility of the Local Government Councils, which, in accordance with the Fourth Schedule of Nigeria’s Constitution, are required to build and maintain houses for the poor and infirm; build and fund vocational and primary schools; provide primary healthcare; build and maintain streets; provide street lighting; build and maintain markets and abattoirs; provide agricultural assistance to farmers, etc.

With the collapse of the local government system, the above services are not being adequately provided, if at all. This failure worsens poverty, which in turn causes social insecurity and social group agitations. But who is responsible? The State governors in Nigeria!

The average population of Local Government Areas (LGAs) in Nigeria is about 271, 318 (approximating the population of Nigeria at 210 million). Some of these LGAs have less than 10 small Council Wards, and are given on average not less than N200 million a month from the Federation Account. Imagine the positive impact on the standard of living of the citizens if at least N10 million worth of monthly social and infrastructural investments were made in each Council Ward! The State Governors are choking the LGAs, and so, are directly responsible to a greater degree for the social upheavals in their States.

 I was told in my State (Benue) by a retired Deputy Commissioner of Police that if any Local Government Council Chairman in Benue complained, he/she would become a “Former Chairman”! Last year, while visiting my State, some youths visited me, and the situation of the collapsed local government system was discussed. Furthermore, I discussed an action plan with a traditional ruler, but he was afraid. Activists and secessionists must engage with their state governors on the debts they owe the LGAs, and not only stay on “secession from Nigeria.” The unyielding robbery in their backyard is mortal, and the FGN has no constitutional power to stop it.

In 2018, I gave a speech in Lagos at the annual conference of Guild of Corporate Online Publishers (GOCOP) for the year. While smiling, I told the audience that the President of Nigeria had no powers to “restructure” Nigeria the way some of our brethren in Southern Nigeria are still advocating. I reminded them of relevant constitutional provisions on the matter and the fact that there are 51 Senators (and more than 185 members of the House of Representatives) from Southern Nigeria, and that the issue of “restructuring” could be made a defining issue in the 2019 general elections. Fellow Nigerians, citizens from any region in Nigeria, who truly seek “restructuring” (however they understand and define it), must elect and send to the National Assembly legislators with similar passion and motivation. As I have written and published copiously on the matter, there can be no Sovereign National Conference on Nigeria without appropriate amendment of sections 8 and 9 of the Nigerian Constitution (www.leonardshilgba.com). Nigerians must not fall for any so-called “National Conference” on Nigeria without first having appropriate legislation crafted for it; nor should they believe the belligerent who think that livid words can work.

Some friends allege that members of the National Assembly do not have the mandate to negotiate a new Nigeria. I believe and have written so too. However, I also believe that except an appropriate Sovereign Conference Act is passed (This requires the National Assembly), based on relevant amendments to sections 8 and 9 (which also require legislation by the National Assembly), none of the agitators, activists, or patriots shall be able to seek and obtain the mandate of their ethnic groups to represent and negotiate a new Nigeria for them.

Nation-building requires patience, sagacity, and due process in all our engagements, so that we do the right things the right way, at the right time, and for the right reasons. I have seen a wonder: An enlightened people following the unenlightened to destruction; the people at home following the man from abroad to destroy the homeland; and philosophers and the wise relying on the unwise without grasp of social dynamics for leadership.

The mind of the Nigerian must interrogate the ceaseless allegations of “underfunding of education” in Nigeria. I ask, how much is Enough? Some scholars and public commentators are quick to cite a “UNESCO benchmark of 26 per cent of national budget” for funding of education in developing countries.

By law, the national budget for Education in Nigeria is for funding federal tertiary institutions only (although the FGN funds Unity Secondary Schools, and has established an intervention agency called UBEC to partner with States in the funding of universal basic education across the country). Secondly, there is the TETFUND, which receives 2 per cent profit-after tax from certain registered companies operating in Nigeria. Finally, the Internally Generated Revenues (IGR) of the tertiary institutions are retained and used by them. All of these should be huge, shouldn’t they? Besides all these, State Governments budget every year for Education.

But, has UNESCO set a benchmark that developing nations should spend more than one-quarter of their annual national budgets on Education, irrespective of population, responsibility of tiers of government, and the peculiarities of the nations? The current Minister of Education, Mal. Adamu Adamu and a former Secretary of the National Universities Commission (NUC), Prof. Peter Okebukola, has been reported to have independently denied that such a UNESCO benchmark exists. In fact, Prof. Okebukola was reported to have called such a benchmark a “myth.”

Nonetheless, another report indicated that the UNESCO regional office Abuja had stated that there was a UNESCO “recommendation” that “15 per cent to 20 per cent is the international benchmark.”

I think the issue of a UNESCO benchmark for national funding of education in developing countries should not be allowed to distract us. How well do leaders of public educational institutions in Nigeria manage the funds remitted to them from various funding sources and from IGR? I know from personal experience that prudent managers can accomplish a lot with little. When I hear of the billions of naira disbursed to federal universities, for instance, in addition to TETFUND interventions and IGR, I wonder how much MORE good my university could have achieved with such amounts. Yet, we have done so much with little.

No one, however diligent, can fill a basket with water. He that is faithful in little would be faithful in much. And he that is unfaithful in little will be unfaithful in much. How much of federal, state, and local government remittances for education infrastructure and services is faithfully used for the purposes?

Government can do more, but managers of education must prove their faithfulness.

Federal agencies such as the National Orientation Agency (NOA) must do more to properly feed the mind of the Nigerian to not simply believe any propaganda without verifying, and to not accept just any “international benchmarks” without questions as to the basis and relevance.

We must not be afraid to think creatively, independently, differently, and freely. This is one activity that is free.

A “Know Your Constitution” series of activities should be undertaken by the NOA across Nigeria to help Nigerians appreciate the separate and interwoven roles of the Federal, State, and Local Governments.

No leader can well afford a huge mass of the unenlightened in their nation’s constitution and workings of government. It is not enough to attend a school; you must get an education. It is your personal responsibility to educate yourself. Going to school is more expensive than getting an education. Bob Marley once gave this advise: “Emancipate yourselves from mental slavery. None but ourselves can free our minds.” Be quick to hear and read, but slow to talk and anger.

Refuse to be used. Read!

Leonard Karshima Shilgba, PhD, is a Professor of Mathematics, Director of Academic Planning and Quality Assurance, Pioneer Ag. Vice Chancellor/President, Pioneer Vice President (Academics) Admiralty University of Nigeria