The seeming courage and impunity of the elites are built on the cowardice, ignorance and stupidity of the masses
Each time one thinks Nigeria has hit the bottom of the endurable and acceptable; the Nigerians lower the bar even further and turn up with “glory be to God for life”, as if God spared their lives because he approves their conditions. Nigeria of today seems to consist mainly of a people on a journey who have no clear vision of where they are going and have no clue of how to get to anywhere. They are like a people on a ship on the high seas going through storm with fire everywhere, with everyone fighting to become the captain, to steer the ship to as diverse directions as there are people on the ship, with no selfless one in sight to give them hope, vision and clear leadership out of their crisis. Everyone wants to steer the ship for selfish reasons and to his personal island. Meanwhile, as they are butchering themselves the ship is sinking. The irony is that some of these persons were former captains that steered the ship to her current turbulences. It is either they are captains perpetually or the ship must become rudderless or go down forgetting that they are also passengers on it.
I have always thought that some of the characteristics that define man from other animals are our intelligence, abilities to learn and to plan, to develop strategies, to differentiate between good and bad, and strive to improve, the ability to identify, prioritise and utilize available skills and resources to make life easier for themselves and their communities. As time passes, it becomes increasingly difficult not to wonder if Nigeria is perhaps inhabited by a special breed. Hence, how could some creatures fulfilling the characteristics above with so much resources and huge potential at independence run down their country within this short space of time?
Recently, someone wondered aloud about what is more devastating to a people “the blindness of the eye or that of the mind”. I have always wondered if it is that blindness of the mind that prevents Nigerians from finding the courage to halt a development that is taking them in the wrong direction.
Many good essays have been written and so many people of conscience have spoken, yet the Nigerian state seems resistant to rationality. Many Nigerians and people of conscience from around the world have expressed concern and are simply dumbfounded over what goes on in Nigeria, culminating in this outrageous and monstrous crime against innocent school children and the incessant killings of innocent Nigerians.
By now, we know that the version of anything, whether invented or copied by us, is always taken to the limits of the acceptable. Therefore it is hardly surprising that these kinds of escalation with the threats to sell, forcefully marry or enslave such huge numbers of abducted school girls come from Nigeria. And the accompanying inept of the armed forces and the kind of response by the government is typical of Nigeria – A place where nothing is taken seriously. Sadly, this is what defines contemporary Nigeria.
Well, with the concerted efforts of the friendly countries like the USA, Britain, Canada, France, Israel and China who have offered to assist, it is hoped these girls will be found shortly and returned to their parents safely. However, no matter how this crisis evolves, we must not return to business as usual as this is a very loud wakeup call, to find the courage and the energy to pursue lasting solutions to problems that have transformed a country – blessed with so much potential – to a laughing stock around the world. A potential paradise that is rapidly degenerating into hell for the majority of its inhabitants. Now is the time to do everything to save the country from becoming a breeding ground for all sorts of criminality.
Those wondering about how the ship got into these turbulences, may they be reminded of the following: Our current state is the sum of the numerous decisions that have been taken since independence. Shouldn’t we have known that by being complacent when some states introduced Sharia laws some years ago, contrary to the provisions of our secular constitution, we were sending the wrong signals to fanatics? Because we lacked foresight, we assumed the hydra was too small to bother about, now the kids of the hydra are becoming demons and we are all scratching our heads! Didn’t we know that unchecked endemic corruption and boundless impunity are depriving the ordinary Nigerian citizens of any meaningful services from the government? And that the flamboyant display of such looting is like sitting on a keg of explosives and playing with fire? To make matters worse, most of the looting is transferred abroad or hidden away. So these lootings are hardly invested in Nigeria to boost the economy, in order to create job opportunities for the poor. The Nigerian elites are really lucky that they are dealing with rather ignorant, dispirited and cowardly people; but even then, it is just a matter of time before these eruptions become more rampant to consume us as a nation. Sadly, the Nigerian elites don’t seem to realize the connection between their actions and the state of the country. That is why; none of them is demanding an unconditional war on corruption and impunity. The fight against corruption must not only become a priority but be an all encompassing one that involves all levels of society. The people must become aware through national campaigns that when a worker delays what he is employed to do, in order to receive any gift, no matter how small, he is as guilty as the big looters and he/she is contributing his/her quota to the malaise of all and hampering the growth of the economy. We have to be aware that due process, rule of law and security for life and property, and the pursuit of excellence while maintaining certain standards are the elements that propel any economy to accomplishing its full potential. To attract foreign investors in any sustainable way, we have to get out of this unending steep learning curve.
Shouldn’t we know that our ethnic and tribal politics that are elevating not the best amongst us to positions of leaderships are detrimental to our common cause? What performance level are we to expect when we set no minimum standards by which to measure our leaders? We should have known that since performance didn’t matter, mediocrity will take hold and lead to every Nigerian eventually thinking he/she is fit to occupy any office of leadership in Nigeria! We are all too willing to support or sell our votes to the highest bidder for sentimental or short term benefits, knowing very well, we are elevating notorious shady characters into offices of responsibility. So doing, we have been encouraging the siege of shady characters of our political space, with their alarming incompetence and lack of responsiveness to the responsibilities of leadership, such as catering to the needs of the masses. Where are the monuments or memorials of those who have selflessly served this country with distinction, sacrificed and died for the common cause of the people? Where are the history books containing their names? Haven’t we been part of choosing so many people who shouldn’t be near policy making desks at all to sit there? Now they have become policy and decision makers that have practically taken Nigeria to the edge of precipice!
To turn things around, the first step is to understand why we are where we are. The approach is to determine when and where we went astray by carrying out a critical analysis of those things that were working at the start of our nationhood, including how we did them then. We would have to look at what we changed that eventually has taken us on this journey to nowhere. We would have to determine the lessons that are derivable and reverse those that are reversible. The 1963 Constitution was the product of difficult compromises and protected regional interests, resulting in a central government with limited powers – the focus was on the autonomy of the regions. The Constitution ensured that ethnic nationalities co-existed in a common political space avoiding enforced uniformities.
The invention and construction of a centralized government system by the successive military rulers, who ruled by decree, was a clear deviation from the pillars on which Nigeria’s independence was founded. The military leaders who designed those constitutions had themselves as successors in mind. Thus those constitutions were constructed without the involvement of the civilian stakeholders.
Meanwhile, let’s look at a few specific points in our short but teachable history since independence: Nigeria had only four regions (North, West, East and Mid West) in the 1963 constitution, with reasonable recurrent expenditures that untied resources for development initiatives that reached the masses. Through centralization and the abolishment of true federalism, the military altered Nigeria’s fate permanently. By abolishing resource control they cancelled the tough compromises reached by our fathers that worked so hard to bring Nigeria independence. They turned the newly created states into quasi sub departments of the federal government that waited for their monthly pay cheques to run their affairs. The main concern of these governors was not how to generate income for their states but simply how to spend their allocations. It became fashionable to demand for more states and since they didn’t have to be viable, it became a show of power and grace for every successive military leader to create new states. They didn’t bother about the increasing enormous overheads those measures were creating and the negative impacts they would have on developmental projects that would reach the masses. The Nigerian people didn’t seem to bother about the fact that the cake wasn’t getting bigger with creating more states. Contrary, the portion of the pie to reach the ordinary citizen was getting smaller. The Nigerian experience and lack of development across the country has shown that there can’t be true federalism without genuine devolution of power and true fiscal autonomy to the regions – A true fiscal autonomy with an adequate formula to support a smaller central government and help develop less endowed states/regions. Only creative and competitive states can create sustainable growth and job opportunities.
Sailing into the future, the Nigerian currency needs urgent reform (see The Nigerian Currency and some Contributory Aspects to development in the Global Economy) with focus on exchange rate stability and cheap loans for small and medium sized enterprises to drive growth and create employment opportunities.
Without bias, Nigeria’s surest approach to sustainable development is through embracing unbalance development strategy, and at the same time encourage and support the state or regional governments to develop and add value to the abundant resources spread all over Nigeria, such as silver, tin, ceramics, gemstones, limestone, marble, bitumen, talc, lead, gold, zinc, columbites, coal, etcetera and numerous exportable agricultural products. It is obvious that geographic locations and competitive advantages have to be taken into consideration. As population is increasing so are also the demands for infrastructures and other services. The sustainable development of Nigeria would mean to reduce the number of states, reduce members in the senate and house of assemblies and the House of Representatives, and thus reduce the recurrent expenditures and unbundling more resources for physical infrastructures. Only this could enable Nigeria to cater to the needs of the poor. The formation of states/regions should depend on their self-sustainability. The number of local government areas need not be reduced. With the current structure and number of states, it should now be obvious that no matter how we share the oil revenue, it is not going to be sufficient for any meaningful development across Nigeria. We know from micro-economic theory, that – when a business enterprise gets into financial turbulence – the rescue scheme must begin with critical analysis of the overheads and recurrent expenditures. Only then other reorganization measures can be effective.
I have chosen the following policies implemented by the government to illustrate the consequences of our decisions that have impacted negatively on the socio-economic fabrics of the Nigerian people and from which the country hasn’t fully recovered so far. The popular but short-sighted “indigenisation decree” that drove all foreign investors out of the country was one of such policies. That policy placed large manufacturing and service providing companies in the hands of ill-prepared Nigerians, turning many into Managing Directors and millionaires overnight. Now most of those companies have either long folded up or metamorphosed into merely shadows of their glorious days. Nigerians are a very impulsive people who act out of the spur of the moment, often neglecting detailed analyses of the long term consequences of their intended actions. Today, the same Nigeria is spending huge sums of money on travelling round the world practically begging foreign investors to come to invest in Nigeria and each investment by foreigners is presented as success and good governance to the people.
Despite warnings from many, including this author, the military government of the eighties went ahead to implement the ill-conceived SAP (Structural Adjustment Programme) dictated by the IMF intended as the shock therapy that was going to heal all Nigeria’s economic ailments; yet that programme effectively destroyed Nigeria’s existing structures. The austerity measures dictated by the programme led to a shift from the official policy of full employment to restricted fiscal policy that substantially reduced spending on all critical services. Those measures that have now transformed Nigeria into a country with (1) poor infrastructure (2) poor social service delivery, (3) poor educational standards with supposedly over a quarter of our children out of classrooms, (4) pervading corruption and impunity, (5) poor security and enforcement of law and order, (6) stunted economy, (7) high unemployment, poverty and increasing children’s labour, (8) poor environmental sanitary measures, (9) poor energy supply, (10) embarrassing export of sex workers and human trafficking of enormous proportions, etc.
The austerity measures and the resulting climate not only led to unreasonably low real incomes paid to professionals as prices skyrocketed due to tumbling exchange rates, but also created great incentives for the emigration of qualified Nigerians. The measures prescribed that the government had no business running institutions that were providing services to the people and it became fashionable to sell off one government property after the other to cronies for short term cash. The Nigerian government lost its orientation and governance was no longer for the betterment of the lives of the ordinary people. Ironically, the budgets and deficits didn’t get smaller; what changed is simply how the money has been spent, money previously diligently spent on providing services for the masses is now being diverted to finance overblown overheads and the balances began to disappear into thin air. Initially, the fraud was to simply transfer the allocations onto some private accounts to recoup the interests and civil servants were left without salaries for several months, and when hardly any yellow or red card followed, the impunity became limitless and most allocations were simply shared forthwith. All that has lead to the shift of gravity of everything and inequality began to rise with poverty accelerating to the currently unacceptably horrifying and dispiriting levels.
Now, the resulting lack of opportunities have compromised many of the intellectuals causing apathy (the psychology and depression of the besieged) and a climate of fear not to alienate the officeholders in order to be considered for some favours in the future – favours that may never come.
If Nigeria is to move forward the negative correlation between the number of academics and the degeneration of all aspects of society must be reversed. Nigeria’s professionals would have to be told or encouraged to stay in their areas of specialization as that is the sector they are most likely to make qualitative contributions to the development of Nigeria. After all, if you were building a house you intend to live in, you would not employ a poorly trained bricklayer to do the woodwork or employ the carpenter to lay the bricks and do the electric fittings.
Sadly, as our handling of the crisis has clearly shown that the current elites are incapable of taking Nigeria to any reasonable and sustainable development, with the rest of the world beaming their attention to Nigeria to help find the Chibok missing girls and hopefully help to resolve the crisis of mindless killings, it is hoped that the international community shall bother to help tackle our socio-economic problems that are partly the root causes of these eruptions.
Now that a terrible development has woken us up, with the doors to our conscience wide open, let’s rise to the challenges and walk through these doors of opportunity. We might courageously ask some of the leaders of these friendly countries to stay with us to rebuild our institutions, rebuild our police force and help us with the development of our physical infrastructures – including the generation of electricity. It is hard to be unsentimental about proud sovereignty or beating our chests that we can do it all by ourselves and need nobody or engage in any naive unproductive convenient defensiveness such as claiming Nigeria is not the only country having difficulty with Islamist insurgency or that terrorism is a global problem that has left other countries helpless. Each situation is different. Our love for our country and the suffering masses of Nigeria should make us act decisively and seek help from experienced, unbiased and incorrupt professionals to help us turn things around. Where practicable, some institutions could be given out on management contract basis and these contracts could be evaluated every two or three years. We live in a world where most developed economies are designing and implementing policies to attract the best minds from around the world to come settle in their countries in order to help them tackle different challenges. What is good for the developed economies should also be good for Nigeria.
There is no rationality in living in perpetual self denial, by now we should know that Nigeria’s troubles are far deeper than assumed; a situation for instance where the commander in chief of all the armed forces of Nigeria, for obvious reasons, is reluctant to visit Chibok, a visit that would have given hope and moral supports to the kidnapped girls’ parents, shows clearly that despite having a huge army of intelligence service men within the police, the navy, the air force and the army, we simply are unable to successfully penetrate Boko Haram. Strangely, instead of the government succeeding in planting agents within Boko Haram, it seems it is Boko Haram that have succeeded in planting their agents in the government to influence government initiatives and report any planned hostility to them – thus being always many steps ahead of government initiatives.
We are confronted with the consequences of a situation where allocations to the Nigerian military to equip and prepare them for eventualities are said to disappear into thin air, making the junior ranks ill-prepared and becoming afraid to engage a pocket of virulent insurgency that is estimated to have just a few hundreds or thousand members. Probably, Boko Haram is actually being instrumentalized for the fight for power – the control of Nigeria, however, it is frightening to observe how Boko Haram has unmasked the Nigerian military forces. Should the state of the army really be as political and critical as we are observing now, one wonders, whether currently Nigeria has a functioning army capable of defending the Nigerian people against any major hostility from the outside!
May this sad episode of the kidnapping of these girls not only be the beginning of the end of terror in Nigeria but also the beginning of a genuine fight against horrifying and terrorizing corruption that is killing millions of Nigerians yearly. May it be the beginning of the end of inept government, impunity and the elevation of incompetent people to positions of leadership! May it be the beginning of the re-creation of a country where the laws of the land are valid for all citizens, without fear or favour! May it be the beginning of the prisons filling up with corrupt leaders!
If the Chibok kidnapping should teach Nigerians any lesson, it is that when the people rise in unity to make legitimate demands, sooner or later, people from around the world become supportive and changes start taking place that invariably could help to overcome the crisis.
However, it’s not late. Yet Nigeria has the potential of becoming a great country on this planet. To get there we have to rise in unity, in peace and love for our diversity, creating a country where both the poor and rich are proud to be Nigerians, where only people of honour, courage and wisdom, irrespective of their ethnicity, gender or religious faiths will rise to positions of leadership that will be to the good of all.