Bringing Nigeria Back From The Brink – By SOLA AKINYEDE
Existential crisis with regard to our cohesion as a nation, as well as the management of our diversity with increasing separatist tendencies. Never in our history, not even during our thirty-month civil war have we had such deep, multilateral and multi-faceted ethno-religious polarization-an apparent response to President Buhari’s unprecedented, lopsided and nepotistic governance style characterised by a lack of inclusiveness and his perceived reluctance to deal with marauding herders whose ethnicity he shares and who continue to kill farmers and others as well as carry out acts of kidnapping all over the country.
Existential crisis with regard to our economy, with debt servicing gulping 98% of the revenue generated in Q1 2020,and the President borrowing in his first five years ($21.27 billion) three times what his three predecessors combined ($7.36 billion) borrowed in sixteen years. Most of these borrowed funds were deployed not to fund infrastructure but mostly to fund the payment of salaries and waste characterised by the over 600 government agencies majority of which are moribund and unproductive. And of course the elephant in the room –systemic and institutional corruption exemplified by whispers of inter-agency corruption even within government institutions, the brazen conspiracy of the judiciary to let every single judicial officer and Senior Advocate of Nigeria facing prosecution off the hook using spurious technicalities such as the ruling (not backed by the Constitution, any law or global best practices)that no judicial officer can be prosecuted without the concurrence of the National Judicial Council.
Just like the Police Service Commission for police officers, the Civil Service Commission for civil servants, the powers of the NJC relate strictly to the disciplinary control of judicial officers and not to crimes. Under our constitution, the apprehension and prosecution of citizens for criminal offences is strictly the function of the Executive and not the Judiciary. By manufacturing this technicality only for itself and not extending it to protect police officers or civil servants, the judiciary has simply fabricated for itself an immunity not backed by the Constitution or any law. Like most institutions, the judiciary has deteriorated under the Buhari administration . A serious-minded government would have by now proposed amendments to the constitution reconstituting the composition of the NJC which essentially is a private members’ club of justices and judges whose primary instinct is to protect themselves and their brother judicial officers and preserve the status quo. Of its twenty three members, nineteen are appointed or selected by one man-the Chief Justice of Nigeria. 88% are judicial or ex judicial officers.
Only two members are non- lawyers. Even the five members of the Nigerian Bar Association who are members of the Council including seasoned Senior Advocates are not allowed to participate in matters relating to the discipline of judicial officers. Is it therefore any wonder that in addition to its fabricated immunity, rather than appointing judicial officers strictly on merit, the new trend is the appointment of the spouses and children of influential judicial officers to the bench. We have some lessons to learn from our former colonial masters who bequeathed our legal system to us. In order to avert the retrogression that we seem to have normalized in Nigeria , they have a Judicial Conduct Investigation Office which itself is subject to the supervision of a Judicial Appointments and Conduct Ombudsman- an office that is independent of government and independent of the judiciary and the ministry of justice. As we can see from the incendiary consequences of the Supreme Court decision in the Imo state gubernatorial election, if the Nigerian judiciary continues in this direction, the collapse of national socio-political and international confidence in Nigeria is assured.
Our three main anti-corruption agencies, the once vibrant but now enervated Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), the lethargic Independent Corrupt Practices Commission (ICPC), and the somnolent Code of Conduct Bureau are now firmly under the political control of the ruling APC government. Rather than using their unexplained -wealth powers to apprehend erring public officers, they are deliberately chasing their red herrings. The ICPC preferring to direct its attention to certificate forgery and examination malpractices, the EFCC beaming its searchlight on the banking industry, while the Code of Conduct Bureau which secured only 45 convictions in 10 years, busies itself prosecuting low-cadre officers mostly for trivial infractions such as delaying the submission of their assets declarations by three days.
Our country has never witnessed such strong structural tectonic and ethno-centrifugal movements in its socio-political and economic lithosphere with a potentially cataclysmic convergence of these three crises. The result is that we have the highest number of extremely poor people in the world (more than India whose population at 1.38 billion is almost seven times that of Nigeria. This is accompanied by a massive capital flight, currency depreciation, considerable divestment by multinationals, significant reduction in foreign direct investment, inflation rate of 17% and an unemployment rate of 32.5% in 2021 predicted to rise in 2022-a youthful restiveness time-bomb exemplified by the #End SARS riots to which the nation convulsed in October 2020. In December 2020, the Financial Times stated that Nigeria was teetering on the brink of becoming a failed state. Since then, the situation has deteriorated, we are now also tottering. Terrorism and banditry have intensified in the northern parts of the country. We have moved two notches up on the Fragile States Index from 14th to 12th. We seem to be poised to moving to the next stage- having warlords taking over absolute control of large parts of the country. Nigeria is at the brink and appears to be failing. As is usual with our political elite, we have begun scrambling for political power in 2023 and ingurgitating thinking of governing without thinking of governance.
In order to bring Nigeria back from the brink, the following are imperative:
1 A FIVE YEAR SINGLE TERM ZONAL ROTATIONAL PRESIDENCY
Until President Buhari came to power, IPOB was regarded as an irrelevant nuisance. By his acts of brazen nepotism and bare faced injustice, President Buhari has given credibility to IPOB such that the people of the South East heed its directives. The rise of the Yoruba Nation and other ethnic separatist movements is also a response to the mismanagement of our diversity and heterogeneity.
The North West has historically been against zonal rotational presidency, preferring that power rotates between the Northern and Southern regions, such that neither the North Central, the North East nor the South East zones has produced the President during Nigeria’s current democratic dispensation. Indeed while the North Central zone had the benefit of producing the Head of State at least three times spanning a period of eighteen years during our military interregnum of twenty nine years, the last time a citizen from the South East was Head of State was fifty five years ago as a nominal head, while the only military head from the South East lasted just six months. Constituting at least 12% of the country’s population, easily the country’s industrial and commercial powerhouse, the continuing denial of the South East of the presidency taking umbrage under the doctrine of ‘democracy ‘ or the constitution, is an open sore that epitomises the injustices in our socio-political and socio-economic arrangements. It therefore comes as no surprise that the Northern Governors’ Forum has stated that rotational presidency is ‘unconstitutional ‘ .While the arrangement may be extra –constitutional, there is nothing in the Nigerian constitution that debars political parties from deciding that they want the presidency to rotate.
I do not agree with the more liberal elements in that forum that power rotation must be by negotiation. I believe that after sixty one years of our existence and with these existential crises facing us, we do not have the luxury of dissipating our time and energy ‘negotiating ‘but should have devised a seamless power rotation arrangements . The five year zonal rotational presidency should be enshrined in the Nigerian constitution with the first cycle going to the South East .Thus, I urge the political class and my brothers from the South-West in particular to support our brothers in the South East in this regard as this was why and how a citizen of the South West became president in 1999 when a northern controlled military wrongfully annulled Nigeria’s freest and fairest election won by a citizen of the South West. Once we allow injustice to become a language, sooner or later, it will become a lingua franca. A word of advice for our brothers in the South East; while fierceness and monopolistic individualism have stood you in good stead in the world of commerce, they have had the opposite effect in the world of politics. Support your best materials.
2 DEVOLUTION OF POWERS TO THE STATES WITH STRONG FEDERAL ANTI CORRUPTION POWERS
Before the military suspended our republican constitution and dismantled Nigeria’s federal structure in 1966, each region had its own constitution and enjoyed a significant degree of political and economic autonomy. Since then, the military systematically reduced the power of the states imposing a command and control style constitution with the central government holding the states in its vice-like grip. This is why the ethnocentric contention for the control of the central government has become increasingly fiercer leading to a debilitating instability. While a full return to the 1963 constitution may not be feasible in a 36 -state federal structure, significant devolution of powers is an economic and political imperative. With a single term five year zonal rotational presidency, each geopolitical zone has an opportunity of taking charge of the central government once in thirty years. It is imperative that during this thirty –year wait, each state is able to run its affairs without the present suffocating and disabling control in such areas as policing, export duties, and railways. Systemic and institutional corruption are endemic in every arm and every level of government. Devolution of powers without adequate measures to control corruption will simply result in federating corruption and mismanagement. Devolution of powers must therefore be accompanied by strong anti-corruption controls by the central government.
Apart from systemic and endemic corruption, the most serious threat to Nigeria’s economic viability is waste. For more than a year now, three of Nigeria’s refineries have refined virtually no petroleum, yet government not only continues to allow the state-owned petroleum company the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC), to pay salaries but has allowed the refineries to engage 1586 new employees resulting in losses of $2.5 billion between 2014 and 2018.We also have about 600 government agencies and parastatals 428 of which were declared by the Budget Office in November 2020 as being unable to pay salaries. Among these agencies are 14 different aerospace agencies five of which are based in Abuja including the National Space Research and Development Agency which alone has a workforce of 3500 accounting for almost half of the staff strength of all the space agencies on the African continent. Yet, five months ago, President Buhari approved the establishment of African University of Aerospace and Aviation in Abuja in spite of the existence of the 57-year old Nigerian College of Aviation Technology. Majority of these agencies, 270 of which were recommended for scrapping or mergers in 2015 continue to be funded while spending 90% to 95% of their budgetary allocations on personnel costs.
It is therefore not surprising that in spite of an expenditure of almost $1billion on six satellites, when on the 31st of March 2021 an air force jet crashed 30 kilometers from the airport five minutes after takeoff, for more than two days, none of the five aerospace agencies in Abuja including the Nigeria Communications Satellite Ltd and the Defence Space Administration was able to tell Nigerians if indeed there had been a crash, the air force telling CNN that they did not know if there had been a crash. We also have the Nigerian Nuclear Regulatory Authority as well as an Atomic Energy Commission. It is difficult to understand why a country that is the third most terrorised in the world with at least eight hours of sunlight a day will spend $37 million every year trying to develop nuclear and atomic power while nuclear powers such as Germany and Japan are dismantling their nuclear power plants in favour of renewable energy. The majority of these mostly unproductive and unnecessary agencies are presently funded with borrowed funds. Last but not the least is the need to drastically reduce the cost of governance by addressing the phenomenal perquisites and allowances that political and public service elite in the legislature, executive and judiciary award to themselves.
4 THE NORTH EAST AND NORTH WEST MUST RESTRUCTURE AND REORDER
In addition to having the highest number of extremely poor people in the world, we also have the highest number of out –of- school children in the world –thirteen million. Below are the United Nations statistics on multidimensional poverty (relating to education, health, access to potable water, nutrition and electricity among ten indices) in Nigeria based on geopolitical zones:
South West -19.3%, South East -25.2%, South South-27.3%, North Central-45.7%, North East-76.8% and North West-80.9% . A sample of poverty rates in some states: Plateau State-North Central-51.6%, Edo State-South South- 19.2%, Anambra State-South East 11.2%, Ekiti State – South West-12.9%, Katsina State- North West-82.2% , Yobe State-North East -90.2% , Zamfara State-North West-91.6%.
Literacy rates–Ekiti State—96%, Imo State -South East-96%, Katsina State-10% , Yobe State- 7%.These figures are essentially the same as those of the Oxford University Human Development Initiative Multidimensional Poverty Index. It is not a coincidence that the North East and the North West with the highest poverty rates and the lowest literacy rates in Nigeria are the hotbeds of terrorism and banditry. For the fifth year in a row, we remain third on the global terrorism index and we have deteriorated on the Fragile States Index. That our neighbours on these two indices are Somalia, Yemen and Afghanistan is no surprise as these countries are the poorest and least educated in their regions. It is therefore obvious that those that their states in North East and the North West failed to educate and give economic opportunities twenty to twenty five years ago are today’s terrorists and bandits. What is the cause of the problem? Let’s take a look at the profiles of two relatively poor agrarian states with essentially the same population –Yobe established in 1991 -population 2,321,399 and Ekiti established in 1996 population 2,398,957. Yearly Federal Revenue Allocation 2017-Ekiti-$84 million, Yobe- $129 million. Number of primary school classrooms –Ekiti- 7086, Yobe-533. Percentage of Teachers qualified to teach- Ekiti-90%, Yobe-22%. Number of out- of –school children –Ekiti- 50,945, Yobe-427,230. Thus in spite of the fact that Ekiti is slightly more populous than its North East counterpart and annually gets 53% less funds from the central government, it has 1329% more classrooms than Yobe which has eight times more out-of-school children. The failure of successive North Eastern and the North Western state governments over the years to invest in their human capital is the bane of the extreme poverty, low literacy, terrorism and banditry that bedevils Nigeria.
What then is responsible for this monumentally egregious failure? Where does all the money go? Only the political and public service elite in those states can give us an accurate picture. However as with most poorly developed societies, bad governance arising from corruption, mismanagement and misallocation of public funds looms large. Although bad governance is pervasive in Nigeria, its intensity is likely to be more pronounced with high poverty and low literacy and the consequential voicelessness of the citizen. In 2020 Yobe state spent more than $1,500,000 purchasing luxury vehicles for 14 traditional rulers. Surely rather than spending $120,000 on each traditional ruler, the state could have bought substantially cheaper vehicles and channeled the remainder to education and poverty alleviation. The state is also currently struggling to complete a ‘cargo international airport ‘on which it has already expended $59 million. Ekiti state is also making the same mistake with its plan to build its own cargo airport in spite of an existing airport less than 50 kilometres away. An airport in a terrorist enclave is the last place international flights will land assuming any one will agree to insure such flights. In 2019, Kano state in the North West spent almost $1million marrying, paying dowry and buying wedding presents for 1500 couples. Anyone who is unable to afford a $60 dowry is obviously poor. These funds could have been channeled to microcredit schemes for women and artisans rather than into an adventure that allows the recipients to remain poor and contribute to the state’s more than one million out -of -school children.
The fight against insurgency and banditry is taking a huge toll on Nigeria’s resources. Apart from Nigeria’s annual military budget of $2 billon, there are supplementary and extra budgetary expenditures such as the recently acquired 12 Super Tucano military jets costing almost $500 million. This is in addition to the 3 JF 17 fighter jets purchased from Pakistan at a reported price of $184 million. The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) calculating the economic cost of violent extremism and terrorism between 2007 and 2016, stated that Nigeria was the worst impacted country on the African continent. At $97 billion, Nigeria’s cost was 19 times the economic cost of terrorism in Libya which came a distant second. Apart from the human and material losses, this continuing deployment of huge national resources that should have been expended on infrastructure and development throughout the country just to fight terrorism and banditry is likely to be another source of ethnic schisms and tensions if the North East and the North West do not robustly address the root causes of these two evils. They must therefore restructure and reorder their societies, invest in their human capital by redirecting their resources to education and poverty alleviation. There are lessons to be learnt from Turkey and the UAE.
While the North East and North West are trying to put their houses in order, the central government must also put its house in order. If the military has been unable to defeat Boko Haram in more than ten years, with the ‘bandits’ in the North West now awash with money guaranteeing an escalation and another flank of terrorism opening in the South East, it is obvious that the military lacks the capacity and cannot win on all, or even on any of the three fronts. Rather than continuing to squander our resources, a political solution in the South East together with the engagement of the services of experienced international commercial military combatants has become imperative in order to bring a quick end to the hostilities in the North East and North West. This will also create an opportunity for the military to be retrained into a modern, professional and efficient fighting force in which merit rather than ethnicity is the critical determinant.
SENATOR SOLA AKINYEDE WAS THE CHAIRMAN SENATE COMMITTEE ON FINANCIAL CRIMES AND ANTI-CORRUPTION BETWEEN 2007 AND 2011