Monday, September 27, 2010

Nigeria beyond the Golden Jubilee

Nigeria is 50, does this call for celebration? Yes, it does. There are challenges quite alright, what with the high state of insecurity, soaring unemployment and grinding poverty, dearth or near absence of basic social infrastructures such as good roads, potable water, electricity, schools and health facilities.

Nevertheless, a philosopher once observed that “life is a tragedy to those who feel; a comedy to those who think”. In spite of our numerous and seemingly insurmountable challenges, there is still cause for us to rejoice on our attainment of 50 years of independence. Nigeria is one of the 17 countries in Africa to have received liberty from their colonialists in 1960.

The countries that attained five decades of nationhood in 2010 includes: Senegal, Mali, Niger, Cote d’Ivoire, Benin, Togo, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Mauritania, Gabon, Democratic Republic of Congo (Congo Kinshasha), Central African Republic, Chad and Madagascar. Others include Nigeria, Somalia and Republic of the Congo (Congo Brazzaville). Nigeria, nay Africa went through centuries of trans-Saharan and trans-Atlantic slave trades; internecine inter-tribal and inter-ethnic wars as well as another century of colonial rule.

Nigeria, the giant of Africa fought and survived three years of bloody civil war (1967 – 1970) where close to a million lives were lost. There have been about a dozen successful and attempted military coups. Yet today, with a cumulative 29 years of military rule out of 50; we live to celebrate 12 years of uninterrupted civil rule. The many highlighted challenges have collapsed many countries – where is Somalia, USSR, Czechoslovakia and Yugoslavia today? They have either disintegrated or become a failed state. That Nigeria survived the aforementioned afflictions and many decades of military rule makes the call for celebration of our golden anniversary quite apposite.

Having said that however, Nigeria’s celebration should be modest. There is need for a retrospective and introspective look at the last five decades of our nationhood. There have been too many missed opportunities and handful achievements which pale into insignificance when compared to the humongous resources that have accrued to the nation’s treasury in the last 50 years. The greatest challenge facing Nigeria today is our weak democratic institutions such as the political parties, legislature at both national through to local councils, media, civil service, judiciary, non-governmental organisations and security agencies.

Our electoral democracy continues to throw up charlatans and mediocre as leaders due to our faulty leadership recruitment process. Our elections from 1923 persist to be a sham, mere charade. Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) has just undergone some structural and legal reforms by virtue of the new board led by the indefatigable Prof Attahiru Jega. The 1999 Constitution as amended and the Electoral Act 2010 have granted INEC financial and administrative autonomy which it had long desired. INEC itself just released the timetable for the 2011 elections on Tuesday, 7 September 2010 signifying the commencement of activities for the next general polls.

We look forward to better future elections. Part of the drawbacks to the rapid development of Nigeria is her bloated bureaucracy. There are too many parasites on the Nigerian system. There is too much patronage, typical of a rentier state that we are. The wealth of this country has been cornered by less than ten percent of the population leaving the hapless majority in misery. While United States has 15 Secretaries (Ministers) and Britain has 22, Nigeria has 42 Ministers!

Furthermore, the US with 50 States has 100 Senators while Nigeria with 36 States has 109 Senators. What is the justification? The matter worsens when we factor in the uncountable aides being maintained for the political office holders at the expense of the State resources. Many of them have Special Assistants, Senior Special Assistants, and Special Advisers who are just feeding fat on the system, busy doing nothing. Nigeria has about half a dozen presidential aircrafts yet the country recently ordered additional three at a whopping $ 155 million (N21 billion).

Yet, British Prime Minister does not have an air fleet, neither does American president. The Pope who heads the Vatican City, and whose Catholic Church membership worldwide stands at 1.2 billion, flies Alitalia which is Italy’s national carrier. Nigeria must do away with waste and operate a lean government if it intends to make the list of 20 industrialised nations by 2020.

If Nigeria is sincere about its ambition to develop, then our leaders must do better with fighting corruption which has permeated the entire fabric of this country. Nigeria as at 2009 ranks 130 out of 180 countries on Transparency International’s Corruption Perception Index. In fighting corruption, the country must find a commensurate way of rewarding her workforce. The skewed reward system which over-rewards the few political office holders at the expense of the key career officers in the bureaucracy must be addressed and redressed. Beyond the anti-corruption crusade, Nigerians must imbibe maintenance culture.

I often weep at the way we neglect our monuments and public infrastructures. Multi-billion Naira projects are often commissioned with zero allocation for maintenance. This is unethical, antithetical, imprudent and wasteful.

A veritable antidote to the lingering problem of deepening poverty in Nigeria is for the government to fix the power sector in a manner that will enhance sufficient generation and transmission of electricity. When this is done and light is made available to Nigerians at affordable price regimes, then we would be on the path to meaningful poverty alleviation.

This is because electricity is a catalyst to commerce and industry which are high employers of labour. As we prepare for the 2011 polls, it is my fervent hope that it will lead to the emergence of visionary and credible leaders who will harness the great potentials of this country for national development. The ingredients of progress are rule of law, transparent and accountable governance, and efficient as well as effective law enforcement. Going forward, we Nigerians need to internalise and exhibit positive attitudes, mores, values and ethics.