Tuesday, June 7, 2011

The Path to National Transformation

President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan made a lot of promises during his nationwide campaign for the office of the president. The fulcrum of his campaign was his solemn pledge to transform Nigeria; to give our long-suffering motherland a breath of fresh air. Nigerians believed in his capability to deliver on his electoral promises hence the ‘landslide’ and ‘moonslide’ victory he recorded in the April 16 presidential poll. He scored over 22 million votes to emerge winner. On Sunday, May 29, 2011, during his inauguration, the President reiterated his vow to transform Nigeria. Newspaper editorials, opinion moulders, actors and stakeholders in the Nigerian project have been setting agenda for the president on how best he could go about the onerous assignment of engendering good governance in Nigeria. In continuation of the counselling sessions, I want to call the president’s attention to the immortal word of section 14 (1) of the 1999 Constitution (as amended). It reads: “The Federal Republic of Nigeria shall be a State based on the principles of democracy and social justice”.

Former Governor of Abia State, Orji Uzor Kalu likened democracy to a computer, made broadly of two parts: hardware and software. There are two things President Jonathan and his lieutenants should do to transform Nigeria positively. They need to deliver the software and hardware dividends of democracy to Nigerians. By democratic software, the president and indeed all other political office holders at the three tiers of government viz. Federal, State and Local Government and across the three arms of government, that is, Executive, Legislature and the Judiciary must strictly observe the intangibles such as the rule of law which comprise of supremacy of the law (Constitution), equality before the law and fundamental human rights. If our elected public office holders will observe constitutionalism; play by the rules; guarantee civil liberties; run open, transparent, inclusive and accountable government, then Nigeria will be on a solid footing of transformation. If the principles of separation of power and checks and balances will be heeded in inter-governmental relations, then Nigeria will be transformed.

The president in his inaugural address on May 29 said “The bane of corruption shall be met by the overwhelming force of our collective determination, to rid our nation of this scourge”. We wait to see. Strict observance of the national pledge is crucial. It reads: I pledge to Nigeria my country/ To be faithful, loyal and honest/ To serve Nigeria with all my strength/ To defend her unity/ And uphold her honour and glory/ So help me God. If our political office holder will take this to heart and strictly obey the letters and spirit of their Oath of Allegiance and Oath of Office, then the country will be on the path of transformation. Good laws, best fit policies as against best practices, reforms and roadmaps also form part of the software of good democratic dividends. In truth, President Goodluck Jonathan did the country proud and set the right tone for national transformation by enhancing the conducive environment and support to the Independent National Electoral Commission to deliver on largely credible polls in April 2011. The signing into law of the Freedom of Information bill on Saturday, May 28 is also a positive sign that GEJ is interested in transforming Nigeria.

Hardware of democracy consists of tangible things which impact on peoples’ lives. Among these are social infrastructures like hospitals, schools, roads, railway, houses, electricity, pipe borne water, stadia, et cetera. There is no gainsaying that despite huge annual budgetary allocations for capital projects, there is a serious infrastructural deficit in Nigeria. It is a crying shame that in our 51 years of national independence, Nigerians are running their individual ‘local governments’ by providing electricity, water, security and homes for themselves. Yet, 1999 Constitution (as amended) says in section 14 (2) (b) that “the security and welfare of the people shall be the primary purpose of government”.

It was a rude shock to me when on June 2 Presidential Projects Assessment Committee (PPAC) led by Ibrahim Bunu said in its report to President Jonathan that the Federal Government is currently executing 11,886 projects at the cost of N7.78 trillion, out of which N2.696 trillion had been paid to contractors. The report also stated that, "reckoned in today's prices and allowing for unreported ongoing projects, the total cost needed to complete all projects may well be as high as N8 trillion". The committee also found evidence of large scale, widespread institutional mediocrity, deficiency of vision and a lack of direction in project management, which results in poor conceptualisation, poor design and faulty execution. "Needless to add that, this has resulted in avoidable losses of billions of naira to the Federal Government. As a matter of routine, contracts are awarded without securing the required funds in the annual budget to ensure their timely execution."

Any wonder there are infrastructural deficits in Nigeria? For heaven’s sake it is sheer criminality, grand deception and breach of Fiscal Responsibility and Public Procurement Acts to embark on this magnitude of white elephant projects. Every Wednesday the Executive Council of the Federation (Federal Cabinet), with the swiftness of preparing noodles, initiates new projects or earmark billions of Naira to on-going projects, yet years after, there are no completions in sight. President Jonathan should do well to stop initiating new projects and concentrate on the completion of these 11, 886 ones. I for one do not see the need for 9 new federal universities established by the Federal Government in 2010 when the existing ones are grossly underfunded. If Nigeria will be transformed, political considerations should cease to be the prime factor for initiating capital intensive projects.

Bloated bureaucracy is also unhelpful hence Presidential Advisory Committee recommendation for leaner government earn my support. President Jonathan should see to the faithful implementation of the recommendations from T.Y Danjuma’s PAC and Ibrahim Bunu’s PPAC. I recommend that the President should forward the reports to his economic team and the Infrastructure Concession Regulatory Commission for proper considerations.