Thursday, September 29, 2011

Nigeria: 51 years of platitudes

October 1 is here again and it is another season of ‘celebration’ of Nigeria’s independence anniversary. There will be speeches, parades, exhibitions, religious services, dinners and all manner of pageantry.

Unfortunately, it will be another vacuous celebration with the president, governors and other political as well as religious leaders issuing press statements appreciating God for keeping Nigeria together and enjoining Nigerians to patiently wait for dividends of democracy.

The religious leaders will be telling us to continue to pray for our leaders for that is what the Holy Books say. I have been hearing these platitudes since my adolescent years yet we continue to wait for Godot as we dream on for better and higher standard of living.

At the country’s golden independence anniversary in 2010, President Jonathan gave a number of sound-bites such as “I prefer to see the silver lining in the dark cloud rather than the dark cloud in the silver lining.” “We may not have overcome our challenges, but neither have our challenges overcome us.”

At the nation’s golden jubilee celebration, President Goodluck Jonathan made the following commitments: visionary and committed leadership; ensure public safety and security; improve the quality of education and to give Nigeria the edge in human capital development; rebuild our economy by continuing the implementation of the reforms in the banking and other sectors to ensure economic progress; fight corruption and demand transparency; implement a national fiscal policy that will encourage growth and development; give priority to wealth creation and employment generation; focus on addressing our infrastructure needs, especially power, as this is the biggest obstacle to our economic development and wealth creation; pay special attention to the advancement of our democracy through credible elections.

Let us assess these presidential commitments in the last one year. How has the country fared since the 2010 Independence Day? Without being uncharitable, am yet to see the president’s vision and mission beyond the rhetoric of campaign sloganeering of transforming Nigeria. If there is any sector the president is yet to grapple with, it is that of public safety and security. Even as the president was reading his speech at the Eagle Square last year’s October 1, Movement for the Emancipation of Niger Delta detonated two bombs killing at least 10 persons and injuring 36 persons including 11 policemen. Since that ugly incident, Boko Haram has taken over the baton of terrorism from MEND, using improvised explosive devices to kill, maim and destroy many innocent souls around the country.

Abuja has experienced series of terrorist attacks with the August 26, 2011 bombing of the United Nation’s House in Abuja being the most devastating with 23 deaths and 116 injured. Plateau State, especially Jos has also not known peace in the last ten years with sporadic wanton and wilful destruction of lives and properties. These terrorist attacks, with growing incidences of banditry and kidnappings, have made living in Nigeria, particularly in the last one year an excruciating exercise. Most unfortunately, our security agencies seem clueless about finding lasting solutions to the country’s nagging security challenges.

On the quality of education and human capital development, these have not experienced any significant improvements. Mass failure continues unabated. On Friday, September 23, National Examination Council (NECO) released the result of the 2011 internal Senior Secondary School Examination result and less than 25% of the 1,160,561 candidates that sat for the examination passed at credit level. In the May/June 2011 West African School Certificate examination conducted by West African Examination Council (WAEC), only about 31 per cent of the students who participated in the exams got up to five credits including English and Mathematics. This has been the trend in both WAEC and NECO exams in the last few years.

On economy, the banking reform has claimed three casualties as Afribank, PHB and Spring Bank were nationalised on August 5 with shareholders of these banks losing enormously from the exercise. There were claims of economic growth and reduction in inflation but these have not resulted in real development as youth unemployment rate according to Central Bank Governor, Sanusi Lamido has hit 41.6 per cent. He said this on July 16, 2011 in Kwara State. The Statistician General of the Federation, Dr Yemi Kale on September 14, 2011 said about 32.5 million Nigerians are unemployed. N50 billion was earmarked for job creation in 2011 budget but it is yet unclear if this money had been used for the purpose meant for as government seem silent on the proposed unveiling of the National Job Creation Scheme.

On the administration’s fight against corruption Daniel Bekele, Africa director at Human Rights Watch in the group’s 2011 report on Nigeria said: “There were high hopes for the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission as Nigeria’s most promising effort to tackle corruption since the end of military rule. But its efforts have fallen short because of political interference, institutional weakness, and inefficiency in the judiciary that cannot be ignored.” Many of the politically exposed persons including the bank executives arrested and charged to court years ago are yet to have their cases decided. This is not the making of the anti-corruption agencies alone; lawyers and judges share in the blame.

Nigeria, 51 years after independence is generating a paltry 4,242 megawatts of electricity. This is as at September 17, 2011, according to the Minister of Power, Prof. Barth Nnaji. Nigeria has spent billions of dollars on various power projects since 1999, yet, this is the best we can produce. How then can we improve industrialisation, reduce unemployment and poverty? Unfortunately, Nigeria Electricity Regulatory Agency is proposing to increase electricity tariff by 50 per cent by January 2012. How’s that for a new year present? Government has also said that it will remove subsidy on refined petroleum products, thus paving way for total deregulation of the downstream sector. All of these are happening while many state governments have refused to pay N18, 000 minimum wage to their workers.

As Nigerian government continue to mouth provision of social infrastructure, there was an outbreak of cholera in 15 states of the country with over 2,135 infections and 234 deaths in 2011. Polio and malaria still kill hundreds in Nigeria; our roads are still death-traps. Yet, this is a country that wants to be one of the best 20 countries in the world by 2020.

The only area, in my estimation, where government seem to have delivered in the last one year was on the promise of credible elections. Nigeria’s April/May 2011 elections were adjudged to be credible and lay a solid foundation for deepening of democracy. Even at that, the elections were conducted at a huge financial and social cost. According to President Jonathan in his September 12 media chat, about N130 billion was spent on the last general elections. Over 800 lives were also lost to post election violence according to a May 16, 2011 Human Rights Watch report.

I propose that this year’s Independence Day should be sombre and low keyed. It is not time to roll out the drums in celebration. It is time for sober reflection, a time to set measurable and achievable targets for national development. Enough of platitudes!