Nigeria: Problems and Solutions

02 Oct 2011

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Why is Nigeria like this? Fifty-one years on and we’re still stuck in the mud. Look around. We cannot boast of decent roads devoid of potholes and craters. Public schools are a study in degeneration. Our hospitals are like an incurable disease. Our international airports are a journey into morass. Civil service is a cesspool of decay, the epitome of inefficiency and extortion. We wear corruption like an ornament and flaunt loot like a medal. You can hardly get anything done in the private or public sector without partaking in corruption. We are swarmed by ethnic and religious conflicts, still neck-deep in tribal wars that were the hallmark of primitive societies in centuries past. From OPC, Egbesu, MASSOB and Bakassi Boys to MEND and Boko Haram, we lie hopelessly in the grip of terror, unsure of when the next bomb will go off or when the next machete will be swung wildly and fatally.

And so, why is Nigeria like this? Ask a million Nigerians and you will get a million reasons. Nigerians, it must be said, are very good at identifying problems. We’re all experts at discussing “the trouble with Nigeria”. Nobody can take that away from us. The only setback is that we usually don’t proffer solutions. Ironically, you hardly find Nigerians who are ready to accept that they are part of the problem—or even part of the solution. (Olusegun Adeniyi wrote recently that everybody is fighting corruption—at federal, state and local government levels—and that leaves you wondering who is actually doing the corruption. I’m still laughing.) It stands to reason, however, that your perception of the problems will influence your choice of solutions.

One view says Nigeria was not meant to be. Nigeria is a “colonial contraption”. It cannot stand, the proponents of this argument often say. Nigeria, according to conventional estimates, is made up 250 ethnic groups and 5,000 dialects. The diversity is the major impediment to our progress, according to this school of thought. The solution, then, at least logically, is that Nigeria should break up. This viewpoint is very common in the South, especially among the youth. Nowadays, Niger Delta and Yoruba youth canvass it vehemently at internet forums. The major defect with this position, to me, is that every country in the world is a contraption. No country was created by God. Every country was created by man. Ghana, our neighbours, is a colonial contraption made up of diverse tongues and beliefs. They are making progress. I’m not saying Nigeria should not break up if that is the wish of the majority, but “colonial contraption” is not peculiar to us. Even if you have Republic of Oodua today, will that end internal conflicts?

Another view says our problem is lack of “true” federalism. By this, it means the centre is too powerful, thereby obstructing self-determination by the component units. Federalism is usually prescribed for countries where there is diversity; every unit is allowed to take care of itself to a large extent without hurting the integrity of the union. But the advocates of true federalism argue that this is not the case with Nigeria. Actually, before independence, Nigeria was a federal state. The federating units took care of themselves and donated maintenance allowance to the colonial government, in addition to whatever the centre was making on its own. Military intervention reversed this in 1966 and by the time we hit petrodollars in unimaginable proportions later on, the soldiers enacted laws that distorted the political and economic structures of Nigeria.

For those who hold this view, therefore, the way out of our trouble is a return to federalism. In practical terms, it means, among other things, state police, resource control and massive devolution of power from the centre. It means less money for the federal government and more money for the other levels of government. Let every state or geo-political zone or region cater for itself and assign some powers to the centre where matters of common interest are concerned—like defence, currency and diplomacy. This, the supporters of this idea posit, will allow for healthy competition and creativity among the components units. Again, I don’t have anything against “true” federalism. In fact, I like the idea. However, I’m still not convinced that it is because of “false” federalism that Nigeria is backward. I mean, is that why cholera is ravaging many Northern states? Is that why schools are dilapidated in many Niger Delta states? Is that why civil servants watch Baba Suwe during office hours?

A third view is that our problem is corruption. We have made so much money from crude oil in the last 40 years that if it was well-managed, Nigeria would have been a better place today. Our rulers have been busy feathering their nests and the nests of their cronies over the years. The money that should have gone into developing infrastructure to facilitate economic growth and development has been going into private pockets. Our rulers take us for ride by awarding road contracts and embezzling the money at the end of the day. We don’t have constant electricity—which is very critical to development anywhere in the world—because our rulers and their cronies have been cornering the huge budgets to the sector over the years. We keep importing fuel products because that is where trillions of naira can be siphoned. The refineries never work. Most of the time we hear the refineries are working at “70 per cent capacity” while our rulers’ greed always works at 100 per cent capacity.

I share the belief that corruption is a major obstacle to our development. Corruption has created so many fake billionaires in Nigeria, people who do nothing other than ruin the economy and impoverish the people. Money to put public schools in order and improve the quality of instruction often ends up in private pockets, so you find civil servants, whose monthly take-home is less than N200,000, sending their children to private or foreign schools where millions of naira are paid per term. Billions are budgeted for hospitals but the ruling elite would choose go to Germany to treat headache or boil. You then find out that the money intended to put the hospitals in order is helping to fund those foreign medical trips. There is no doubt whatsoever that corruption is a major impediment to our progress. However, when I study the history of development, especially in countries such as Indonesia, Malaysia and South Korea, corruption was not completely absent. How, then, were they able to develop in spite of corruption?

Maybe the major problem is leadership then. Maybe we keep talking about breaking up the country because the leaders have not done enough to unite the “colonial contraption”. Maybe we keep talking about “true” federalism because our leaders have not been able to sit down and develop a workable template for the union. Maybe we keep talking about corruption because we are being ruled by a predatory elite rather than those who care for the common good. For instance, privatisation in developing countries is often corruptly skewed in favour of cronies of the ruling elite (South Korea and Russia are examples here) but, at least, the privatised entities often work. But in Nigeria, the privatised entities are usually stripped of their assets and run aground. So our own corruption is, should I say, too corrupt! (Pardon my tautology.)

My conclusion, therefore, is that I agree with those who say leadership is the biggest, if not the only, obstacle to our progress. Nigeria is like this because we have always had the wrong people in authority over us. The day the right people begin to call the shots, Nigeria will be so transformed it would be impossible to believe. We don’t need to import anything to make Nigeria great—all the ingredients for greatness are here with us. What we need are leaders who can harness these potentials and unleash us to greatness. We are like sheep without shepherd. The focus of our agitations, therefore, should be: how do we make sure we are led mainly by the right people at all levels? Lamentation will not solve any problem. Name-calling will get us nowhere. We need a new generation of Nigerians who discuss both the problems and the solutions. Let’s continue to mobilise ourselves for the task of electing good leaders, leaders who are competent and patriotic. It may not happen today or tomorrow. Change may not happen overnight, but the journey of a thousand miles, we are told, begins with a step. This I believe.

And Four Other Things...

No Gay-saying
Have you heard the latest? The National Assembly is about to pass the Same Gender Marriage (Prohibition) Bill, aimed at punishing gays and lesbians. The bill is sponsored by Senator Domingo Obende (ACN, Edo North). However, I honestly think that if you ask Nigerians to prioritise their needs today, gay marriage is one of the least. The Petroleum Industry Bill (PIB)—designed to open up the petroleum industry to the benefit of Nigeria and Nigerians—is more urgent in my opinion. Senate President David Mark gave the most ridiculous excuse, saying there are too many versions of PIB in circulation. Is there no process of transmitting bills to the federal lawmakers? Is there no official channel of receiving and documenting them? To me, gay marriage does not affect the lives of Nigerians as much as legislative negligence, padded budgets, heavy overheads, contract bazaar and mindless corruption. I may well be wrong.

Hanging Fire
One of my basic beliefs as a human being is that everyone has a right to choose what to believe—as long as it does not hurt the rights of others. But there are many countries in the world where religious extremists still refuse to acknowledge this fundamental human right. As I write this, a 34-year-old Iranian pastor, Youcef Nadarkhani, is facing execution by hanging for “apostasy”. The father of two has refused to renounce his Christian faith and be saved from the hangman. “I am resolute in my faith and Christianity and have no wish to recant,” he said. His lawyer, Mohammed Ali Dadkhah, said a panel of five judges would take a final decision on his execution this week. I believe passionately that “there’s no compulsion in religion”—and I’m actually quoting Surah 2:256 here.

What Next?
The suspension of publication by Next newspapers came as sad news to me because, once again, another promising newspaper has closed shop. There could be a thousand and one reasons for the failure of the newspaper—some question the business strategy from the beginning while the publisher, Mr. Dele Olojede, believes he’s a martyr of a corrupt socio-political system—but the clear signal from this is that newspaper business in Nigeria is in serious danger. In a country of 150 million people, I fail to understand why the combined circulation of newspapers is less than one million copies daily. The business is so endangered that only four or five newspapers can truly claim to be in “sound health”, while the rest are just getting by or struggling to survive or on death row. The country needs, like oxygen, an independent and honest press, as Olojede himself said while announcing the set-back for his dream project last week.

Callous Tevez
The apparent refusal of Carlos Tevez to come on as a substitute for Manchester City in the Champions League match against Bayern Munich last Tuesday was just one of the series of insolence from these millionaire footballers. Tevez probably thought he should have started the match. The feeling you get is that the manager, Roberto Mancini, is not in control of the team. The other day, Mario Balotelli, the Italian youngster who thinks so highly of himself, walked up with pointed fingers at Mancini for substituting him in a friendly match. Even the usually well-behaved and prolific Edin Dzeko acted petulantly in Munich after being substituted. No footballer dare try such nonsense with Jose Mourinho, much less Sir Alex Ferguson—who, remember, discarded the like of Jaap Stam, David Beckham and Ruud van Nistelrooy when they started growing wings. I almost forgot to add the seemingly untouchable Roy Keane.

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