Nduka Uzuakpundu

Nigeria is, currently, not being governed. She’s more of a vessel rudderless on a journey in an uncharted, restless and howling brine. But the present cluster of political and economic crises should be seen as a distress signal to President Muhammadu Buhari and his anti-graft team; that all is far from well. The crises should serve as a wake-up call for Abuja to act fast before the country slides – perhaps, almost hopelessly, as she did, in the late ’80s and early ’90s, when the Structural Adjustment Programme (SAP) of the Babangida era, harsh and crippling, as it was, reigned supreme – into a recession.

These were the views expressed by a former Director General of Centre for Black Art and African Civilisation (CBAAC), and currently, lecturer, Department of Political Science, University of Lagos, Akoka, Professor ’Tunde Babawale. The fear of a recession – with its attendant dislocation of economic activities, which may, inevitably, trigger off a well- sustained, nationwide turmoil, said Babawale – is fast finding frightening expressions in weak indices of development and workers’ weal: south-bound income, north-bound inflation, Daura-bound unemployment, north-bound insecurity; south-bound value of the Naira – compared to the American dollar, the euro, the British pound; indices that are, put tersely, Niger delta-bound.

The situation is so appalling that, as Babawale observed, it’s having a telling effect on the average Nigerian family. “There’s an ugly trend now that family ties are being strained – amidst policies that tend to impoverish Nigerian consumers and tax-payers. Where inflation in about 20 percent – for the first time in three decades – there’s a steep fall or stagnation in the value of worker’s salary, to the extent that it cannot neutralise the adverse effect of north-bound cost of living,” he said.

And yet, he wondered for how long the country would wallow in this state of distress. One way out, he offered, was to slash, considerably, the salary of members of the National Assembly. Their gargantuan salary, which makes them the highest paid in the world, is no longer sustainable – given the current economic crunch. That – in nearly two decades of the Fourth Republic, the members of the National Assembly have, constantly, consumed about 25 per cent of the nation’s budget – has been an unrelieved accessory to the impoverishment of a majority: a once-ominously silent majority of industrious, Nigerian workers and tax-payers, who are, now, seething, openly, with discontent.

That – a salary of more than N20million per month, collected by each member of the National Assembly, compared to a drop in the ocean, that is the average, national salary of N20,000.00 – is morally indefensible. The salary slash, about which Babawale spoke, in a recent chat, should, as well, be extended to Councillors, Governors, Commissioners, Permanent Secretaries, Directors, Deputy Directors, and Assistant Directors in Federal and State Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs), Ministers, etc.

Such a salary reduction – affecting Security and Constituency Votes of Governors and legislators, respectively, as well – could be effected via negotiations and exhortation for sacrifice on the part of those who’d be affected – if only to save the Fourth Republic from the current haemorrhage, which was not the honest intent of voters, when they ushered the Buhari administration in.

In keeping with the Change mantra of the Buhari administration, Babawale posited that it was high time the affairs of the National Assembly – the serious business of making laws for the country – was made a part-time affair, which would be managed by seasoned technocrats: individuals who’re versed in legislative affairs, public administration, policy implementation, economic development etc.

In effect, individuals, who’d be appreciated for adding value to the quality of the country’s laws; personalities, who’d be applauded for giving politics and government a human face – to the promotion of the welfare of workers and voters; not opportunists, crooks and parasites, never-do-wells, who feed, senselessly fat, on the lean resources of the country – to the detriment of the majority who voted them into office. The goal of such a Change should be service, for which a defensible salary would be paid.

As the Buhari administration fights corruption, Nigeria may have to take a cue from such South countries as Singapore, South Korea, China, Cuba and Malaysia. These are countries that have laid down – if long- mineralised and respected – rules, and punishment – including death – for corruption. By inference, there might be a need for Abuja to do what the Rawlings regime did, many floods ago, in Ghana: public execution of corrupt individuals and their allies, whose activities almost flattened the once-virile economy of that country. These South countries, Babawale observed, had a culture of zero-tolerance for corruption. Seldom do cases of corruption surface in those countries, because theirs is a well-structured, public service. Everyone in government’s employ is there to render a service – in justification of the hope, trust and confidence invested in him or her; not to engage in graft and live a questionably flamboyant – if obscene – life-style.

It’s well a part of deep-rooted, gargantuan corruption that there’s an unprecedented level of unrest in the north-east, where the country’s military is battling the Boko Haram terrorists; the Niger delta, where militant groups – including the Niger Delta Avengers, are up against the Federal Government, in protest against unrelieved pollution of water, air and land in the region, by the activities of oil companies – four decades on – with piercing arrogance and impunity.

And, each time – as now – that the genuinely aggrieved people of the Niger delta, especially in Bayelsa, Rivers and Delta states,

protest, the response they get from those who ought to understand their case is as if they have no political, social and economic rights; rights that have been breached, flagitiously, by oil companies. The NDA – like Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND) before it – is genuinely aggrieved because of what’s akin to state-sponsored under development of the Niger delta: impoverishment, lack of power and potable water, food scarcity, bad roads, poor infrastructural development, youth unemployment, about which Babawale spoke, are visibly registered there. The likes of the NDA would not have risen were the reverse the case.

The NDA is genuinely aggrieved, because were the crude oil, which accounts for about 90 percent of the country’s foreign exchange, being tapped from the north, the natives would not have tolerated, up to this far, the level of conscious abuse and calculated injustice that the people of the Niger delta – the Izon and Ogoni people, mainly – have suffered. Their royal fathers would have instigated and armed them to reach whatever extremities in their quest for justice. Their informed demand that there be an archipelago of the gains of crude oil – alongside well-funded health centres and schools, steady power supply, portable water, good roads etc., from ward to state levels, would have been met as a national priority.

The post-Jonathan administration experience – one year on, into Buhari’s, which has exposed the depth of gargantuan corruption – offers Abuja an ample opportunity to, amongst others, stigmatise and expiate corruption – quite severely. The property of the actors as the Buhari administration is doing – via the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), headed by Mr. Ibrahim Mustafa Magu – should be sequestrated. If they are not sold, in order to recover the public funds so misappropriated in acquiring them, they should be seen as government property. A tab, by each administration, henceforward, should be placed on such property – like some of them now known to be extremely costly, lavishly-furnished mansions in Abuja, London and Dubai.

The post-Jonathan experience, further, calls for what Babawale termed “a nation-wide campaign against corruption: it should not be seen as a sciamachy between the Federal Government – skippered by the All Progressives Congress (APC) – and the operatives of its predecessor – the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). The campaign against corruption should be taken to the Local Government Areas, State Houses of Assembly, State and Federal ministries and agencies etc.” It’s a campaign that should become a national programme on print and broadcast media, the internet, hand bills, bill boards, road shows, etc. It should, besides, involve making the evils of corruption known to pupils and students in schools. The earlier that is done, the better for the peace, cohesion and continued existence of Nigeria as an entity – whose unity is not negotiable.