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When politicians and social commentators say that this country has never been so divided, they are actually being euphemistic. The reality is indeed grave. For some forces appear hell- bent on setting this country on the path of destruction. Nigeria seems to be en route to Mogadishu with a stopover in Kigali.
Rwanda’s capital, Kigali, became a metaphor for genocide when in 1994 estimates of between 500, 000 and 1 million persons (mostly Tutsis) were killed within 100 days in the violence of the Hutus against the Tutsi. Hate speech was the fuel for that conflagration that drew universal horror. The good news, however, is that the dark chapter of Rwandan history is closed and the country is today a model of reform under a visionary leadership of President Paul Kagame. Unlike Rwanda, Somalia has hardly recovered from the civil war, which broke out in the country in 1988 and the subsequent overthrow of the dictator, Siad Barre, in 1991. By the way, there is no multiplicity of ethnicity in Somalia. The country is often cited as an example of a failed state under the rule of clannish warlords. The world is still waiting for the good news from Mogadishu, the troubled capital of Somalia.
Rwanda and Somalia are both instructive and sobering African stories.
Historically, there is probably no immunity against the failure of the state and the consequent national disintegration. That is why nation building is always a work in progress. Those cosy places to which members of the ruling class escape in moments of crisis are still being built by the leaders and people of the respective nations. Since the days of Plato and Aristotle, competent governance has always been a requirement for the state to maintain its integrity. A crisis-ridden country should, therefore, watch out for the signs of a failed state so that it would not unconsciously be on the road to Mogadishu, as they say.
The objective climate of insecurity in Nigeria is being subjectively worsened by the purveyors of hate in the public sphere. Lies, prejudice and hate are the effective weapons of mass manipulation. For some persons, Nigeria has simply ceased to exist subjectively even though they still operate within it objectively. Some of these elements still make billions from the poverty-stricken political economy. Yet, they speak of the country only in negative terms. These desperate forces perceive the forces of integration as naïve; whereas the real naivety is in assuming that there can ever be a bloodless disintegration of Nigeria. It’s not clear if some of the gladiators sometimes pause to do a proper scenario – building of what they wish for this country. Unfortunately, these forces of disintegration appear to be having the edge over the forces of integration. The voices of the prophets of doom are becoming more resonant.
Here lies the real danger of the moment.
Now, there is hardly any dispute about the imperative of making the Nigerian federalism work better by restructuring. Over centralization of items is simply not working. No rational person can question the elements of equity, fairness, efficiency and effectiveness as the condition for the union to last for generations. But the debacle seems to set in when you ponder the politics of restructuring. In other words, the real question is this: how exactly do you bring about restructuring? This question inexorably cropped up last Thursday in a quality colloquium in Lagos. It was organised by a highly reputable segment of the Yoruba elite, the Voice of Reason (VOR), whose motto is Agba kii wa l’oja k’ori omo tuntun wo (wise men do not stand by when things go wrong in the land). The VOR’s roll of honour is unquestionably inspiring for the young men and women seeking role models. The tone and tenor of the discussion were elevated even if sometimes provocative and reckless. Significantly, these members of the Yoruba elite invited the perspectives of the elites of other ethnic groups.
In fact, the VOR has demonstrated the seriousness of the group about its purpose by coming up with an attempt at a draft constitution to articulate its position on restructuring. The document, which VOR modestly describes as a “work in progress,” is entitled A Constitutional Framework for a Multi-Cultural Society.
However, the drawback of the occasion was that the severe limitation of the politics of restructuring was patently on display. Some of the suggestions were utterly tactless and, disappointingly, these views came from those who should know better by the virtue of their experience. A lot of historical distortions and misinterpretations were freely peddled. The emotion shown by a few was indeed frightening. Perhaps, this was what prompted the wise intervention of a Senior Advocate of Nigeria, Olisa Agbakoba, who challenged the gathering to the fact that the objectives of the advocates of restructuring might be impaired by the “harsh” tone of some of the southern participants in the debate when referring to their compatriots in the north. Agbakoba suggested in the alternative a robust engagement among elements from the various parts of the country. In this respect, reason, and not hate speech, would serve the purpose.
After all, what is federalism if not a continuous negotiation among the federating units and between the units on the one hand and the centre on the other?
Even if restructuring is accomplished today as defined by the contemporary, future generations of Nigerians might still have cause to restructure the federation to serve their own purpose. Maybe, no one could envisage the future purpose now. That is why decent advocates of restructuring such as the VOR should be wary of the merchants of hate and practitioners of anarchy. You cannot go far on the road to restructuring with a penchant for insulting people of other ethnic groups. That is not the way of decent negotiation. And you simply cannot restructure without being imbued with the spirit of negotiation in a complex setting such as Nigeria. It is only reasonable to learn how to play the politics of restructuring right.
So those who play with the fire of the fault-lines of ethnicity and religion are doing a great disservice to the cause of restructuring. A peaceful restructuring cannot be achieved by the cynical manipulation of religion and ethnicity.
In this respect, President Muhammadu Buhari should seize the moment by giving a coherent and illuminating response to the groundswell of opinions on restructuring. Buhari should simply go back to the manifesto of his party, the All Progressives Congress (APC), to be properly equipped on how to engage the nation amidst the seemingly unstoppable momentum of restructuring. That is what good leadership demands of the President.
The reflections should also focus on the factor of governance. The present and real danger of insecurity enveloping the nation is an issue of proper governance. No matter the structure of the federation that is eventually agreed upon, governance will still be a factor on its own. To derive the benefits from the proposed devolution of power to the federating units, state police and fiscal federalism, the country will still need to be properly governed at all levels. It would be illusory to imagine otherwise.
More fundamentally, it is important to explode the myth that the primary contradiction in Nigeria today is the distortion in the structure of the federation. Federalism, true or false, is not the primary issue. The primary contradiction in Nigeria is class-based. The primary contradiction is neither ethnic nor religious in nature. It is manifested in mass poverty and misery as recent findings by think tanks and international agencies have only confirmed. The primary contradiction is between the poor and the rich exploiters. The point at issue is that the vertical restructuring of the federation without the horizontal transformation of the social structure of inequality will not solve the problem fundamentally. The social structure of inequality traverses all ethnic groups, regions, zones and religions. And restructuring the federation will not automatically eradicate poverty in the land.
So, it is important that the restructuring advocates should also raise their voices against the worsening social inequality plaguing the land in the interest of social justice and peace.
Life of Integrity
By Femi Falana
The reality of a life of integrity is a mirage in any country where the majority of the people have been sentenced to a life of poverty. To ensure that the people of Nigeria live happily, honestly and decently the Government shall harness the resources and promote national prosperity by controlling the national economy. Accordingly, the economic system is not operated in such a manner as to permit the concentration of the national wealth or the means of production in the hands of a few people or a group. Since the primary purpose of government is to guarantee the welfare and security of the people the State shall direct its policy towards ensuring that suitable and adequate shelter, suitable and adequate food, reasonable national minimum living wage, old age care and pension and unemployment and sick benefits as well as the welfare of the physically challenged people are provided.
The Constitution has imposed a duty on the Government to eradicate corruption and abuse of office. To this effect the mass media shall promote public accountability and transparency in the affairs of the government. All citizens are required to assist the law enforcement agencies in the performance of their duties. In Dododo v. Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (2013) 1 NWLR (PT 1336) 468 the Court of Appeal held that every citizen is under a legal obligation to report allegations of corruption to the anti graft bodies. Once corrupt public officers are exposed while public funds are channeled towards infrastructural and human capital development the Nigerian people will be in a position to live a life of integrity. But if citizens are poor, frustrated and disenchanted they will engage in criminality to the detriment of law and order in the society.
The aforementioned duties of the government and the rights of citizens to live in prosperity and happiness have been outlined in Chapter 2 of the Constitution. However, successive governments have failed to carry out their constitutional responsibilities to the people due to alleged lack of resources. It is our submission that the resources of the nation have been concentrated in the hands of a few people and groups by the government.
Mr. Bill Gates, the co-chair of Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation was a guest of the federal government at the recently concluded expanded meeting of the National Economic Council in Abuja. In his well-publicised address at the forum Mr. Gates criticised the neo-liberal foundation of the economic programme of the Government of Nigeria. While reeling out facts and figures on the state of underdevelopment of the nation the special guest made a strong case for increased investment in the welfare of the Nigerian people by all the chief executives of the federal and state governments. In particular, he urged the governments to make the people the corner stone of its economic programme by investing in education, health and other social services.
Not a few people including some former public officers have commended Mr. Gates for speaking truth to power! But far from it, the speech was a friendly admonition to the members of the ruling class in Nigeria. Having invested $1.6 billion in promoting the health of the most vulnerable segment of the population since 2006 the locus standi of Mr. Gates to challenge the economic programme of the Government cannot be questioned. Gates has put his money where is mouth is, as they say.
His solidarity message was a critical commentary on the economic programmes of the previous and current governments which have abandoned the welfare policies enshrined in the Fundamental Objectives and Directive Principles of State Policy embodied in the Chapter II of the Constitution of the Republic. Therefore, Mr. Gates’ criticism of the economic programme of the Buhari administration is valid for all the economic programmes of the previous governments, which have handed over the national economy to market forces at least in the last 35 years.
It is, therefore, the lack of proper appreciation of the ideological thrust of the message that has led some commentators to conclude that Mr. Gates has merely criticised the Economic Recovery and Growth Plan (ERGP) of the current administration. But contrary to such reductionist distortion, Mr. Gates’ speech is a summary of the struggle, which has been relentlessly waged by progressive forces against the anti people’s policies of successive governments in Nigeria since the Structural Adjustment Programme (SAP) was imposed on the nation by the Ibrahim Babangida military junta. Even the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) which didn’t emphasise the social costs of adjustment in the 1980s are now subtly drawing the attention of government to burgeoning poverty, which is a consequence of their socially ruinous policies. It is unfortunate that some of those involved in economic management are still enamoured with neo-liberalism, which callously discounts human welfare policy mix. But when the IMF and World Bank caution against poverty, our market forces fundamentalists in policy chambers should at least be worried over their policies which do not make education and healthcare as priorities.
It was on account of the struggle of the Nigerian people that the federal government has been compelled to enact some welfare laws for the actualisation of the socio-economic rights of the Nigerian people. Some of the laws include the People’s Bank Act, Nigerian Education Bank Act, Pension Reform Act, Free, Compulsory Universal Basic Education Act, Child’s Rights Act, National Health insurance Act, National Health Act, and Immunisation Act etc.
But, sadly, the federal government has consistently breached the provisions of these welfare laws. As if that is not enough, the several court judgments delivered in cases filed by human rights activists which have directed the federal government to implement the provisions of such laws have been treated with disdain. Indeed, the crisis of underdevelopment of the country has been compounded by the anti-welfarist policies of majority of the state governments. For instance, the Child’s Rights Act, which provides for compulsory and free education for every child from primary to junior secondary school, has been adopted by all the 17 states in the South and only eight out of the 19 states in the North. It is not surprising that terrorists and other armed bandits have continued to recruit from the large army of children who have been denied access to basic education in several states in the country.
Instead of providing fund for public schools the governments have continued to encourage the establishment of private schools for the education of the children of the elite. Whereas 2% of the consolidated revenue fund of the federal government is contributed to the Universal Basic Education (UBE) Fund annually in line with Section 2 of the Free, Compulsory Basic Education Act, majority of the state governments have refused to contribute counterpart fund to enable them to assess the UBE Fund. Hence, not less than N68 billion is laying waste in the UBE account in the Central Bank while millions of children are roaming the streets. According to the UNICEF report of 2012, Nigeria had 10.5 million children who were out of school. That was the highest figure in the world at the material time. The figure has since increased geometrically.
Yet, all the governments have refused to comply with the judgments of the ECOWAS court and the federal high court, which have mandated them to provide every child with basic education. Our appeal to the Police Authorities to arrest and prosecute parents and guardians, who refuse to allow their children and wards to acquire basic education, has fallen on deaf ears.
The story is the same with respect to the provision of basic healthcare for the people. As public officers and their family members are flown abroad for medical treatment in foreign medical centres the people are left to die in ill equipped hospitals in the country. The federal government has failed to implement the provisions of the National Health Insurance Scheme Act and the National Health Act. Some highly public officers indicted for looting the account of the National Health Insurance Scheme have been given a clean bill of health. Even though the National Health Insurance Scheme Act was enacted in 1999, only four out of the 36 state governments have adopted it. Following the failure of the federal and state governments to implement the Immunisation Act, the Bill Gates Foundation and Dangote Foundation have taken over the duty of ensuring that our children are immunised.
Preventable diseases like polio, cholera, meningitis, Lassa fever and others are ravaging the populace without any meaningful intervention from the governments. It is common knowledge that the scourge of HIV/AIDS persists in the country due to the failure of the governments to provide anti -retroviral drugs for the victims. In 2014, the sum of $30 million donated to the federal government by some development partners to fight the scourge was stolen by a handful of officials in the federal ministry of health. Since the federal government has refused to recover the fund and prosecute the indicted criminal elements the development agencies have suspended the provision of more fund to acquire drugs to fight the menace of HIV/AIDS in Nigeria.
In its reaction to Mr. Gates’ speech the federal government assured him of its commitment to invest in human capital development. Beyond such assurance the federal government should review the Economic Recovery and Growth Plan (ERGP) with a view to providing sufficient fund for education, health and economic empowerment of the people in line with the provisions of Chapter 2 of the Constitution. But the controversial 2018 Appropriation Bill which has just been signed into law by President Buhari has not addressed the issue of the welfare of the Nigerian people. In defending its illegal decision to rewrite the budget the national assembly claimed to have corrected the regional imbalance in the Act! The dispute between the APC-led legislature and the APC-led Executive is centered on the unlawful enrichment of the legislators through budget padding.
The Buhari administration has complained of lack of funds for the infrastructural development of the country. In November 2015, I called on the Federal Government to review the Deep Offshore and Inland Basin Production Sharing Contracts Act of 1993. Although the advice was ignored the Federal government admitted last year that the nation had lost $60 billion due to non-enforcement of Production Sharing Contracts with Oil Majors as required by the law.
In March 2016, I requested Federal government to recover over $100 billion, which had been looted or withheld from the Federation Account. While acknowledging the letter the Finance Minister assured me that my request was receiving attention. Thereafter, the NEITI disclosed that the sum of $16.8 billion had been withheld from the Federation Account by the NNPC. In another development, the National Economic Council has indicted some Federal government revenue generating agencies over non-remittance of N526 billion and $21 billion (N8 trillion) into the Federation Account between 2010 and 2015.
Instead of collecting the outstanding sum of over $200 billion the Federal government is busy celebrating the recovery of less than $2 billion from some politically exposed persons. However, loans are being procured to fund multi billion dollar projects. It is high time, the Nigerian people led by the labour movement mounted pressure on the anti-graft bodies to recover the looted wealth of the nation from agencies of the Federal government and the multi-national corporations. Unless these huge funds are recovered and channeled towards infrastructural and human capital development of our nation, life of integrity in Nigeria will remain a mirage.