Nseobong Okon-Ekong holds a conversation with Dr. Adetokunbo Ade-Banjo, a UK-based Development Economist, on issues around sustainable development in Nigeria
The economic and social problems confronting the nation continues to mount in spite of efforts by various governments. What is responsible for this?
Presently our economic and social problems have reached an unimaginable crescendo, which emanated from economic inequalities and the inability of successive governments to formulate remedial strategies to reduce or alleviate the economic slide. Apparently, the rot did not start in the last four years; it has been degenerating since the oil price shock of 1973. This has affected our economic development, as the country is heavily reliant on oil exportation.
Nigeria has evolved into a peculiar capital economy. Our political style has helped to erode the middle class in the country, and it is either one has or one languishes in abject poverty. I don’t think successive governments have done enough to ameliorate the problems. For example, we cannot have the interest rate at between 18-25%, yet expect economic growth. We cannot refuse to improve on our infrastructure, the power, security etc. yet expect foreign investors in the country. Our educational system is undesirable.
The curriculum is not in tandem with the world standard. Its fragmented. What is taught in the south is different from the North. We have allowed religion to dig deep into our existence; hence the mind of the people are programmed and they cannot think out of the box. These resulting failures lead to break down of law and order, kidnapping, ‘yahoo-yahoo’, terrorism, rape, extortion and all other social vices one can think of in a collapsing state.
Our political architecture is a fraud, hence we have failed and are still failing on all fronts. As a result of the rigid nature of our political structure, we tend to sideline the vibrant minds of the nation and employ the ‘agberos’ (illiterates, thugs etc.) to run the strategic sectors of our economy. The government needs to be all-inclusive and honestly search for Nigeria’s that can help redesign and revamp the country irrespective of political affiliation. I would suggest an assembly of Nigerian technocrats across the world to brainstorm on industrialising Nigeria.
What are the solution to the nation’s problems?
Our problems are multi-faceted. Where do I start? There is poverty in the land, the consequences of which is mass suicidal missions by the youths. The statistics don’t lie. Forty-five percent of our youth are unemployed and many are also unemployable. It is looking like a wasted generation. Most people do not have access to the basic amenities, essential for survival. Businesses are collapsing; most foreign investors are leaving the country due to insecurity and collapse of law and order. In some states, there is perpetual anarchy. Chika Okeke, a small shop owner in Abuja said: ‘For Nigeria to prosper, the state could harness the vim of her 200millions plus citizens. Instead, she ignores them, except when politicians need votes. People expect nothing from the government.”
In my opinion, the government knows how to tackle these problems but decides to turn the other way. The Trader Money is a charade. They promised to create so much employment for the youths, instead, they operate a secret employment system for their children, friends and family. The government has to first of all change the consciousness of the citizens. We have to be conscientious about the country. ‘Nigeria First’ should probably be the slogan and not religion. It may sound absurd to the feeble-minded but religion needs to be relegated to the background and should be an individual ideology but not the state.
Section 10 of the 1999 Constitution (as amended) states that Nigeria is a secular state. ‘The government of the federation or of a state shall not adopt any religion as a state religion.’
Most successful countries in the world are secular and are economically driven, not by religion.
We need to reduce the power at the centre, make it softer, and give more power to the states. The system whereby the state governors take a bowl to Aso Rock on a monthly basis is a disgrace to Nigeria and a bad way of running the economy. I will suggest the states rely on their Internally Generated Revenue (IGR) and subsidized by the Federal Government should the need arise.
Another important and immediate remedy is the rejigging of the federation. True federalism is the way to go. Let the local governments be independent of states and they should be responsible for all the grassroots development. Why is the Federal Government responsible for some infrastructure within the states? It is a wrong action.
Do you think the programmes of the President Buhari administration is positively impacting on the suffering masses?
I am aware of two to three programmes the government takes pride in and they are the Npower, the Trader Money and the School Feeding programmes. I am not here to condemn their efforts. However, it is a wrong approach to eradicating poverty and assessing the needs of the masses. As you know, there is a harrowing cry of hunger in the land and the youths have taken to different heinous ways to survive. Some will say at least the government is doing something. Yes, they are, but what is worth doing is worth doing well.
Let me start on the Npower project. The last time I heard the youths accessing the N-power in the website was in 2016/ early 2017. Who were the beneficiaries of the programme? What is the percentage of the masses they say the programme has impacted? I remember they offered N40, 000 a month to each of the successful candidates to teach a rural school without basic amenities.
Regarding the Trader-Money, this programme is surrounded by so many controversies, yet the government went ahead with it close to the election period. Why were recipient’s PVC numbers required to access this money? In modern-day Nigeria, the N10,000 cannot be meaningfully invested. The government did not also spell out the term and the frequency the money will go out to the people in the market.
Instead of these programmes, I would have thought, a mega neighbourhood renewal scheme in the 774 local government of the federation. Organise training for the masses on entrepreneurship, cooperatives, technology and small scale farming. Make available pots of money that can be accessed to organisations and a group of people for meaningful sustainable developmental schemes in the community.
The fight against corruption is said to be the cornerstone of President Buhari’s government, Do you think the policy is yielding any positive result?
The country is basically built on corruption in my assessment, hence it has dug deep into our existence and no government plagued with colourful and questionable characters can boastfully say they can beat corruption hands down in our land. It is not worth going into the history of corruption as everyone in the country has been affected by it one way or the other. I heard a commentator on Nigerian affairs say that a child born during the Second Republic or after, does not know how to survive without engaging in corruption.
To fight corruption, we need to strengthen our institutions, take proper audit and introduce stringent bureaucracy in all government agencies. Eradicate nepotism; give roles to a deserving person irrespective of his/her religion, creed or tribe.
I may even suggest we contract employment into our ministries to international organisations that will do a proper assessment and recruitment into public service positions. In my opinion, what the government is doing is not fighting corruption but recouping stolen funds from people against their style of governance. I remember an opposition governor was picked up immediately after his tenure. As you may see now, many governors have petitions against them but no organisation has deemed it fit to swing into action to investigate and prosecute.
Again, I have not read publicly the policy of the government on corruption; all I see as the headlines are houses that had been crossed by the EFCC and money that had been recovered. What do we do with the money and where is the money? Some said they are kept somewhere as there may be a court action in the future. From experience when properties acquired illegally are recouped, the agency will keep them for a specific period of time, after which they approach the court for disposal. In the last four years, nothing has been done regarding the property/money recouped.
Can corruption be adequately tackled in Nigeria?
Yes, it can. It can be adequately tackled with proper orientation and change of our mind-set. Firstly, we must change the curriculum to teach young ones about nationhood and conscientiousness. We need the right people to direct the affairs of the government. What we have now are politicians with money to burn or someone that has a godfather who is ready to roll-in the Naira to get a preferred candidate to power.
Corruption will be tackled when the people are conscious of their rights and question the status-quo to account for their stewardship. Otherwise, the deceit would continue. We need to change the way we do business in Nigeria, how we elect our leaders and our electioneering processes. Corruption begins in the classroom! Let us say no to it from the nursery school level. Whistleblowers rewarded and not victimised, put the right people in the right post rather than nepotistic appointments. I will call it a national corruption sweep, a top/down approach.
The All Progressives Congress (APC) government that prides itself as a progressive party has been in power for four years and is on the second lap of another four years, can Nigerians continue to trust its ability to pilot the affairs of this nation?
I campaigned for APC, most importantly, mobilised electorates for the party in 2014, even though I did not practise partisan politics. I still do not as I am not a card-carrying member of any political party in Nigeria. However, that does not mean I am not leaning towards a political ideology. Going back to 2014, APC was received with high hopes and an alternative to the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) that had bastardized the reason for our existence, the hope of a one Nigeria.
I remember, the country was divided across tribal lines, and we witnessed unparalleled corruption and impunity in the wayward running of the country’s economy. As a progressive, one would expect an improvement in the three fundamentals for sustainable development, viz. environment, society and the economy. On the environment, the South-south region is still plagued with degradation, oil pollution in the water; this has destroyed most lives and reduces job opportunities in the region. In 2017, I recall billions of Naira was earmarked for the clean-up, that was the last we heard of the project. There is still no improvement in the environment. Evidently, we now operate in an impoverished society; the average family cannot eat two meals a day. Almost 65% of the population survive on less than one Dollar a day. Our communities are riddled with hate, religious bigotry, high-level crime, terrorisms, kidnapping to mention a few. Apparently, there is looming anarchy in the land.
On the economy, the government is not doing enough to create jobs, yet the standard of living spirals beyond economic projections. According to IMF data mapper 2019, Nigeria’s inflation rate is at 11.7% (hyper-inflation) growth rate pegged at 3.2%, however, projected to reduce to 2.40% in 2020. Our exchange rate keeps fluctuating as the Naira was devalued through the back door.
Probably, APC won for the second term because the citizens have confidence in the way the three economic growth indicators were managed. I am not sure they will be able to fool the populace the second time, should they run the affairs of the country the way they did in the first term.
The security situation in the country continues to pose a problem for the citizenry, what do you think is responsible for this.
The security in the country is abysmal, from kidnapping to terrorism, not to mention daily car jerking and ritual-killings. Statistics show that more people have lost their lives in the last four years, in comparison to the 10 years preceding the emergence of the APC government. It is not too difficult to notice the collapse of security in the country at the moment. We have had a retired Air Force chief murdered in cold blood and nothing has been done about it till date.
Our security apparatus do not get their priorities right. Heard a retired Police officer on the television on the 5th of June 2019, saying we should not expect any magical performance from the Police as they are not adequately equipped. The government has allowed for duplication of duties. The soldiers are now carrying out duties designated for the Police and the Civil Defence is now policing certain areas without basic training. Another reason for security breakdown under this government without talking from one side of the mouth is the fact that that there are lopsided appointments, nepotism, and politicising of security appointments. In a sane country, it should never be the duty of the President to appoint an IGP, Army Chief etc. They should rise through the ranks and be recommended by their governing body. Their appointment only needs to be ratified by the President and the legislators. In a voice note that recently went viral, a herdsman explicitly said APC means ‘Always Protect our Cows’. The man stated that the government cares more about the cows than an average citizen of Nigeria.
In what particular area(s) has the administration of President Buhari met the aspirations of the people?
For me, the present administration has been an onlooker so far. They spent the first two years blaming the previous government instead of getting on with the job at hand. The infrastructures are in a dire straits. An average Nigerian will surely die should he or she suffer from a serious ailment in Nigeria. I would have expected this government to focus on mass health service reform in the country as aftermath of the President’s return from his long medical trip in 2017. How many Nigerians will survive a minor ailment with the current health structure? Most of the politicians take their families abroad for medical attention, which leaves 74.2% of Nigerians to die in dilapidated health services and facilities.
To say the administration has met the aspiration of the people is a misplaced accolade. World Poverty Clock has revealed that 91,885,874 people in Nigeria now live in extreme poverty. In June 2018, the World Poverty Clock had named Nigeria the poverty capital of the World with statistics showing 87 million people living in poverty.
The latest numbers indicated that since June 2018, four million Nigerians have joined the poverty club occasioned by factors such as unemployment and insecurity among others.
According to the World Bank, a person can be said to be living in extreme poverty if they live below the poverty line of $1.90 which translates to N693.5 per day. The hope and aspiration of the people have been shattered.
You are a Development Economist trained in the United Kingdom, what should be the priority and focus of any government desirous on making meaningful change?
In principle, the government should provide social security that enables citizens to create their own economic security. As you may know, our transportation system is in shambles, local farmers find it harrowing to sell their produce in the market, there is no easy access to loans, and no help from the state while the lands are polluted. The bank interest rate is in the region of 23%, unemployment, underemployment etc. A good government builds on an environment that allows her citizen to create wealth, through the provision of public goods, at a level necessary to ensure a globally competitive economy and a functioning society.
What are the prerequisites for meaningful developmental landmarks in this country?
They are: Government effectiveness, rule of law, control of corruption and quality of regulatory framework.
As I have said before, even though the government prides itself on fighting and reducing corruption, I can say authoritatively that, they are not fighting it, but recouping stolen money from their critics. Corruption fight should not be limited to the illegal acquisition of properties or money, nepotism is also corruption. Favouring one section of the country with a juicy appointments is corruption.
Rule of law is when the laws are clear, publicized, and stable; are applied evenly; and protect fundamental rights, including the security of persons and contract, property, and human rights. The processes by which the laws are enacted, administered, and enforced are accessible, fair, and efficient. Can this be honestly said about present day Nigeria?
The way the government is set up cannot allow it to be effective. Our so-called constitution is a decree handed down by the military junta, written and rectified by dictators, yet we want the government to be effective in a democratic clime?
In comparison, Singapore’s Deputy Prime Minister and Coordinating Minister for National Security, Mr Teo Chee Hean shared how Singapore has balanced economic, social, and environmental priorities to achieve sustainable development.
As a small, densely populated island nation with no natural resources, Singapore’s own sustainable development experience has focused on four key areas: Building a sustainable economy; creating a sustainable living environment; ensuring sustainable development for the people, and contributing to international collaboration.
With no natural resources, Singapore had to be resourceful to make a living for themselves. This has entailed finding ways to create and add value, producing goods and services that are in demand by others, and making careful use of resources.
There is a prevailing opinion that the Buhari government is desirous in Islamising and Fulanising the country. Do you share these thoughts and what is the consequence if it becomes real?
My head says what if this assertion is true, what becomes of Nigeria? My heart says Nigeria is too complex to be subjected to Buhari’s alleged Fulanisation agenda. However, if one reflects back to some statements the President had made in past regarding religion and tribes, it would not be out of place to join the chorus on Fulanisation and Islamising of Nigeria by the present government. Why was the government negotiating with groups supporting the herdsmen invasion and killing of innocent citizens? It’s good to be watchful at this time.
Do you support the creation of more states and local governments to steer growth and developments?
The answer is very simple. As most states of Nigeria are not sustainable, I think we should revert to the six geo-political zones, with equal distribution of the federal resources. The creation of states was the brain work of the military juntas and should be abolished with immediate effect. I will suggest that sates should merge.
Can local government administration be truly independent in this country considering the fact that they are tied to the apron string of state governors?
The selection of local government chairmen is probably the handiwork of the state governors INEC leaves the election of local government chairmen to the states. As a result, we have to be careful about the clamour for LG autonomy. It will only leave the state as it is in chaos. I was privileged to plan and organise a Security Summit for the 774 local governments in 2017. With our stringent efforts to ensure the summit took place, the ALGON were too fragmented to make the summit see the light of day. These are the people we are planning to hand over the chunk of the budget to. As I have said, LG should handle some projects as they are closer to the grassroots, however, they should be made to apply for funding with immense justification for their spending.
What is your view on security vote? Should it be scrapped?
Absolutely, without a shadow of doubt. Need I say more? What are the governors doing with the money. As I have said earlier, we need to do away with military ideas. This is a democracy. For crying out loud, Let the people decide how they want to be governed and how they want their taxes and common resources spent.
Some people advocate revolution as a solution to the nation’s problems. What is your view on this?
The revolution in this context is not the usual one, like the Arab spring or the Tiananmen Square revolution in China 1989 etc. Not the type that people carry weapons or barricade the roads to make their grievances known, as such resulting in collateral damages and unnecessarily loss of lives and properties. The revolution I subscribe to is an all-inclusive movement and a new orientation. A revolution, all stakeholders in the Nigeria Project have a part to play.
We will dialogue, advise, and experiment until a sustainable new Nigeria emerges.
You are based in the United Kingdom. Is the country benefitting from your wealth of experience. When are you returning home to fully participate and contribute your quota to the development of the country considering that in another five or 10 years, age may not be on your side?
Absolutely, age may not be on my side, but I am sure Nigeria will benefit from me given the opportunity to serve. There are millions of Nigerians with enormous experiences and are yearning to share or contribute to the development of their country. I have relocated once and spent close to two years working relentlessly to partake in the country’s development architecture.
My last attempt was two years ago. Whilst in Abuja, I organised seminars, attended many symposia and carried out a series of life-changing training for the youths. Apparently, the country was not as receptive as envisaged. New ideas were faced with outright challenges and objection. My goal is to keep trying, share my ideas and show a very thick skin irrespective of the challenges. It is my country. My consciousness will continue to reign, as I know, an opportunity will come to right most of the wrongs foisted on the people. We deserve better. Nigeria will be developed to an enviable standard very soon. This country will not go into oblivion.