Elite, Masses, Warehouses and Their Wares

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Guest Coloumnist By Sola Akinyede

With the #EndSARS protests and the ensuing unfortunate destruction, the looting and the raiding of warehouses housing Covid-19 palliatives and other food items, it has become obvious that the second of a cluster of ticking time bombs had detonated. That time bomb is youth unemployment and poverty resulting from the failure of successive governments at all levels to invest heavily in infrastructures such as power, roads that would have accelerated the growth of agro-allied and other industries. The first time bomb – extreme poverty, low level of education resulted in terrorism and violent insurgency in the North East, and banditry and kidnapping in the North West as a result of the failure of successive State governments in those zones to invest in education and in poverty alleviation. These failures had come back to haunt us as a result of which according to the World Bank, we have the highest number of extremely poor people (87million) in the world, more than India with a population of 1.38 billion. For the Northern Governors calling for the censorship of Social Media because of the protests, are the insurgency, banditry and the kidnappings in the North attributable to the Social Media?

The federal government in trying to reduce the rage and frustration that had come to a boil has launched a N25 billion Youth Fund to ‘support and actualize youths’ innovative and entrepreneurial ideas in growing their businesses and become self-reliant ‘. It also launched a N75 billion Youth Investment Fund with an interest rate of 5% to cater for youth -owned businesses and investment needs. Though well-intentioned, with a youth population of about 120 million, the total of N100 billion comes to just N833 per youth.

In the past 20 years, there have been about ten major government-driven youth empowerment programmes -SURE-P, You Win, N-Power, Youth Entrepreneurs Support Programme, Youth Initiative for Sustainable Agriculture, Graduate Internship Scheme, Youth Empowerment and Development Initiative and a few others with not much impact. With the way the Covid 19 school feeding programme was undertaken with no verifiable database of recipients amid allegations of fraud, the present initiative is likely to go the way of others- a basket of leakages, fraud, nepotism and other vices by those entrusted with the responsibility of administering them. Apart from gross inadequacy of the amount, youths, and indeed most Nigerians are unlikely to actualize their innovative and entrepreneurial potentials or develop their skills and put them to use without the necessary infrastructure. If a youth is given a loan to engage in mechanized farming, how will he evacuate and sell his produce without good roads? How will a youth given a loan to start a tailoring business prosper if he has to buy and fuel a generator, and with no industries because there is no electricity, how will the army of the unemployed be able to patronise him? Government will need a massive investment in infrastructure. With the collapse of oil prices arising from the Covid 19 pandemic, where will all the money come from?

Institutional Abuses
Nigeria’s socio-political economy runs in a system in which we the elite- political, public service and private sector divert or participate in the diversion to ourselves of a disproportionate amount of the nation’s resources under the auspices of, or using the instrumentality of our offices and positions. The easiest and most visible example cited are the allowances paid to members of the National Assembly. The percentage of the federal budget allocated to the National Assembly has usually been less than 1%. It is N128 billion out of the 2021 budget of N13 trillion. What then is happening with the 99%?

Just before the recently concluded Ondo State gubernatorial election, the Governor stated that his Deputy Governor was the highest paid Deputy Governor in Nigeria with a monthly allowance of N13 million. The Deputy retorted that it was N12 million and not N13 million, but added that the Governor’s monthly security vote was N750 million. An aide to the Governor denied it but did not state the amount. In the absence of a figure from the Governor’s office, it safe to conclude that the Deputy who had worked with the governor for more than three years would be familiar with the state budget. With a member of the House of Representatives confirming that their monthly allowance is N12 million, N750 million is easily the monthly allowances of sixty members of the House. As Ondo is an average State, unlike Lagos or Rivers where the security vote will run into multiples of billions, one can safely assume that N750 million is the Nigerian average. This means that the security votes of just fifteen states will exceed all the allowances of all the members of the National Assembly. The purpose of this analysis is not to seek to justify the allowances in the National Assembly, but to show that these disproportionate allowances as well as the opacity that surrounds them cut across the legislature, the executive, the judiciary and the States, sometimes characterised by an obscene display of wealth e.g a member of the House of Assembly in one of the states in the South-south displaying from his luxury fleet of cars a Rolls Royce Ghost (starting price $314,000) in front of his opulent mansion in his village that is a study in rural poverty.

Another example is the pensions of former governors and their deputies. In Lagos, a former Governor is entitled to 100% of his basic salary, medical treatment for himself and members of his family, six new cars every three years, 300% of annual salary as furniture allowance, 10% as maintenance allowance, 30% as car allowance, two new houses in locations of his choice, eight policemen. In Zamfara, one of the twenty six States having these pension laws, the former governor had requested for his monthly upkeep of N10 million out of his annual package of N700 million. And in the Judiciary, last year a former senior judicial officer ran into trouble on account of the N24 million he was given to undertake just one official foreign trip. Last year 30 Local Government Chairmen in Osun State were reported to have planned a trip to Dubai for a 10 –day workshop to ‘be exposed and groomed in international best practices in Local Government Administration ‘.These practices by the political elite, the public service elite cutting across the three arms and the three tiers of government are systemic institutional abuses. This is not an issue that can be resolved by one person or one arm of government. President Buhari needs to summon a meeting of the heads of the two other arms of government with a view to ending this diversion of resources and redirecting amounts saved to building infrastructure .The Council of States, and the National Economic Council should also meet with a view to having a binding agreement on acceptable allowances in the states as well as to harmonise the allowances of all public officers elected or appointed across the three arms and three tiers of government within a range that will provide for slight variations among a group of states across the country as well as developing a blue print for the security votes based on international best practices so that the amounts saved can be redirected to build infrastructures at state and federal levels.

In addition, governments, especially at the state level must avoid misdirected or elite-driven projects such as last year’s Kano State N300 million project marrying off and buy wedding presents for 1500 couples while 3 million out-of-school children roam the streets. The inability to afford a marriage is an obvious sign of poverty, and pushing the poor to marry and produce more children is a vicious cycle likely to create more out-of-school children. Or in Ekiti where the former PDP-led government wanted to build an airport, and the present APC-led government is now planning a cargo airport. With Akure airport less than 40 minutes from Ekiti, of what use is a cargo airport when Ekiti’s agricultural products cannot be evacuated as a result of its notoriously bad roads? Of what use is a cargo airport when there are no industrial products that can be manufactured because many parts of the state get an average of 2 to 3 hours of electricity a day?

Waste
To understand waste in Nigeria, go to the federal budget (2021). You will see the proliferation of parastatals or MDAs some of which are moribund e.g Public Complaints Commission a body that has done virtually nothing since it was established 46 years ago – Budget- N5.2 billon (Personnel costs N5.2 billion). Others are either unnecessary or performing the same functions with expensive bureaucratic paraphernalia -Governing Councils, DGs, plush offices, foreign travels etc. Examples -Nigeria Atomic Energy Commission-Budget N2.9 billion (down from N4.7 billion in 2018). Apart from the fact that we have the Nigeria Nuclear Regulatory Authority -Budget–N13 billion (personnel costs N11. 9 billion) and the Energy Commission of Nigeria Budget N5.8. billion) while nuclear powers like Japan(following the Fukushima nuclear plant disaster with some residents living within a 20 kilometre radius evacuated and not able to return home for more than eight years), and France are shutting down their nuclear plants in favour of renewable energy (Germany has programmed a total shut-down of its nuclear power plants by 2022) we are still budgeting to build or regulate nuclear plants, struggling to generate and transmit electricity amid an abundance of solar energy.

Who is going to permit us to generate atomic or nuclear power when we are ranked as the third most terrorised country in the world? Other examples-National Boundary Commission a body established to deal with Nigeria’s international and domestic boundary disputes (Budget N3 billion). Border Communities Development Agency a body established in respect of border communities development. (Budget N9.3 billion) National Office for Technology Acquisition and Promotion Abuja –Budget N 2.08 billion. National Agency for Science and Engineering Infrastructure Abuja-Budget N4.8b .Hydraulic Equipment Research Institute, Kano. National Space Research and Development Agency Abuja, Budget-N5.6 billion, Centre for Geodesy and Geodynamics, Toro Bauchi State, Centre for Atmospheric Research Ayingba, Kogi State. Centre for Space Transport Propulsion, Epe, Lagos State, Centre for Basic Space Science Nsuka, Advanced Space Technology Application Laboratory, Uyo. These are just a few of hundreds of unproductive or duplicated agencies constituting a drain on the nation’s resources which sadly show our lack of seriousness as a nation.

The Oransaye report recommending the scraping and/or merging of many of these agencies was published in 2015.Why has President Buhari been unable or perhaps unwilling to act for five years, so that the savings from these obvious wastes can be re-directed at investing in infrastructures, health, education, poverty alleviation and youth development all over the country? Developed and rich economies continue to reform .The UK abolished 130 and merged 18 of such institutions and agencies in 2010 and by 2012 was contemplating abolishing 204 more.

Corruption
This is not the elephant in the room, but the monster in the vehicle perpetrated again by members of the political elite, the public service elite (civilian and military) again in the three arms and three tiers government . It has been estimated that about 24% of Nigeria’s GDP is lost to corruption and that the figure will rise to 37% by 2030 if nothing is done. Nigeria’s ranking of 146 on the Transparency International CPI is below the global average and below the sub-Saharan average. This is not surprising in view of the recent weakening of the anti-corruption institutions under the Buhari administration. The Attorney General of the federation, a politician under what he called the Assets Tracing Recovery and Management Regulations in October 2019 took over some of the critical functions of the EFCC and the ICPC effectively running them from his office. What Nigeria needs are strong anti-corruption institutions as in Singapore and Hong Kong, not their personalisation and politicisation. There can be no meaningful development as long as corruption remains endemic and 40% of the national budget ends up in private pockets. This is why the looters in Surulere in Lagos were saying ‘Everybody is a thief’.

They know contrary to what the ministers from the South West were reported to have recommended to the President, that the solution is not about the youths undergoing orientation with the National Orientation Agency, but the elite undergoing a radical reorientation. According to a UNDP report, the lowest scoring countries on the Transparency International index, Somalia, Afghanistan, South Sudan, Yemen and Libya are all facing intense conflicts characterised by violent insurgency and terrorism. It therefore comes as no surprise that again this year, the Global Terrorism Index a comprehensive study by the Institute for Economics and Peace ranking 163 countries covering 99.7% of the world’s population ranks Nigeria as No 3 only after Iraq and Afghanistan with Syria Pakistan and Somalia performing better than Nigeria. President Buhari needs to reinvent his war against corruption complimented by a judiciary that is fit for purpose.

There are reports that some of the #EndSARS activists have been put on a no-fly list and have had their passports seized and accounts frozen Apart from its questionable legality and the propriety of using the judicial process for what the appears to be a punitive response –freezing activists ‘accounts behind their backs, and adjourning the case for three months, there is the moral question of whose accounts should be frozen, those of youths organising peaceful protests against extortion, or public officers who are purveyors of unexplained wealth .Peaceful protests are constitutionally protected and the present democratic dispensation over which President Buhari is presiding was made possible by peaceful protests by many Nigerians including some of us ,the Ayo Obes, the Agbakobas who in our 40s under the leadership of icons the late Chief Gani Fawehinmi ,the late Dr Beko Ransom Kuti, marched to protest against the murderous and rogue regime of Sanni Abacha. Clamping down on TV stations, seizing passports and freezing accounts will simply enrage, harden and radicalise these youths, drive them into the trenches and underground. With the military still unable to contain Boko Haram in the North East after ten years, and another flank of banditry and kidnappings opening in the North West, the last thing any government should risk is to have militants in Lagos and its environs linking up with Niger Delta militants in the South-south and IPOB in the South-east.

#EndSARS was simply a catalyst seized upon by opportunistic swathes of hungry, angry and frustrated Nigerians all over the country reacting to many years of corruption and bad governance. The government and we the elite have to be very careful and learn from history. We should address these problems frontally and honestly rather than diversionary and superficial steps and brute force which did not work with Boko Haram. The police and the military cannot police every part of 193,767 square kilometres at the same time. #EndSARS or no #EndSARS, the time bombs are still ticking. Next time –
If there are no Covid-19 palliatives in the warehouses
The masses may simply take their wares from our houses.

•Senator Akinyede was in the Senate from 2007-2011