An Invitation to Cynicism




Politicians hardly waited for the counting of votes in the last year presidential election before putting the 2023 presidential election squarely on the national agenda.

You wonder if all there is to the content of liberal democracy is the election of the president.

This manifestation of an indecent political culture is an open invitation to public cynicism.

So, don’t blame the people when they become cynical about politics and politicians. Already, the cynicism is already on display in the increasingly low voter turn-out during elections. Billions of naira are spent by candidates who end up scoring collectively a few hundreds of thousands of votes. Meanwhile, tens of thousands of policemen and other security operatives are mobilised to create a peaceful atmosphere for the election in which the total votes of all candidates are fewer than half a million. Can you say the people actually believe that elections could change their poor condition with a turnout of voters that is less than 30%? Really, Nigeria suffers from the malaise of political underdevelopment. It is not yet officially diagnosed even though the symptoms are all too glaring. Voter apathy is one of the symptoms. The people are extremely alienated from the political process. They can’t see the purpose of the periodic elections in their lives. Some of them perceive elections in transactional terms. Political education is sorely lacking.

That is why the growing political culture of perpetual campaigns for elections should be severely rebuked by those who care about the democratic development of Nigeria.

It is not for nothing that elections are described as festivals of a liberal democratic culture. During this festival, the voter periodically exercises his civic power to join others in deciding in whose hands to entrust governance. The centrality of elections to the democratic process is never in doubt.

But as in any culture, this festival cannot be a daily preoccupation of the people. It is always a periodic thing to do.

To be clear, this argument against the premature placement of 2023 on the national agenda is without prejudice to the legitimacy of the clamour for geo-political equity in nominating candidates for the next presidential election. If only for reasons of political psychology and national integration it would be impractical to wish away zoning of the presidential nominations at this stage of the nation’s political maturity. In this wise, the interwoven social and moral factors of Nigeria’s post-colonial history should not be ignored. Until Nigeria becomes so politically developed that the ideology of a candidate would matter more than his ethnic or regional origin, the factor of zoning would be difficult to eliminate in the political process.

It is hoped that zoning will eventually be a transitional thing in the course of political development and the management of the enriching diversity of Nigeria.

However, that cannot be a justification for putting a nation bedevilled with a multi-dimensional crisis on an electoral mode perpetually.

To start with, it is a gross assault on the sensibilities of the people who voted for a president only last year and are now entitled to expect competent governance. The people expect socially responsible governance from the elected president or governor and not perennial electioneering by politicians at this time.

The time between one electoral season and the next one should be productively devoted to issues of governance. The government, the opposition politicians and indeed, the society at large, have enormous roles to play in this regard.
This is the way to serve the cause of public purpose.

It is, therefore, less than responsible to do otherwise in the name of playing politics.

As the party in power, the All Progressives Congress (APC) should be leading debates on policies while mobilising support for President Muhammadu Buhari, governors and others elected on its platform. The Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and other parties outside power should engage the APC in contest of ideas by providing alternative solutions and approaches to many problems in the land. It is the duty of the opposition and, in fact, the people to constantly challenge the Buhari administration to govern properly and improve the condition of people. It is important that the next 31 months of the Buhari’s administrations should be spent on tackling Nigeria’s huge problems regardless of the calculations towards 2023. Whoever becomes president in 2023 will not have to be confronted with the problems already solved in 2020, for instance.

The national climate is doubtless that of grave insecurity and socio-economic pains. According to the constitution, “the primary purpose of government is the security and welfare of the people.” For millions of Nigerians, can it be said that the purpose is being fulfilled in their lives?

Hardly does a day pass without reported bloodshed in parts of the country. Criminals are killing policemen and soldiers. Even policemen are being kidnapped. And ransom is reportedly paid for the freedom of those who have the task of security. Parts of the country are virtually ungoverned spaces; they are under the dark reigns of bandits and terrorists. At least, three local government areas in the home state of the President and Commander-in-Chief, Katsina, are reported to be highly troubled by activities of bandits.

Highways in virtually all parts of Nigeria remain unsafe. Armed robbers and kidnappers are on the prowl. Even troops had to be deployed recently between Abuja, the nation’s capital, and Kaduna, the capital of the old northern region.

The insecurity is worsened by the low morale and lack of capacity of the police. Years after Boko Haram had been declared “degraded”, killings of soldiers including officers and sacking of communities are continually reported from the northeast. The convoy of the exceptionally courageous and committed Borno Governor Babagana Zulum has been attacked a number of times by terrorists. Those who were already in the camps of the Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) in 2015, when Buhari was elected, are yet to return to their communities.

Even before the outbreak of coronavirus, the economy deserved better management.

The administration is borrowing heavily to implement projects and a disproportionate percentage of the budget is devoted to debt servicing. The economy is now officially in recession. The consequences of the disruption caused by coronavirus have worsened the condition of poverty of the most vulnerable segment of the society while inequality is widening.

In such a grim socio-economic situation, it is highly incongruous that the statements from Aso Rock would be about an unprincipled governor defecting to the president’s party. Aso Rock and APC are supposed to be explaining the difficult situation of socio-economic life to the Nigerians while telling them plans to bring relief to their pains. This is not the time to celebrate politics without principle. It is the time to discuss policies or lack of policies to improve the conditions of the people.

Given the structure of the economy, the states (usurping the powers of local governments) are jointly responsible for the management of more than 47% of revenues from the Federation Account. The states have vast responsibilities for governance in areas of security, healthcare, education, social housing, sanitation, food security, water supply, road construction, transportation etc.

Currently, governors are presenting their budgets in hundreds of billions. But these budgets and the proposed policy instruments are hardly discussed in the public sphere. A flint of attention is only focussed on a state during the election of the governor. Thereafter, the governor is left to act like a local emperor for the next four years, accountable to nobody including the state legislature. Is there any state where the state House of Assembly is vigorously scrutinising the budget proposed by the governor for the purpose of reshaping policies and the direction of things in the state? While bandits wreak havoc in their states, some state governors, in their flowing babaringa, are busy receiving defectors to their party in other far-away states and paying 2023-centred visits to prominent political figures. The time and energy that should be strictly devoted to governance in 2020 is spent on scheming for 2023 as if politicians are clairvoyant enough to know what the realities of Nigeria would be even in 2021.
Certainly, democracy should mean more than elections.

If the current trend of focussing on 2023 at the expense of governance at present is not reversed, the public cynicism about politics may worsen with time.

The Long Journey of PIB

In its tortuous journey to become a law, the Petroleum Industry Bill (PIB) moved at a slightly cheery note yesterday when the House of Representatives passed it for a second reading after a one-hour debate.

You may call it a piece of good news in the policy cloud that has defined the reform of the petroleum sector.
In the senate, the bill has already passed the stage of the second reading.

The bill was sent to the National Assembly by President Buhari in September.

Only last week, Minister of State for Petroleum Timipreye Sylva was in an upbeat mood about the bill. According to him, the bill could be passed by the first quarter of next year.

Earlier in the year, the optimism was similarly expressed by Senate President Ahmed Lawan that the bill would be passed before the end of 2020.

Well, this is November and the processing is still at the stage of second reading!

Entitled “A Bill for an Act to Provide Legal, Governance, Regulatory and Fiscal Framework for the Nigerian Petroleum Industry, the Development of Host Community and for Related Matters,” it is a legislative proposal with huge ambitions.
The content of the proposed law includes the establishment of the Nigerian Upstream Regulatory Commission for the purpose of technical and commercial regulation of the upstream operations in the petroleum industry and the commercialisation of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC).

The Bill also seeks to scrap the Petroleum Equalisation Fund (PEF) and Petroleum Products Pricing Regulatory Agency (PPPRA). When the bill becomes a law they would be replaced by another organisation.
As a matter of fact, the journey of the PIB could be said to have begun on April 24, 2000 with the setting up of the Oil and Gas Reform Committee (OGRC) by the administration of President Olusegun Obasanjo.

The idea was to make the industry more transparent to increase the government’s share of the revenues from petroleum resources. Further investments in the sector by oil companies were said to be hinged on the proposed law.
The PIB was first introduced at the Sixth National Assembly in 2008 following the report of another presidential committee appointed in 2007.

It appeared at a time that the obstacles on the way of the bill becoming a law were insuperable because of the uneasy balance of interests of the contending forces. How much of these interests could be categorised as public interests?
The rigmarole in the making of a petroleum regulatory law is a proof of governance incompetence of the successive executive and legislative arms of governments in the last 20 years.

The successive administrations and lawmakers have treated with levity the making of a law meant to improve the situation of things in a sector providing 95% of the nation’s foreign exchange earnings and 80% of funds for its annual budget.

The long journey of the PIB speaks volumes about the nature of economic management in Nigeria.

One thing that politicians in power have in common (regardless of their kaleidoscopic partisan differences) is that they often assume that they have eternity to make progress in the policy arena for public good.

In the circumstance, they lose sight of the big picture of things.

They seem unconscious of the dynamics of their global environment.

Since the idea of a PIB was suggested in 2000, there have been four presidents and six legislative cycles at the National Assembly. In fact, two of the presidents -Obasanjo and Buhari- have been petroleum ministers.
Yet, the PIB has not become law.

Contrary to the official policy illusion, those in charge of governance in Nigeria simply do not have the luxury of wasting time to put workable policies in place.

You can only imagine the benefits that could have been brought to the economy in a period of 20 years if the law had been made in 2000 when the idea of petroleum sector reform was conceived.

The PIB journey is reminiscent of a Yoruba saying: ti a bi f’ogun odun pinle were, odun melo gan l’afe fi sinwin? (if it takes 20 years to rehearse madness, how long will it take for the real symptoms of the disorder to manifest?).

While it is taking 20 years to make a law for optimising the benefits from crude oil export in Nigeria, the economic importance of oil is globally destined to dwindle possibly in another decade. Some industrial countries are already serving notice that for well-known ecological reasons the consumption of fossil fuel would dimmish drastically very soon.

Only on Sunday, a fellow columnist, Simon Kolawole, made this point eloquently on this page in a very instructive piece entitled “ Help! Crude oil is Dying.”

On a ringing note of admonition to Nigeria, Kolawole said inter alia: “In blessing, Nigeria is blessed. But decades of oil booms, usually mildly punctuated by busts, turned us into a bunch of lazy, rent-seeking community. We are paying the price finally. Sustained low oil prices have exposed us badly and we are just managing to hang in there. For decades, we abandoned, or toyed with, all the things we should have done to transform the economy, to hone our skills, to develop the human capital, to build the necessary infrastructure, to add value to our agriculture, to industrialise, to become a major exporter of manufactured goods, etc. We told ourselves oil is all the oxygen we need. Oil is the solution to all problems. Now we are where we are.”

Talking about “where we are,” it should be added that in particular the Nigeria state has abysmally failed the Niger Delta, the region from which so much oil has been extracted to run the economy. The destroyed environment of the region is yet to be restored. That region is yet to be set on the path of sustainable development. The spectre of this injustice and policy irresponsibility will continue to haunt Nigeria for decades.

Given the global struggle to end carbon emission, it is always scary when you listen to some of our experts who begin and end their analyses of Nigeria’s economic crisis with oil price. You wonder if Nigeria is thinking seriously yet about life after oil royalties.

It is frightening because this crude oil economic management would be soon become outdated.

Here lies the larger implication of the unpardonable delay in passing the PIB for the Nigeria’s political economy.

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