IN A few weeks from now the federal and state governments, including the National Assembly, will roll out the drums to celebrate the first anniversary of their inauguration in office, and 17 years of our experiment in democratic governance. Expectations are very high.
As has been the practice over time the events will be characterised by pomp and ceremony, hallmarking an indelible chapter in our nation’s annals. While the celebrations will be going on across the country, I think I will be engrossed, as usual, in quiet meditation on the state of affairs in our fatherland. I am certain Mr. President, Muhammadu Buahri, would share in my meditation, because I know that it has not been easy for him piloting the affairs of this complex nation.
I have always said it openly that I do not envy the President. He assumed the leadership of Nigeria at the most critical time in her history. So, I wonder what his scorecard would look like. Certainly, it will contain some challenging cases, which have defied any immediate solutions. Nevertheless, there will be solutions ultimately. It is just a matter of time.
The first thought that came to my mind as I was writing this piece was in the form of a question: do we really have any reason to celebrate? This question will definitely elicit a variety of responses if it were to be brought to the public domain. Nevertheless, I am certain the majority of the responses will be in the negative.
I wish to state without any equivocation that the state of affairs in Nigeria do not warrant any elaborate celebrations. Despite the realities on ground some state governments, I am sure, will still go ahead to waste scarce resources celebrating failure. What I would expect those planning to celebrate to do would be to devote the period to self-re-examination and introspection. This approach would offer them a better opportunity to do thorough reappraisal of their performance in the last year and seek divine guidance on what to do in the years ahead.
As far as I am concerned, I do not have any cogent reason to embark on the futile effort to assess the performance of the governments in the last one year, because there is nothing concrete to write about. The dwindling oil revenue coupled with the insecurity in the country makes matters worse. The focus of this piece would rather be on the past 17 years since our new democracy was born. The whole idea is to reflect on the past in order to mirror into the future – which belongs to the realm of uncertainty.
In any case, the last one year has been the most traumatic for Nigeria and Nigerians. It is a clear manifestation of God’s favour that we are able to waddle through the year unscathed. The buffeting and bashing from wicked forces bent on destroying the fabrics of our national unity almost torpedoed the essence of our collective existence as a nation and as a people. The most visible problem is security, which was at its lowest ebb throughout the year.
Up till now, nobody has offered any useful solution to the problem, despite the huge financial resources government has invested in it. This does not mean the Buhari administration has not done something commendable to contain the insurgency in the North East. Far from it! Buhari has been able to ginger the military to take the war to the terrorists as never done before since the war on terror started.
But one remarkable thing about security in Nigeria today is that those perpetrating criminalities now tread cautiously, instead of in the past when they operated with reckless abandon and boldness. However, I think more innocent citizens and security men and women had been killed in the last one year. In fact, there was no day that passed without a reported case of death from rampaging hoodlums and terrorists. The situation has got to a point of palpability, occasioning the federal government to seek international support. The recent visit to Saudi Arabia and Qatar by President Buhari was in line with the determination of his administration to ensure greater security in Nigeria and improved economic and trade relations among the countries.
For me, with all that is happening in the country, it will be preposterous for any reasonable, responsible and responsive government to embark on any kind of celebration when its house is on fire. I am not even bothered too much about the billions of naira some state governments may spend on any senseless and wasteful adventure; my worry lies in the consequence of such seeming insensibility. Is it not such passiveness and imperviousness that fuel insurrection in the country?
Even though there is no justification for criminality, the attitudes exhibited by some of our leaders exacerbate an already volatile situation.
In every human society, governments are expected to work in tandem with laid down procedures and principles, guided by the expectations of the people. Painfully, this is not the case with Nigeria. What guides the actions of leaders here is self-consideration and adulation. If this is not the case, then why should security continue to pose a threat to our national existence with all the billions spent? I think something is fundamentally wrong with our service delivery mechanism.
Two things are involved here: the first is the attitude of an average Nigerian to citizenship, and the second is the attitude of government to the governed. Both determine to what extent a democratic journey can go.
Unfortunately, there is no love lost between the government and the governed. This has resulted in mutual mistrust accentuated by the inordinate desire of leaders to lord it over the poor masses.
The insurgency in different parts of the country is a visible testimony to this mistrust. Some commentators and analysts have inadvertently blamed poverty and general underdevelopment in the northern part of Nigeria on the lopsided distribution of national wealth. This may not go down well with every section of the country. There may be people who think the north has no justification to cry wolf now when none exists. After all, they may argue, the north had had its own turn; now it is our turn. Such mentality obviates and obscures national vision and development, because it is built on clannishness and ethnocentricity.
No tribe has the monopoly of leadership of the country. Just as the north are in the driver’s seat now, next time it could be the turn of another tribe – possibly Igbo, who have never ruled this country under a democratic dispensation.
What about those calling for Sovereign National Conference? This as well has not been well-received by some people who think that the agitation is a cover for clandestine manipulation of our collective heritage to the advantage of a section. In essence, what has appeared on the political firmament from all these agitations is the polarisation of the country along north and south divides. And this is dangerous to the survival of our democracy.
The fall of the First Republic was partly blameable on the entrenchment of ethnic cleavages in the nation’s social fibre. This resulted in social blow-outs that attracted the intervention of the military that later fell victim to their own ploy.
As things stand today, Nigeria is on the precipice – everything points to the eruption of a national crisis that will mark the death-knell of our democracy. The build-up to this seeming inevitable occurrence is what we are witnessing in the uprisings across the country. It was, therefore, heart-warming listening to President Buhari assuring the nation that Nigeria would not break up. I appreciate his sentiments and die-hard patriotism. I am tempted to ask: Does the situation on ground justify this optimism? The answer is no. Probably, the President sees what many of us do not see. The truth we cannot kill or bend is that Nigeria is gradually gliding into a state of distress. The steady rise in the exchange rate of dollar to naira and fall in global oil prices have not assuaged the situation.
What probably is holding it back is the grace of God! Have we ever asked how the wars in Somalia and Sudan started? They started as occasional outbursts from some disenchanted ethnic ideologues opposed to some government policies. Gradually they grew in size and intensity, and before the authorities could do a proper assessment of the situation it had gone out of hand.
It cannot be contested that Nigeria shares some similarities with Sudan and Somalia, especially in the areas of population, landmass, ethnic configuration, and cultural plurality. Interestingly, these features and many more were highlighted by commentators on global affairs as the root causes of instability in any nation. They have also tried to indentify the causes of the present challenges facing the country. As academic as these reasons are, they could not upturn the fact that Nigeria is swimming against the tide in its fight against anarchists.
I appreciate President Buhari’s effort to act as a democrat, but the present situation challenges him to dump that toga and wear the garb of a General, which he is by virtue of his position as the Commander-In-Chief of the Armed Forces of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, and confront the monster that threatens to destroy all of us. This should be the focus of his meditation on the occasion of his first anniversary as president in a few weeks from now.
Generally speaking, the past 17 years had been a bag of mixed grill – a buffet of sad and joyous tales. On social infrastructure, the government has not fared well. There is no social amenity in which the nation has attained sufficiency since 1999. Worst hit is electricity generation. This sector has remained a national embarrassment in spite of the trillions of naira government had expended on it. Sadly, all the efforts of Olusegun Obasanjo as President in the area came to naught. He thought by decentralising the operations of the then National Electric Power Authority (NEPA) the problem would be solved. Instead it grew worse. I still recall the confidence he exuded each time he addressed the nation on the effort by his government to deliver steady power supply. At the end of the day nothing concrete was achieved.
Then enter Jonathan who embarked on a national power reform. Though it was hoped the effort was going to pay off but what he left behind could hardly sustain such optimism. The problem with the power sector lies specifically in the inability of its stakeholders to design a functional package that will deal with the situation once and for all. A critical look at our approach to the problem shows endemic insincerity, sabotage and wastefulness. Was this what the United States, South Africa and other developed economies did to get to where they are today? Definitely the answer is no.
We need to first identify what the problem is: its size, complexities, and scope. This will enable us to deploy specific plans on how to deliver on them. It is a shame, therefore, that we have not been able to give our people steady electricity supply 55 years after independence, with all the billions that had accrued from oil.
I regret to observe that so long as this situation persists, all plans to make Nigeria great will amount to mere mirage.
Other sectors have not witnessed anything encouraging either. The roads are dilapidated and pose death-traps to commuters; no potable water, leading to the spread of waterborne diseases; hospitals are mere prescription centres as citizens with serious health needs still travel abroad in search of cure; the economy is in a fit, occasioned by jaundiced and disjointed fiscal policies; agriculture is comatose – farmers lack necessary incentives to boost food production; poverty is ravaging the citizens as Income Per Capita continues to drop; education is in a fix – infrastructure in our schools is the worst in the whole of West Africa; police are worse off – cannot fight crimes for lack of equipment and motivation; etc.
It is not all about failure anyway. There are a few pass marks here and there. The aviation industry has performed commendably. At least, we have recorded fewer major air crashes as opposed to the era before it. In fact, since the last Dana Airline crash in Lagos on June 3, 2012, we have experienced safer air travels. This is due to the enforcement of stiffer regulation to control operations of airlines.
Another area of commendation is the ability of the military to remain in their barracks without disrupting governance as was the case in the period before 1999, when military intervention was a regular occurrence. The National Assembly deserves a pat in the back for passing more resolutions than bills. Curiously, most of the resolutions are not implemented by the executive.
What of the judiciary? They have also done well in some cases and failed in some. Its performance between 2007 and 2010 was exciting. It, however, lulled in the period after the 2011 elections up to the early part of 2016 as most of its judgments (on political cases) did not meet the expectations of the people. This might be responsible for the tantrums former President Obasanjo threw at it recently. What this means is that the judiciary must stand up to its billing and save our democracy from being destroyed by disgruntled elements whose greed and avarice are easily noticeable.
The verdict in summary is this: it is not yet Uhuru for our democracy and that our governments should work very hard to deliver on their electoral promises so that the people will be saved the present agony to which they have been subjected.
As things stand, we must collaborate with one another to foster good governance, honesty in leadership, inter-ethnic harmony, religious peace, and economic and political prosperity. Without these things our effort to build an egalitarian and progressive nation would be in vain.