One of the most daunting problems which have stunted the growth of Nigeria democratically and advance its stability is the lack of adherence to ethos, rule of law and constitutionality. For nearly 56 years since it gained independence, Nigeria has found it difficult to attain democratic stability despite efforts by past administrations to achieve this feat. A close study has revealed that it will still stay for a longer time before the dividends of democracy begin to trickle in at the expected proportion.
Some factors account for these difficulties and that is what this piece is aimed to address.
It is a tragedy of lamentable proportion that Nigeria, despite its huge human and material resources, has merely existed on paper as the ‘Giant of Africa’. There are no visible developmental indicators, anywhere, to justify its consistent aspirations for global recognition. Even its efforts in global peace initiatives have not helped to achieve the desired fame.
It is an undisputable fact that Nigeria has been in the forefront of the struggle to win one of the available coveted permanent positions on the United Nations, without commensurate attainments to match such an ambition.
I can state with some surety that there is no nation on the permanent membership of the United Nations that has not achieved some degree of sustainability on the rudimentary and fundamental indices of development. Is it not, therefore, a mockery of our national sovereignty and an assault on our collective psyche that we aspire to be recognised as a global superpower when we rank as the 127th poorest nation, out of 147, in the world?
We languish at the bottom of the ladder with Bangladesh, Myanmar, Vietnam, etc. Our diehard rivals – South Africa and Egypt – are far ahead of us in almost every index of development: particularly in human development initiatives, poverty alleviation and health. These indices form part of a collectiveness of factors that gives democracy its beauty and elegance.
There were even fears at some point that Nigeria might not be able to meet the 2015 deadline for the implementation of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). And truly it did not irrespective of all the media hype and government’s ostensible indifference in some critical areas.
Smaller countries such as Cape Verde, Burkina Faso, Mali, and Senegal have attained a reasonable measure of success in the realisation of the goals of the global initiative aimed at reducing poverty by half by the year 2015. Where has Nigeria been ever since it missed the mark that year? Instead of buckling up it has been one problem after another.
Poverty has posed a big threat to the development of Nigeria’s democracy. The poverty rate has continued to rise astronomically without any reasonable effort by government to curtail it. The involvement of some people in violence during elections, for instance, is a product of poverty. Politicians, aware of the growing poverty in the country, have continually resorted to recruiting jobless and desperate youths as thugs and bodyguards to unleash terror in the polity. It is these so-called thugs that later turn round to become miscreants – engaged in all kinds of anti-social behaviour.
The worrisome truth is that Nigeria, though a sovereign, independent nation is encumbered by a multiplicity of other problems that has slowed down her advancement over the years. Some of these problems, unfortunately, are self-inflicted and flow from a morbid, deviant inclination of our politicians to unjustly and blindly engage in self-enrichment and general corruption.
Indeed it is important to deal with specific features of Nigeria’s political development that have had far-reaching impact on the wellbeing of the people.
First is that the level of corruption in Nigeria has assumed a frightening dimension even with the draconian enactments put in place by government to deal with the situation.
The political elite have, by their profligate behaviour, worsened corruption in the country. It is no longer in doubt that they have ignominiously shared our common patrimony, leaving the people poorer and infrastructural development stagnated.
The anti-Corruption laws and the numerous fiscal policies of the government have not helped much in the fight to exterminate it. The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) and the Independent Corrupt Practices Commission (ICPC) are two bodies established by the government to fight the embarrassing menace. In truth, these commissions have, instead of fighting corruption, have ended up as the actual victims of the fight. The greed and avarice of the political class have added up to continually frustrate the efforts by the two bodies to stamp out corruption from our body politic.
I have decided perfunctorily to dwell on corruption at this juncture (even though I can’t change the status quo) because it is at the centre of why all other features of our democracy have remained comatose. The impact of the other features such as ethnicity, violence, insecurity, poverty, maladministration, profligacy, etc are all child’s play compared to the ravaging effects of corruption on our overall democratic development. This position can be justified when these factors are juxtaposed with the mountainous damage corruption has inflicted on the soul of this nation. The gravity of the situation can better be understood when we take a cognisable look into the accruable revenue to the nation since oil was discovered in Oloibiri in today’s Bayelsa State in 1958. If the revenue from oil (which is 80% of our overall exports and 90% government receivable revenue) had been judiciously invested in infrastructural development since then, Nigeria would have reached the apogee of development and be competing favourably with its contemporaries in global politics and economy.
Statistics released by the Human Rights Watch (a civil organization) some time ago to prove that the anticorruption war in Nigeria has been ineffectual shows that Nigeria lost between $4billion and $8billion (i.e. up to $64billion) to corruption annually over an 8-year period – from 1999 to 2007. Curiously, EFCC was in existence during 5 of the 8 years, having been established in 2002. Another report, this time from the World Bank, shows that US$40billion is stolen every year from Nigeria and other third world countries by their leaders. Out of this staggering amount, according to the bank, only US$5billion has been recovered. It attributes the inability to recover the stolen money to some factors that include complex nature of international corruption cases and generating admissible evidence; lack of modalities to track the proceeds of corruption (which are usually disguised and mingled with legitimate funds); legal barriers in prosecuting offenders and recovering the stolen funds, especially from those that have died, enjoy immunity from prosecution and or were fugitives; and the issue of navigating through varied legal systems of inter-nation jurisdiction.
The former Chairman of EFCC, Mrs. Farida Waziri, lamented at one point what she called the deliberate ploys by accused persons and their defence counsels to circumvent the cause of justice through unnecessary applications for injunctions and adjournments. Section 308 of the Amended Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (as amended) is another obstacle to the fight against corruption. Though Section 308 is not within the purview of this piece, it is important to stress that unless the section is expeditiously expunged all efforts to fight official corruption will amount to a waste of precious time and resources.
Undoubtedly, the annual loss of a princely sum of 40billion US dollars by developing countries to corruption is one of the key factors stunting the growth of such nations. Imagine how far such an amount will go in the provision of social infrastructure in those countries.
Is anybody still confused in any way why Nigeria occupies a place of notoriety on the global corruption map? Okay, if you are not satisfied with the statistics adduced above, now look at this: The outflow of resources from the national kitty into the funding of corrupt practices is mind-boggling. Because of this fact Nigeria has consistently been ranked low on the Corruption Perception Index (CPI). The outlook in the rating of CPI is becoming gloomier as the days go by. It was 2.7 out of 10 in 2008, sliding further to 2.4 in 2010. The rating has steadily risen.
Wastefulness (popularly known in the local parlance as squandermania) is another major feature of Nigeria’s democracy. It is generally believed that the cost of running government in Nigeria is one of the highest in the world. Those without access to government spending patterns may not understand the gravity of the situation. Overheads, including personal emoluments of elected and appointed government functionaries are outrageous and scandalous. For instance, a reasonable percentage of the earnings from oil annually may not be enough to pay the salaries and allowances of politicians and public sector workers plus their endless travels within and outside the country, tea and coffee, etc. How much is then left for the provision of infrastructure for the uplift of the downtrodden masses? To underscore the mindlessness and recklessness of spending by public officials, it is true that it is only in Nigeria that the cost of general administration ranges between 50 and 70 per cent of the annual budget. What is obtainable in other countries, particularly China and India (with the largest bureaucracies globally) is between 10 and 12 per cent of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP).
The contrast between Nigeria and the rest of the developed economies is that while our cost of general administration is inexplicably very high, with nothing to show for it, other countries with lesser costs have advanced impressively – lifting their people out of depressing poverty and degradation.
What of the cost of maintaining our legislators – state and federal? Let us use the national assembly as a case study. Facts gleaned from the National Assembly website show that the 469 members of the federal legislature and their support staff spent a total of N150 billion (as contained in the 2011 Appropriation Act) for their upkeep that year alone.
Current efforts to reduce the figure have not achieved anything tangible. Even the willingness of the legislators to reduce their annual accruements has waned in recent times, despite public outcries.
The ongoing controversy over the padding of the 2016 Appropriation Bill shows how mindless some of our politicians could be. The nation has been visibly scandalized by the facts coming out of the House of Representatives. This has set many asking: Was that the reason they were elected in the first place?
Do not forget we have just computed the cost of maintaining our legislators. Do we need to go into details about the cost of running the other arms of government – judiciary and executive? It amounts to a whopping N94.9billion per year as at 2012. If we replicate this simple exercise in every sector of our national economy some people may develop shock. But that is the reality of our present nationhood.
The simple truth is this: we cannot build a strong and progressive nation without first reordering our priorities and imbibing the tenets of responsible and responsive leadership. I wonder if the present crop of leaders can take Nigeria to its God-given destiny.
If I continue to list the consequences of corruption and wastefulness on our national life we may not be able to do justice to the other factors of democracy that affect, in marked degrees, the lives of the people. But the truth that must be told is that corruption has affected adversely every facet of our lives. And this is why there is an urgent need to mobilize the citizenry to fight it.
The release of the report of the Alhaji Ibrahim Bunu Committee on Project award and implementation a few years ago revealed worrisome facts about high-level corrupt practices that had taken place. The kernel of the committee’s report is that prioritisation of contract awards is influenced primarily by the personal interests of those charged with the responsibility for the award and evaluation of contracts. According to the committee the nation lost over N328 billion in contract inflation, overvalued pricing and manipulative variations. If one adds the money lost to padding of budgets in the past then the figure can be maddening.
Apart from inflated contract pricing the committee discovered that personal interests played a considerable role in the award of contracts. It revealed that those in charge of awarding the contracts were more interested in their own cuts (where they are usually paid upfront) rather than ensuring the strict adherence to specifications and schedules. This was adjudged as the major reason behind the spate of abandoned projects all over the country. It referred specifically to the Alaoji Power Plant in Aba, valued at US$123million, and which has been abandoned due to poor materialisation. Curiously, 12 diameter pipes instead of the required 24 diameter pipes were used in the construction of the present gas pipelines at the plant.
What it means is that the plant cannot take off until the pipes are duly replaced. Who then picks the bill for the replacement as the case may be? The fear then is that Nigeria would be heading for the precipice if the present trend is not reversed promptly.
Those familiar with the political development of Nigeria will attest to the fact that ethnicity is one of the greatest albatrosses to the growth of its democracy. The creation of northern and southern protectorates by the British instead of advancing development has been antithetical to peace and tranquility. It has succeeded not only in polarising the nation but aggravated the ethnic hegemony and loyalty that afflicted Nigeria. This is why the fight against corruption has not yielded sufficient dividends.
Indeed ethnicity has found its way into every sphere of our national life and now draws us back in many ways. The sharing of political and national cake has been reduced to a mere ethnic activity. What this means is that qualification and experience, and such other salient factors as patriotism and zeal, play little or no role in who gets what. Probably, this is why we have square pegs in round holes in crucial and critical national offices. The results of this sad development are low productivity and inefficiency in service delivery.