I WAS in the United States the entire period of the Easter season, and came into Europe on March 29. One thing I kept pondering throughout my stay abroad was what could be done to drive Nigeria’s economy and promote its democracy. I was amazed at the way almost everything in Europe worked: the Metro, steady power supply, security, discipline among the citizenry, the well-paved roads, rail-system; name it. As I ruminated over these things a voice spoke to me: ‘why do you worry, the major cause of these problems is the absence of functional government institutions’.
As if predesigned, I arrived at the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport last weekend to behold a city in total darkness. A friend riding home with me exclaimed that the problem had been with us for some time, especially since the current scarcity of fuel aggravated.
As if jolted from a bad dream, I was faced with the reality of the present scarcity of fuel when I was told that the product now sells for between N180 and N250 per litre across the Federal Capital Territory (FCT). I saw the long queues of vehicles at the filling stations as our car waltzed its way through the beautiful Abuja roads.
Yes, beautiful Abuja roads! The roads are well-designed with ornaments of all kinds adorning them. But deep inside there is rot of unimaginable magnitude. The blame game is on. Nobody shows any remorse about his role in the current mess in which we have found ourselves.
Past administrations have a sizeable percentage of the blame. In fact, every administration – from military to civilian – contributed to the hopeless situation in which we are immersed.
I have taken time to think about Nigeria. I have also written volumes of articles about the problems of Nigeria’s socio-political development. Unfortunately, all of them revolve around corruption and ineptitude that characterise the operations of government. What else is responsible for these problems if not weak institutions? Among them are the security agencies; democratic agencies such as the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC); agencies of government which include Universal Basic Education (UBE), Joint Admissions and Matriculation Board (JAMB), Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), Small and Medium Scale Industries (SMSIs); Federal Road Maintenance Agency (FERMA), Electricity Generation and Distribution Companies; etc.
Almost all the countries in Europe run a perfect system, providing quality social services to their people. The United Kingdom presents a classical example. The rail system in UK, especially the London Metro, is worthy of copying by developing economies. It is not only convenient, functional, efficient, but cheap as well. They have the surface and underground trains that provide round-the-clock services to different parts of the city. The Piccadilly Line to Heathrow Terminals is one of the busiest, because of the number of travellers that use it daily.
Why did successive governments fail to provide functional and cheap transportation for our people, especially the poor? The cost of transportation in Nigeria ranks among the highest in Africa. Road transport, which is supposed to be the cheapest, is not easily affordable. The situation gets worse with the scarcity of petrol. The rail system in Nigeria is one of the worst in Africa as well. The existing rail does not meet the pressing demand. Nigeria’s rail system only thrived before and immediately after the war. The Line from Enugu to Makurdi to Kafanchan and then to Kaduna was the busiest then. Enugu to Port Harcourt was working until early 2000s when it suddenly went comatose.
The road networks in Nigeria are also very pitiful. This has led to countless fatal accidents per annum. The government seems to be handicapped. But I think it will pay us better if the present government can raise the bar and take the bull by the horns to make all federal roads accessible. The condition of major federal roads in the country is deplorable.
When the roads are fully rehabilitated they will enhance economic activities and reduce carnage. Curiously, the rehabilitation of roads is not a priority of this government. Nevertheless, I believe that it will do something drastic to ameliorate the situation before its tenure runs out.
Let me quickly observe at this juncture, that the choice of former Lagos State governor, Babatunde Fashola as Minister of Works, Power and Housing was properly made. He has the capacity to deliver on his mandate and rebuild the infrastructure under his ministry. He has a huge task to do things differently this time around and stave off unnecessary distraction as he works to reposition his ministry.
Light is no longer a problem to many countries of the world. They use all kinds of sources to generate power. They range from renewable energy and solar to the conventional sources – thermal and hydro. As a way of tackling the energy needs of the growing populations they have added nuclear energy. In all of these, the major driving imperative is to stimulate economic growth and provide basic comfort.
What do we have in Nigeria: epileptic power generation all year round? Before the mid 90’s when the problem exacerbated Nigeria was able to meet its power needs substantially. At that time the then National Electric Power Authority (NEPA) rarely took light and when they did they would give an advance notification. The whole thing changed towards the turn of the new century, 2000.
To address the problem of power the Nigerian government had undertaken many reforms, which in the end failed to yield the desired result. Today we have diversified into the decentralisation of the power sector. The octopus called NEPA was first rechristened Power Holding Company of Nigeria PHCN). This organisation was a limping giant. It became worse than its forbear, NEPA. Within a short time the undertakers had started asking for its interment. It survived cannibalisation and rather suffered from privatisation. Three independent organisations emerged from this exercise, namely the GENCOS, DISCOS, and the marketing companies.
In spite of the privatisation, the problem persists. Indeed, it is as if the whole thing is muddled up. What happened was that the institution that gave birth to the three companies was very weak. It had been bugged by institutional corruption and deterioration of equipment before the idea was conceived to privatize it. It was like putting new wine in old skin.
The efforts by the Muhammdu Buhari administration to address the problem have failed to deal with the situation. Last week power generation failed almost to point zero. It was that bad. As I wrote, power generation had however increased to 2,875 megawatts. This is a far cry from the near 5000 megawatts achieved at a point after the inauguration of Buhari. Authorities of the Federal Ministry of Power have always blamed the problems of the power sector on sabotage and vandalism.
The vandalization of oil pipelines by oil thieves predated the Buhari government and has been a major obstacle to the effort of government to provide steady power. Nevertheless, I could not comprehend why this problem would persist despite the billions of naira paid to private security companies to guard the pipelines. Even the navy, police, civil defence, and the Joint Task Force are involved in the hunting down of the vandals, yet the problem gets worse and worse.
In my thinking the government should set up a crack team to come up with permanent solutions to the problems of the power sector. All the efforts made so far have failed to address the problems adequately. Another step would be for the government to formulate a legal framework that would prescribe stiffer penalties for those that sabotage the power sector.
The issue of supply of gas to the power stations should be addressed immediately, because this is at the heart of the problem. There is no way the power plants can work optimally without sufficient supply of gas. Instead of flaring gas the NNPC should conserve it and supply it to the power plants.
It is very painful that Nigeria of the 21st Century should still find itself in the tangle of wobbling power sector. It does not matter what measures government takes provided it deals with this problem permanently. The various power companies should be made to step up their operations, particularly as it concerns equipment, staffing and general services.
Consequently, our democratic institutions have not fared better as a result of visible bottlenecks associated with their operations. INEC presents a very good example here. Over the years election management has always posed a serious national problem. The last general election could be adjudged as the best in the history of the country. Other elections before them had led to a number of litigations and, even, loss of lives.
The crisis problem of this country revolves around election management. While several countries in Africa have succeeded in getting it right our dear nation is still battling ballot box snatching, manipulation of results, and violence. How can our nation get the required leadership without a strong INEC? Apart from autonomy in election administration the commission needs adequate funds to organise elections.
The laws governing elections in Nigeria need urgent review to cut out some of the flaws experienced in the prosecution of post-election petitions. The 2010 amended version of the act contains some provisions antithetical to progress and advancement of the electoral process. What we need now is for the National Assembly to speed up the process of reviewing the 1999 Constitution to ensure that everything required for smooth and peaceful conduct of elections is in place before 2019.
If I were asked, I would advise that INEC should be given adequate attention in all ramifications to make it stand out among its peers as an unbiased umpire.
Security is central to the development of any nation, not excluding Nigeria. All over the world security is accorded a place of importance among the indices of development. Painfully, Nigeria has continued to slide in security. There have been increased cases of armed robbery, kidnapping and insurgency across the country. These anti-social activities have contributed to the lack of peace and progress in the country.
Ethnic crises coupled with the agitation for wealth control among the numerous ethnic nationalities have continued to stoke the ember of hate and chicanery. Even the Boko Haram insurgency, which had never been a part of our national life, is one of the notorious culprits. Boko Haram was borne shortly after the lull in the activities of regional armies that accentuated the tension in the Niger Delta. The introduction of amnesty for the insurgents by the then President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua government helped in a number of ways to whittle down the influence of the insurgents in the region. Interestingly, one of the rehabilitated repented insurgents graduated with a two-one. Several other militants have been reintegrated into the society after their rehabilitation.
Studies have since shown that militancy and insurgency are products of weak social institutions and unemployment. Many of our able bodied youth have no jobs – surviving on hawking, gambling and other indecent and dehumanising activities. So, why hasn’t the nation maximized the potentialities of these youth who find sanctuary in crimes? Where are the institutions to support their development?
Unfortunately, our educational institutions are not well-equipped to handle the development of their very complex talents, which are often sacrificed on the altar of secret cults and other misdemeanours. The reason for the tension in our social system is caused by the misapplication of the energies of our very vibrant youth.
This is why it is a thing of joy to observe that some private universities have introduced youth entrepreneurship programmes to capture and harness the talents of our youth to make them self-employable at the end of their academic pursuits. Universities like Covenant University, Ota have a special youth development courses such as the Total Man Concept, which aims at developing interest in the studies to be aware of their individual potentialities early in life.
The Jonathan administration tried many of these talent-promoting programmes, but they could not bear fruits before the tenure of the administration ended. With the enormous human and material resources that abound in our nation, what justification do we have not to bring the best out of our youth and bequeath to them a secure future?
Government has a duty to reintroduce the middle class, which disappeared with the Nigerian Civil War. The absence of the middle class is a clear evidence that all is not well with the nation. It is the middle class that provides the necessary support needed to push the economy and create wealth. This is why I have always advocated the enhancement of the welfare of our youth, particularly by providing them jobs and amenities to drive their talents.
To be continued.