Anthony Kila, a Jean Monnet professor of Strategy and Development, is the Director at the Centre for International Advanced and Professional Studies (CIAPS). He is international director of studies at the European Centre of Advanced and Professional Studies. He spoke on governance and other national issues
What are your feelings on the current situations in the country?
We are not in a good position generally speaking because the economy is bad, especially for the ordinary Nigerian. The price of petrol has gone up, consequently, the prices of basic commodities, including food have also gone up. It is a great shame to us as a country that Nigeria will be going through food shortage given the arable land we have, given our vegetation and climate, food should be the least of our problems. Part of this has to do with how do we transport products from one point to another and how we process our products. The fact that food costs a lot in Nigeria is an indictment on our leadership generally. It is an indictment on our political, business, academic and community leadership. The problem of security is also there, we still hear about terrorists and bandits every day. To compound this, our schools have been on strike for several months now and even when they are open, we don’t see any impact of our academic institutions on Nigeria; that is not a great place to be.
It has been six years of President Muhammadu Buhari’s presidency, what is your verdict on these six years?
I have to rate the six years of President Buhari’s administration below the pass mark for two reasons. One is that when you compare the expectations versus reality, you will see that we are not doing well. When this government came to power, it was imagined that they would solve the problems of security, the economy and corruption, which they campaigned on and were believed on. I must, however, say that generally speaking, the kind of slush life that politicians were living is to some extent reduced now compared to before the administration first came to power six years ago, but we all know that there is still corruption.
The best thing the administration has done about fighting corruption is the Treasury Single Account (TSA) which was not invented by them. They have made a lot of efforts, but in the overall, the holistic view is that they have missed the direction for a country like Nigeria in the sense that a lot of interventions that they are doing is retailed. For instance, Trader Moni is going to reach a lot of people, but it is not the government’s place to be distributing money to individuals; what they could have done is to empower a group of people who would now kick-start the economy. If you want to create jobs and wealth, it is not by giving less than $100 to a few business people; they could not have given anybody any money at all; what they should have done is to make sure people can go to the bank and obtain loans easily, not just get the loans easily, but get it at a realistic sustainable rate, that is the measure of the ease of doing business.
So in six years, this administration has not been able to make people feel more secure, happier and more prosperous. In that regard, they have failed. The worst offence of the Buhari administration is Buhari himself; he is the weakest link, he is not communicating with anyone.
Buhari has been president now for six years, he had been military Head of State before, he contested election so many times before he won and up till today, nobody knows Buhari’s favourite book or television programme. We don’t know what upsets him or his jokes. There are moments when a leader should grab the microphone and bang his hand on the table and say ‘this is not acceptable.’I think Buhari is not the right president for today.
Why is corruption still endemic in Nigeria?
The causes of corruption can be threefold. One is scarcity. Anywhere things are not enough, people will beg and steal. Another cause of corruption is uncertainty. If you are not sure that justice will be served, that if somebody says something today, you will meet it that way tomorrow or that the rules are not clear and somebody will have to use his discretion, corruption has started. If I’m sure that regardless of where I come from that I will get the job if I’m the best candidate, I will not need to beg or bribe. It is because somebody will use discretion that there is uncertainty.
There is also impunity which is different from uncertainty. In uncertainty, you don’t know what will happen but impunity is where you can get away with it. If you know you will get away with it, why will you not be corrupt. Then there is also chaos, lack of organisation which allows corruption to thrive. Some people have become experts in making the simple complicated so they can extort you. We need to roll back government. The government is doing too much and doing it too badly. They should enable the process and provide guidance and incentives for people to work. Look at the governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), he has turned into another president, going into several interventions. The CBN is funding things directly, that is wrong because it is going to create discretion, too much power and corruption, material and mental corruption. For a society to work, you have to create a system where people don’t have to beg or bribe to get what they need.
Besides the corruption of public officials, one of the ways we judge the pervasiveness of corruption is micro corruption; do our police demand money on the road? Is it a common thought among Nigerians to want to bribe the Customs? Is it a common thought to want to bribe Civil Servants? These things are still rampant and when you look at it from this angle, the administration has failed, and they failed because they have not brought to bear a system approach to fighting corruption.
When Buhari came in 2015, there was this talk about body language, what went wrong?
It was not body language, it was the expectation. During our school days, when you are told in the junior class of a very strict teacher in the senior level, everybody sits up, but when you get to that senior level and the teacher does not show that strictness, the class will become rowdy; that is what happened to Buhari, it was not body language, it was the expectation. Because of the way people presented Buhari, it was assumed that things will be happening.
Buhari has his flaws; he does not seem to be a modern president. He is old not in age but mindset. But what I find fascinating is not the man but the system. After the election, people became differential. The differential approach of our traditional society is alien, contrary and destructive to democracy. The president is not the father of all, above all. The president is the figurehead of an agreement. The party leaders as stakeholders in the election and management of governance, the legislature as representatives of the people in governance, policy-making and management of society should be able to call the president to order. If Buhari is dictatorial, we should blame members of his party and the parliament for allowing him to get away with it.
What do you mean by blaming the system?
We have to understand that our system is flawed, our constitution is weak and a fraud. We have to understand that the preamble to the constitution that says ‘we the people’ is a lie because we didn’t do that. We also have to understand that our structure is central but fraudulently called federal; we have to understand that our democracy is something else entirely. We have to sit down and say this is not working. We had something that worked before, our so-called ‘golden years’, the years before 1966. That was when we had the fastest pace of development, maybe we should go back to that. I would advocate a parliamentary regional system where we will build a system knowing that we can’t trust anybody.
Talking about going back to the pre-1966 structure, some people seem uncomfortable whenever restructuring is mentioned?
Maybe some people do that out of malice. I want Nigeria to restructure because it is a union of nations and I believe it is too centralised. There is a need for discussions and engagement. Almost every part of the country is calling for restructuring except for the government. I think the contention is between the political class versus the people. I’ve seen the position of the Northern Elders Forum, I’ve seen the position of the Igbo nation, I am conversant with the position of the South-South people and of course, I know the position of the Yoruba nation very well. The structure of the Nigerian entity now is not a good deal for anybody. The people defending it are just suffering Stockholm syndrome. Some people fear that if we unbundle Nigeria, their investments will not be safe in Lagos; that assumption is wrong; restructuring is not about being anybody’s enemy.
In a system where you don’t trust anyone, who will be the rallying point?
It will be the person or group of persons that come up with cogent ideas. We have to think of what before the who; we have to focus on the content, not the person. The person is just a vessel; we shouldn’t be looking for heroes, we should be looking for a solution. If we are objective, the solutions are there. Take the electoral system; for instance, if you want to stop rigging, we can outsource it to the banks; the banks manage money and cards. We can link BVN to voters card. Since BVN came, it has become more difficult to conduct fraudulent transactions. So, it will be one BVN, one voter’s card.