Is there any hope for Nigeria?

Is there any hope for Nigeria? This regrettably is a fair question given the massive challenges confronting Nigeria today – on issues of security of persons and property, political stability, economic development, increasing pauperization of the masses, degraded infrastructure of power, transportation, educational and health facilities, all pervasive corruption and excessive greed and self-seeking amongst the three tiers of government, unresponsive governance and growing pessimism amongst the vast majority of the country’s population.

The paradox is that we are suffering all these in the context of enormous natural resources endowments and a large, energetic, and easily led population which make Nigeria one of the few countries in the world today with great potential for rapid economic and social development and for global importance.

Nigeria over the last sixty years: Let us briefly recall the history of Nigeria over the last 60 years: Pre-Independence Progress and 1st Republic Years.

Nigeria was moving ahead with great strides in the decade before independence. The country was wholly dependent on agriculture. Foreign exchange was earned from agricultural exports mainly cocoa in the West, groundnuts in the North, palm oil and kernels from the East.

Foreign reserves

The balance of payments was in surplus and sizeable foreign reserves were built up by the Marketing Boards – up to 80 million pounds which was shared by the three Regions after Independence.

Chief Obafemi Awolowo, Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe and Alhaji Ahmadu Bello

That was good money then – considering that in no one year throughout the colonial administration did Nigeria’s Budget exceed 40 million poounds. Indeed, it was under Balewa and Independence that the Federal Budget for a year reached 50 million pounds. You can begin to imagine how carefully and frugally public funds were managed in those days when you consider that the ports of Lagos, Warri, Port Harcourt and Calabar, the 4000 miles of railways, the telegraph lines from North to South, and East to West, the Airports of Lagos and Kano, the schools people of mine and earlier generations attended and from which we went directly to British, American and other universities were all developed with such meager resources!!

Many African countries, our French speaking brothers became independent and were admitted members of the United Nations at various dates in 1960, but none was awaited with such eagerness and great expectations as Nigeria. Unprecedentedly, one whole day was devoted by the United Nations to the admission of Nigeria.

The Security Council met in the morning to approve our admission and the General Assembly in the afternoon to formalize our admission and to listen to our Prime Minister, Alhaji Abubakar Tafawa Balewa address the Assembly. And he made a remarkable speech proclaiming the progress of Africa as the first concern of Nigeria’s foreign policy, our policy of non-alignment, our determination to contribute to maintaining world peace and the dignity of man.

He received great acclamation. I was a witness having been posted to New York in March, 1960 to participate in setting up the Permanent Mission of Nigeria to the United Nations.

There were great expectations for rapid progress – economic growth and development – given the enormous endowments, and our human capital resources and the calibre and stature of our First Republic Government. With Dr. Azikiwe as Governor-General, later President, Alhaji Abubakar Tafawa Balewa as Prime Minister and Head of Government, with many experienced men who had achieved prominence as professionals, businessmen and teachers as Ministers, the Government was highly respected in the Commonwealth and the World. We can also recall the high calibre of the principal envoys sent to us from UK, USA, Germany, India, etc.

Soon after Independence, we acquitted ourselves creditably in UN operations in the Congo, in the resolution of the crisis in Tanzania helping for two years to supply the Army in that country where the Army had revolted against Nyerere soon after that country’s Independence and had to be disbanded and a new Army formed and trained. We also subscribed to a special UN Fund for peace keeping operations.

The Nigerian Economy was growing under the 1962-68 plan at over six per cent per annum with inflation rate under two per cent and so people enjoyed improving standard of living. However, there were serious political problems which had not been resolved before Independence. The most serious was the Minorities Question.

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For many years, there had been general agitation for separate Regions by the Middle Belt minorities in the North, the Mid-Western minorities in the West and the Calabar-Ogoja-Rivers State Movement in the East. There were tensions over the attempt to conduct a national census in 1961 which was cancelled, and was repeated in 1963. Then came the break-up of the Action Group in 1962, the Treason trials and imprisonment of Awolowo in 1963, the crisis over the December, 1964 Federal Elections which was resolved with the appointment of a broad-based Federal Government in April, 1965, but which was then followed by the heavily rigged Western Region elections in 1965.

Military rule from 1966 

Then came the bloody January, 1966 Military Coup that ended the First Republic and brought in the First Military Government of General Ironsi. General Ironsi was overthrown in another very bloody coup in July, 1966. Nigeria then perilously hovered at the brink of disintegration. For two excruciating days, there was no supreme authority but this was not known by the public as the Federal Civil Service was able to maintain the semblance of normalcy. Then the slide to Civil War of 1967-70 which for all the loss of lives, and agony was ended by Nigerians themselves without the intervention of foreign “do-gooders”.

The country then embarked on the three Rs programme – Rehabilitation, Reconciliation, and Reconstruction which had been well planned in advance. The country resumed accelerated economic growth and from 1970-1975 the economy grew at the average of 11.75 per cent per annum until terminated by the Coup of July, 1975 followed by the massive purge and destruction of the confident, non-partisan, trained and fearless Public Service inherited from the British, but worse still, the abandonment of National Plans and the process of planning and the discipline it entails especially with regard to frugal cost-effective use of the nation’s resources for the promotion of the public good.

We had a brief interlude of Civilian Rule under President Shehu Shagari from 1979 to 1983. This was terminated by a Military Coup in December 1983. Then followed years of increasing deterioration in the quality of governance, and economic stagnation with an average growth rate of only two per cent per annum over the decade ending in 1999. Meanwhile, the population continued to grow at three per cent per annum.

Democratic Rule Since May, 1999: Democracy was restored in 1999 with the election of Chief Olusegun Obasanjo as President. He was succeeded by late President Musa Yar’Adua in 2007 and then President Goodluck Jonathan, who has been in power since 2010 and was elected in his own right in 2011.

So we have enjoyed democratic rule for 13 years. Regrettably as measured by the doleful catalogue with which I started this talk, the degradation in the quality of governance, and unresponsiveness to the real needs of the people seem to be accelerating and must be reversed in order to avoid disaster. The present allocation of the resources available to Nigeria is not sustainable.

The threat of national disintegration: It is not surprising to hear otherwise level headed people, given the current challenges, talk as if the breaking up of Nigeria into several parts would be a solution since to them Nigeria is too difficult to administer.

I have no doubt that the solution to our problems does not lie in disintegration. It is not possible to divide Nigeria neatly into a given number of successor countries. A collapse of the Nigerian State will most likely result in an unpredictable number of mini states controlled by war lords. Imagine leaving Lagos and encountering a Customs post in Ikorodu; then Ijebu Ode, then Ofuse, then Benin City, etc. or travelling northwards in Shagamu, then Ibadan, then Ilorin, then Minna and so forth.

Economic progress

It will be horrendous to have Nigeria as a failed state. The fault will be that of the so called elite. There will be no economic progress and civilization will be halted and life will be very insecure. It is a prospect which should shock us to exploring solutions to our current problems.

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What the ordinary man desires is shelter, food, educational facilities to ensure his children’s advancement in life and of course adequate and improving availability of power, health and transportation infrastructure. He is really not interested in the power struggles among politicians.

Good leadership, good governance which result in rapid economic and social progress and improving standard of living and quality of life for the great majority of the people are what will lead to national cohesion and stability. How remarkable the success of Malaysia in uniting the Malays and Chinese and smaller communities of Indians and others in a multi-religious, multi-ethnic state. Again, China with her 1.4 billion people unites many diverse ethnic and linguistic groups. We also have the Indian example.

How to save the situation: Nigeria’s tremendous potentials for developing into a great country remain largely unexploited. The critical imperative is that Nigeria’s leadership must undergo a revolutionary change of attitude and embrace good governance in all its aspects. This entails :

•The Rule of Law;

•Efficient and prompt administration of justice;

•Predictability, objectivity and consistency in government measures;

•Respect for the sanctity of contracts;

•Abandonment of the pursuit of self-enrichment as the motive for seeking political leadership and office;

•Zero tolerance for corruption and the prompt application of adequate sanctions against offenders including seizure of all properties corruptly acquired;

•Efficient and timely service delivery by all government agencies;

•Return to planning and submission to the discipline of planning, respecting pre-determined priorities in the utilization of national resources;

•Return to the principle of collective responsibility of government;

•Entrenchment of merit and the pursuit of excellence as a core national value.

The Implications of Vision 20: 2020

That President Goodluck Jonathan is committed to Vision 20: 2020 gives cause for hope. The Goal of Vision 20: 2020 is to make Nigeria one of the 20 largest economies in the world by 2020 AD and meanwhile to ensure the achievement before then of the Millenium Development Goals (MDGs) and a drastic reduction of the proportion of Nigerians living below the poverty line, and also achieve a significant improvement in Nigeria’s HDI score.

This entails the return to planning and the acceptance of the discipline of planning and ensuring that henceforth annual budgets, particularly capital budgets are strictly derived from the Perspective Plan and its Medium Term Plans developed to realize the Vision.

Under the Jonathan Administration, the Federal and State Governments have agreed on three medium term periods: 2010-2013, 2014-2017, and 2018-2021. I am also aware that the 2010-2013 Medium Term Plan which is the fifth National Development Plan, was finalized and launched last year.

I am informed that the Jonathan Transformation Plan 2010-2015, is coherent with the 2010-2013 Plan and anticipates part of the 2014-2017. It is very important that henceforth, the Nigerian Government should avoid the discontinuities and inconsistencies arising from changes of administrations or even changes of ministers within the same administration, which disrupted economic growth and development in the past.

Many people may question if the goals set can be achieved by 2020. Indeed, the growth rates in 2010-2011 and the projected rate for 2012 are well below the figures in the 2010-2013 Plan. The 2020 date is not sacrosanct.

Indeed the experts in Goldman Sachs who first included Nigeria in the list of countries to follow the BRIC countries projected the date of 2025. What is really important is that the Nigerian Government should start in earnest to implement the policies and programmes set out in the Medium Term Plans with as much discipline as possible.

It will not be an easy undertaking especially in the prevailing global economic situation. The 2010-2013 Plan involves a total investment of N32 trillion about US$215 billion. Projected Funding proportions are: Federal Public Sector – N10 trillion or about US$67.19 billion, States’ Public Sector – N9 trillion or about US$60.47 billion and Public Sector (FDI and Domestic) – N13 trillion or about US$87.34 billion.

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Massive flow of foreign capital

We have never embarked on such magnitudes of investment. We would also be trying to attract massive inflows of foreign capital and this requires a very great improvement in our rating for international competitiveness. It is very critical to be able to mobilize the nation to implement these Plans.

You will recall that it was when we abandoned the 1975 – 80 Plan which was to create the basis for diversified and sustained industrialization that we parted company with the Asian Tigers and we are so far behind them today. However, Nigeria remains a self-sufficient nation with enormous endowments of natural resources – agriculture, minerals, energy, gemstones, water, etc. We were about 40 million at Independence, we are now about 170 million.

Will the president rise to the challenge?

Watershed revolutionary achievements over the next two years in pursuing Vision 2020, and resultant immortality, beckon to President Goodluck Jonathan and his key lieutenants.

Vigorous and disciplined implementation of the 2010 – 2013 Plan and the Jonathan Transformation Agenda, as well as leading the PDP and the nation to embrace all the aspects of good governance described above will launch Nigeria irreversibly on the path to unity and greatness and will provide the answer to the question which we are addressing this evening.

Immediate difficult things

However, there are immediate difficult things which must be accomplished:

• The present post-1998 political parties formed even more hastily than those in 1979 have no roots in past political parties and usages. They have not articulated long-term party visions for Nigerian Society or the Federal Country which they seek to administer.

Most of our new politicians are not aware of the self-sacrifice, the patriotism, the idealism, the promise and commitment of the pre-independence politicians to improving the welfare of the broad masses after Independence nor do they know about the discipline and self-restraint required in managing the lean resources of pre-oil Nigeria. I mean no offence. No fault of theirs. Most of the comments on the past in our media since 1966 have been self-denigrating and abusive of the national psche.

•The political parties and the party system have to be re-invented and re-engineered to become patriotic responsive vehicles for promoting the general welfare of all citizens and national greatness. They must adopt and believe in clear manifestos and programmes to promote national progress. Indeed, it will be desirable for all of them to base their programmes on Vision 2020 and let partisan competition and differences be on how best to achieve Vision 2020 and loftier goals beyond.

They must become effective organs for selecting and disciplining candidates for positions in the executive and legislature all of them subscribing to the same policies and programmes for moving the nation forward. Only such re-engineered political parties can help the President in achieving Vision 2020 and good governance.

•The current epidemic of competitive corruption, and excessive greed amongst the political class and our elites in appropriating national resources to themselves must be stopped immediately.

•The President should lead the nation to adopt and live with more realistic national remuneration scales for all those paid from the public purse: Nigeria’s per capita income is only N300,000 per annum.

I would suggest the following maximum figures for aggregate remuneration (basic salary + allowances) – President N30 million. Governors N25 million. Head of National Assembly, Judiciary, and Federal Ministers N24 million.

•Proportionate reasonable adjustment of these figures down the various hierarchies.

•Enhancement of present relative positions of certain groups like teachers.

•Cost effective, transparent public procurement. Over 200 per cent inflation of costs have been reported in some instances these days.

•Return to the old values of patient, disciplined life-time career progression as opposed to the current craze to achieve billionaire status, if possible, before the age of 35.

By PHILIP ASIODU being remarks  at the Lagos Resource Centre Men’s Forum meeting in Lagos

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