NIGERIA AT 49
By Louis Brown Ogbeifun | October 1, 2009
Nigeria is today 49. On this day last year, I wrote in www.louisbrownogbeifun.com on “Nigeria: A paradox at 48”. In that article, I observed the seeming lapses of a great nation brought to her knees by corruption and bad leadership. In addition, I made suggestions on how to move Nigeria forward. One year down the lane, our situation has grown from bad to worse in several areas identified in that article. Many Nigerians have given up on the project “Nigeria” to the extent that America is already training her troops on how to protect their economic interests come 2013; a year that Nigeria has been pencilled down for disintegration.
When I was growing up, the Nigerian flag was given to us at school a day before the Independence Day celebrations. We held on to it jealously and revered it. We looked forward with excitement to the activities of October 1st. In every regional capital those days, lavish and colourful decorations of the streets, schools and public places took place. The bells tolled at midnight. Fireworks sparkled and engulfed the sky in the jubilation and celebration of the Union Jack; the day we were decolonized. Then we had very many reasons to celebrate.
Though I am from a poor home, the free education programme of Late Chief Obafemi Awolowo enabled me to acquire primary and secondary schools’ education, without which I could not have been whom I am today. The educational systems ran uninterruptedly for decades after independence. Books were distributed free to students. Civil servants and our teachers were proud to work for humanity. Health centres worked to cater for the health of the masses. power supply was stable. There were public taps for water supply. The train system functioned. It ferried goods and humans from the south coast to the northern part of the country. Though the roads were narrow, they were motorable and regularly maintained. Doors could be mistakenly opened overnight without any fear of marauders. Neighbours stood in the gaps for each other during difficult times. The regions were self sufficient. They funded their programmes with proceeds from agriculture. Life to an extent was sweet.
Gradually, the fanfare of Independence Day celebrations began to decline. As at today, Independent Day celebration is very uninteresting and near absent. There is apathy in the land. Hunger, poverty and disease feast on my beloved country to the extent that majority do not see any reason to celebrate. Those that celebrate now, are those in the drivers’ seat of governance; who make money through contract awards; which will further enrich them but bleed the treasury dry to further pauperize the citizenry.
The fear of Nigeria’s disintegration by America is justified because the indices of failure in our polity are high and growing worse. It is sad commentaries that as we mark our 49th Independent day, public schools all over the country are on strike. The doctors have also threatened to embark on strike soon. Nigeria runs a generator powered energy sector, which cannot support any economic development. The manufacturing sector is functioning at below 40% capacity utilization. Our refineries are underperforming courtesy of sabotage of the major crude trunk lines. This has turned us to net importer of petroleum products instead of the other way round. The recent elections in Ekiti and Ondo state have proved that if care is not taken, 2011 elections will be worse than that of 2007. The rot has even crept into our sporting system. Nigeria that used to be a toast of the international community and a football playing nation is now taking the back seat. We have lost all major tournaments in recent times.
To make matters worse, majority of our leaders are carrying on business as usual, and as if Nigeria is effectively working. The revelation of economic banditry of the nation’s treasury by those in government by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) is mind bogging. I am sure our leaders are also fortifying their vaults overseas, so that when the worse happens they will zoom off with their families to safe havens. For those of us who believe that Nigeria has not totally failed but incapacitated by massive failures, this is time to wake our sleeping majority to shake off their slumber.
Many corporate organizations are divesting from oil businesses here and the Asians are taking them over. From this scenario, it is safe to posit that “if” indeed Nigeria disintegrates, the fight will be among the advanced nations over economic assets and which of the region to re-colonize. The fight will not be to protect us as a people.
Should this dream and drumming of disintegration succeed; the world will witness the worst catastrophe of the century. Nigeria will turn a battle ground for the testing of new guns and war equipment that are manufactured somewhere but tested in foreign lands. Of course, such equipment is never tested by the manufacturers using their own people.
If the international community has been unable to finish whatever businesses with the human catastrophe there are, in Afghanistan, Somalia, Gaza, Pakistan; which if lumped together are not up to two geo-political zones in Nigeria, then the world should know that any disintegration of Nigeria will in perpetuity drain the blood off the economic vessels of the world. Though the advanced nations will sell their military hardware and thus generate income to run their own economies, let them know that any agreement in exchange for oil as they did during the Biafra war will fail this time around. The Ogoni resistance against the oil giant Shell will suffice as an example. Therefore, it is indeed, in the best interest of the international community that Nigeria should continue to run as an undivided entity.
First, Nigeria is so large that the wars that will happen will be multifaceted and may never end. Take for instance the South as an entity. The East will battle to regain the lost Biafra. The Niger delta will fight to actualize the Boro vision. The ethnic nationalities will strive in that chaos to fight to regain lost identities. Recently, in trying to take charge of the nerve of oil between the militants that operated in the Niger Delta, several fractions emerged. We have countless generals and commanders leading the splinter groups. So shall it be with any disintegration. In the oil producing communities of the lower Niger, the war will be fiercer in the Urobo, Ijaw and Itsekiri areas. They will rise to ensure that they carve out distinct identities to manage their own separate oil resources.
Secondly, in the ensuing melee, I am not too sure the entire North will remain intact because the middle belt has been crying over economic, social and political marginalization for a long time. This region boasts of the best hands the military has ever produced in Nigeria. Just like there is a professor in every house in Ekiti state, so there is a general in every house in the middle belt region. So, they are equipped to strive and bring about their own identity. Time would have come for them to take their destinies in their own hands. More so, that they remain the food basket of this nation, and can survive by reinventing their agricultural might
Thirdly, the refugee crisis that will emerge will swallow the entire west coast. The Sahara desert will have more guests heading for the outside world than it had over the last two decades.
Fourthly, the world’s level of insecurity would have heightened that no foreigner can freely come into Nigeria. Somalia pirates’ situation will be a child’s play. Let every reasonable being check out the last few years of restiveness in the Niger Delta and will find out that should there be any full scaled war, no oil tanker or commercial vessel can safely enter the region without paying the right price.
In this therefore, let the West not rejoice because they will never be able to control the emerging holocaust, talk less of being in a position to re-colonize the region’s oil wealth. It should remember that one of its critical challenges today is the money being used in fighting some wars outside its domain. Rather than investing heavily on armament to defend its interest in a disintegrating Nigeria, let the international community begin an aggressive drive on how to make Nigeria work again as a nation. The world should not wait to fight a reactive battle as they did in Liberia, Sierra-Leone, Somalia, and Rwanda. Some of the things the international community can help Nigerians do at this moment include:
1. Imposing subtle social and medical travel restrictions on all politicians and top government functionaries from Nigeria. When they have nowhere to run to, our politicians will sit down and make our health and social institutions work.
2. Foreign banks should ensure that their vaults are no longer made warehouses for stolen funds. They should collaborate with the EFCC to intensify the war against money laundering.
3. Ensure that all known looters and those convicted for economic crimes are ostracized and not welcomed into any part of the West and European countries.
4. The money being used for building armament that will rain bullets on our people later, should be used now for developing human capacity that will enable more Nigerians protest against misrule, corruption and bad leadership.
5. The West through its cohorts destroyed our federalism immediately after the civil war. It was at the vanguard of guiding the Federal Government to remove the powers of self sufficiency from the regions. The essence was to make the regions crawl to the Federal Government, begging for funds. It also served as a diversionary tactics to divert the regions attention from seeking secession. This they actualized through the destruction of the regional Development Authourities. From then on, Nigeria began a gradual balkanization of the country in the name of states’ creation. Our rent economy guarantees Federal Government to be the sole distributor of manna to the States. This was the beginning of our woes. Experience has now shown that even if the states do not rise to confront the government, militia groups will do it in a more destructive manner. So, let the West also go through the same process to reinstate the ideal fiscal federalism it took away through the back door.
Ten years of uninterrupted democracy is enough to start harvesting some dividends of democracy. So, time has come to work for the actualization of the Nigeria of our dreams and everybody has a role to play to ensure that this house “Nigeria” does not fall.
There is no time in our history than now, that we need a principled, truthful and open leader to turn things around for Nigeria. President Yar’Adua represents this. When he was elected, he told us the process of that election was flawed. Fact number one! To rectify this, he set up a committee to advise him on how to ensure that our electoral system is flawless. He also diagnosed that Nigerian past leaders did not rule the country based on the rule of law. Facts number two! To address this he began the rule of law mantra and has not unnecessarily meddled in the affairs of the National assembly as did his predecessor. In his speech to mark this year’s Independent Day celebration, he said our dreams since independence and the promise of independence have been largely unfulfilled. Another sacred fact! Our past leaders will not do this and would not have been point blank. All that is now required, aside telling the truth, is to take the bold and radical steps needed; to give vent to the processes to right these wrongs. It is in these, Nigeria of our dreams can be born. Some of the radical reforms will include:
1. Constitution reform: This is inevitable. He has to take the hard decision of returning Nigeria to true federalism. The power at the centre is too concentrated and juicy hence the battle by every politician to come to the seat of power at Abuja. As at today, many former governors live their lives in cosy hotel rooms in Europe, their luxury homes at Abuja or in Lagos. Never are these privileged Nigerians found in their Local government areas or even their state capitals except during party primaries. They are even afraid to live in midst of those they governed for eight years because they underdeveloped the states and milked them dry. This is an irony of fate. If Nigeria must develop and make progress, we must start building from the foundation, which is the local government. If there are infrastructures at the local level comparable to those found in the cities, no one will like to migrate to the cities.
2. Political party reform/internal democracy: As the leader of the largest political party in Africa; the president must ensure that between now and 2011, Peoples’ Democratic Party (PDP) should enthrone internal democracy as a way of laying a foundation for credible elections in the country. Members of the party from the ward level must be allowed to freely elect those that will occupy political offices and those that will represent them in the larger contest; instead of the selection process of 2007 that saw the likes of Rotimi Amechi, Olusegun Mimiko, some of the founding fathers of PDP and others thrown out of the party. It is when this is done, that a PDP led government can also give unto Nigerians free hands to elect their leaders. After all, nobody can give what he or she does not have.
3. Electoral reform: The electoral reform started by the President should be implemented in a way that every vote of the electorates counts. Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) should be truly independent in all ramifications to enable it save Nigeria from the embarrassment of flawed elections. 2011 is a year of reckoning. Nigerians are visibly angry at what is happening all over the country. The springing up of ethnic militias in various parts of the country is a sign of discontent. So, it is in our best interest to allow free and credible elections.
4. Seven points’ agenda: While the President may want to address as many lapses as possible before his first tenure expires, the seven point agenda of Mr. President should be redefined to make it realisable. The one point agenda that is sacrosanct is the provision of uninterrupted power to the nooks and crannies of Nigeria. This will be the springboard for development. The President should go further to ban importation of generators into this country. When we have no new generators and we cannot afford to maintain the old ones; I am sure those in high places will climb down from their high horses to proffer solutions to our energy problems. If power generation and distribution is effectively delivered to Nigerians, the huge cost of manufacturing will reduce, and some of the collapsed industries may gradually come back to life.
5. Niger Delta Peace process: The President has started a good job in the Niger Delta region. He should continue to sustain the peace process he has started there. Again, this is an area he should be given credit for not being egocentric in addressing the issue of militancy.
6. War on corruption: The President should sustain the war on corruption no matter what it takes. The discordant tunes emanating from the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) and the office of the Attorney General of the Federation are discomforting. It would seem that the Attorney General is doing more damage to the image of this country with the way he is quick to defend the interests of those facing various economic crimes in the country. No country fights corruption by allowing the critical agencies involved in the process to be at daggers drawn with each other. They are supposed to be two sides of the same coin. Those that will reap from these seemingly uncooperative attitudes are the looters of our treasury thereby denying the people social justice. While the President may not wish to interfere in this imbroglio because of his belief in the rule of law, he should remember that no rule of law can be effective without social justice.
The National Assembly:
The cardinal duty of the National Assembly is to make good laws for the governance of this nation. The present crop of Senators and House members will write their names in gold in the annals of legislative service in Nigeria; if they pass the following bills into laws before their tenure expires.
1. Freedom of Information Bill: This will assist people to freely attack corruption without molestation.
2. Electoral Reform Bill: This holds the key to our survival as a nation beyond 2011. Except we get this right, the fierce battle to win elections at all cost will be unprecedented. The Independent Electoral Commission (INEC) should be strengthened through the process of law to be truly independent.
3. Petroleum Industry Bill. Our petroleum sector is parlous and in a pitiable state. The laws governing it are obsolete. The community restiveness and the Niger Delta crisis emanated from the inadequacies of the laws.
4. Constitutional amendment: This should be done to ensure that states are encouraged to tap the resources at their disposal. If every State knows that it will have 50% derivation from whatever it produces, it will motivate the Governors to find ways of tapping their resources rather than depend on begging for funds from the Federal Government. The Independence of INEC should be clearly redefined in line with the Justice Uwais Committee report.
These are the instruments that will promote accountability and transparency in governance by the executive. If they can do these for Nigeria, they will be remembered for good.
Our politicians owe us a duty to ensure that our votes count. They should not see elections as a do-or-die affair. They may lose today but win tomorrow. They should change their traditional paradigms of old (Amala politics) of using coercion to agrandize the people’s votes. They should stop using political thugs to harass Nigerians and snatch ballot boxes. They should introspect and see if their ten years in the rulership of this nation, has benefitted the masses of Nigeria. They know it that nothing could been said to have worked for the benefit of the greater society. Dividends of democracy include the right of the citizens to freely elect their leaders without molestation, access to sound education, good health, food, housing, and good environment. If they agree to this assertion, then they have failed the masses of this nation and the only way they can atone for these sins is to do it right in 2011. They should note that the king that ruled and the people prospered with a united kingdom have a name. The one that also ruled but tore, and destroyed the kingdom through war and maladministration also has a name. So the politicians should choose the name they want to be remembered for.
Fellow Nigerians, having dealt with the issue of the selfish agenda of foreign interests in Nigeria, we have about one and half years to determine our own future. That is, between now and 2011 when general elections will take place. We have to do it ourselves. We cannot fold our arms and wish someone else reinvent this country for us. We have blamed the military for so long. Let us also agree as a people that we have failed Nigeria; by not standing for her at critical moments and by watching people of low character destroy our commonwealth.
I align myself with the President’s speech of today that government should renew its commitment to confronting the challenges of critical infrastructure, the Niger Delta, food security, security of lives and property, human capital development, land tenure and wealth creation.
We as citizens also have a great role to play. We should also wake up from our slumber. We have made life too comfortable for our political leaders. If Nigeria disintegrates, all the politicians will run away leaving us to die in the ensuing war and recriminations. So, why are we going to allow them wreck us and leave us to bury our dead? We should stand up to fight now. Not by carrying guns but by civil disobedience to protest the maladministration of our rulers. We should sing the praises of the governors that are performing excellently well, and make governance difficult for the treasury looters.
The Labour movement should start sharpening their arsenals to confront those who will want to rig 2011 elections because workers bear the brunt of empty treasuries, political truancy and economic sabotage. The market women should get ready to reinvent the great womanhood in them to salvage Nigeria from ruins. The Student activists should be ready to re-enact the Ali-must-go fire works without destruction to lives and properties. The youths should also say no to being used as political thugs.
Wherever we are, let us as Nigerians rededicate ourselves to the Nigerian project. Let us think of what we can do to make Nigeria greater than what she is now. Let us be honest and loyal to the service of our country at all times. This House (NIGERIA) must not fall. May we live to see the Nigeria of our dream, and may Nigeria never die in our time.
Written by Dr Brown Ogbeifun www. http://louisbrownogbeifun.com
One of my mentors