23 Dec 2014

Memo To The Next President of Nigeria - by Lekan Sote

Section 14(2)(b) of Nigeria’s 1999 Constitution says security and welfare are the primary purpose of government. Section 15(3)(a-d) of Chapter 2 of the Constitution, the Fundamental Objectives and Directive Principles of State Policy, specifically directs the State to provide facilities for free movement of people, goods and services; encourage inter-marriage; and promote associations across ethnicity, linguistic or religious barriers.

16(1)(a-d) requires the State to harness the nation’s resources to benefit Nigerians. Section 16(2)(a-d) directs the State to promote the economy; assure fair distribution of resources; ensure suitable and adequate shelter, food, minimum living wage, and pensions; and care for the old, the sick, and the disabled. Right now, the state of the Nigerian union (without prejudice) is in abject breach of these provisions. Life in Nigeria is Hobbesian “short, brutish, and nasty.”

The price of crude oil, that fetches 95 per cent of Nigeria’s foreign earnings, and 80 per cent of government revenue, is falling like a brick. The 2015 Budget faces N1.3 trillion cut, and the resulting austerity measures throw everyone into a funk. The situation looks nearly irredeemable because of Nigeria’s history of resource misapplication, deteriorating infrastructure, blatant pilfering of public funds and promotion of parochial ethnic interest over merit.

The constitution, a classic oxymoron, is unitary in structure, but federal in name. Part I of its Schedule Two has a comprehensive list of 68 items on the Federal Exclusive Legislative List: These include commerce, arms and defence, aviation, broadcasting, marriage, and an imprecise, omnibus clause: “any matter incidental or supplementary to any matter mentioned elsewhere in this list.”

Section 80 requires all revenues or other monies raised or received by the Federation to be paid into one Consolidated Revenue Fund that can only be spent by an Appropriation Act of the (Federal) National Assembly. Section 81 empowers only the President to cause to be prepared and sent before the National Assembly, the estimate of the yearly revenue and expenditure of the Federation.

Section 1, Part II of Schedule Two, the Concurrent List, empowers the National Assembly to divide public revenue between the Federal Government and the States; among the States; between the states and local government councils; and among local governments. Still, the revenue allocation formula skews most of the money to the Federal Government.

In 2104, the three arms of government –Executive, Legislative and Judiciary – spent N4.6 trillion, but some 31 autonomous agencies, like the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation, Nigerian Ports Authority and Nigerian Customs Service, that report only to the President, spent N12 trillion! The Federal Government also runs the Federal Ministry of Niger Delta Affairs and the Niger Delta Development Commission, on behalf of oil producing states.

Whoever emerges president between the Peoples Democratic Party’s incumbent President Goodluck Jonathan, and a former military Head of State, Maj. Gen. Muhammadu Buhari (retd.), of the All Progressives Congress, will wield enormous, almost imperial, powers. Everyone, including his Vice-President, whom he cannot sack, except through a National Assembly impeachment, will work at his pleasure. Check Section 148(1) of the Constitution.

Jonathan has the advantage of incumbency, but bears the cross of an uninspiring scorecard that is under review. People complain about the security debacle and the tottering economy, and wonder if he could come up with a radical policy change if reelected: His bag of tricks is effete, if not exhausted. And he is beholden to a cabal of buccaneers. But he has upheld the integrity of the electoral process.

Buhari is not coming to this political equity with altogether clean hands either. The weight of his human rights abuse, as a military despot, was heavy as lead, and his economic policies, light as feather. Critics allege he advocates primordial interests and Islamic supremacy: That he is the uninstalled 15th torch-bearer, after the Order of Shehu Uthman dan Fodio. But his admirers vow he is incorruptible, and will sanitise the polity.

The Hausa/Fulani who threaten violence if Buhari loses, and Niger Delta natives who promise to lock up the oil fields if Jonathan is not reelected, must thread with caution. The North-West has only seven states, the South-South, six. Those 13 states can’t sway the Presidency any which way. They must appeal to the South-West, South-East, North-Central, and North-East zones with the ace of two-thirds of all states that determines who gets the oyster. As they’d say on the streets of Lagos, “Agidi o ran,” you can’t force issues.

The next President must make tectonic policy shifts. Prof. Pat Utomi says: “Nigeria is in a mess because we have failed to structure the political process… We have left the future of our country in the hands of people who don’t know, don’t care, or don’t want to care.” He thinks the job of the President is to inspire citizens, and urgently create an enabling environment to diversify the economy.

Nigerians need jobs, security, social services, infrastructure – a system that works for every citizen to activate his talents and achieve his fullest potential. The government must guarantee the greatest good of the greatest number, whilst yet safeguarding the interest of the minority. Finding that mean is the modicum expected of the next President. That doesn’t sound like too much.

If that America’s Central Intelligence Agency’s prognostication that Nigeria will splinter in 2015 doesn’t happen, President Jonathan must urgently resolve the Boko Haram issue. Remember the statement credited to the late leader of the Yoruba, Obafemi Awolowo, that if the East was allowed to exit Nigeria, the West would follow. At the recent National Conference, the Lamido of Adamawa, was reported to have said his people may rejoin their kith in Cameroon. That he hasn’t refuted this is instructive. The unfolding Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, no doubt, inspired the Boko Haram to rig its flag and declare a caliphate in Mubi the other day.

The President must therefore ponder the sinister, far-fetched, theory that the Boko Haram insurgency is in part a reaction to Ahmadu Bello, who persuaded Northern Cameroon, now North-East Nigeria, to join the North, for the Northern Peoples’ Congress to gain majority in the Federal House of Representatives, and thus form the government at the centre.

But he limited the spoils to the North-West, and contrived to make the Sultan of Sokoto, leader of Nigerian Muslims, whereas Islam in the Kanem-Borno Empire is older than that of Sokoto Caliphate formed by Fodio in 1804. You will observe that most Boko Haram targets in the North-East are Christians, to cow the Christians, but mostly Muslim, institutional and public places in the North-West and elsewhere.

Someone says Nigeria’s civil service is an abyss of primal chaos, an opaque maze, whose functionaries have the proverbial stiff upper lip, not unlike Britain’s Whitehall, after which it was modelled. If a former Secretary to the Government of the Federation says that governance is not about achievements, but propaganda, the President will be on a slippery slope, working with cynical civil servants. But he must identify the good apples to work with.

Nigerian youths are disillusioned, in need of credible role models. Many are economic migrants elsewhere because they can’t actualise their dreams at home. But, like it or lump it, they are the future of Nigeria, and it is crucial to effectively engage them. Getting them to buy into Project Nigeria will be a wee tricky though.

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