Pulling Nigeria back from the precipice
PRESIDENT Muhammadu Buhari is well-known to be austere, with personal needs as lean as his frame. His Spartan profile is an essential counterpoise to our condition of avarice and other forms of corruption. Among others, he is taking steps to sanitize public accounting and to plug leakages in the cycle of National income. He has taken bold measures, in concert with neighbouring countries, to muscle Boko Haram insurgency. And he is pursuing a significant reduction in the size of government. Yet, we need more than these to pull Nigeria from the precipice of economic decline, disunity, internal insecurity, social insecurity and ultimate disintegration. He must live up to the plurality of Nigeria and open up to competitive ideas about the way forward.
First, as President, he is the model of Nigeria who transmits the ‘final word’ to the world. Nigerians and the rest of the world want to be assured that he is on top of the game. He must transmit hope and must never sound disconcerted over our condition which was well-known to him before taking office. With all due respect, many a time, his statements and actions have been counter-productive to this condition.
It is counter-productive for the President to announce to the world that Nigeria is broke – at the same time that he is interested in foreign investment! And, in terms of networth (or the balance of implicit and explicit assets over liabilities) Nigeria could not be broke, anyway. What we have is the problem of low productivity and gross mismanagement, particularly, cashflow mismanagement. Imagine the considerable change in net cashflow to be gained simply by making Grade Level 17 the highest pay (and its equivalent the highest sum of allowances) for public servants, legislators and other political office holders, starting with the President, alongside the plugging of other leakages, not to talk of the elimination of unproductive subsidies and illegal bunkering and piracy within our maritime boundaries!
Second, the permissive federal structure we have been operating since 1970 must be recognised as the underlying disease of Nigeria. Individuals and groups are perennially hunting one another for pecuniary advantage (which is the root of corruption) because production has been abandoned as the basis for any claim to the wealth of the nation, in favour of population and number of states and local governments, for periodic sharing of oil and gas rents between the Federal Government, as centre of gravity and (predominantly vassal) states. The degenerating sharing mentality then inflicted fiscal rascality, mindless remuneration, overheads, ‘security’ and other sleaze votes and import-dependency, etc, upon us.
Conversely, the fiscal autonomy of the First Republic motivated prudence, accountability and robust educational, agricultural and industrial competition and self reliance among the regions. By a careful restructure of the federation once again, this sense of ownership, efficient resource allocation and healthy competition might be restored to conclusively tame corruption and put Nigeria back in business through diversified domestic production of goods and services.
Without restructuring the federation for fiscal autonomy and competition between constituencies, one cannot see Nigeria out-growing corruption and political and social instability or realising its economic and cultural destiny, in full, relying on micro measures alone. Nigerians and their genuine friends want to see a restructured federation, leveraging on the 2014 National Conference report, in particular, to douse the worsening centrifugal tension from all parts of the country.
Third, President Buhari must not succumb to run a closed or sectional government or a dictatorship. It is untimely and overtaken in vogue. A lot of insensitivity and distrust for people outside his region of birth and tongue has been betrayed in the constitution of the inner circle of government with whom he would take on-the-spot decisions on a daily basis: Secretary to Government of the Federation, Chief of Staff, National Security Adviser and Director of State Security (DSS), etc.
Meanwhile, the National Assembly, the National Council of State, the Judiciary, the Army, the Nigeria Customs Service, the Nigerian Ports Authority, the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency, the Nigerian Communications Commission and other critical agencies of government are in the hands of Northerners as well. The Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation and the Nigeria Police might soon follow, to complete the loop. And for the first time in the history of Nigeria, we have the chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission coming from the same region as the President who can recontest.
The President should note that the lopsidedness is sending the wrong signal beyond his freedom or need to assemble trusted people. Some even doubt that he was in control of those choices as it is absurd that someone in national service since teenage years, who canvassed for the Presidency four times, could not recruit trusted people from all around the country. Insularity is antithetical to democracy.
Fourth, President Buhari must never forget that a comprehensive and concerted war against corruption was one of the main motives for his election by the people. But his government is already perceived to be sliding into selective justice, without minding the consequences for political and social stability and which renders it vulnerable to charges of witch-hunt that could derail the programme.
Senator Saraki’s prosecution would be lacking in credibility (whereas he might be guilty) if other indicted governors since 2003 would not be equally prosecuted.
Our fate is redeemable if issues that can inspire the sense of ownership and productivity among the citizens could be addressed. Alongside the austerity and micro measures being taken, the fundamental issues of structural and fiscal federalism must be addressed or we shall be dissipating in the symptoms rather than curing the disease, going round in a circle without making much advance. Our leaders must radiate hope and lead in the classical austerity that our condition demands while the slide into closed government and selective justice must be arrested.
• Nwosu, a finance consultant, wrote from Lagos.