THE STATE OF THE NATION QUARTERLY ADDRESS
April 9 – July 9, 2016
by the TMC Committee on Social Mobility, the Economy & Politics
Presented by the Chair of the Committee, Dr. Luqman AbdurRaheem,
on Saturday, 9th July, 2016
The Buhari Administration: One Year After
The Buhari administration has gone on for a year now and people are taking stock of its achievements. What has become paramount as the all-time achievement of the administration is the war that has reduced the dreaded Boko Haram group to a shadow of its former self. The Boko Haram group has been degraded in such a way that they are incapable of causing the havoc that is their trademark. Closely following this is the war against corruption that is yielding good dividends in terms of a positive image for the country and the huge sums of money recovered from the treasury looters. There is also a new order of discipline and probity that is being enthroned especially at the Federal Government level.
But despite the accolades that people have showered on this administration, it has also taken some flak in the area of the economy especially as it relates to the rising costs of goods and services and the dwindling income accruable to the people. The people therefore want the government to do so much more pretty soon to ameliorate their everyday sufferings.
Of utmost concern to the people is the issue of supply of electricity that has become almost non-existent. The people therefore want the government to quickly take positive steps in resolving all the associated problems so that electricity can be readily available.
Why think of restructuring at this time?
It is indeed interesting that quite a number of people are calling for the restructuring of the nation. They believe that this is the sure antidote to all our social, political and economic problems. Even a former vice president, Atiku Abubakar, has thrown his weight behind the protagonists for restructuring. The interesting part is that there have been opportunities in the last sixteen years for some of the people now calling for restructuring to have attempted to implement same while they held office. The former vice president, Atiku Abubakar, was in office for eight years and it never dawned on him that restructuring was a viable option even when the complaints of marginalisation by different groups have always been there. The puzzling thing with most of our former leaders is that they seem to understand better ways of governing the country only after leaving office. It is like the student who suddenly realises better answers to questions only after submitting his answer sheets. The protagonists of restructuring, especially at this time, need a lot of explanations to give.
Aside the fact that the way to go about restructuring is replete with numerous problems that will further highlight how deeply divided we are as a nation, it would be interesting to know whether we will opt for geo-political zones or the regions. It is indeed interesting that Nigerians have developed a way of continuously proffering different solutions without practicing any one of them long enough to be able to get the accruable benefits. We prefer to bring a solution that we implement for a year or two before abandoning it and jumping to another solution that will soon be abandoned for another. This is the reason why our social, political and economic landscape is replete with many abandoned projects that have ensured lack of continuity, stagnation and backwardness. Just barely a year since we emerged from an electoral process, some people are keen to divert the attention of the people from the fact that the present regime that was massively voted for is one solution that has been endorsed by the majority of the people. Is one year sufficient to say that that the government has not performed thereby necessitating that we need to look elsewhere for other solutions at this time. No, we need to let the present dispensation run its course and see how far they are able to tackle the problems before we begin to consider other options.
What the proponents of restructuring have not told us is which of the ten reports of political confabs we are going to choose to implement. This is aside the fact that most of the confab reports are tainted with the political leanings and considerations of the regimes that instituted them. The composition of the membership of some of the confabs did not represent the people but the regime that handpicked them or influenced the choice of who emerged as delegates. There were complaints along political, religious and ethnic lines regarding the composition of some of the confabs. These reasons are bound to make some of the reports flawed in many ways.
Assuming that a way is found to go about the modalities for restructuring and we opt for either of the regions or geopolitical zones, who will be the people that will administer them? Who are the people that already have a head start when the process to choose the new leaders begins? Unless we want to deceive ourselves, it is the same set of people who have constituted a stumbling block to the development and progress of the nation that will eventually emerge. This is because they have the deep pockets arising from their ill-gotten wealth and they have become masters in the manipulation of people and processes for their individual gains. With them or their protégés firmly entrenched with the paraphernalia of power, it will be time once again to continue the looting and manipulation they know best how to do. The icing this time is that they will have little or no opposition from the people they govern. There will still be minorities who will claim that they are marginalised. There will still be the issue of 13% (or is it 50%?) derivation for the communities where resources are situated. It is then that the differences and cleavages within so-called homogenous groups will be highlighted. Sooner than later, there will be renewed agitation within the regions or geopolitical zones for further restructuring. When then does the restructuring stop?
What Nigeria needs at this time is not restructuring but rather value re-orientation. At the time when restructuring worked, the vast majority of Nigerians held on to and believed in the values of honesty, hard work, integrity and sincerity of purpose. At that time, the love of the people and the fatherland were the operating indices that propelled the leaders to march towards and achieve the monumental feats they recorded. The leaders at the time were not rich because the primitive acquisition of this age was not known to them. That was why, for example, the first television station in Africa could be founded in the western region. Tell me how many positive firsts we have recorded since the passage of that illustrious era? With the passage of time, change in orientation has whittled away at our value system till it became unedifying.
In spite of all the achievements that were recorded at the regional level at that time, it was not the region that worked. Rather, it was the people. It was the value system. We had leaders who were imbued with positive values that ensured proper management of the collective patrimony. We also had followers who believed in the dignity of labour and placed great premium on the integrity of their family names and wouldn’t sell same for a pot of porridge. With the damage that has been inflicted on our national values assuming we still have anything left, any return to regional or geo-political structure at this time will be met with a resounding failure that may lead to the eventual disintegration of the country.
What this country needs at this moment is a large dose of discipline, focus and integrity. When we have instituted and sustained this type of atmosphere for some years, the agitation for restructuring may even disappear. We will need to tinker with our laws from time to time in our march towards nationhood. What will also be expedient at this time is to revisit the exclusive and concurrent lists in our constitution in order to devolve more powers to the states and reduce burden on the federal government. This will allow the states and the federal government to operate at the areas where they have comparative advantage.
It is not that restructuring is a bad idea in itself. But in a situation where the psyche of the ordinary Nigerian has been bruised and battered; in a situation where leaders have gotten used to looting the entire public till without leaving anything for the masses; in a situation where virtually every organ and department of government has undergone unimaginable decay; in a country where what is right and what is wrong are no longer universal; it will be suicidal for anyone to opt for restructuring at this time. The nation of Rwanda is today on the rise 22 years after a very acrimonious civil war between the Hutus and the Tutsis. This is because the leaders opted for discipline and the rule of law. They did not say that the Hutus should stay in their area while the Tutsis stayed in theirs It may surprise you that a foreign journalist has recently compared the rule of law in Rwanda with that of Sweden.
The Anti-Corruption War Takes New Dimensions
Never in the history of anti-corruption war have we had a situation where so many of the ‘untouchables’ have actually found out that they are indeed ‘touchables.’ This anti-corruption war has touched on people who walked the land behaving and talking like they were above the law. This anti-corruption war has made it clear that no matter who you are you will have to defend yourself in court when the EFCC gets evidence against you. We can see that the number 3 and number 5 citizens of the Federal Republic of Nigeria are standing trial at the law court in a case involving forgery of the Senate Rules. We can also see that the military personnel that got their hands soiled during the last general elections are paying for their sins. This is indeed a welcome and remarkable development. We implore the administration of President Muhammadu Buhari to continue along this path till it becomes ingrained in the heart of every Nigerian that no matter how long it takes if you do the crime you will serve the time. The impunity with which some of our leaders have ruined our nation must never again be allowed and the fight must continue against all the people who have put their hands in the public till.
When the anti-corruption war started, many of the accused persons were complaining of witch-hunting. There were complaints along religious and ethnic lines. But it has become evident today that the accused do indeed have cases to answer and that is why most of them have started returning money and forfeiting properties. Some of those that have been charged to court are now openly exploring the option of returning stolen money on seeing that their chances of succeeding at the courts are narrow. The political, religious and ethnic supporters of the accused have also found out that their principals have indeed not lived above board. This is why this regime needs to be commended for not backing down in the face of the numerous intimidation and threats. We encourage the President to always renew this war till sanity takes a vice-like grip on the land.
Why should the EFCC wait for people to steal money before having to start investigations in order to recover the loot? This should not be the case. What should happen is that the EFCC must enhance and deploy its full intelligence capacities in order to catch the thieves in the act. This will make people know that whatever dirty tricks that are being perpetrated will be nipped in the bud. It is just right and apt that the EFCC has commenced investigations on the clandestine activities of a sitting governor in the South-West. This will send the right signal to this governor and other governors that they were not given immunity to loot their states but so that they may be able to concentrate on the development and progress of their states without unnecessary hindrance. Irrespective of immunity, the governors are not above the law and they will have to account for their stewardship at the expiration of their tenure. What governors have is immunity from prosecution and not immunity from investigation. Let the EFCC do its work and get the evidence that will be used to send the governors that have not acted in the best interest of their people to jail. It is also good that the extent of the immunity of the governors will be decided by the courts by virtue of the case instituted by the South-West governor. This is in the right direction and will enrich the laws of the land.
It has become indubitable that the stealing of our collective patrimony continues not because the people who engage in stealing are smart but because the state itself used to condone stealing. If people who have stolen our money can be caught several years after, what then stopped the government at the time the monies were being stolen from apprehending the thieves. Let the EFCC follow the trails and apprehend all the thieves now that we have a government that has zero tolerance for corruption.
There is the erroneous impression that the government is unable to attend to the economy simply because it is active in fighting corruption and that this is the reason the economy is in bad shape. Some people would even prefer that the government completely hands-off the corruption cases so that it can attend to the economy. We all know that the president is not the head of any anti-graft agency in the country since there are different personnel in charge of the different ministries and parastatals of government. People forget or fail to realise that there is a direct correlation between the level of corruption and the rising cost of goods and services. Let us look at the case of the NNPC that has declared profit for the first time in fifteen years owing to the fact that corruption has been dealt a big blow in the corporation. If we allow the corruption train a roller coaster ride, the vice-like hold of the corrupt on the economy will be weakened and the rent seekers who make money without any addition to the value chain will be removed. Once these people are let go, the coast will be clear for those who make genuine efforts to get their due rewards and the prices of goods and services will come crashing down. It must also be borne in mind that the broken economy needs some time to mend and that it requires a lot of efforts for things to get back in shape.
The EFCC is an integral part of the Nigerian security architecture that people may not easily appreciate. Every time there is violence anywhere, we rightly call on the armed forces to wade in. But we must realise that people who perpetrate violence anywhere need money to recruit people and to buy sophisticated arms. This is where the continuous work and effectiveness of the anti-graft agencies become important. They have the responsibility to ensure that huge sums of money do not get to the hands of people of questionable characters who would in turn use same to foment trouble. Not only that, they must also ensure that those who earn legitimate money do not divert such monies to sponsoring activities that are inimical to the progress and development of the state. The money that is already in the hands of people illegally or in the hands of people of dubious character must be retrieved so that their ability to hold the nation to ransom is curtailed. If the anti-graft agencies succeed in this mission, most of the deadly attacks of violence will not even take place in the first place.
The good people of Ekiti State must be commended for peacefully protesting against corruption and throwing their weight behind the anti-corruption stance of the Federal Government. Never again must the people sit back and fold their arms while the Federal Government suffers attacks from those who oppose their laudable activities. The people must jump on the bandwagon of the anti-corruption war by ensuring they become ambassadors that will make this war percolate to the grassroots. The people must claim ownership of the anti-corruption war by making sure that they eschew corruption in all its forms and ratification. The time has indeed come for the people to wield the power that they have. Let us not wait while some of our so-called leaders sentence us to deaths by instalment
The State of Osun needs commendation for introducing a standard measuring scale that will ensure that people are not cheated whenever they go to market for purchases. This symbolic gesture is significant and ensures that the consciences of the ordinary Nigerians are pricked. The anti-corruption war is not for the rich and mighty alone but indeed for everybody that cherishes the appellate of a patriotic citizen. The ordinary Nigerians must indeed key into the anti-corruption war by ensuring that whatever unfair practices perpetrated by them become things of the past in order that a new era of discipline and probity might be enthroned The landlord associations, the market men and market women associations, the traders’ co-operatives and so many more that are driven by the ordinary Nigerians must know that a new day of probity and discipline has dawned upon us and they must therefore act in consonance with the dictates of this new day. It is when this happens that we can truly say that we are on the path to lasting progress and development.
Let the Police emulate the Military
The Nigerian military must be commended for sustaining the war against the Boko Haram group. It is not about silencing Boko Haram for a few weeks or a few months. It is about making sure that the dreaded group never gets back its capacity to hold territory and to brazenly carry out broad day light attacks with the impunity they used to display. This is the only way that the internally displaced people who are going back home will have the confidence that their lives and properties will be safe from the criminal Boko Haram. It is then and only then that development on a sustainable level can begin to return to the region. We must realise that the North-East of Nigeria is a vast expanse of land that is difficult to secure by virtue of its size. It is the consideration of this size that has shown that the military has done a yeoman’s job in curtailing the activities of the Boko Haram group to the barest minimum. This state of eternal vigilance by the military must continue in order not to witness a resurgence of the dreaded group. The government will also need to quickly come in with the social programme necessary to dissuade more young people from joining this group. Government needs to provide infrastructure, jobs and educational opportunities as a means of positively engaging the people in meaningful activities. Once this is done, the influence of Boko Haram in these communities will be greatly reduced. Even though it will be difficult to protect all soft targets from attack, the Boko Haram must still be pursued in such a way that they do not have the time, weapons and intelligence to carry out more operations.
Making Nigeria safe and peaceful is not all about fighting Boko Haram. The nation is still plagued with the ills of kidnapping, oil theft, vandalization of government resources, etc. The efficiency and the discipline that have been brought to the military must be replicated in the Nigeria Police. We want to see a Police Force that is highly professional and disciplined such that it can use intelligence and modern policing to rid the country of the internal security risks that it suffers. The police force must evolve in such a way that it is able to command the trust and loyalty of the citizenry. If the police cannot guarantee the security of its citizenry, then the economic climate will continue to be on the downward trend. This is because businesses need to be able to operate both during the day and at night. The present situation where a large percentage of the productive workforce shuts down at the approach of dusk cannot make us compete with the developed economies where there is virtually no difference between day and night. Security, without any iota of doubt, plays a critical role in the economic ascendancy of any nation. It is in this respect that we have to commend the Lagos State Government for coming to the aid of the Police Force by providing equipment running to billions of naira. The additional effort on the part of the federal government will be to increase the number of police men a lot more. The on-going recruitment of 10,000 police is step in the right direction even though it falls far short of what is needed. It is hoped that further increases in manpower, training and equipment will take place as time goes on.
The Federal Government and the Niger Delta Avengers
When the Niger Delta Avengers began their agitation, people thought it was an altruistic venture to secure a better life for their people. But when they came out with their demands, it immediately became clear that they do not love their own people let alone being imbued with the love of fatherland. The demands that they came up cannot be agreed to by purposeful government. This why the purposeful administration of President Muhammadu Buhari needs commendation for the patience it has exercised despite the obvious provocations from this group.
The government needs to continue with its patience for a little longer in order to see if this group and other groups will toe the path of dialogue and reconciliation. The acts of this group constitute a further despoliation of the livelihood and environment of the same people that they claim to fight for. It is surprising that they claim to represent the interest of the ordinary Niger Deltan while making their own land a theatre of war.
We call on the Niger Delta Avengers to bury the hatchet and give peace a chance by hearkening to the call of the presidency for dialogue. It is time for everyone to think and work for a greater Nigeria where the rights and priviledges of every Nigerian will be protected wherever he chooses to reside. A Nigeria where tribe and religion do not constitute barriers to personal social, economic and political freedoms is the country we should dream of and work towards. It is our belief that in the coming years, the people of the Niger Delta will have cause to reap bountifully from the patience and the sacrifices that they make today.
The Hijab and the Rule of Law
The Hijab is a symbol of the Muslim female’s disposition to obey the commandment of Her creator as it relates to her dress code. But this harmless piece of covering for the head and bosom has generated so much interest by varying groups of people across all walks of life in Nigeria. It has even received the attention of the judiciary so many times. But the debate on the use of the hijab got bigger and bitter when it berthed in the State of Osun at the court of Justice Jide Falola who happens to be a Muslim by faith. Never mind that the legal tussle took all of three years to reach a crescendo thereby necessitating the turning on of the klieglights. You would wonder how on earth a piece of clothing acquired a larger-than-life status that it has become a subject of litigation at the courts. It became the star attraction for the media and graced several editorial pages of different newspapers. It became a pacesetter on the trending list on social media for several months and it is yet to subside.
But this piece of clothing might actually be worth more than its face value portends since it confers on the wearer a certain sense of dignity and identity; a certain sense of purity and purposefulness; and yet a certain sense of non-conformity and courage. The hijab is in the dock today because of its brazen disregard for nudity and the upholding of modesty. The hijab is in the dock because it dares to remind us of our modest past by re-inventing a future of dignity for womanhood. The hijab is in the dock because it accentuates the intelligence and innate capabilities of the woman rather than give credence to the appellate of sex object that a capitalist world would have us believe.
On Friday June 3, 2016, the hijab was finally given a temporary reprieve to strut the runway unmolested. But no sooner did it begin the catwalk than it found out that the runway was strewn with roadblocks of different kinds that would not allow it to bask for so long in the euphoria of its new found freedom. But the hijab, in a show of admiration, determination and courage, has chosen to manipulate the barriers to the consternation of its numerous adversaries.
Just as Justice Jide Falola has pointed out, religious leaders do have the responsibility of leading aright today’s children who will be leaders of tomorrow by guiding them towards respect for the rule of law since some of them would grow up to be politicians and even lawyers tomorrow. Should they misbehave by disregarding the rule of law at that time, is it the same elders that would have the guts to tell them that what they are doing is wrong? Religious leaders need to see beyond defending the adherents of their faith alone but rather look at issues through the prism of equity and fair play. Those who have laboured through the courts must be allowed the liberty to benefit from the relief that the law has conferred on them.
The media houses and journalists who constitute the fourth realm of the estate must be seen to always act in ways that dignify the ethics of their professional calling. It portends serious danger to the society and the freedom of all when journalists that are supposed to be neutral become clouded with a warped sense of bias and emotion as to threaten the rule of law and seek to intimidate the court through ridiculous and mind-bending editorials and articles. The hijab issue really exposed the soft underbelly of a section of the Nigerian media. It would really take some time for this section of the media to regain the goodwill it has unnecessarily frittered away.
It must be stated that the best way to oppose a judge or court is for those who are aggrieved to a court ruling to go on appeal. It cannot be through brigandage and chaos. It cannot be through character assassination, mudslinging and blackmail. A cue should have been taken from the Muslim community in Lagos State when an earlier court ruling on the hijab case did not go in its favour. Rather than resort to undemocratic practises, it simply went on appeal thereby saving the state from religious acrimony and a breach of the peace and harmony.
Do we really need GMO crops at all?
The Genetically Modified Organism (GMO) food policy in Nigeria may be akin to a foreign invasion by some rich foreign companies with Nigerian collaborators who are determined to mortgage the food security of the country by handing it over to a few who would determine when a Nigerian would eat or remain hungry. We would then run the risk of depending on foreigners to get food to eat. If it is also considered that the Nigerian Bio-safety law came into effect a few days before the end of former government, one would see the need for care and caution since our foray into this venture has only just recently began.
The GMO technology is a modification of the genes of a crop in order to yield some desired characteristics. But the real danger lies in the modification of the genes in such a way that a particular crop is unable to replicate itself. This is how companies offering GMO develop the capacity to enslave people through the intellectual property rights that allows them to patent their seeds, stop farmers from sharing or saving the seeds, and forces them to buy seeds every planting season. This intervention will eventually overturn age-long sustainable farming practices.
Apart from the potential of contaminating local varieties, the health risk of introducing genetically modified maize into Nigeria is enormous considering the fact that maize is a staple majority of Nigerians depend on. What must also be considered is the serious lack of capacity to adequately control and monitor the health and environmental risks of GMO crops. It would be recalled that on March 20, 2015, the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), which is the WHO (World Health Organisation) specialized cancer agency, assessed the radiation level of glyphosate, a chemical used in GMO crops, and concluded that it was cancerous. This is aside the increasing scientific evidence that glyphosate poses serious risks to the environment. Recent studies have also linked glyphosate to health effects such as degeneration of the liver and kidney, and non-Hodgkin lymphoma.
This is why we implore the Federal Government of Nigeria, through the National Bio-safety Management Agency (NABMA), not to introduce genetically modified organism into our farming practices until all the issues that have been raised against it are resolved in the interest of the public. We believe that the application by Monsanto Agricultural Nigeria Limited to NABMA for the release of genetically modified cotton into markets in Zaria and other towns in Kaduna State should be rejected alongside the application for the confined field trial of two genetically modified maize varieties in multiple locations in the country.
What Nigeria needs, since the country’s soil is acclaimed among the best for crop cultivation, is to use biotechnology to develop indigenous technology towards crop and animal disease prevention. The country will be better for it if it champions the defence of the health of her people and safety of its environment.
Long live Nigerians.
Long live the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
Dr. Luqman AbdurRaheem
Chair, TMC Committee on Social Mobility, The Economy & Politics