THE STATE OF THE NATION QUARTERLY ADDRESS: THE BUCK STOPS AT THE PRESIDENT’S TABLE

THE STATE OF THE NATION QUARTERLY ADDRESS: THE BUCK STOPS AT THE PRESIDENT’S TABLE

January 1 – April 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 April, 2016

INTRODUCTION

BETWEEN CHANGE AND REALITY

When the people latched on the change slogan by the APC during the election campaigns, it was thought that it is very easy for change to come. The masses, and to a large extent the enlightened elites, perceived change to be as easy as switching on a bulb or lighting a match stick by striking it on the match box. The Nigerians across the six geopolitical zones must have thought that change was an event, something they could bring on with a stroke of the fingers. Fellow Nigerians, we are courageous to educate you that change is not an announcement, a meeting or the swearing-in of the president. It is a phenomenon which requires sacrifices, sustained value re-orientation, lots of patience, determination to build strong institutions and, of course, fervent prayers to the Almighty!

It has taken the whole of ten months for some people to begin to realise that change might indeed take some time to happen. Some people still cannot understand that change can even take years and still not have happened. Some people are beginning to call the government a failure. But nobody should be blamed since we are on a learning curve. The time has come for us as a people with great optimism to know that change is nothing more than strategic planning which also requires systematic implementation. What the people were thinking was that change is something that government officials put in place without any hassle. They have forgotten that the people constitute a critical element in governance without which success will be a mirage. The people must now be ready to know and understand that change occurs when we move from the things we have known and done, through a period of transition, to arrive at a desired new way of behaving and doing things. How then can this be an event rather than a process?

Government needs to do a lot of work in ensuring that the change process is successfully managed and communicated. This change needs to have distinct phases, indicators and deadlines. The pertinent questions during phase implementation of the change agenda are: What is the direction of government’s policies? Where is the future? When are we getting there? What do we get while we wait for the big picture? Where are the low-hanging fruits and how can we get them?

The biggest failure of the government in the change process is lack of prompt communication on the state of affairs. The government needs to let the people know the present state of things. What is the situation of things at the moment? Why are things not working well for now? What is the extent of the rot in the system? In what state is our economic structures/institutions, behaviours, technologies, political structure and cultural/value system which all combine to define who we are?

The government needs to enlighten the people that the present woes are temporary and surmountable. This is because complicated problems do not necessarily subject themselves to easy solutions. The government must realise that people are emotionally charged on account of daily miseries caused by rising exchange rate, inflation, fuel scarcity and failed power supply. The emotions could range from despair to anxiety, and from anger to fear. It is the duty of the government to properly manage these emotions so that the change process is not unduly more problematic. The people have to know that declining productivity is a predictable hallmark of the transition period because of the necessary tinkering with policies that must take place. The government must painstakingly point out that this period requires that the people accept new perspectives and learn new ways of thinking and behaving while still keeping up with our day-to-day efforts in improving the society. There must be assurance that the future will not be more worrisome than the present and that the change will match our personal desires and preferences.

Change, the government must understand, has to be properly communicated and painstakingly explained every step of the way. It is when people understand what is being done, why they are being done and what is required of them, that they can be expected to commit themselves to the process. And this is where the big problem lies.

GOVERNMENT’S COMMUNICATION IS POOR
Given the resources at the disposal of government in terms of its reach in disseminating information to the people in every nook and cranny of the nation, it is indeed amazing that the government’s communication is poor and ineffective. Spokespersons have become reactionary in their approach rather than being proactive in dealing with the public. With the largest television and radio networks in the whole of Africa, the National Orientation Agency, and many other agencies of government, the people are still far from being sufficiently informed about what the government is doing. The government will need to tidy up its game by appointing ambassadors of change in every state of the federation. Each ambassador would then have to develop strategies to communicate the process of change in the language of the people and using the most popular and affordable means to reach them. Radio is still the best way to reach the people at the grassroots in their own languages. With radio, people do not need electricity as the common Tiger brand batteries will suffice. With radio, you do not need to be able to read or write. Radio is also easily affordable and can be carried just about anywhere. Why then is government not using this approach? Why is government not using flyers and tracts to propagate its message to the people? Where are the innovative cartoon messages that the APC used during the electioneering process? Why can’t the APC deploy the same innovative communications strategies that it used while campaigning even now that the government has better resources to achieve same? When people of means and enlightenment are finding it difficult to know and understand what government is saying, what then happens to the mass of the people who do not have access to sophisticated means of communication? The need to spend money in communicating with the people and getting the right people who can do the job cannot be over-emphasized. A stitch in time, they say, saves nine.

WHERE ARE THE RELIGIOUS BODIES AND CIVIL SOCIETY GROUPS?

It is very important that this administration gets every support it can from all and sundry. The relevant government agencies need to collaborate with the religious communities in getting its policies across to the people. Religious bodies can help build trust, social networks and social health that will in turn encourage economic and social opportunities for our communities. By building norms and values that encourage political stability and economic performance, the mosque and church can help government increase economic growth and improve government performance. The power of prayer is a potent force that cannot be underrated in re-directing our society towards the path of rectitude and growth.

The Civil Society Organisations have a lot of work to do in holding government to account for their commitments and encouraging the government in insisting that its activities will no longer be treated as “business as usual.” In order to achieve these, clear strategies will have to be formulated and a concrete plan of action designed for implementation. The CSOs will have to work towards making government engage the people in inclusive and participatory decision-making processes at both state and national levels. This will ensure that the change we get actually reflects the real needs of each locality and develops a sense of ownership of both the development process and the plans.

The CSOs, in conjunction with the religious bodies, will need to sustain campaigns that will draw the attention of decision-makers, convince the media, change the mind-sets of officials and citizens, and change priorities and policies. Since it is certain that we cannot continue in the way we have always done things, the campaigns will have to be critical, educating, inclusive and engaging. There will also be the need to monitor progress in order to enhance the effectiveness of policies. It is when the people show a sense of patriotism by co-operating with and helping government selflessly that we can all look up to a great, strong and prosperous nation in the making.

THE NEED FOR EARLY BUDGET PASSAGE AND ASSENT

It is indeed unfortunate that the passage into law of the 2016 Budget was unnecessarily delayed by the Executive on the one hand, due to avoidable errors, and the National Assembly on the other hand by not providing the details to the highlights. We are surprised that despite the long time it has taken, the National Assembly is just sending the details one week into the fourth month of the year. The president has done the right thing by withholding his assent since he needs to scrutinize the entire budget to be sure that it is a document that he can use to actualise his promises to the teeming masses that voted him into power. The danger for the president in not seeing the details of the budget before assenting to it is that whatever he finds thereafter must be executed to the details since it is an impeachable offence in our statutes for the president to spend money contrary to the provisions of the budget as appropriated. The National Assembly erred in law to have sent only the highlights of the budget. The law stipulates that the details of the budget be sent before assent can be sought. Having gone through this tortuous journey, time is now of essence to ensure that the budget is speedily scrutinized and assented to so that the improvement we all desire in the economy can begin to take place. The lesson to be learnt moving forward is that preparations should begin in earnest to present the 2017 budget at the end of October this year so that within November and December we have a budget that has already being passed and assented to. Government should know that the mistakes of today will never again be tenable tomorrow.

 THE BUCK STOPS AT THE PRESIDENT’S TABLE

It makes a lot of sense that when we need to explain how we got to this sorry state of affairs, we might need to talk about the unsavoury activities of the past government. But this is exactly where it ends. From the 29th of May 2016 and going forward, the PMB administration takes full responsibility for whatever successes or failures we experience as a nation. The president’s responsibility has nothing to do with whatever he has done or failed to do. Neither has his responsibility got anything to do with whether he created the problems or inherited them. After all, government is a continuum. His acceptance of responsibility only has to do with the fact that he is the President and Commander-in-Chief of the Federal Republic of Nigeria at the moment. He certainly did not create the problems, but having contested and won the elections, it becomes his primary responsibility to solve all the problems that we face as a nation. So, if there is no petrol at the filling stations, blame PMB. If we have little or no electricity supply at our homes and business premises, blame PMB. If there is a huge housing deficit in the nation, blame PMB. If the economy is not working well, blame PMB. Granted the fact that enormous damage was done to the economy and the psyche of the ordinary Nigerian, it is the duty of PMB, and his cabinet, to ‘get his hands dirty’ while mending the rot in the system. It is not that the government is running away from taking responsibility, but we do need to drum up the fact that the buck stops at the president’s table.

Aside the acceptance of responsibility, the good policies, the honourable intentions and lots of goodwill that this administration has, there will be no tangible results if the institutions of government to implement the good policies, to convert priorities into action, and to properly and efficiently utilise the meagre financial resources are not strengthened. Therefore, effective institutional framework would have to be developed in order to bring about the required changes that we need.

OF ELECTRICITY SUPPLY, PETROL SUPPLY, SECURITY PROVISION AND THE ECONOMY
Probably the four most important indices at the moment by which this administration is constantly being judged are electricity supply, petrol supply, security provision and the economy. This is because these are four critical areas that immediately affect the overall well-being of the populace and without which a meaningful life is not possible. Our score for the government in these four critical areas using a 3-point grading of poor (1), average (2) and good (3) are as follows:
• Electricity Supply – Poor
• Petrol Supply – Poor
• Security Provision – Good
• The Economy – Average

As regards electricity supply, the government will need to do a lot more to make sure that people enjoy stable electricity even if for only eight hours on a daily basis. The Ministry of Power, Housing and Works would have to do so much more to ensure uninterrupted gas supply to power stations by fixing the security gap in the electricity supply chain. Security needs to be beefed up around electricity infrastructure, especially the gas pipelines, which are being destroyed by conscienceless and unpatriotic Nigerians. There are also labour issues that have to be resolved in order that the desire to light up Nigeria will materialize. The transmission arm of the electricity supply chain also has to be strengthened since it is being touted that the transmission lines cannot accommodate more than 5,000MW of electricity. Once these are done, we are likely to enjoy better electricity supply. At the moment, the electricity supply is poor.

On the supply of adequate quantities of petrol for the use of the populace, the government has been tinkering with many policies in order to arrive at the right mix that works. As this tinkering goes on, government will have to ensure that it does not lose sight of the immediate term goal, that is making sure that petrol is readily and easily available at the petrol stations and at reasonable price. This is because the provision of petrol is critical to the energy needs of every Nigerian and without which homes and businesses cannot run harmoniously. Part of the problems that the government needs to overcome is the destruction of crude oil pipelines by vandals. The dearth of new refineries must also be overcome. The government should make sure that the two private refineries that are currently being built by private investors have access to sufficient foreign exchange so that they can be completed on time. The security of the oil and gas industry infrastructure also needs to be improved upon.

It is good news that petrol is now being pumped up to Ibadan in Oyo State for the first time in recent memory. This means that trucks would not be needed to take petrol from Lagos to Oyo State and other states would not need to take petrol directly from Lagos. The way to go is to ensure that this pumping of petrol goes on to Ilorin in Kwara State and further northwards. If this is achieved, trucks would only be needed for intra-state supply rather than the present inter-state supply using trucks and the distribution will be greatly improved. These achievements have to be replicated and sustained. At the moment, the supply of petrol is poor.

Security in Nigeria needs to be provided in areas that are diverse and multifaceted. But as regards the fight against the dreaded Boko Haram group, the government has recorded tremendous successes and continues to sustain and strengthen its fight against this conscienceless group that is credited with the death of more than 20,000 people especially in the North-East of Nigeria. One of the recent successes of the army is the capture and arrest of Abubakar Shekau’s deputy who is also wanted by the United States of America. The nefarious activities of the group have also been severely restricted to soft targets in remote areas. Boko Haram, as at today, is indeed technically decimated. Security, especially defined from the view-point of the fight against the Boko Haram group, is good. This is not to say that we do not have numerous security challenges that this administration needs to contend with ranging from kidnapping, infrastructural sabotage, armed robbery, the Biafra struggle, ethnic clashes to the herdsmen/farmers’ clashes.

The fact that the budget has not been assented to is a negative dent on the economic performance of the government. The administration has so far insisted that it will not devalue the currency despite the skyrocketing of the naira-to-dollar exchange rate that is now about N322 to the dollar at the parallel market. The official rate, it will be recalled, is still N197. There is significant FDI inflow and government has been able to restrict importation so that our foreign exchange caters to the most important things we need to achieve. The courage and tenacity with which the government has implemented the Treasury Single Account (TSA) for most of government MDAs has greatly reduced the issue of corruption and non-remittance of funds to the appropriate quarters. Another major economic policy stated in the budget is to diversify the economy by moving away from a mono-product economy to one where agriculture and mineral resources also play dominant roles. We commend the government for charting a new direction for the economy. The economic performance is therefore average.

THE GATHERING MOMENTUM OF THE ANTI-CORRUPTION WAR
The trial of the Senate President, Bukola Saraki, has become the litmus test for the efficacy or otherwise of the anti-corruption war of this administration. It is good that the case has entered the trial phase after the ruling of the Supreme Court that the CCT has the jurisdiction to hear the case. It is only the court that can pronounce him guilty or vindicate him. This is perhaps the only anti-graft case that has entered the trial phase ten clear months after the swearing-in of this administration that has anti-corruption war as one of its key agenda. What is important in all of these is for every accused person to have his or her day in court irrespective of affluence, ethnic background, religious affiliation or political leaning. The poor have always had, and continue to have, their days in court. A 21-year old unemployed man was recently sentenced to one-year imprisonment without an option of fine for stealing items valued at N10,000. But the affluent who have stolen billions of naira are either told to return some money in a plea-bargain and told to go home and sin no more or they are fined N750,000 or even N300,000 for the heinous crimes they have committed against the state. The country must aspire to a situation where everyone is equal before the law and that the law would always take its course no matter how long an accused person tries to evade justice. This is one of the requirements for the egalitarian society that we desire. All well-meaning Nigerians have the responsibility to continue to support and encourage the government in its fight against corruption. We cannot afford to be on-lookers who behave as if they do not have any stake in Project Nigeria.

The leak of the documents of the Mossack Fonseca law firm is another clarion call for the National Assembly and indeed the presidency to sponsor more bills that will aid the fight against corruption so that it becomes more and more difficult for the state’s money to be stolen. The government and the anti-graft agencies have the responsibility to check whether the Nigerians that have been named are culpable or not. Those that are deemed culpable should then be tried in the courts of law. This incidence is another testament to the fact that the war against corruption is a never-ending one and we have to be eternally vigilant.

THE KILLING OF COLONEL SAMAILA INUSA IS HIGHLY CONDEMNABLE
We condole and sympathise with the Nigerian Army on the recent killing of its kidnapped officer by his abductors in Kaduna. The death of Colonel Samaila Inusa is indeed highly condemnable and those behind this dastard act must be apprehended and made to face the full wrath of the law. This is again a clarion call for the state to take the issue of security even more seriously as some undesirable elements are beginning to have the guts to take on members of the military who already have the onerous task of protecting the people against the many security challenges that bedevil us as a nation.

THE FULANI HERDSMEN/FARMERS’ CLASHES
Despite the fact that President Muhammadu Buhari has promised to end mass killings of innocent Nigerians, abductions and other criminal atrocities in his Easter message to the nation, we still feel strongly appalled by the unnecessary killings that took place in Agatu Local Government Area in Benue State. We deplore situations where innocent people are sent to their early graves for no just cause. The government must live up to its promise by ensuring the security and protection of lives and properties anywhere in Nigeria. Even though we commend the security actions that have been taken so far, what is most important is that such senseless killings never take place again.

The government must then go a step further by looking at the causes of all these unnecessary killings and deploying viable and lasting solutions that will ensure that people never again take the law into their hands. The issue of farmlands and grazing areas that are responsible for the Fulani herdsmen/farmers’ clashes must be looked into critically. We are delighted that the Federal government and the governors have agreed to establish ranches where the Fulani and other herdsmen can take care of their cattle and therefore not have recourse to the farmlands. But we must sound a note of caution that this action must be speedily implemented so that the ranches are provided before another round of clashes ensues. Like all other civilized nations of the world, we must adapt and adopt viable mechanisms of peaceful conflict resolutions that will ensure we live in peace and harmony as brothers bound by love and the shared desire for progress.

THE ESE ORURU/YUNUSA ABDUCTION SAGA & RELATED MATTERS
Since the news broke on the Ese Oruru/Yunusa abduction saga, we have seen attempts by some individuals, some NGOs and some media houses to turn the matter to a religious issue and then use the avenue to attempt to taint the religion of Islam. While we are not surprised at this behaviour that is one time too many, we must point out the hypocrisy and endemic hatred of the antagonists of Islam in this particular attack. We do not hold brief for Yunusa because he is capable of defending himself as the case is already before a court, but we do condemn in unmistakable terms the unprofessional manner in which a section of the media conducted itself. Most of the so-called stories being bandied about were from one of the two parties involved and usually hearsay from third parties. What happened to investigative reporting to uncover the underlying issues in the matter? What happened to balanced reporting where the views of the two sides are taken into consideration? What happened to the noble ethics upon which journalism was founded that they had to be trampled upon so disrespectfully? What happens when journalists shamelessly take sides in an issue they are supposed to show their neutrality? We must state categorically that attempts to taint the Islamic religion are doomed to fail because any discerning mind is quick to find that Islam is a great respecter of girls and women, and it duly protects the sanctity of the family institution from the kind of infringements that Yunusa was alleged to have committed. If the crimes committed by people of other faiths are not used to taint their religions, we see no reason for this deliberate and calculated attacks on Muslims and their religion.

The attitude of some jobless and biased NGOs also needs to be condemned. If indeed they truly want to be useful to society and protect the rights of the girl-child, there is a lot of work for them to do that they have refused to do. So many girls of school-going age are being molested, impregnated, given-out in marriages, raped and abused in the six geopolitical zones; but they turn their eyes the other way. So many girls are undergoing child labour without anyone to alleviate their plight. So many girls still are being forced into prostitution with these same NGOs turning the blind eye. But when they see a cheap avenue for publicity and an opportunity to gain a false sense of relevance, they quickly jump on the bandwagon. While we applaud the activities of responsible NGOs, the irresponsible ones need to be advised to close shop and find something else to do.

The latest attempt to taint the Muslims in Enugu State with a false story of forceful conversion was timely and adequately debunked by the responsible and vigilant Muslims in the area. The false news making the rounds was that Ifesinachi Ani was abducted, forcefully converted to Islam and married off to an Emir. It seems that one of the reasons for the campaign of calumny against Islam and Muslims is the desire to intimidate and discourage people from freely converting to Islam. But we must state categorically that Muslims would encourage and continue to receive anybody who wishes to freely identify with Islam.

LET THE HIJAB BE
The discrimination against Muslim girls and women wearing Hijab seems to be an issue that we will have to continuously contend with until the court makes a clear pronouncement on the matter in line with the provisions of the Nigerian constitution. As soon as we report a case of infringement on the fundamental human rights of the Muslim girl/woman, another one rears its ugly head. We hereby call on the Joint Admissions and Matriculations Board (JAMB) to call its agents at some of the centres that administer the CBT to order. It will not be enough for JAMB authorities to say that it did not give any order restraining Hijab-wearing students from sitting for the CBT. It must go a step further by openly condemning this unwarranted assault on Muslim students, and to order them never to repeat this unwholesome attitude. JAMB must ensure that it gives strict guidelines to its agents regarding the conduct of the CBT and also publish same in newspapers before the next CBT. This will allow Nigerians to know those who harbour malice against Muslim students so that we can use the long arm of the law to deal with them.

The Institute of Chartered Accountants of Nigeria (ICAN) must know that the constitution which guarantees the religious freedom of Muslim women is superior to the rules and guidelines of the accounting body. It is therefore surprising that the ICAN requests candidates for its exams to submit passport photographs that show the ears uncovered. This is a condition that cannot be met by Hijab-wearing Muslim women because the ears cannot be uncovered. We urge ICAN to review this particular guideline and to allow Hijab-wearing women use photographs that show the full face without exposing the ears. It must be noted that ICAN being a prestigious national body must make rules and guidelines that conform with the diversity of the citizens of a multi-religious and multi-cultural society that Nigeria is. We are indeed certain that this anomaly will be corrected without further delay.

Long live Nigerians. Long live the Federal Republic of Nigeria.

Dr. Luqman AbdurRaheem
Chair, TMC Committee on Social Mobility, The Economy & Politics