Hope—that was the campaign slogan of late Chief Moshood Kashimawo Olawale Abiola in the 1993 general elections. It is no longer news that Nigerians despite their ethnicity, tribe and religion bought into this vision and overwhelmingly voted for late Chief MKO Abiola and his running mate Alhaji Baba Gana Kingibe.
But unfortunately, this hope was killed by the annulment of the election by rtd General Ibrahim Badamosi Babangida. And 25 years after, Nigerians continue to hope against hope. The hope for a better Nigeria has failed. There is no glamour of hope. The condition of Nigeria is beyond hope. Safe to say Nigeria is in a hopeless situation. If you take a deep and critical look at events and happenings in Nigeria socially, economically and politically since independence in 1960, you would ask yourself the question: is there any hope for Nigeria? This is far from being pessimistic. It is just being realistic and except we want to still be in denial as we have always been over the years. But it’s true that Nigeria is not progressing and it’s a fact the life of an average Nigerian is not any better. The political class continues to feed fat at the expense of the lower class.
The rich keep getting richer while the poor keep getting poorer. There is a great inequality of opportunities. One wonder why the poor masses have decided to fold their arms and watch their greatest enemies—politicians—as they continue to milk the country of all its financial and natural resources. Many countries that gained independence after 1960 are already developed and have become commercial hubs of their region, continent and the world. Conversely, Nigeria remains an underdeveloped country with no concrete plans on the part of her leaders and lack of vision to transform the country into what will be seen as the pride of Africa in the next few years. We rather pride ourselves as being the giant of Africa with nothing to show for this self-proclaimed status. Many political leaders have had the opportunity to visit most developed countries of the world but yet do not deem it necessary to emulate these countries and challenge themselves to build a Nigeria of our dreams.
In spite of our oil wealth and yearly trillion naira budget, there is no concrete development in nearly all the sectors of the economy. Most of the monies budgeted for end up in private pockets and the current level of underdevelopment is what we have to show for it. The huge amount of money available to political leaders and leaders of government is largely responsible for this. These leaders have access to so much money that they forget about their duties, responsibilities and obligation to the people of Nigeria. Nineteen years ago, Nigeria started a new democracy after about six years of military rule and with the hope of a better tomorrow because the worst democracy they say is better than a military rule. Soon as the military handed over power, every Nigerian knew the onus lies on our democratically elected leaders and politicians to deliver the dividends of democracy by providing the basic necessities of life and making life better for the generality of the Nigerian people.
Having experienced nineteen years of democracy since the inauguration of President Olusegun Obasanjo on May 29,1999, the situation in Nigeria has not improved from what it was many years before the return of democracy in 1999 and that makes one wonder if there is any hope for Nigeria. Looking at the present political situation in Nigeria, it is not wrong to come to the conclusion that the future of Nigeria is uncertain because our political leaders have no concrete plans for the future of Nigeria and its citizens. What most politicians care about is how to get their own share of the so-called ‘’national cake’’ rather than strategizing on how to develop Nigeria to meet future challenges. Nigerian leaders need to change their mentality to entrench democracy and federalism as a condition for peace and development. But unfortunately, the Nigerian electorate keeps recycling these same set of politicians and this has stalled the wheel of meaningful progress.
Events in the last nineteen years of our democracy show that most Nigerian politicians have learnt little or nothing from the omissions and errors of the past. Since the return of democracy in 1999, most politicians have continued to thread in the steps of their predecessors, formulating policies and implementing programs that cannot lead to sustainable development and economic growth. Most Nigerian leaders are short-sighted. One wonders why they have failed to borrow a leaf from developing countries that are constantly trying to make life better for the present and future generations. Are leaders of government currently working and planning for the future of Nigeria and the Nigerian people?
There have been so many prophets of doom. On January 15, 1966, the first republic was brought to an abrupt end due to problems of ethnicity, difference in ideologies, irregularities in election, tribalism, corruption, political intolerance and violence. The resultant effect of the political instability between October 1960 and January 1966 (a short period of over five years) led to the collapse of the first republic and this saw the military takeover. Unfortunately, this did not awaken the consciousness of politicians to be more cautious and careful in handling the affairs of the country.
The 1957 constitution was partly responsible for the crisis that occurred during the first republic. Today, the 1999 constitution still remains a major problem for the country. It is obvious how the constitution came about: the military drafted it and imposed it on the democratically elected government. Since 1999, the constitution has been amended by members of the national assembly at various times. Are the prophets really to blame?
After several amendments, there is no end in sight to the problem of the constitution in Nigeria. Politicians amend the constitution to suit their interests, play politics with the constitution and want the bad situation to remain the same. The Nigerian constitution remains ambiguous and it is usually interpreted in favour of mischievous individuals. The same constitution which states in section 80 (4) that withdrawal from the consolidated revenue fund or any other public funds of the federation without legislative approval is a constitutional breach and warrant invoking section 143 is also cited in section 83 (1) (2) in dismissing this constitutional infraction on the grounds that the withdrawal was done in the interest of national security. This poses a great danger for the Nigerian democracy.
Are Nigerian leaders really working and planning for the future? Almost every Nigerian will answer in dissenting voices. Most Nigerians have resigned to fate because the small percentage of Nigerians who are at the helms of affairs seem to be more powerful than majority of the people. This is evident in the way and manner Nigerians go about carrying out their daily activities—not relying on the government to cater to their needs. The economy was said to be good following independence but it has taken a turn for the worse since the early nineties. According to the World Bank, Nigeria’s GDP growth rate from 1970 to 2018 has consistently been below OECD average of 5 per cent. Furthermore, poverty rate at $2.5 per day PPP terms is about 51 per cent while poverty rate at $4 per day PPP terms is about 75 per cent. Today, the Nigerian economy is in a sorry state.
Politicians praise themselves and hold their heads up high at the commissioning of a poorly constructed road or a non-sustainable community water project. They do not realise that their actions, policies, initiatives and interventions of many years have yet to improve the economic, political and social well-being of the Nigerian populace. Government investments over the years have not ensured sustainable economic growth. We have never had a government with plans to develop our economic wealth for the well-being of the people. What we have had is a leadership that develop their private pockets rather than develop the country and with no concrete plan or vision for the economic development of Nigeria. Aren’t the prophets of doom correct?
Economic Diversification and Youth Unemployment
In 1956, oil was discovered in commercial quantities at Oloibiri in the Niger Delta with the production of crude oil beginning in 1958 while exploration began in 1960. These events changed our main source of revenue from agriculture to crude oil. Before the discovery of oil, agricultural exports were used to sustain the Nigerian economy. Crops such as cocoa, palm kernels, rubber, cotton and groundnut were used to achieve the development programs of late Chief Obafemi Awolowo in the western region and some other regions. After the discovery of crude oil, agriculture has been relegated to the background with reduced rate of export of agricultural produce and this is the bane of our economic development albeit economic growth. There is no diversification of the Nigerian economy away from crude oil and now innocent citizens are made to suffer more.
Many countries have developed their economies using revenues from agriculture as well as solid minerals but in spite of other means of revenue generation, past and present Nigerian governments have refused to expand these areas. In addition, Nigeria has not made judicious use of its arable land over the decades. Lack of diversification of the economy has led to a situation in which the Nigerian economy is dependent on crude oil revenues and there doesn’t seem to be a plan in place to reverse this trend.
Since the discovery of oil and because we have benefited from increase in oil prices and many oil booms, other aspects of our economy has become insignificant and left to collapse. This has resulted in a situation where we are at the mercy and vagaries of oil prices at OPEC. Evidence suggests that oil revenue makes up over 70 per cent of the Nigerian government’s income and provides more than 90 per cent of the country’s foreign exchange. A serious Federal Reserve Bank and economic team of the federal government would have ensured that crude oil no longer account for about 80 per cent of federal government revenue. Since the return of democracy in 1999, governments have failed to diversify the economy to avoid over-reliance on revenues from crude oil export. The poor masses are made to bear the brunt of the federal government’s ineptitude.
Over the years, the rich have benefitted largely from this while the poor are at the receiving end. Over-reliance on crude oil has encouraged high level of corruption and led to poor economic development. The reason Nigeria is still in the woods and its leadership among African countries remain questionable. Many elderly Nigerians still remember the Nigeria of yore when the economy was growing and the level of infrastructural development promised a better life for future generations.
According to the National Bureau of Statistics, the rate of unemployment in Nigeria is about 23 per cent. The current minimum wage has also been reduced by more than 5 per cent due to the exchange rate. The issue of high rate of unemployment and poor remuneration of workers have always been with us as a country. Governments are always reluctant to increase the minimum wage and lack the vision to address the problem of unemployment and underemployment among the teeming youths. This is responsible for the increase in rate of unemployment. Despite the numerous initiatives by governments at the national and subnational levels, the rate of unemployment continues to increase. It is a shame that our political leaders celebrate the creation of hundreds of thousands of jobs when the rate of unemployment is in the millions. The economic recession has even made matters worse with the laying off of millions of Nigerian who previously had employment. Not even the present government of change has been able to make a significant difference in this regards.
Cost of Governance and Mismanagement of the Economy
The cost of governance has always been high and all effort to reduce it has proved abortive. This has been the major attraction of unscrupulous politicians to power and this will not stop until we make public offices unattractive by cutting down the emolument and benefits of public office holders. Across the country, the retirement benefits of former governors, their deputies and other political office holders is absurd. A report by Vanguard Newspaper found that 21 states spent 37.4 billion naira on pension for 47 ex-governors and their deputies. These monies were transferred to the beneficiaries in spite of the economic recession and the pervasive poverty in the land. For many years now, Nigeria has had the highest rate of poverty and this is not about to be reduced to the barest minimum anytime soon.
Successive governments have only succeeded in destroying our economy despite their economic policies, initiatives and interventions. Many of them lied about the true state of the Nigerian economy with some boasting about Nigeria being the biggest economy in Africa only to find out months later that the economy described as the biggest has already collapsed. Most Presidents have left the economy worse than they met it. Since the return of democracy in 1999, Nigeria is yet to get things right on the economy. Nigerian economy has never been understood by leaders of government. With the exception of President Olusegun Obansanjo who grew our foreign reserve and left about $60 billion, successive presidents have depleted this reserve and do not believe in saving for the rainy day. Evidence from the Central Bank of Nigeria revealed that government spent $119.41 billion of its foreign exchange earnings on imports between 2013 and 2017. Furthermore, about $37 billion was spent on petroleum importation within the same period.
Nigerian political leaders squandered the proceeds of oil boom and have been borrowing to spend their way out of recession. It is a shame that most leaders of government stood against every attempt to save during oil boom according to the account of Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala in her book titled: ‘’Fighting Corruption Is Dangerous: The Story Behind The Headlines’’. Now many state governors cannot pay salaries as at when due and are unable to run their states efficiently. The Economic Confidential in its report on Annual State Viability Index stated that many state governors in Nigeria lack foresight in revenue generation drive with arm-chair governance. Politicians find it easy to collect monthly allocation from the centre but are not intelligent and ingenious enough to make their IGR exceed the monthly allocation collected from the federal government. Lack of major tax policy reforms to increase general tax revenues from barely 3.5 per cent of GDP to the international benchmark for developing countries of 15 per cent have led to large revenue shortfall. Collection of taxes, improvement of tax administration and expansion of the taxation base is not rocket science as exemplified by Lagos and Ogun state. But governments at the national and subnational levels find it easier to borrow than increase tax revenues. Statistics from the National Bureau of Statistics and Debt Management Organisation show that Nigeria’s external debt at the end of 2017 was N5.79 trillion while domestic debt was N15.94 trillion. Furthermore, Nigeria’s debt rose by N9.61 trillion (79.25 per cent) from N12.12 trillion in June 30, 2015 to N21.73 trillion in December 31, 2017. Debt creation put strains on the survival and sustainability of Nigeria’s future generations because there can be no meaningful progress and development while future generations struggle to pay up debts and meet up with their obligations.
Nigeria is no doubt ‘’dancing on the brink’’ according to former US Ambassador to Nigeria and Senior Fellow for Africa Policy Studies at the Council on Foreign Affairs, Dr. John Campbell. It is evident that politicians and leaders of government have failed Nigerians with the continued mismanagement of the economy. The electorate have also made things difficult for the country. Across the six geopolitical zones, there is no unity, tolerance and mutual understanding.
Counter-terrorism and Security Challenges
Both past and present government have designed and implemented strategies to tackle the issue of Boko Haram insurgency, kidnappings and Niger Delta militancy but these security challenges persist. The denial and dismissal that the killings by Fulani herdsmen are acts of terrorism and pose a threat to the security of lives and properties have worsened the security situation in the country.
Now government is finding it difficult to address the security challenges with the President breaching the constitution in the process of procuring 12 Tucano aircrafts that will be delivered in 2020. Boko Haram is not ‘’technically defeated’’ as claimed by government. Boko Haram has continued to attack their targets resulting in thousands of deaths, destruction and displacement of millions of people. Furthermore, IDPs cannot return back to their homes because some towns and villages are still dominated by Boko Haram. With the continued bombings and the wanton destruction of lives and properties across the country, governments have to be proactive and win the fight against terrorism. There is a need to address the issue of disharmony and interagency rivalry among security chiefs and ensure that defence budgets are properly utilised.
It is sad that President Buhari had to blame Libya for the problem of Fulani herdsmen attacks during his visit to the United States of America. The President failed to take responsibility for his inactions, lethargy and indifference with respect to the issue of killings by Fulani herdsmen. President Buhari is in control of Nigeria’s security service particularly the army and the police whose job it is to secure the lives and properties of Nigerians as well as provide counterterrorism to the Boko Haram insurrection. The ministry of defence is certainly not on top of the security challenges Nigeria faces.
The huge budgetary allocation to the ministry of defence over the years has not been justified with the on-going security challenges. Nigeria is now regarded as a fragile and failed state due to the problem of insecurity in the Northern region and other parts of the country. It is ironic that the Nigerian military that have successfully led peace-keeping missions outside the country are struggling to secure the peace and security of Nigeria. These security challenges and humanitarian crisis keeps Nigeria from realizing its potential.
There is a correlation between security and economic growth and development. Oil production has been devastated by Boko Haram insurgency over the years due to attacks on oil production facilities. Therefore, Nigeria must effectively tackle the problem of Boko Haram insurgency, kidnappings, Niger Delta militancy and Fulani herdsmen attack in order to improve economic growth and development.
The on-going security challenges have also had a negative impact on health of the people. Boko Haram insurrection and humanitarian crisis in the northern region have limited the progress of vertical health programmes by donor agencies. Immunization coverage is very low while the rate of stunting and malnutrition among children is high. Donor agencies are finding it difficult to reach women and children in the northern region due to security challenges. Most primary health care facilities in northern Nigeria are not functioning while there is huge shortage of health workers. The health system in northern Nigeria is in a state of near collapse. The IDP camps are grounds for disease outbreaks. The security challenges contribute to poor health indicators. The earlier the present government wake up from its sleep the better for the country.
Telling lies about ‘’technically defeating’’ Boko Haram by the present administration has not helped matters. Besides the lack of progress in the fight against terrorism is there for all eyes to see. President Buhari condoned the killings by Fulani herdsmen for many months and has not taken concrete steps to stop the carnage. Government need to take decisive steps to stem the attacks by Fulani herdsmen. This will send a strong signal to the perpetrators of these killings that government will not condone any form of political, ethnic and religious violence. Government should seek help in addressing the security challenges both locally and internationally.
Failure of governments to do something drastic about the issues of Boko Haram insurgency, kidnappings, Niger Delta militancy and Fulani herdsmen killings will spell further doom for Nigeria. Lack of decisive action by governments has led to the escalation of these problems since 2003.
War Against Corruption and Human Right Abuses
Corruption has been a major issue over the decades in Nigeria and it remains unaddressed. This cankerworm has defied all strategies due to selectivity and lack of objectivity. The present administration which was elected to win the war against corruption is also neck deep in corruption. According to the Nigeria 2017 Human Rights Report, there has been massive corruption by government officials under the present administration from the non-prosecution of the former secretary to the federal government, Babachir lawal to the reinstatement, promotion and compensation of Abdulrasheed Maina. The NNPC is also not left out with the allegation levelled against its GMD, Engr. Maikanti Baru by the Minister of State for Petroleum, Dr. Ibe Kachuku. It was revealed that contracts worth $25 billion were awarded without being reviewed and approved by the board of the NNPC as stipulated in the law. Over the decades, several billions of dollars have been stolen in the Nigerian oil and gas sector with no one held accountable till date. There is lack of transparency and accountability on recovered funds and the yearly budget. No government has been free of corruption from independence till date. Weak institutions and revenue leakages have encouraged massive corruption among public officers at the national and subnational levels. A culture of not questioning people’s sudden wealth by members of the Nigerian society has also contributed to the problem of corruption. According to the 2017 Corruption Perception Index by Transparency International, Nigeria ranked 148 out of 180 countries. This ranking is worse than at any other time since the introduction of the corruption perception index by Transparency International. Corruption continues to drain Nigeria’s resources and deprive the poor of basic necessities of life. Most people agree that corruption will kill Nigeria if corruption is not killed. Reviewing the existing legal framework for financial and corrupt practices will go a long way in winning the anti-graft war. Furthermore, government need to institutionalize and deepen the war against corruption. Lack of holistic and institutional approach to fighting corruption is a major setback. The drop in corruption perception index by Nigeria from 136 in 2014 to 148 in 2017 shows that Nigeria is not winning the war against corruption. Although the EFCC and ICPC were established by President Olusegun Obasanjo to tackle the issue of corruption, the anti-graft agencies lack strong and effective leadership with most of its chairmen being partisan and one-sided in the fight against corruption. The Nigeria 2017 human rights report also revealed that EFCC did not observe all pertinent due process safeguards in its fight against corruption. EFCC has also supervised the unlawful arrest and detention of rtd Col. Sambo Dasuki since 2015 despite court judgments ordering his release. Except the leadership of EFCC and ICPC carry out their duties without dancing to the whims and caprices of government of the day, the anti-graft war will not succeed.
Human rights abuses have also been a regular feature in Nigeria’s democratic experience leading to the question whether Nigeria is truly practicing democracy? Human rights abuses dates back to the 1960s and was entrenched by military rule. Almost 60 years after independence, human rights abuses continue to threaten the foundation of Nigeria. According to the Nigeria 2017 Human Rights Report, the present government took fewer steps to prosecute officials who committed violations within the security forces or elsewhere in the government. Furthermore, there is widespread impunity at all levels of government. The report also revealed that most of the major outstanding allegations of human rights violations by the security forces or the majority of cases of police or military extortion or other abuse of power were not adequately investigated or prosecuted by the federal government.
Tackling the issues of corruption and human right abuses effectively remain a major challenge for governments. Both the present and successive governments don’t seem to have lasting solutions to these problems. Corruption and human right abuses have become a recurring decimal in the Nigerian society. These have affected our standing among comity of nations.
There is no better time than now to secure the future of Nigeria. The events and happenings of the last nineteen years of our democratic experience show that there must be a turning point. Nigeria needs to be rescued from the enemies in order to reverse its current status as a fragile and failed state. The country need a concrete plan for the future but the outcome of the 2019 general elections will determine if the poor masses are ready to put Nigeria on the path of political stability and economic development.
Nigerians are doomed if they miss the window of opportunity presented by the 2019 general elections. Democracy cannot thrive or survive under the current constitutional and political arrangement. If we do not checkmate the present crop of politicians, the youth will continue to have a bleak future. Recycling these same set of politicians would compound the woes of the almost 70 per cent of the Nigerian population living in poverty.
Many Nigerians agree that the country is retrogressing due to failure of leadership. The lack of political leaders who are selfless and not driven by primitive acquisition of wealth has contributed to increasing poverty and lack of improvement in the standard of living. Nigerians need to elect their leaders carefully during the 2019 general elections if the country must break free from the clutches of bad leadership. Being divided across ethnic, religious and political lines will restore the status quo which members of the political class will work hard to maintain.
Many developing countries are making significant progress in terms of education, agriculture, infrastructure, health and security. They are growing and developing their economies by providing purposeful leadership. These countries are also improving their social and economic indices, and planning for the future. Their GPD gap has been narrowed with more advanced economies over the decades. The future of Nigeria will remain bleak and uncertain if the electorate do not work in unison and stop politicians who are driven by their selfish interest. One can only hope for the best.
Bolaji Samson Aregbeshola is a freelance writer. He is the author of ‘’Nigerian Political Parties and Politicians: Winding Road from Country to Nation’’.