National challenges, 2019 and the future of our Republic

IT is not an exaggeration to say that the 2019 elections will decide our country’s ultimate destiny. In fact, it is likely to determine if Nigeria will survive and flourish and if we will fulfil our destiny under God. Whichever way the elections go, we will know if ours will become a civilised, peaceful, just and prosperous democracy or will descend into the maelstrom of poverty and strife under the leadership of an inept and backward elite.

One of the biggest issues that will have to be settled is the intergenerational question. The youth of this country are tired of recycled politicians. They no longer care where you come, your manner of worship or your ethnicity. They want jobs, expanding opportunities and a peaceful and harmonious environment that unleashes their creative energies. They do not want to be taken backwards to a Byzantine analogue past. They want to live in a country where they have a future and where their liberties and life-chances will flourish. The youth of this country believe that the old vanguard of recycled politicians have nothing new to offer other than the old corruption. Rather, they want a future where they are governed by the precepts of enlightenment and civilisation – by the rule of law, positive science, progress and political meaning.

Anyone who wants to lead this country must proffer unique solutions to seven national challenges: insecurity, unemployment, the power and infrastructures deficit, poverty, human capital, nation building and structural diversification of the economy.

Conflict and violence have evidently driven a fatal wedge between our people. Instead of bringing us together, our leaders have divided us. If we allow the trend to continue, our country will plunge into the Niagara Falls of history. It is as bad as that!

Added to the 10-year insurgency, we have the murderous mayhem by armed rural militias, many of them from neighbouring countries. I do not regard them as Fulani at all. We have lived with Fulani since ancient times. They are part and parcel of our communities. These people are mostly foreigners, most of them armed by shadowy foreign powers and local collaborationists, all with the goal of destroying our beloved country.

The war against the insurgency has been a half-hearted mediocre effort. The ideal approach is a comprehensive strategy that not only dislodges the insurgents militarily but also eliminates the social conditions that generate their wicked ideology of violence and death. Linked to the foregoing is the need for a social development fund for war-affected communities. It is clear that military solutions alone will not checkmate violent extremism; on the contrary, they may serve to radicalise otherwise neutral groups. We must, therefore, tackle the social conditions that give rise to radical ideologies, in addition to winning the propaganda war and enhancing the capability of government to deliver social services and critical public goods to all citizens.

There must be a national dialogue on how to remove the culture of violence from our national psyche. We need nothing less than a new national compact redefining the fundamental contours of what it means to be a Nigerian. We must reinvent our country as a progressive and forward-looking nation at peace with itself and its neighbours.

There is also the problem of poverty. The World Bank recently announced our country as the new world capital of poverty, with 88 million of our people living in destitution. We recently overtook India, whose destitute poor currently number some 70 million. When you compare the fact that India’s population is a staggering population, you can then appreciate that their 70 million poor amounts to less than 20 per cent of the population, compared to our 88 million out of our total estimated population of 195 million. This amounts to almost 50 per cent of our population. It is a frightening scenario. Sadly, it is also the case that unemployment continues to afflict many of our population. Although we are being told that our current unemployment has gone down to something like 15 per cent, I really cannot believe it. I believe it is closer to the 25 per cent mark. Among the youth, some 70 per cent in Zamfara and Borno have no jobs.

Tackling unemployment will require bold and resolute action. We have to change the way we do public works. We also must deploy technology choices that expand job opportunities. We must have nothing less than a mass-based industrial revolution. We must restructure the economy to wean ourselves from the petrodollar rentier state, with its bias against productivity, agriculture and industrialisation. We are also conscious of the fact that we must accelerate growth and unleash the productive energy of our people while enhancing national competitiveness.

Sadly, there is no vision and no leadership. It’s a case of implementing public policy by “muddling through.” The consequences are there for everyone to see. We have a government that is anti-people and anti-business. Most market women have emptied their bank accounts. Anybody with money is deemed a thief. As a consequence, the banks are groaning. The rural bandits are having a field day. Few, if any, have been genuinely arrested or prosecuted.

Nation building is going to be one of the principal missions of the next generation of leadership.

Some people talk of “restructuring.” I prefer to talk of nation building. We need statesmen who understand the imperatives of our current historical moment. We need to reform our federation to expand the foundations of participatory democracy, social justice and equity for all our multifarious nationalities. Doing so will require a broad national dialogue on how to reposition our country and our public institutions to ensure the good life for all our people.

Linked to nation building is the abiding challenge of corruption. We believe that the current approach is misguided. It is based on fire-fighting – chasing rats when your house is burning. It is also deeply flawed in being patently partisan and one-sided. As a result, the government’s anti-corruption drive has lost legitimacy and credibility completely. We need a different approach. We need to institute in the heart of government a system of monitoring and evaluation of all government projects and programmes. The contract system is the principal source of corruption in this country, in addition to embezzlement, fraud and financial mismanagement. We advise reforming the EFCC and integrating it with the ICPC, with new judicial powers to investigate, prosecute and punish. The lawyers will grumble that this amounts to giving too much power to one organisation.

The big mistake we have made in this country is to see corruption and grand larceny as merely legal and moral problems. For the Chinese, they are more than that. To them, it is a question of high treason and national security. For those who commit such acts of high treason against our people, we cannot give the luxury of using their loot to extricate themselves from justice. Today we have a situation where you can steal N20 billion of pensioners’ funds and go ahead to use N2 billion to hire a gaggle of SANs to shield you from justice. You can even bribe the judges and court officials to hide the files, give you medical lead and pursue all other such legal shenanigans and subterfuges as would enable you extricate yourself from the law and from the machinery of justice. This iniquity has made our legal system the laughing stock of the world.

What is needed, in my view, is a systems approach. We should empower the Office of the Auditor-General of the Federation with more resources to perform audit functions throughout the departments and agencies of government across the three tiers of government. It is foolhardy to watch an armed-robber-governor commit acts of great financial wickedness on the argument that they have legal immunity from prosecution. I do not believe that the spirit of our constitution intends that those who commit grand larceny should be shielded by the law under any pretext. It is only in our system that immunity is broadly defined as the right to rob and kill without any sanctions whatsoever.

It was Karl Marx who famously declared that philosophers have interpreted the world, but the problem is how to change it. Talk is cheap. There are all sorts of self-opinionated scribblers who offer half-baked nostrums on how to tackle our principal national challenges. Much of such opinions are often devoid of deep thinking. What we need are men and women who have thought deeply about these challenges and can offer actionable, creative and original solutions. Those who aspire to lead this country must be challenged to bring their proposed solutions to the table. That should form the basis for debate and contestation.

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