Twenty years of civilian rule

AS Nigeria attains 20 years of civilian rule in its Fourth Republic, nothing perhaps illustrates the sad fate of Nigerians than its designation as the global capital of poverty and host of two of the deadliest terror groups ranked on the Global Terrorism Index, namely Boko Haram and Fulani herdsmen. While the designation of June 12 as Democracy Day by the Muhammadu Buhari administration is quite in order given the historical significance of the June 12 1993 presidential election in the country, there is, in reality, hardly anything to celebrate today except perhaps the fact of Nigeria’s continued, even if admittedly imperilled, existence as a sovereign entity.  Naturally, though, the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) and the various state Government Houses are agog with song and dance, with the powers that be celebrating June 12 without aspiring to the spirit of freedom, free and fair elections and the validation of the popular will that it represents, being completely isolated from, or perhaps indifferent to, the harsh realities that Nigerians are called upon to endure on a daily basis. Indeed, at no time since Nigeria’s independence have Nigerians been as divided, poor and horrified as they are now.  Did Nigerians imagine a day like this would come when they gave life and limb to send the military back to the barracks in 1999?

The year 1999 indeed came with a lot of promise because the elected president, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo, had been released from prison where he was serving a life sentence on trumped up charges only the previous year, and Nigerians expected that having been to the lion’s den himself, he would be at a vantage position to empathise with them and address the dastardly conditions in which they lived. The country had experienced military repression for 16 long, horrendous years (1983-1999) and Nigerians were therefore excited that democracy had at last arrived since 1983 when the Second Republic was interrupted by a military coup.

Obasanjo spent most of his first term travelling abroad, but he later won international praise for Nigeria’s role in regional peacekeeping missions in Sierra Leone and Liberia; and also had to his credit the Greentree Agreement with Cameroonian President Paul Biya which formally resolved the Bakassi peninsula border dispute. His administration created the Niger Delta Development Commission and the Universal Basic Education Programme, set up anti-corruption agencies and increased the share of oil royalties and rents to oil-producing states from 3 to 13 percent; and Nigeria’s GDP growth rose to six per cent, helped in part by higher oil prices. But the administration’s use of anti-graft agencies in pursuit of political opponents, disrespect for the legislature; the genocide in Odi community in Bayelsa State, monumental corruption, particularly in the power sector, and the president’s pursuit of a third term agenda in violation of the Nigerian constitution set the country backwards.

The succeeding administration led by President Umaru Yar’Adua rolled out a seven-point agenda, but by 2010,  many of the stated goals remained elusive. It however recorded modest gains in taming the Niger Delta insurgency and pursued electoral reform, setting up a committee headed by Muhammadu Uwais, a former Chief Justice of Nigeria, for that purpose. The Goodluck Jonathan administration, continuing with Yar’Adua’s seven-point agenda, recorded gains in the economy and the electoral process. It launched the Roadmap for Power Sector Reform and the Youth Enterprise with Innovation in Nigeria (YOUWIN) Initiative to harness the creative energies of young people between the ages of 18 and 35, and the Transformation Agenda, with varying degrees of success.  But it was painfully circumscribed by lax handling of the country’s security challenges and monumental graft. Nevertheless, it succeeded in instituting a regime of free and fair elections and sought to advance the development narrative through the convocation of the 2014 national conference.

Since May 2015, the Muhammadu Buhari administration, elected on the promise to fight corruption and insecurity and revive the economy, has failed to deliver on its promises. Although it has been credited with the release of some of the Chibok girls abducted by Boko Haram and some gains in the ant-corruption effort, the fact that it took all of six months to form its initial cabinet was a big drawback. What is more, its budget estimates have been poorly prepared, while the depreciation of the naira and its non-floating led to a gulf between the official exchange rate and the black market rate and opened up the opportunity for well-connected individuals to engage in arbitrage. It is no wonder then that the country’s corruption perception index has worsened. The president’s visit to 20 countries seeking loans has not led to the upgrading of infrastructure. And it is not exactly cheering news that insurgency has displaced over two million Nigerians from their homes.

As we noted in previous editorials, President Buhari’s letter to the National Assembly seeking approval for a $3 billion external loan to re-finance maturing domestic debts and the issuance of a $2.5 billion Eurobond for the funding of the 2017 capital budget brought to the fore, the escalating debt profile of the country and the seeming helplessness of the government in stemming it. According to the Debt Management Office (DMO), the Federal Government’s domestic debt rose from N8.51 trillion in March 2015 to N11.97 trillion in March 2017, an increase of N3.46 trillion. In the same period, external debt for both the federal and state governments also rose by $4.35 billion from $9.46 billion in 2015 to $13.81 in 2018. Accruing debts seems to give the government a thrill.  It is not thinking of entering into partnership with the private sector to build infrastructure and recoup its investment over a period of time.

Across the country today, bribery to legitimise deviously  obtained power inheres the political space; workers’ salaries have become an anathema and legitimate dissent is treated like treason, with even media houses being shut down for refusing to toe the line of government megaphones. The government has hobbled the democratic space, upended state institutions, serially disobeyed court orders and worsened poverty and insecurity. The conditions would seem to be promoting civil and ethnic strife. Families are in disarray. On the political front, party primaries are nothing but barefaced robbery and elections monumental theft and subversion of popular will. The parliament was invaded twice, first by bandits led by a senator, and then by security agents, in an effort to truncate democracy in broad daylight. In Zamfara, bandits kill people, including policemen, for sport and local government allocations are now increasingly expended on the payment of ransoms. Across the country, herdsmen are on the prowl committing rape, murder and brigandage without challenge.

Sadly, leadership at the state level has been no less disappointing. In fact, it has arguably been worse. Governors rush to China to trade off the future of their states, and roads have remained nightmares in most of the states. In most cases, what has been called development has been nothing more than the window dressing of state capitals. In the last 20 years,  the country has been confronted with the ugly spectacle of former governors reportedly owning almost everything of note in the states they governed; owing workers salaries for months on end, being embroiled in certificate forgery; getting arrested and imprisoned abroad for monumental theft; expending ecological funds on political campaigns, being linked with terrorism, and routinely demolishing the properties of political opponents citing non-existent crimes. Workers are hungry and angry.

Like the Federal Government, the state governments have failed to justify their existence. For instance, states amassed domestic debts totalling N1.27 trillion as their debt figure moved up from N1.69 trillion in 2015 to N2.96 trillion as of March 31, 2017. Indeed, a report by the Fiscal Responsibility Commission released last year but based on the 2016 fiscal year showed that most states in the country had racked up debts in excess of 50 per cent of their annual revenue, the limit set by the Debt Management Office (DMO). The debt profiles of 18 states exceeded their gross and net revenues by over 200 per cent, while those of Lagos, Osun and Cross River states ranged between 480 and 670 per cent of their gross revenue. It is therefore no surprise that most have found it extremely difficult to discharge their responsibilities to the citizenry; a huge chunk of their future revenue will have to be earmarked for debt repayments. According to the International Monetary Fund (IMF), Nigeria currently expends 66 per cent of its tax revenue on debt repayment.  Many of the states are not any better than they were before the loans were taken, and the regulatory authorities that ought to have stopped them from exceeding the boundary failed to do so.

Given the foregoing dismal realities, we cannot endorse the current political practice or the practitioners. We can only salute Nigerians for their long-suffering while calling on those in power to change their orientation and style.