Towards A Sustainable Future For Nigeria

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Towards A Sustainable Future For Nigeria
 

By

 

Emeka Anyaoku

 

 

 March 1, 2005

I have chosen in this presentation, to go in search, as it were, of long term peace, stability and development of Nigeria; and I do so for two main reasons. First, given Chief Awolowo's passion for a strong, federal and united Nigeria, this seems to me an eminently suitable occasion at which to reflect on this theme.

My second reason is the urgent national relevance of the theme. The question of the most suitable political structure for governing the diverse people of Nigeria is as old as the nation itself, and even predates the amalgamation of the Northern and Southern protectorates and the Colony of Lagos in 1914. Although various attempts have been made to settle this matter since the formalisation of the federal structure in 1954, it has remained an active item on the agenda of national politics.

Setting the scene


To set the scene of my presentation, I would like to ask two questions: Why has the issue of political structure and governance been so problematic in Nigeria in recent years, and secondly, how could we begin to address the matter in order to resolve it once and for all?
My brief answer to the first question is that the efforts made by the founding fathers of modern Nigeria to constructively address the issue of the country's pluralism were grievously undermined by the military regimes which, since their assumption of power in January 1966, have by and large determined the constitutions for the country ever since.

The answer to my second question will, I hope, be clear from my discourse; suffice it for me to say at this point that I believe we all want for ourselves and our children a stable, prosperous and united country whose standing in Africa and the wider world will command respect; a country whose citizens would enjoy universally acknowledged fundamental rights and liberties, are free to associate with one another as compatriots whatever their background, are actuated by a genuine sense of patriotism, enriched and inspired by their diversity, free and able to contribute their utmost for the good of their country, expect and be guaranteed justice and fairness anywhere within its borders without any discrimination against them on grounds of ethnic origin or religious adherence, and wholly free to enjoy their country in peace and security.

The architects of independent Nigeria were inspired in their endeavour by a vision of a united and prosperous nation and the strong hope that, through imaginative and tolerant politics, Nigeria would provide leadership to emerging black Africa. They believed that through its success in managing its political plurality, and nurturing its national prosperity at home, it could lend new dignity and self respect to the black man in the world, especially in Africa which was just emerging from the long night of political servitude.

The Present Condition of Nigeria After 44 years of independence we can look back with pride at some of our achievements especially on the world stage. But we would readily admit that our politics at home, and the political structures that serve them, have continued to subvert our capacity to achieve more both at home and abroad.

By any measure Nigeria is a nation of considerable character, richly endowed with nature's blessings as well as a proud and dynamic people. Its vastness and variety, the diversity of its peoples and cultures, its rich natural resources, its hugely talented human resources, all these place it in a good stead to attain the highest levels of human achievement and development. As a people we are resilient and have on many occasions demonstrated our ability to pull through considerable difficulty.

In recent years, we have shown our ability to face down tyranny, our readiness to defend our rights and our preference for the exercise of our political will. There is no doubt now that we prefer democracy to tyranny and that there is a collective will to seek the best for Nigeria on a new basis of relationship amongst the nation's diverse peoples.

And yet notwithstanding the creditable successes in our foreign policy, and advances with our macroeconomic reforms since the return of democracy in May 1999, our country is still perceived as a tragic example of one endowed with immense natural resources and human potential, but which appears incapable of co-ordinating its assets and attributes to highest utility and maximum value.

The proclamations of our national unity by the Federal Government are undermined by practical events on the ground. There are cries of marginalisation from different sections of the population, communal and ethno-religious conflicts have continued to occur at intervals in various parts of the country, and aspects of the fundamentals of our constitution including the nature of our federalism, resource control, and the place of religion in our governmental structure have remained subjects of national controversies.

There are decreasing levels of national dignity and confidence. A diminishing enrolment in education, the growing nightmare of HIV/AIDS, which does not appear to be fully acknowledged, and some will say, not effectively being tackled - all these have a long-term effect on our productive capacity.

Ill equipped as our institutions of higher learning are, we are hardly able to take advantage of strides in scientific and technological progress. It is a reality that will soon make nonsense of what we regard as our most priced attributes as a nation namely, our human resources.

The totality of our human resource is distorted. First, our population at home sees something of the world and the future out there, how other people are managing and living their lives and see what they can become themselves but are not able to.

Our youth unemployment is overwhelming. The tendency is to resort to extreme measures to get what they want. The path to criminal violence is so short.

The scale of poverty, the weakness of infrastructure and the low level of our productivity in virtually every area are such that we could do with stronger inflow of foreign capital in the form of investment and of development assistance. But we do not attract much of that because foreign investors consider Nigeria as inadequately stable in the long term, and donors often argue that we have the resources to meet our needs and so limit themselves to simply assisting us to develop mechanisms to better utilise what we have to give some practical illustrations of the retrogression which our country has experienced especially since the early years of our independence.

How it was in the past


I recall the days when across the country, the agricultural landscape was marked by various types of pyramids and stacks of palm oil barrels in the East. Today, all these have virtually disappeared leaving us with a crisis in our agricultural sector.

I recall the days when being a Nigerian and travelling on a Nigerian passport earned one tremendous respect from officials of other countries. Today, the mere mention of one's national identity induces suspicion on their part, while tendering the Nigerian passport at most ports of entry abroad could subject one to intolerable selective treatment. The root of this identity crisis lies in large part in the activities of the advanced fee fraudsters and other social deviants, but it does leave us with public image problems as a people with attendant costs in our interactions with other members of the international community.

I recall the days when honour, truth, loyalty, integrity, honesty, dedication, good character and other similar values defined the basic aspirations of the Nigerian and determined his/her place in society, either in terms of respect or responsibility. Today, our people are driven by a pursuit for material things in which money, how much of it one has, irrespective of how it was or is acquired, invariably confers special status on people. We seem to have virtually lost our sense of values and decency as a result of the prevailing culture of materialism. We are therefore in the throes of a crisis of value systems.

I recall the days when as a student, at whichever tier of our educational system, discipline, hard work, the quest for excellence, basic comfort in living conditions, ready availability of dedicated teachers and essential teaching aids and materials for instructions, provided the framework within which students and teachers alike engage in intellectual pursuits and the acquisition of skills.

I am informed that in this university as with many across our land, teaching aids are in short supply or virtually non-existent. Living conditions for teachers and students fall far below acceptable standards. Discipline is tethering on the verge of collapse. Excellence is suffering from severe strain. Many graduates of our educational system end up without employment partly because of inadequacy in the absorptive capacity of the labour market but essentially, in my view, because of the disjunction between the skills, which our society needs at this stage of its development and the quality of our graduates. In short, the signs are that Nigeria is facing a crisis in the educational sector.

I recall the days when our health care delivery system was truly responsive to the needs of our people. Medicines were available in hospitals and clinics. Doctors and nurses lived up to selflessness and the humanitarian principles enshrined in their vocation. Although few in number, centres of specialist medicine like the University Teaching Hospital Ibadan, were well equipped, clean and well staffed, while secondary and primary medical services were effective and consistent with acceptable international standards.

The state of things now


But now, we have to contend with the crisis of mass exodus of doctors and nurses seeking greener pastures overseas; adulterated medicines; the lack of the requisite diagnostic equipment necessary for informed medical decisions and or interventions; and the virtual collapse of the primary health care delivery system.

I must acknowledge that in many ways Nigeria has had to contend with a complex array of challenges in her search for her destiny. It has had to contend with the profound challenges of its colonial experience as it seeks to build a truly independent nation. With its size and complexity, its challenges are of the same magnitude. It is contending with the complex burdens of the global economy.

But in sum, our country remains unstable in spite of our brave efforts to work its exhausting political machinery and keep it afloat. Corruption remains rife and has become a national trademark. The under-performance is as clear as daylight. The scale of poverty continues on the increase, and the gap between the very rich and the very poor continues to widen. A scandalously weak infrastructure continues to weaken our capacity to develop, as we should. An equally weak social infrastructure continues to undermine our capacity to enhance our human resources and weaken our ability to breed the able and skilled workforce the nation needs. Our political structure and governance systems, at all the three tiers of government, remain top heavy and unsustainably costly.

Where we should go from here


I believe that the initiative, which President Olusegun Obasanjo has taken by convening the National Political Reforms Conference, is very opportune and appropriate. The long campaign of recent years for a national conference, whether sovereign or non-sovereign, was sustained on the part of its advocates, by a general desire for changes in the present structure of our polity and governance systems. I believe that the conference provides a historic opportunity for exhaustive discussion with a view to reaching national consensus on how to remodel our present constitution and governance systems in order to strengthen the unity of the Nigerian Federation and crate a more conducive environment for our socio-economic development. It is my hope that the work of the conference will by itself be able to disabuse the minds of those whose cynicism and opposition to the initiative, has been based on a genuine doubt of the sincerity of the Federal Government.

As you may know, I am one of the President's nominees participating in the conference. You will therefore, I trust, understand if, in speaking about some of the areas where I believe that fundamental changes must be made to our existing political structure and governance system, if we are to achieve peace, stability and the quality of development that is commensurate with our human and material resources, I fail to include my detailed prescriptions of the new structures that I would like to see in place. This is because I believe that it would be more discreet and hopefully more productive for me to seek to promote the prescriptions first in the national conference.

One of the areas where fundamental change is desired is in the nature of our federalism. In my view the present structure of 36 states has resulted in undue centralisation of powers in Abuja to the detriment of a true federation.

Before the military coup d'etat of January 1966, the country under the federal constitution of 1960 had begun to take very promising tentative steps towards meaningful national development. To give a few examples, the success of the universal primary education programme and the booming cocoa produce of the Western Region; the impressive beginnings of industrial and agricultural enterprises including the booming produce of palm oil in the Eastern Region; and the fabled groundnut pyramids and booming hide and skin produce of the Northern Region were all evidence of Nigeria's great development potentials made possible by it then more viable and more empowered federating units of the Federation.

Besides, our present 812 governments (Federal plus 36 states government and FCT plus 774 local governments) with all their paraphernalia, involve an unsustainable level of expenditure on governance. As was stated by Prince Tony Momoh in his booklet titled: "In Search of A Viable Nigeria," 'Our expenditure profile shows that as at May, 2002, we spent 92 per cent of our resources on recurrent expenditure. By the end of that year, we were borrowing to do so, and any vote for capital expenditure was at the expense of meeting recurrent demands like payment of salaries and allowances, and meeting our commitments to pensioners.

'We have therefore had very little left for funding development. Which means that if we refuse to revisit the structures, it will be a question of time before we would be borrowing to sustain the system of government we have opted for.'`
 

We should therefore aim to return to a truer federation than what we have today, a federation of far less federating units than the existing 36, each with powers to deal with the essential aspects of development - health, education, infrastructure, industry, agriculture, water supply etc - as well as powers that would generally be akin to those possessed by the Regions in the early years of our independence.

But in restructuring the federating units, we must take care to address the issue of revenue from the mineral resources with which God has blessed our country of Nigeria. It should be possible in the interest of all our peoples, to guarantee in our new constitution an arrangement that shares equally the national revenue from all minerals, both liquid and solid, among the federating units after deductions for the considerably reduced federal functions and compensation to the derivative regions which bear the environmental burdens of the extraction of the minerals.

There is also the question of whether we should retain the Presidential, or return to the parliamentary system of government, which we had up to January 15, 1966. There are those who argue that the parliamentary system would be less expensive to run and involve much less chance of facilitating the emergence of dictatorship by a President in whom all the executive and symbolic powers of the nation are invested. They point to the example of India, a comparable pluralistic and heavily populated country where the parliamentary system has enabled the country's impressive economic development and sustained the Indian democracy for over 50 years now.

But those who canvass for the retention of the Presidential system, maintain that democracy is more sustainable when it is in tune with the culture of the people concerned, and that the concept of a symbolic head of family or community, is alien to Nigerian, indeed African culture generally. And they buttress this point by pointing out that there is only one of the 53 independent African States (Lesotho with its constitutional Monarchy) where the experience of a Head of State without executive powers is working.

I believe that this should be carefully examined and resolved on the basis of our national experience so far.

Another area where I believe that far-reaching changes are called for is in the organisation and code of conduct of our politics. Ways must be found to check the role of money, and the level of violence and intimidation in our politics. So far, the mercenary rewards of politics have encouraged the emergence of politicians who are clearly not motivated by a desire to serve their people and nation, but rather, by acquisitive drive for wealth and personal fame. As a result, principles and ideology are sacrificed on the altar of political expediency and opportunism. Politics therefore, especially at election time, become a do or die affair, and competition for votes and popular support is seldom based, as it should be, on policies and political programmes.

We must also look at our electoral system recognising that genuinely free and fair elections are a sine qua non of true democracy. Our experience of elections in this country has in many cases been embarrassing. Some of the revelations upheld by our elections tribunals have underscored the importance of finding ways to buttress the independence of the Independent National Electoral Commission, as well as to ensure the impartiality of our law enforcement officers in their supportive role to the electoral process.

To further strengthen our true federal structures on the basis of a sustainable democracy, we must seriously consider a fundamental review of the structure of our defence and security forces, particularly our military. We must think of innovative ways to ensure that the organisation structure and disposition of our armed forces and facilities are such that as a nation, we could never succumb to surprises from within or without; and to ensure that the military does not feel obliged to intervene in national politics again. There should be greater flexibility, which amongst other things would ensure that our men and women in the services enjoy more customary support while they are serving their country.

In the past, its single centralised structure made it easier for the military, or those sections of it which were so minded, to be tempted all too easily to take matters into its own hands. The balance sheet of such interventions is very much a matter of public record. But in a decentralised structure, in which each commander is loyal directly to the commander-in-chief, it would be not so easy for all the commanders in the federating units to reach a decision to carry out a coup.

There are precedents from the experience of other countries, which confirm the usefulness of this approach.

In my view, only increased power to more viable federating units which confers on them a corresponding responsibility to be conscientious over their individual securities will stiffen the sinews of national security. And here I mean an inclusive definition of security, which believes that the well being of the individual redounds to patriotic zeal to defend national security.

In our multi ethnic country at the outset of the twenty-first century, we must update and refine our definitions of power and control to meet contemporary requirements. Our concept today must recognise that in this era, people are more conscious of God-given rights and are more prepared than in the past to seek to defend them, if possible through extremist means; that jackboot process of governance is irrelevant, precisely because it will not achieve the intended result, namely, the quiescent resignation and acceptance of unquestionable power.

We are in the era of participation and transparency, and these are not mere rhetoric. Today power has shifted from domination to participation and co-operation.

Our new constitutional structure should aim to be as inclusive as possible; and should eschew the winner-take all tyranny, which is increasingly becoming out of date. It should also aim to stress The Fundamental Objectives and Directive Principles of State Policy emphasising ways for strengthening the unity of the country.

In our society that is the only way to give full expression to our plurality, and refocus our terms of political thinking and discourse from strategic objective of achieving narrow sectional interest to more encompassing ideas and values which should speak to the well being of all in our one country.

Only in such a way we can come close to defining our national interest in the global context, and to mustering our citizens' will to defend them in every sphere in this rapidly changing world. We can also in this way guarantee consent, and ensure participation and compliance with international norms of modern democracy in our own country, not just because of the moral authority it lends our position abroad, but because of the strength it lends our governance at home.

In conclusion, from time immemorial, the state and the art of statecraft have been represented in various metaphors such as a living organism with interdependent functioning parts which fulfil their roles to ensure continuation of life; a house whose structures from the foundations through its walls to the roof-top will need to be conceived and skilfully executed to meet the need for which it is intended; a home in which the governance process or system and structures of power and authority are calculated to serve the interest of the family; or a ship braving the seas in its perennial voyage suitably built and under the direction of the master skipper to pilot it through the vicissitudes of the seas with the objective to dock safely at harbour at the end of its journey.

The Nigerian project has worked so far not because the experience has been most palatable, but because fortunately, there has been, and is still, the hope that the patience so far shown by its people will prove worthwhile; that the Nigerian idea will become a mere fulfilling and rewarding reality for all its citizens.

What I have sought to do is to suggest that the idea will indeed consolidate into a great reality if we learned the lessons of our past, and recognise, as a result, that we should grasp the nettle to forge sound structures on sound foundations fit for our national home.`

Chief Anyaoku, immediate past Commonwealth secretary general delivered this lecture at the Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife on March 1, 2005.`

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