The Nigerian Question


Dedicated to Nigeria's socio-political issues




October 3, 2007 - December 2, 2007



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The Nigerian Question: The Way Forward




Mahmud Tukur or



Being an Invited Paper Presented @ the First Annual Trust Dialogue Organized By Media Trust Limited  15th January 2004 at Nicon Hilton Hotel  Abuja-Nigeria


At my age, and from what I have been through in life, if the participants find me anecdotal or slightly befuddled, please be charitable.  The changes and the violent ups and downs my generation has been through are disorienting – to say the least.  I may also be repeating what I have said elsewhere!  But then remember there is nothing new which is useful that has not been said about our country over the last decade.


To start with, I wish to suggest that there is a pre-agenda item of the Nigerian Question: the precarious nature of the polity. We have regressed in our evolution to such an extent that Nigeria is perhaps a failed state. There is no security, no regular services of any type and, it is ‘normal’ for the Naira to crash by the grace of parallel market forces against the U.S. Federal Reserve managed dollar.  We have budgets only in name. Shoot outs and brawls are common at political party meetings and conventions.  Those with access to power or means to coerce can do whatever they wish!  Could we imagine any rational justification for the onslaught on unarmed civilians of Rafinpa village, near Jos in the dead of night in a combined operation by the Police, the Air Force and the Army on 18th December, 2003 (The Weekly Trust, December 27th 2003 cf., Zaki Biam in September 2001 and Odi in October of the same year, 2001).


So, first we have to think of emergency steps to stop our descent into the bosom of war lords, God fathers and rule by militias, drug and 419 barons, some with the cooperation of freewheeling elements of the security forces.


Coming to grip with incremental anarchy


The pre-agenda waiting for urgent consideration should include, necessary changes in the attitudes of the population especially the urbanized segment and in the mindset of the power elite and the political office seeking buccaneers.  Then, an intelligent and imaginative approach has to be adopted towards the abject poverty and helplessness of the populace especially its rural component, the seething anger and frustration within the army of educated unemployed youngsters and the millions of semi-literate adolescents who are poised to choke and suffocate even a modicum of tolerable, not to say civilized life in our cities and urban conglomerates.  A fundamental problem for the country is that a combination of an unpatriotic elite, thieving and greedy political and bureaucratic classes on the one hand and an unorganized, impoverished population on the other hand have constituted themselves into a massive road block to breaking out of the fortress of hopelessness which Nigeria seems to have become.  To add to this, a middle class which has been in formation prior to the SAP years has been decimated.  It is now almost non-existent. Other countries have been in and out of this patch.  So, we can also come out.  Luck and coincidence can help with the coming to power of a disciplined leadership group supported by a competent crop of patriotic professional, managerial and middle classes.  The examples of France and Germany after the World War II and Indonesia and Malaysia in the dying years of the 20th century come to mind.


Let us, therefore, first examine measures which have to be taken in order to stem the tide of ‘the coming anarchy’.  They fall squarely on the shoulders of the present local, state and federal administrations.


Basic security on the roads and in our bedrooms


It is worth our while to pause and reflect on the following.  In the month of November 2003 alone, twenty-seven policemen were murdered by robbers in Lagos.  Even the Kaduna-Zaria road is now unsafe at any time of the day.  Yobe and Borno States roads, villages and chunks of territory have been in the hands of highwaymen during the last couple of years.  Full scale battles between the police and robbers have been a regular fare in Ibadan, Owo and Okitipapa during the last few weeks.  For years now well to do people in the South East have to barricade themselves in their mansions.  As for the Niger Delta, kidnappings, closure of flow stations and ransom demands are routine.  In my Adamawa State, only a few kilometers outside Yola, robbers give villagers four days notice to gather two million naira ‘tax’, warning them no authority can stop the ‘transaction’. The brigands return on the appointed night for settlement.  If the villagers fail to pay up, the visitors will kill, rape, mutilate and depart not the least concerned about being apprehended by the security forces.  On the Mambila Plateau, Fulbe livestock owners make private arrangement with soldiers to protect their herds.  If the soldiers are withdrawn the herdsmen believe they have to leave for the Cameroun Republic.


Yet, the country is in the ironic situation of unrestrained use of force against political party and trade union activity, expression of opinion or opposition to government policy while robberies, violent crimes and murder of policemen have become routine.  More frightening still are the increasing willingness of government to unleash the police and military against political parties and civil society organizations involved in normal democratic activities such as rallies and protest matches.  Not to be forgotten is the detention, torture and humiliation of members of  U.D.A., a coalition of civil organizations, for demonstrating against the ‘deregulated’ increase of prices of petroleum products. To crown it all, there is a growing suspicion that members of security forces participate in robberies, extortion and brigandage.  Intriguing, however, was the mobilization of 150,000 policemen, half of the force size, to police Abuja during the CHOGM as miscreants were systematically ransacking homes in Abuja, Kaduna, Lagos, Onitsha etc. at will, terrorizing travelers on our highways and collecting ransom from villagers who had to sell their produce and livestock to satisfy the imperious demands of hoodlums.


The ‘bunkering war’ in Niger Delta with its accompanying ‘youth’ restiveness as well as the unending blood letting in Warri and its neighbourhood have assumed a life of their own.  Sermonizing and occasional deployment of soldiers have proved ineffective in ousting the cruel, and seemingly never-widening conflict. It is apparently more agreeable to ignore the threat which these pose for the integrity of the country and roll out tanks to abort peaceful demonstrations!


Developments over the last year, especially with the use to which the police force and even the military were put during the last elections, indicate that, like the traditional and local government systems, there is a real possibility of these institutions becoming mere appendages to the ruling parties, the state governments and the principal officers of the state.  Were this to happen, their neutrality would be compromised, professionalism would be lost and insecurity will increase thereby causing the failed state syndrome to gather momentum.


A thriving economy and elementary social services


It remains to be seen how privatization, deregulation, monetization and pension reforms – if these are what MEANS stand for – can substitute for the performance of elementary functions of the state.  Why those who steal Nigeria’s money, rush to the foreign  exchange market and similar conduits to sprit their loot to the safety of foreign bank accounts, bring it back and put it into the provision of infrastructure, power and water, even if the returns were attractive and usurious, beat the imagination.  If they do not why would their mentors and associates contemplate such a risky venture in the name of foreign investment?  The earlier we retrace our steps and do the common sense thing the better are our chances of stopping the threatening anarchy.


This requires funding for minimum infrastructure by way of roads, power, water and a railway system so that industries can be revived and jobs and wealth would be created.  Market forces cannot take care of these in our existing environment.  Classrooms need their roofs repaired, seats provided, children fed and basic teaching aids and materials supplied for the bearest minimum functioning primary education.  The same goes for facilities for teachers, inspection for quality, libraries and laboratories for the secondary section.  For the health delivery system also, basic facilities, essential drugs, beds linen and consumables such as cleaning materials have to be brought by the public sector.  In the agricultural sector, subsidies for agricultural inputs and irrigation facilities need to be realistically funded as is the case even with countries where all the other basic facilities are already in place.


Democratic culture and governance:


It can be claimed that our ‘nascent democracy’ is based on a civic culture which has been nurtured during the period leading to the 1999 elections and the earlier part of the Fourth Republic.  It is this culture and the existence of political parties, NGOs, trade unions, various interest groups and other civil society organizations which justify the claim.  But really, to claim that the contraptions we have now are political parties is to mislead ourselves.  Our latest experience shows that these political parties come to life only at conventions or when elections are about to be held.  Their essential purpose is to allocate positions and offices and ensure that elections are “won” in anyway possible.  There is no place in them for the mobilization of the people or the aggregation of their interests or their participation in public affairs.  In fact, we know that the existing members do their utmost to keep out new comers especially those who they suspect might be rivals when it comes sharing offices, patronage or largesse. The less likely a party is to come near getting power the more likely it is to be democratic and mass-oriented.  But then, since this type of party will not have access to budget or state funds, it would not have the resources to mobilize and effectively represent the interests of the people.  So, the real test is would the party which has access to power become interested in mobilizing the ordinary people and give them a voice, a real one in determining who represents them?  It is then we can begin to have political parties with the attributes of democratic institutions. 


In the same way, there does not seem to be much of a democratic culture abroad in the way our governments, the political parties or even some of the civil society organization conduct their affairs.  What is happening at present seems to be that those with the power and resources select their minions, and place them in executive and leadership positions of the institutions.  Their express purpose is generally to rubber stamp whatever the Oga, leader or Baba wants.


But, the purpose of democratic institutions and culture is to give voice and a say to the ordinary people as to how their budgets are put together, how state resources are utilized, what development projects are implemented and who gets to lead them.  Ultimately, the role of ordinary people in political parties and other institutions of democracy are to check the excesses of the party machinery and to deter them from becoming wayward.


Furthermore, if democratic culture and institutions are to develop, there must be equitable access to the media by the various contending forces, parties and organizations.  This access, especially to the publicly owned media, should be achieved through the work of a credible and neutral watchdog institution similar to the Electoral Commission or the judiciary.  Card carrying members would have no place in these sorts of watchdog bodies.


Also, campaign funding has to be addressed dispassionately, not from the vantage point of securing advantages for those in power, but for the purpose of ensuring a level playing field conducive to a healthy thriving of various tendencies and power centres with institutional representation.  This would naturally run counter to the present reality of ‘money politics’ where public resources and agencies are deployed to the advantage of political parties and NGOs associated with those in power and, to the detriment of perceived opposition organizations or ‘enemies’ be they individuals, or interests groups.


Political parties, civil society and interest groups have as their conventional roles civic education, articulation of demands, advocacy, application of pressure on power points, interest aggregation, mobilization for party and civic work, monitoring elected officials and contribution to the party platforms and programmes as well as suggesting policy alternatives.  In addition, they have a duty to sensitize citizens to the fact that they are not tenants while the office–holding groups are owners of the country.


Justice, under this rubric, in both its political, legal and administrative senses is another need.  This is particularly germane to the Nigerian system where it may be appropriate to refer to the phenomenon of an “injustice” system.  I have dealt with this at length in Leadership and Governance.  Suffice it to repeat here the well known inability of ordinary people to get justice in the existing system and to underline the high incidence of highhandedness, suppression of the citizen rights and the blatant disregard for public good or interest.  It still appears the case that in place of respect for the constitution, and due process we appear to have a comprehensive disregard and disrespect.  Regrettably, crude display of power and shameless flaunting of   influence seem to be preferred.  Also, instead of tolerance and dialogue, the use of the police and military to suppress routine opposition and democratic activities such as demonstrations, rallies and picketing have become common place.  Unless the authorities can be persuaded that these safety valves are essential for societal harmony and the survival of democracy, the prospect could be bleak indeed.


As for free and credible elections, everyone who witnessed activities forming an integral part of the ‘419’ elections has a story to tell.  It could be in terms of use of police and military force, party thugs, militias or, ballot stuffing, inflated results, declaration of results with little bearing to the actual voter population, or connivance of electoral and security personnel in fraud and manipulation.  Again, unless these anti-democratic habits are stamped out elections would graduate from being a farce into a tragedy.


In sum, democratic culture and governance have yet to take root in these shores.  Whether any positive change could be expected from the fifth year of the Fourth Republic is a moot point.  The prospects, despite the purported reform agenda, do not seem bright.  But, a change of attitude and style are required if progress, and not regression, is to be harvested.


The independence of institutions responsible for the administration of justice the conduct of elections and of Public order:


The independence claimed for courts and the Electoral Commission does not exist in reality.  Ranging from the issue of budget to the provision of facilities, recruitment and promotion of staff, the opportunity for the executive to influence, tempt, undermine, subvert or even entrap the various persons responsible for the management of these institutions calls for superhuman quality for the judiciary and the Commission to maintain their independence and do what is just and fair.  A similar or worse situation obtains at the level of the State Electoral Commissions. The election petitions tribunals have not done any better than the bureaucrats assigned to election work.  More depressing is that the conduct of even the higher levels of the judiciary has created an impression that their methods in handling the election petitions could be subject to interference, collusion and even receipt of financial benefits to subvert the course of justice.  If the courts allow the appointment of card carrying members of the ruling political parties to the ‘independent’ electoral commissions and they in turn appoint auxiliary staff from party workers and partisan members of the bureaucracy, then it is safe to conclude that no fair elections can be held in this country for the foreseeable future.  Consequently, institutions of democracy such as the legislature, the political parties cannot prosper.  What it means then is that 2007 would be a non-event.  Then, disorder may become our lot.


A whole new approach needs to be adopted between now and the next set of election if we are to have any semblance of fairness and equity.  Also if the obvious shortcomings of the Electoral Act are allowed to continue the advantage which control of state resources and security agencies gives the existing power holders will ensure that no free and credible elections can be held.  By the same token, the environment would continue to make it impossible for democratic institutions such as the legislatures, the political parties and NGOs to do the work expected of them.  In this case the transition to a democratic process is unlikely to go beyond its faltering first steps made in 1999 from which it has been systematically regressing since then.


The activities, incompetence, wasteful expenditure of resources, willful neglect of duties, adversarial attitude to the political parties, associations, contestants, conspire to deny the Independent National Electoral Commission any claim to independence, neutrality or professionalism.  Even in the law courts and the election tribunals, the Commission openly colludes with incumbents, especially the P.D.P. Its connivance in the use of brute force and thuggery during the elections and the conduct of INEC staff at the collation centres in particular have opened the institution and its leadership to justifiable accusations of crass negligence, improper behaviour and failure to shoulder responsibilities which are clearly its own.  Furthermore, the active involvement of Resident Electoral Commissioners and their staff in corruption, receipt of  pecuniary and other rewards to subvert the course of justice have left the Commission’s reputation in tatters.  With the recent appointment of the governing party’s card-carrying members to replace retiring members, the Commission’s status as an independent watchdog has been irreparably damaged.  It seems set to play a more ignorable role in the forthcoming local elections and in 2007 than it did in its flawed and fraudulent outing in April–May 2003.


It is, therefore, the duty of organizations, institutions and individuals committed to democracy, its culture and its development in Nigeria to wage a legal, political and media campaign to expose the unsuitability of the Commission, as presently constituted, to conduct, supervise or monitor voter registration or elections.  The unconstitutionality of its composition, the lack of confidence in its financial administration, its administrative incompetence and history of acting illegally and its disregard for laid down rules, regulations and laws have to be compiled, analysed and pleaded both in the law courts and in the court of public opinion.  The objective of this exercise would be to cause its dissolution and replacement with an Electoral Commission composed in accordance with the provisions of the Constitution.  The realization of this objective qualifies as one clear way forward for the Nigerian polity.


A cursory survey of the judicial scene suggests some lack of commitment to the values of fairness and equity.  The inertia and inactivity one senses militate against needed urgent steps to aid the survival and growth of democracy as well as improvement in the health of the Nigerian polity.  This arm of the state seems incapable of rising to a level of performance commensurate with the gravity of the Nigerian Condition. As part of the changes we need to stave off anarchy, the judiciary and the legal profession need to abandon their effete and slow motion ways of doing things.  The frustrating reverence for technicalities and adjournments  together with suspect ex parte judgements tend to support obvious injustice, untruth, theft of public funds and arrangee judgements.  The system has to become active and adopt the mien of radical constructionism.  It has to show willingness to   abandon the culture of quietism and deference to  an oppressive, incompetent and unproductive status quo.  It must find a way to pursue and punish vigorously the despots and anti-democratic forces and crooks, war lords and thieves who imfest the political, traditional   and bureaucratic classes manning the public service.  The system must also be able to clean itself of the criminals especially at its lower level.  Luckily, there are some gems in the highest levels and among the new appointees. 


If Nigeria is to become safe and secure democratic society, then the security services must return to real, instead of ersatz professionalism.  They must resist, with all the will at their disposal, the tendency for them to become appendages to ruling groups, parties and the monied class.  There is also the urgent need for them to identify with real democracy and its institutions and to imbibe the values of equity and to justice.  There is no justification for these agencies to implement illegal and cruel orders against the population knowing full well that the actions demanded of them are neither legal, fair nor equitable.  Ultimately, these agencies must allow popular forces of progress and change to thrive and operate so as to save the country and the Nigerian power elite, which includes them, from an ignoble end.  Failure to do these would almost certainly lead us to anarchy and rebellion.  In the end, the professionals, the judiciary and justice administration system and the security services  must be real officers and gentlemen, friends of the people, genuinely learned and transparently upright.


Academia, the Media, Labour and other civil society organisations


Academia, including the Students, are known to have fallen on hard times. Convenience certainly suggests a line of least resistance which is to accept crumbs, in the form of appointments, consultancy or sponsorship for workshops, from the tables of the mighty and pander to disgracefully narrow ethnic agenda and similar primordial considerations.  The lot of academia is certain to get worse if democracy is subverted and abandoned under the weight of market forces, messiahnism and personalization of state power and authority.  If a despotic system is firmly established, anarchy prevails or the country disaggregates because of corruption, incompetence and irresponsibility, even the modicum of civil existence which “autonomy” promises to confer on tertiary institutions is sure to evaporate into thin air.  So, if Nigeria is to move forward in the right direction, academia must return to its traditional role of ascetic, rational and committed activism in aid of a plural, democratic and enlightened society.


Regionalism, ethnicity, shopping for material gain, largesse and pay-offs from those who for the moment walk in the corridors of power is a short term and self defeating assignment for the media.  Alliance with these forces will continue to stunt democratic development and the installation of a just and equitable system of governance which are the only guarantee that the media can survive, perform professionally and work in the interest of the larger society.  Only a return to the course of professionalism, fair reporting, intelligent analysis and a commitment to providing a level playing field for all the contending forces from all parts of the country would assure the survival of a democratic country and, with it, the development of a virile media industry.  The time to act is now.  Otherwise, the media could be contributing to Nigeria’s slow but definite descent into anarchy.  Then, security, good governance and economic well-being would become scarce commodities.


The Nigerian Labour Congress and other civil liberty organizations perhaps decided to go on sabbatical because of the ‘power shift’ to the South West.  NADECO seem to have exited for good.  The C.L.O. made feeble noises once in a while.  The Patriots joined the ACF only frequently in the latter’s Cassandra role of pointing to the danger signals as illegalities, disregard for the constitution and democratic norms became rampant.  As the 419 election drew near and the infractions became more pronounced (cf. the forged Electoral Act, INEC failure on voter registration and display of list etc) alarm bells began to ring. Even so, except for the Patriots and CLO the other members of the fraternity tagged along till well after the return of the “son of the soil” to the Villa.  It was when the administration bared it fangs and its style showed a more transparent resolve to leave the democratic path and abandon any pretence to caring for the welfare of the country that the Nigerian Labour Congress tried to jump ship.  The Edo tripod with tentacles in Heritage House, INEC and trade union headquarters became uncomfortable for the third leg.  But, its job in the 419 elections has been done.  The last straw for the Labour Congress was the abrupt deregulation of the petroleum industry, the drive to dismantle it and the iron fist handling of the resultant protests.  With more recourse to unconstitutional ways, increased violence against democratic institutions the failed state syndrome has become all too obvious.


So, the time has come for a return to the beaten path of shoring up democratic norms, institutions and culture in order to avert descent into the valley of fascism or anarchy and destruction of the polity.


Key issues in the Nigerian Question


If, and when, we come to an effective grip with the blights discussed in the pre-agenda, we can justifiably turn to the subject of this Dialogue.  Simply put, what the conventional Question requires is a proper federation with viable federating units and a de-concentrated and less Frankenstein federal government which down-sizes the President and the Governors and makes the legislatures and political parties real power centres.


But, is just as well, that we constantly remind ourselves that these are elite preoccupations and the stuff of current power politics.  They hardly touch the real issues of poverty, lack of basic requirements and services which our people face in their daily lives.  These need to be tackled for an atmosphere to subsist in which we can think of a national conference to address what the organizers of this dialogue call the Nigerian Question.  The elements of the Question are basically the economic system including revenue allocation, the type of federation as well as residency rights, the problems of the division of functions among the levels of government and the number and viability of the federating units. The relationship among the principal arms of government and the budgetary and audit processes are also key items.


The federation, the units and the division of functions


Federations are basically necessitated by economic considerations.  A federation is not the best of arrangements in terms of a neat exercise of power or a cost effective management of public affairs.  But, when it works, it produces services, benefits and advantages which make the  burden of its management lighter.  It comes down to an acceptable economic arrangement, a political ‘covenant’ reflecting this economic system and a capable and easily accessible and knowledgeable leadership. 


A negotiated economic system is fundamental to the Nigerian polity at two levels.  At the first level it is a determinant of the political arrangements in terms of division of powers and functions. At the second level it is about the wellbeing of the population and the extent to which the economy successfully banishes poverty, want, ignorance and disease.  In sum, it is about success in wealth creation, prosperity for the broad masses of the people, security of life and property at home, at work on the roads and in social harmony.  The rationale was and remains to date that a bigger and more varied country provides a better resource base both in terms of natural endowment and human capacity.  The large market enhances possibilities for economies of scale and for creation of more wealth.  There is also the added advantage of weight in interstate transactions.


As regards the political system, the sticking points which need careful consideration are the characteristics of the federating units, power sharing, the powers of the President or Governor, the integrity of elections, population census, role of the civil and security services, the issue of a level playing field and political space, the budgetary process, statutory commissions and the Public Accounts Committees of the legislature.  Here also belongs the integrity of the judiciary – its budgetary independence, rule of law including its administration and the place of Sharia in the legal system.


Perhaps, the most substantive sore point of the Nigerian federation is the make up, size and viability of the federating and other administrative units.  The key question is how the exercise can accommodate ethnic and other peculiarities while at the same time ensuring that the units are made strong and sufficiently well endowed to exercise their autonomy for the benefit of the population.  A major objective is to see to it that federating units to not end up spending over eighty per cent of their revenue on personnel and overhead costs as is the case with many of the states and local governments at the present time.  Thus, to balance the quest for self determination and the need to ensure that the unit is a going concern have to be addressed dispassionately and honestly.


The unintended consequence of the attempt by the makers of the constitution to ensure effective governance and the multiplicity of unviable federating units needs to be confronted and resolved.  The unwillingness or inability to face these have led to creating zones and the emergence of regional and ethnic umbrella organizations.  However, these have shown, predictably, that they cannot be an antidote to the suffocating over-centralization and the waste and mismanagement which accompany it.  The vague and almost entirely unworkable propositions such as ethnic federations, presidential councils, multiple vice-presidency, rotational presidency/governorship do not appear to be efficient solutions.


The Budgetary Processes


The requirements for a credible process include preeminence of the legislature, faithful implementation, transparency, expenditure control and post-execution auditing and monitoring.  The legislature, whether at the federal or state level, is the direct representative of the people and has as primary role in the process.  And, a democratic government should have no difficulty accepting this.  Similarly, establishment of benchmarks and targets, clear review processes, involvement of stakeholders at the formative stages, inputs by civil society and independent associations are all requirements for a healthy budgetary process. 


It is not enough for the executive to handpick its cronies or those persons it knows would support its proposals and then turn round and claim that consultations have taken place.  Moreover, faithful implementation of a duly considered and sanctioned budget is an integral part of those processes.  In addition, transparency in authorizing expenditure and in the disbursement of funds as well as instilling expenditure control mechanisms are an essential part of budgeting. 


Then comes audit work and the crucial role of Public Accounts Committees which report directly to the legislatures so that they can more effectively monitor and certify that public resources are applied in the way that representatives, duly chosen by the people, agree that they should be.  Regrettably, none of this happens anywhere in this country.  The problem appears to be worse at the state level.  In many of these, budgets hardly exist. In a number of cases, the wishes of the chief executive replace the budget.  Furthermore, the Public Accounts Committees of the legislatures, whether at federal or state level, have to be given the due support and respect they are entitled to from the Accountant General, the Auditor General and the accounting officers of the Ministries and other governmental agencies. 


At the moment, the legislature, both at the state ad federal levels, has generally displayed more subservience to the executive since the April-May 2003 elections.  The present legislatures appear to be in a more disadvantaged position due, perhaps, to the fact that the majority of members got there by the leave of the executive.  It is believed by many observers that the four or five most important leadership positions in the National Assembly are held by people who almost certainly have not won their seats at the May 2003 elections.  As a result of this unfortunate situation, the concept of separation of powers is disappearing.  The leadership of the legislature crows unashamedly regularly that its job is to help the executive and facilitate, without due scrutiny it seems, the prosecution of executive agenda.  The claim is that this promotes stability. Thus, budgets are not subjected to proper scrutiny, funds are spent before proposals are brought to the legislature and crude partisanship is on the ascendancy.  None of these developments can be said to work in aid of a credible budgetary process in the sense required by a democratic culture.


Since the appropriate environment is yet to exist for a National Conference where a full discussion of the details of restructuring rightly belongs, this submission is necessarily sketchy.  Moreover, I trust, other contributors would confront the Question head on.  As a specific contribution, however, the following two paragraphs might help.


In November 2001, I participated in the work of an N.G.O. sponsored group which deliberated on             an agenda for a National Conference.  The report, drafted by three colleagues, suggested options for the Conference under the alternatives of (i) the way forward and (ii) the way out.  It proposes under alternative (i) “a reappraisal of the current arrangements in terms of: Extent of economic integration and free movement of people in and within the whole entity, residency rights, political arrangements such as the nature of the political union, the sort of constitution, the federating units, economic regime and inter-regional trade, revenue allocation and provision of and responsibility for infrastructure. Under alternative (ii) it suggests the de-amalgamation of North and South or the negotiation for a new internal arrangement, or the establishment of six new countries.


The report was not considered by the organs of the N.G.O.  But I believe at the appropriate time either it or those who proposed the ideas should be ready to share the thoughts (some may say non-thoughts) with other interested Nigerians.  For the moment, I limit myself to the preceding brief pre-view.


Can we see a way forward?


As suggested earlier, without an attitudinal change on the part of the general population of Nigeria aided by a nationalistic elite itself buoyed by a patriotic middle class, a way forward cannot be found.  Key leaders, kingmakers and opinion moulders must change and develop a democratic and public-spirited mindset.  They need also to recognize that their actions and utterances are a major cause of the problems besetting the country.  They are the ones directly responsible for stoking and creating conflicts through ethnic and religious propaganda.  The power elite has to accept that Nigeria’s needs are societal integration, devolution of powers to fewer viable federal units, economic prosperity, equitable and balanced provision of various types of infrastructure and the decentralization of functions of government for communities to have direct control of  their social services, their cultural and religious affairs, their legal systems and of the administration of law and order. The leadership has to show more sense of responsibility.  It has to learn to cooperate, consult, defer to better judgement and employ knowledge in discharging its duties. The attitude of the people to education, to work, to discipline and to the environment has to change.  Nigerians must also learn to demand real accountability and not handouts.  If these, or most of them, can be achieved within the next three years, the Nigerian state can save itself from withering away or imploding.


This contribution began on a pessimistic note.  It noted the looming possibility of anarchy as the indices of a failed state progressively catch up with Nigerians.  The country can peter away under the weight of a creeping anarchy and the inability of the state to carry out its basic duties.  Failure to provide security and to enforce laws, refusal to fund education and health, pay pensions and subsidize agriculture in order to satisfy the conditionalities of reform, deregulation or university autonomy are an abdication of responsibility. They all feed directly into the lawlessness and brigandage which are manifesting themselves more regularly in our daily lives.


Some three years ago the Nigerian Question could be discussed in terms of restructuring, resource control, national conference and marginalization.  A year ago, one could think of separation of powers, constitutionality, the integrity of the judiciary, the integrity of the electoral Commission and the Public Accounts Committee and the audit function, the workings of the Federation Account and the management and accountability of the N.N.P.C.  In January 2004 it seems more realistic to approach the Question via the symptoms of a failed state which have now manifested themselves in the Nigerian polity.  These, repeatedly fingered by all shades of opinion as widespread insecurity, elite lawlessness, comprehensive looting of treasury and resource transfer so massive that the Naira is in a freefall, skilled manpower haemorage, wild cat court decisions, rubberstamp legislatures presided over by anointed buccaneers and executive mansions populated by itinerant occupants are a deadly threat to the health of the Nigerian State.  They pose a greater danger when viewed against the frequency with which areas of the country go up in flames - thanks to “the bunkering war” in the Niger Delta, “war lord” and “Godfather regimes” in the South East and South South, an ever-present danger of murderous adventures by a “presidency-connected OPC” in the South West, “counterfeit Sharia sheiks” in parts of the North West and “rebel principalities” in the North East.    


The system is ‘out of joint’.  Those in authority appear to care less.  They proceed regardless in whatever catches their fancy be it deregulation or privatization when we do not possess even the facilities to receive imported fuel.  Those of us at the outside are talking to ourselves.  The most we seem to do is provide the power elite with photo opportunities to show off their new designer dresses and latest model jeeps.


At the bottom of it all is the issue of legitimacy.  We have difficulty trusting our leaders whether traditional, political, religious, academic, trade union or media.  They fail to give leadership sometimes because they got there surreptiously or by manipulation.  Even when they get in transparently, they almost immediately abandon the straight and narrow path. But sermonization is not enough.  Everyone has to act in his own sphere in combination with others.  Solo performance cannot achieve much.  Our acts should not be determined by convenience or short term considerations. Even so, the point should be made repeatedly that the job belongs, in the first place, to the executive, followed by the legislature, the judiciary, the political parties and the other democratic institutions.  They have taken on the responsibility, in many cases by foul means.  The least they should do is to earn their keep – which is very high.


Ultimately, the call by Dr. Suleiman Kumo (The Daily Trust, December 19, 2003) for popular mobilization and mass action under the leadership of “the established political organizations” and Simon Kolawole’s “foresight” (ThisDay, December 27-18, 2003) that our leaders may soon face anarchistic receptions may well be indicative of the way forward if office holders of all varieties do not mend their ways.



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This page was last updated on 10/27/07.