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[FROM THE DOCTOR’S DESK] THE NEW MINISTERIAL TEAM AND THE CHANGE MANTRA

By Dr. Ignatius Odianosen Okosun (PhD).

THE NEW MINISTERIAL TEAM AND THE CHANGE MANTRA

Criticism is a disinterested endeavour to learn and propagate the best known thought in the world”. Mathew Arnold (1822-1888) Essays in Criticism. Encapsulated in rhapsodic ebullience hallmarked by serendipity were Christopher Columbus on discovery of the Western Hemisphere, Luigi and Lucia Galvani on the theory of  galvanism, Volta on the production of electric current by conduct of two dissimilar metals, thus the invention of the battery, Faraday on Magnetism, Archimedes on his mathematical principles, Cyrus W. Field on his projection of the first Atlantic cable, William Penn the British Quaker who founded the colony of  Pennsylvania, Leonardo da Vinci on Mona Lisa and others too numerous to mention. Also in his poem “The Volunteer Day”, C. Lewis took an emotional and retrospective glance at the travails, trauma and tribulations of the volunteers of war for ancient England, “It was not Fraud or Foolishness, glory, revenge or pay! We came because our eyes could see no other way.

 

There was no other way to keep man’s flickering truth alight; these stars will witness that our course burned briefer, not less bright”. Moreo is the altruistic zeitgeist of these inventors. They stood between Scylla and Charybdis, Critics and Kill –sports, but with dogged pertinacity, the punctiliousness of a Spaniard and Trojan perseverance they were able to move mankind forward, critics were their best friends and their worst enemies in the journey.

 

Man is Hegelianly imperfect, perfection is nowhere within the purview of man, hence imperfection is a uniovular twin with man. Giving this state of imperfection mistakes, defects, shortfalls, indispositions, and even death becomes a concomitant of man and his activities. Longfellow asserted that “No man is an Island unto himself”. In the light of this, social, political, cultural and educational engineering heightened a concatenation of events that gave rise to “The Society” and “The Social Contract.” In professions, men, women, students and critics contribute their quota towards ensuring a viable “social contract.” Ideally, the critic is the argo eyed spectator who sees a better part of the game. He mirrors in and mirrors-out activities through communication engineering, information technology and information management, seeing the world as a global village.

 

However a tree on its own cannot make a forest is not my saying or ascribes to me because the dictum is a general known adage even to a children. What a metaphor and a beautiful one for that matter. But there again, a superfluous trees in a place could result in an unproductive dense waste land. “We cannot continue to search the branches of a sick tree for the cause of its sickness.” – African Proverb. As history unfolds in Nigeria, it does appear that “the more things change the more they remain the same”. Nigeria and indeed Africa are richly endowed. The geographical expression called Nigeria is robustly blessed with natural resources.

 

With the 2015 Nigeria’s Presidential election won and lost, and the attendant celebrations over, attention of the victors General Muhammadu Buhari (rtd) and his party, the All Progressives Congress (APC) should now shift to policy that would determine the success or failure of the new regime. Beyond the “change” mantra of the APC however, it should be clear to any discerning individual that governance in Nigeria should no longer be business as usual. An entirely new approach founded on leadership transparency, discipline, accountability and integrity is now a must if the Muhammadu Buhari regime can have any hope of pulling Nigeria out of the woods. It is instructive that Nigerians elected the retired but obviously not tired army general on those planks on March 28 2015. His victory at the polls, against all odds, clearly shows Nigerians are tired of business as usual. No doubt, expectations are high that General Buhari  government will provide an antidote to the country’s most daunting problems of epileptic power supply, corruption, poverty and unemployment. Nigeria’s poverty cannot be blamed on shortage of natural resources, or the wherewithal to execute people-oriented programs; rather it is squarly man-made, arising from insincerity in budget formulation and implementation over the years.

With the change in federal government from the ruling party to opposition party, I opine that we should begin to seriously consider May 29 to May 28 as Nigeria’s fiscal year in order to align with our established election time table and also prevent politically induced budget truncation halfway into the year, on the advent of a new leadership after elections. But this is vital for the future. For now, every attention should be focused on improving power supply in the country, reducing corruption in governance, and reducing poverty and unemployment. General Buhari’s economic team including his newly appointed cabinet ministers must therefore hit the ground running.

The abysmal performance of the power sector is no doubt a consequence of corruption which has over the years been the common denominator in governance in Nigeria. The power sector has gulped billions of dollars over the years. Constant electricity supply remains elusive even as Nigerians are compelled to pay huge electricity tariffs for services not enjoyed. Specifically General Buhari should consider taking a closer look at how Nigerians were indebted to the tune of N400bn after the privatization of the Power Holding Company of Nigeria distribution network. It is equally curious that more than two years after privatization, government continues to breastfeed the power distribution companies with selective interest waivers, which have regrettably not resulted in low tariffs or improved performance. In view of cost implications therefore, the Buhari’s administration should as a matter of urgency fast-track the adoption of gas for generating power. Besides, Nigeria’s gas reserves are a thousand times in excess of her crude oil reserves, therefore it may be necessary to fashion out an institutional legal framework in which power and energy sectors are converged so as to facilitate transportation of gas to the power section as this will bring about coordination and efficiency in the comatose sector.

Most Nigerians are of the opinion that; with endemic corruption in Nigeria, with the massive looting of public funds, profligate spending by public office holders, over-invoicing and kindred other corrupt practices, the new cabinet of General Buhari government must as a necessity take bold and courageous steps in tackling corruption  as against President Jonathan’s acquiescence disposition towards it. How does one explain a situation where about $20 billion was unremitted to the nation’s treasury by NNPC under Mrs. Diezani Alison-Madueke’s watch, yet the oil czar remained the petroleum minister while the whistle blower, former CBN governor and current emir of Kano Alhaji Sanusi Lamido Sanusi, was shoved off the seat? What about the police pension fund fraud, $10 billion spree on charter flights by the same petroleum empress, Mrs Diezani Allison Madueke; $6.8 billion fuel subsidy scam also under Alison-Madueke’s watch; or a Nigerian Presidency that boasts of more than five Presidential aircrafts at a time the country cannot boast of a single  national airline. These were glaring examples of corruption in government which Geneal Buhari and his new ministerial team must have the political will to stamp out. Coincidentally, the retired army general himself has a pedigree of prudence, fiscal discipline and an aversion for corrupt practices.

One sure way of tackling corruption in a democratic dispensation is to have strong institutions as opposed to strong personalities. Under President Goodluck Ebere Jonathan, Nigeria’s two foremost anti-corruption institutions, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) and the Independent Corrupt Practices Commission (ICPC) were intentionally incapacitated by starving them of funds. Both institutions became moribund even in the face of massive looting under President Jonathan’s government. The Buhari’s government must therefore show commitment to building, strengthening and sustaining the independence of these anti-graft agencies as well as the judiciary which is another tier of government that can solidify the fight against corruption.

President Buhari and his new ministerial team can as well adopt a modified John Meynard Keynes model of macro- economic management as a way of tackling unemployment. This model advocates massive government intervention to help overcome the lack of aggregate demand in order to reduce unemployment and increase growth. In adopting this model however the Buhari administration should be creative in such a way as to increase government spending on infrastructural development while keeping it low on recurrent expenditure. Efforts to keep recurrent expenditure low must necessarily involve the cost of running government. The current federal bureaucracy is needlessly over-bloated.

Clearly, the cost of running democratic governance in Nigeria has become too expensive and unsustainable. For an economy that produces virtually nothing and relies only on oil revenue, Nigeria’s political office holders are the most highly remunerated in the world. A senator, for instance, receives an average of N30 million per month. Nigeria has 109 senators and 360 Members of the House of Representatives. Each member of the House of Reps receives about N23 million per month. This is aside their severance when they leave office. General Buhari’s government must look into this in collaboration with the National Assembly since the minimum wage of an average Nigerian cannot guarantee food on the table.

President Jonathan’s government was abysmally low in its allocation to capital expenditure in the 2015 federal budget. Out of the N4.357 trillion budgeted for the fiscal year 2015, only a paltry N627 billion (14.4%) was allocated to capital projects while a whopping N2.6 trillion (60%) was allocated to recurrent expenditure. This clearly shows a lack of seriousness in the so-called transformation agenda of the Jonathan government. A Buhari government will therefore do well to reverse this trend by budgeting a greater percentage to capital projects all through the duration of his administration. But it is not all about budgeting; it must also implement the budget to the letter.

With infrastructural development at the fore-front of government expenditure, jobs would be created thus leading to increase in aggregate demand. An increase in the general level of demand for goods and services will invariably result in the increase in economic activities as new vistas open up for small and medium scale enterprises. This, in turn, will result in increased employment opportunities. Furthermore, the nation’s agricultural sector is a veritable avenue for poverty eradication, job and wealth creation. It is also the most important sector to be considered in eradicating hunger and meeting the basic human need for food. Although many people agree that President Jonathan’s government recorded some improvement in the agricultural sector, not much however has been achieved as the nation’s farming population continues to suffer from lack of access to modern farming technology, agricultural facilities, land and loan facilities, poor seeds, corruption, an aging farming population without the younger generation replacing them, illiteracy, and several other setbacks.

In the words of the National President, All Farmers Association of Nigeria (AFAN,) Architect Kabiru Ibrahim, “the performance of the outgoing government is more rhetoric than action because the system only accentuated subsistence farming and was not well coordinated to target all farmers irrespective of political affiliation, religions and sex.” In light of above therefore, it is recommended that Buhari government should allocate at least 20% of the total budget to developing agriculture. President Buhari’s approach to agriculture however should not be the usual approach of throwing money to the sector, an approach which usually results in the hijack of the money by powerful elements who are not directly involved in the sector. Rather he should emphasize agric-based institutional frameworks that would see to the establishment of rural community-based agricultural banks through which loans can be channelled to rural farmers – with conditions of a single digit interest rate. This framework should also include establishment of Agricultural Processing Zones (APZ) as processing harvested products guarantees good value on the farmers produce.

Although several loan facilities exist through the Bank of Agriculture (BOA) and Bank of Industry (BOI) respectively, these are limited to urban areas and, most of the time, bogged down by excess bureaucracy such that these loans are disbursed to needy farmers late in the year. Even then, rural farmers are hardly aware of these facilities. The Buhari’s government will also have to revitalize the manufacturing sector. It is one sector that can generate the desired employment. Some countries such as Hong Kong, Malaysia, Singapore, South Korea, Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa were at par with Nigeria in the 1970s but today have all left Nigeria behind because they paid serious attention to rapid industrialization while we paid lip service to it. Nigeria’s recent attempt to smuggle the country into the BRINCS group (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa), the world’s next industrial power houses, through implementation of Vision 2020 has failed judging from current economic realities. President Buhari’s government must pay attention to this area and revisit Vision 2020 with a view to fashioning out a National Development Plan that will focus on 2035 or even 2040 as 2020 has become unrealistic. To ensure that this policy is pursued by governments after Buhari, it should be supported with an Act of the National Assembly, as well as involve inputs from states and local governments, organized private sector, and other stake holders. In fact a commission should be established to oversee its implementation, the policy should of course not exclude provision for the environment.

During his presidential campaigns, General Buhari at different times promised to restore the past glory of education in Nigeria and instil discipline in all schools. As desirable as this is, it will be interesting to see how he intends to go about this. One thing for sure though is that our once highly-ranked educational system has now fallen to an all-time low such that it is now adjudged as one of the worst in Africa. Despite the huge resources committed to education over the years by successive governments, very little has been achieved. The licensing of more universities has not helped much in improving the standard of education, nor has it helped in reducing the army of those seeking tertiary education. There is in fact no cogent basis for the post secondary school and pre university examination to remain as its purpose in the first place were to subject intending students to stringent screening in order to curb cultism, which has not been achieved. Even when these intending students are lucky to gain admission, all sorts of obstacles are thrown on their way in the course of their academic pursuit. Little wonder they cut corners to facilitate their admission and graduation, sometimes tacitly supported by their parents or guardians, hence the quality of graduates produced by our tertiary institutions has become abysmally low. Many of the graduates are not employable because they lack the basic skills their vocations demand. In addition to all these, there is hardly enough grant for academic research. It is expected therefore that Buhari government would undertake a surgical operation of the education sector in order to cure her of the debilitating malaise that has troubled it over the years, more so as education remains the bedrock of a nation’s economy.

One sure way to start is to examine the existing education policy, align it with the industrial policy proposed above and a proper review of the entire curriculum is also desirable. The current secondary education system, while desirable, should be re-examined, rejigged and refocused as it has lost one of its principal purpose of providing for those who could not secure admission into higher institutions. Presently there is a wide skill gap arising from a total absence of career path for this category of Nigerians. In the absence of a workable policy framework to take care of this category of Nigerians, crime, prostitution and other social vices becomes the easy way out..

Unfortunately the above will not achieve the desired national goal if Nigeria continues to face security challenges. No significant foreign investment would take place in the country in the face of visible security challenges. Luckily, the issue of security falls directly under the President Buhari’s purview as a retired army general. The on-going Boko Haram insurgency must be brought to an end within the shortest possible timeframe including kidnapping, armed robbery, militancy and other kindred undesirable activities which constitute threats to our national economy. Politicization of our security agencies is something of great worry. As a matter of urgency, the Buhari government must introduce serious reforms to restore the prestige of our security agencies. In light of this, President Buhari should not waste time articulating some nebulous 1001-point agenda but to focus more on tackling corruption vis-a-viz the issues raised above. If President Muhammadu Buhari and his new ministerial can succeed in reducing corruption in public governance to the barest minimum, they would have recorded a landmark achievement, while also laying a solid foundation for whoever will succeed him.

Finally the problems of improving power supply in the country, corruption  and reducing poverty and unemployment will remain unsolved until that day when that man from Sokoto or Kano identifies that the severe man-made environmental degradation in the Niger-Delta caused by oil spillage are not just South-South area problems but the problems of all Nigerians. We will collectively be troubled until the day when that Nigerian from Enugu, Port-Harcourt or Lagos identifies that the severe security crises going on in Borno and some other neighbouring States are not just problems of the North-East but problems of all Nigerians, we will remain divided until the day when some people would stop seeing themselves as having a divine right to rule Nigeria forever and accept that all Nigerians no matter where they come from have equal rights to the “Throne of Nigeria”. It is desirable for us to quickly and sincerely unite in genuine brotherhood so that these irresponsible political opportunists will not continue to use religious or ethnic card to dominate and enslave us. We must remove the wool from our eyes and put to shame all political manipulators who thrive on the basis of bitter politics, capitalising on the weakness of sectional sentiments to divide and rule us.

 

Dr. Ignatius Okosun is a researcher, prolific writer on various national/global issues and a social

commentator. He resides in Toronto-Canada.         Email: odyseries@gmail.com

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