I have read with amusement, bewilderment and sometimes annoyance from the Internet the public discourse regarding the management of policies or the lack thereof, of the politicians and the commentators regarding ‘Project Nigeria’. I would ordinarily let things be but for the fact that I know that the Internet is the medium of the very elite of the Nigerian crème de la crème. Let me take the time to explain as an aside that I do not mean that the Internet should be a status symbol, but I know from fact that not everyone has phone connectivity much less the Internet in Nigeria. Again, the newspapers that document the opinions and activities of government and the elite as a group do not represent the views of the ordinary Nigerian at Oshodi Bus stop. I dare say that the public debate is getting off-track. Like they say here in the US, it’s the issues stupid. What are the serious contemporary issues to be dealt with in ‘Project Nigeria’?
What Development Path
It does not take a rocket scientist to figure out that if you got in a car with a full tank of gas with no goal and no set direction, you may end up driving around in circles until you run out of gas. A leader without a vision would be like a curse upon his followers. What objective has Nigeria as a nation set out to attain? Who has set the compass and who is taking her there? ‘Political Power’ in itself is not an ugly concept, it is the abuse thereof that makes it ugly. The question is, do the current politicians have any vision besides personal aggradisement? Who is monitoring the politicians and their policies and what are the consequences for non-performance?
Any government, regardless of the shade or persuation of its officers, would ordinarily wish to have some commerce in order to generate wealth for its citizens. The government benefits (believe it or not) from the wealth of its citizens (when they pay taxes and other duties). Good roads, electricity and communication are so basic in today’s world of connectivity that one is amazed at how any sane person can ignore those veritable sources of prosperity and remain in government. It ought not to be politics to repair and dualize all the roads in the east. It should not be a political favour to connect every village in Nigeria to the national electric grid. Pardon the expression, but I believe that it is a mistake of moronic proportion and an indication of bad leadership that Nigeria has not been electrified in spite of the billions of Dollars earned from oil together with the billions borrowed from multilateral organizations.
Education is ongoing. That is why developed economies have compulsory free education to high school level. That is also why they spend so much on grants and scholarships for college education in spite of default by most of the beneficiaries in repayment. R & D departments of the major corporations also take a chunk of the budget for the purposes of continuing education. Development means going forward, keeping up with new and improved ways of doing business. That is why a classical basic education is necessary to an enlightened work force. The government does itself the favor of educating its citizens. Education is not a privilege for the children of the elite. The government can fund basic education regardless of its wealth. It is a matter of priority. You will be shocked if you checked the percentage of successive budgets to see how much had been used for education. Politicians must rise above rhetoric if Nigeria is not to be left in the Stone Age.
Agriculture is very important to the stability of any nation. People just have to eat. You may wish that they do not, but so long as persons are alive, they just spend some time feeding the face. So I see an available market out there, all 140 million strong, not to mention the rest of Africa. Any serious government within four years can mechanize agriculture. Africa is waiting to be fed. It will be a lot easier for the U.N. or other NGO’s to procure food from an African Nation to feed the starving Africans in the desert than to haul it all the way from Europe or the USA. Again, how much is budgeted in Naira terms for farm machinery, seeds and agricultural implements reveals the true picture of our priority in real terms. How much have successive governments put into agriculture, hopefully, in this regard, we had structure in the River Basin Authorities we can develop from.
The Rule of Law/Curruption
Anyone who knows a thing about the Legal system in Nigeria would tell you that there is much to be done. My friends over here who want to be polite chuckle under their breath and wonder what restraining power has held together such persons so determined to self-destruct. One casual acquintance when he knew I was from Nigeria asked with amazement what glue keeps the pieces of Nigeria together. I utilized my opportunity as a minister of the gospel to preach to him that Nigerians in spite of their many faults truly believe in God. Any person in the US that has been in seminal circuits would tell you that there is a lot of admiration and wonder at the struggle of the very educated Nigerians in the diaspora. What puts some off is why we have allowed mainly the mediocre to govern in our affairs.
A prospective investor wants to know before hand what laws would govern his transaction. He also wants to know that if he has a dispute with his partners, it can be resolved under a legal system that is not only fair, but is also seen by all to be fair and predictable. This helps the prospective investor compute his risks. A currupt system that is skewed to favor ‘sacred cows’ is most likely to be shunned by serious long-term investors. Additionally, a system that thrives on institutional curruption in government cannot compete in a global environment of the 21st century where trade is regulated by strict laws and protocols. Questions most inquirers in the US ask are; what legal system does Nigeria run, how are the judges appointed, how are they disciplined; is the government subject to the law. The time is ripe now for strict conflict of interest laws in our statute books. In spite of the bad reputation of the professional politician worldwide, politics was never intended to be an avenue to instant wealth as practised in Nigeria. Recently, consultants have had to deal with the issue of how much respect is given to the constitution; is it the grundnorm; if not the constitution, where does the grundnorm reside?
Human Rights and Global Terrorism
For good or for ill, since the New York terrorist bombing of 9/11, Human Rights and global terrorism have moved to the top of the agenda regarding relations between nation states. It is therefore a lot less easy for strategic partners to wink at human rights violations under the cover of non-interference in the domestic affairs of a sovereign state doctrine. Human rights violations cannot be ignored because they are given a religious shroud whether of the ancient Mosaic Law or of the Sharia Law. Sentences of amputation of limbs and death by stoning under religious law in the 21st century cannot be excused if they are repugnant to natural justice. Also countries doing business with Nigeria would find it uncomfortable to deal with other issues and ignore what went on in Odi and Zaki-Biam. Politics in Nigeria is a lot of rhetoric. But that is not all politics is about. We need to move on to the settling of the issues so the parties can be reconciled and compensated.
Government is not solely about controlling a bloated and currupt bureaucracy and dishing out favor to cronies in the ‘come chop’ tradition. Government is also about issues, vision and principles. The press needs to leave out the personalities of the players and their little puny achievement in interpersonal relations (read nepotism, bribery and curruption). The press needs to push the so-called leaders (including the godfathers and godmothers) to talk about their vision and the goals they set to achieve with the power at Asorock (or wherever they intend to capture government).
This is my challenge to all those over-achievers and re-cycled leaders to come to the table and debate like civilized persons. IBB, what would you do about national security, would you stop the torching of the churches each time there is a misunderstanding? Was it you who took Nigeria into OIC? Why was it done in secret? ATIKU, what are you doing about curruption in government to make us want to promote you to president? BUHARI, what would you do with the economy, would you return it to your beloved command economy? OJUKWU, Having tainted yourself with the secession bid, what have you done to show to Nigerians that you have repented and purged yourself of Biafra (besides the party you had in NPN). Political capital is earned. RIMI, what meaneth this Sharia? If it is legal and proper why was it not sponsored during Murtala, Shagari, Buhari, IBB or Abacha regimes.
Please let us tackle the issues and leave out the personalities. We need new ideas and fresh hands not tainted with the past. With due respect to the elders, IT IS TIME TO RETIRE GRACIOUSLY.