The Lost Identity: Salvaging A Nation In Distress

by L.Chinedu Arizona-Ogwu

This kind of troubling revelation, in a country with decent leadership, should serve as a base for apprehending the culprits with a view to bringing them to justice. On the contrary, however, the culprits are presently active ‘power brokers’ in Nigeria’s ‘godfather politics’, seeking democratic avenues to perpetuate their rule. Corruption in Nigeria is systemic. One of the major factors responsible for political instability is the failure of the political class to sufficiently adhere to the basic tenets of democracy and constitutionalism. As we have rightly noted, this situation” has given rise to abuse of power, brazen corruption, disregard for due process and the rule of law, intolerance of political opposition, abuse of the electoral process and the weakening of institutions.” This contradicts the tenet of governance, which presupposes “the process of social engagement between the rulers and the ruled in a political community”. Good governance could be accomplished when the operation of government is in line with the prevailing legal and ethical principles of the political community. When this is the situation, system affect will be high, and the people would collectively aspire to participate in the activities of the state, knowing fully well that adherence to the rules and procedures would serve the interest of the greatest number of the population. Deprivation of benefits and selective justice would not be encouraged, as individuals’ rights would be protected within the ambit of the law. Political leaders would hold dear the watchwords: transparency and accountability in governance.

Successive governments in Nigeria have indicated their awareness of this as a way of ensuring stability and legitimacy. The Jaji Declaration of the Murtala/Obasanjo administration, Ethical Re-orientation Campaign of Shagari’s Second Republic, War Against Indiscipline (WAI) of the Buhari/Idiagbon regime, Babangida’s Committee on Corruption and other Economic Crimes, the numerous probe panels of the Abacha years and the current War Against Corruption (Diamond, 1991; Bello-Imam, 2004), are a façade of genuine measures to promote good governance through the eradication of corrupt practices. Between 2000 and 2003, two anti-corruption agencies were established to complement Obasanjo’s administration’s crusade. However, “the overall system remains deeply compromise.

The leaders did not observe the rules in its application to frustrate the opposition. The deeper motives of introducing these measures were rarely nationalistic; they were primarily motivated by self-interest for the acquisition of wealth and power. And the scourge of bad governance persisted thereby isolating the political elite from the generality of the citizenry. In other words, it up thus:” The growing distance between this political elite and the general public, however has undermined accountability…poverty and frustration over the slow pace of change fan public anger…” .The fallout of the hypocritical postures towards corrupt practices has been a ceaseless cycle of political and legitimacy crises. Citizens expressed their discontentment against irresponsible governance, and invariably lost their faith in the system. This situation gained wider currency in the Niger Delta region, where oil exploration had further impoverished the people. The region produced the bulk of the wealth of Nigeria, yet the communities are highly undeveloped. Since 1965 when oil was discovered in Oloibiri, “the Niger Delta Basin has produced 30billion barrels of crude oil and about 30 trillion cubic feet of gas. Deep-water exploration commenced in the early 1990s and currently its reserves account for 39 percent of world deep-water reserves.” Environmental degradation and lack of basic needs like good roads; potable water was the lot of the people. Notwithstanding the establishment of government agencies like the 1965 Niger Delta Basin Development Board (ND-BDB), Oil Minerals Producing Areas Development Commission (OMPADEC), in 1992, and the current Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC), there has been little to show, in terms of physical infrastructures development in the area to justify the quantum of wealth the region produced to the coffers of the federal government.

Eventually, “problems of legitimacy, transparency and mismanagement tainted by political jobbery have crippled these agencies that were established to deliver development in the region. This is aggravated by faulty institutional framework and poor technical and managerial capacity for effective programme delivery. ”Nigeria’s oil revenue by 1980 stood at 25 billion US dollars. Though there was a decline by the late 1980s, the initial proceeds from the oil boom were expended on projects with no positive impact on the economy. This Fagbadebo 033 triggered off debt and corruption. By 1989, Nigeria’s external debt stood at 30 billion US dollars. By 1994, it rose to 36 billion US dollars, including the repayment arrears that were due at the end of the year. The oil boom in reality was nothing but a vehicle for no development. It was a source of income and yet a “source of dependence”. As noted:” The Nigerian government exported 20 billion (US dollars) worth of oil last year, (2003) but its people still scrape by on an average wage of just a dollar per day—oil money has often been wasted in kickbacks and bribes. The country’s economy has struggled with years of mismanagement.”

The impoverishment of the Niger Delta area had begun since the first republic. Adaka Boro’s struggle was a response to the situation . The extreme deprivation peaked during the years that followed the emergence of the Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People (MOSOP), in the Abacha years, and intensified with the “judicial murder” of Ken Saro-Wiwa and eight other Ogoni activists. The people demanded an equitable share of the proceeds of oil revenues to improve their living and environmental conditions. An observer noted that: “The poverty level in the Niger Delta in spite of their oil keeps growing. The youths are aggrieved and radicalized by the activities of government and oil firms.

No roads, water, light, schools, hospitals. People are tired of talking because nothing is coming out from many years of talking. So, the youths feel the only thing to do now to get the attention of government and oil firms is to become militant… I think the government, which, for many years, failed to address the unacceptable poverty and total neglect of the oil-producing communities, created the problem. The demands of the oil producing communities were met with repressive force. A select few, mostly the political elites, were given a foretaste of the booty through the game of political intrigues of divide and rule tactics.

The more the use of repressive force were used, the more the instability in the polity and the more the people distance themselves from political participation. The cycle of crises and chaos, which has engulfed the Niger Delta region today, with its multiplier effects on the national politics, began as a result of deprivation and bad governance. For instance, it was discovered that Nigerian leaders have looted over US$500billion since independence. Nigeria’s former president, Olusegun Obasanjo, confirmed that the country’s indebtedness to the London Club as at November 2006 was N270 billion, so, the amount of misappropriated funds is more than the totality of Nigeria’s indebtedness.” The London Club debt portfolio currently comprises Par Bonds and Promissory Notes.

In a bid to stem the rising tide of opposition, political leaders, both civilian and military, exploit and manipulate the entrenched ethnic divide in Nigeria for political purposes. The forces of ethnic nationalism, therefore, have provided the platform for a refreshing opportunity to develop a more national agenda. Nigerian governments over the years lacked popular participation and consensus building. This has the effect of intensifying the exploitation of the hostile ethnic nature of the Nigerian state in the struggle to enforce legitimacy. Enforced legitimacy cannot, especially in an ethnically differentiated society, stimulate national development. Rather, the polity continuously moves in a vicious circle of instability that proceeds in a ceaseless tide which threatens its existence. Various tactics were employed for regime survival. This was worsened by a prolonged experience with dictatorial military rule. The common political intrigue associated with the civilian era was the propensity of the political elites to hang on to power through electoral malpractices, and, lately, orchestrated manipulation of the constitutional rules. Intra and inter party squabbles, defection, threats of assassination and assassination among other political vices, leading to threats and counter threats of impeachment are employed to ensure the continuity of patron-client politics. Thus, meaningful developmental programmes were neglected, as efforts were concentrated on how to curtail the rising opposition forces.

Deliberate and conscious efforts, borne out of patriotism, are needed to ensure the emergence of a virile civil society. An informed civil society is necessary to balance the power of the Nigerian State. This could be a solution for ending the brazen abuse of powers and privileges by public officials and stimulate a psychological reorientation towards meaningful development. A genuine monitoring of government policies and programmes could lead to the detection of corrupt practices. The consequence is the near possibility of alteration in the perception of government as the instrument of the elites to acquire and retain power at the expense of the people. In the long run, non-elites could come to the realization that the ruling elites owe their positions to the mandate of their constituents for the purpose of good governance. Thus the state could be seen as the servant of the public, rather than the preserve of the elites. This would create a high level of system affect. Moreover, the public would be reconnected to the elite-dominated, neopatrimonial state. By the time the public interest is reasserted in governance, the polity would exhibit the potential for growth and stability.

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