This Government Is Throwing Up Stones!

by L.Chinedu Arizona-Ogwu

Nigeria’s long suffering people are all too frequently caught in the crossfire of rampaging wars, millions afflicted with diseases, preyed upon by greedy despots and prevented by corrupt leaders and bureaucracies in a kleptocracy from obtaining basic schooling, medical attention, and any semblance of economic opportunities.

A look at the socio-political and economic environment in Nigeria today reveals a horrifying picture. There is massive corruption, staggering poverty, unemployment, poor education, deteriorating infrastructure, and general degree of hopelessness among the youth who feel very disappointed and let down by their political leaders. According to the 2008 World Bank human development index, almost half of the national population lives below the poverty line surviving on less than a dollar per day. The economic conditions felt by the ordinary Nigerian are poorer than ever. Nigerians are resilient. They have learned to survive. They look after one another, too, and altruism flourishes amid surprising circumstances of adversity. What does political independence mean to ordinary Nigerians? Independence was supposed to make life better but what do we see around us? Almost half a century of independence has brought nothing in terms of real development in the country. In many parts of the country, hundreds of kilometers of colonial roads have disappeared, schools and clinics are in dilapidated state and social infrastructure have been allowed to collapse. Something is definitely wrong!

The country is in deep crisis and the biggest problems at hand now are corruption, poverty, and unemployment. Several decades ago, may be you could live with an economic growth rate of 3.5% per annum, meanwhile the labour force in the country is growing at 5% per annum and creating unprecedented labour tensions and the result is a huge unemployment problem among the youth.

More than half of the jobless rate in Nigeria today is accounted for by people in their 20’s and 30’s. This is very alarming. Figures are hard to get by but it is abundantly clear that about six out of ten University graduates this year are without jobs not to count Secondary School and Technical School graduates. There is no system in place to absorb new graduates into the workforce as new graduates are left on their own to fend for themselves. I was moved to tears the other day as I listened to a forty something year old University graduate giving a testimony at church for landing his first job. He was so happy and thankful to God for giving him his first job. Obviously I was happy for him too because he counts himself so lucky to have a job while many of his colleagues were still searching. In many places, at 40 you are already a senior manager not starting your first job and there is no cause for celebration. Just how far a young Nigerian graduate would do to get a job? The answer is from anything to everything. That explains the sad story of some Nigerian “stoways”. They assumed rightly or wrongly they can find jobs abroad if they can’t get one at home.

The need to create new opportunities is more crucial than ever. The dilemma facing us now is not only that more than 200,000 people join the job market every year, but that many of them are well educated and naturally have higher expectations. Lack of job after the first degree force some people back to school hoping that if they get a Masters things would be better but they come out to meet even a tougher job market. How can we take care of our youth as a nation? The fear of the unknown has kept many Nigerian graduates from foreign universities staying abroad. They are scared they may not get a job if they come home. The jobless rate rose as “positive change” failed to create jobs for new graduates entering the job market. Since there is an absence of a viable private sector in Nigeria, the onus of creating jobs fall squarely on the shoulders of the government, and government needs to create about 400,000 jobs annually if the unemployment rate is to reduce.

I have written on this one before. The issue of corruption in government needs to be tackled head on. Just paying lip service to the slogan of “zero tolerance” fools no one. Many Nigerians are of the belief that the perception of corruption in government and corruption that comes to the open is just a tip of the ice berg. Why were corrupt ex-government officials still walking free and making arrogant statements daring the EFCC and everyone to put them before the law court? What does this tell about the government they belonged to and the party in power? Unless we tackle governance and accountability we are not addressing the real issues.

To tackle corruption adequately, I recommend the setting up of a government accountability project, a private watch dog group to ensure accountability on the part of the government. The current accountability office in the presidency is a mere window dressing designed to hide and protect corrupt officials and their deeds. The EFCC and ICPC, however well intentioned they may be, have been rendered powerless and useless entities. That is why a private watch dog group is preferred. The current maintenance of law and order and prevention of corruption is systematically flawed. There is also a need to install whistle-blower in every ministry reporting to a Public Prosecution Bureau (a proposal for the national assembly to look into) who will have the power to refer corrupt officials for prosecution. The installation of a whistle blower and the creation of a Public Prosecution Bureau are important steps to fight corruption and cronyism which in turn will help strengthen democratic institutions.

The priority should be to do everything possible to wage a battle against poverty, raise living standards, and encourage businesses to thrive/Over 100 million Nigerians live on less than one dollar a day, this is unacceptable. Nigeria’s poor are less inclined to vote than the middle class because they have kind of resigned themselves to fate, that no politician nor political party can make a difference in their lives, thus virtually guaranteeing that their discontent would not prevail on the Election Day.

Again, government needs to downsize. The current size of the government is too big and costly, in fact over bloated. Japan runs the World’s second largest economy with just 17 ministers. How come a country like Nigeria has over 70 ministers and deputy ministers not counting the nephews and nieces who double as special assistants? What for? We need fiscal discipline. The people are overburdened with taxes while government displays a great deal of fiscal indiscipline. The government needs to create the right business atmosphere for industries and businesses to thrive so that they can compliment government efforts at creating jobs. Elsewhere taxes are cut to spur growth, but in Nigeria, an economic team that lacks fresh ideas always look up to increased taxation as a way of generating revenue. Government needs to simplify taxes, lower tariffs on imports, and clear away red tape to encourage entrepreneurial skills. Too much taxes stifle growth. You don’t need to be a Nobel economist to know this.

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