OPINION: Let's Build This House – By Oma Djebah
Nigeria is going through a rather rough patch of time. At the heart of the country’s current political challenges is the ill-health of President Muhammadu Buhari, a fact which seems to have emboldened self-serving sections of the political class, reportedly working to drag the Military into politics. An obviously angry Chief of Army Staff, Lt- General Tukur Buratai, who issued a stern warning to army personnel earlier this week, to stay off politics and politically related activities was quite unequivocal in his statement “that some individuals have been approaching some officers and soldiers for undisclosed political reasons.”
Remarkably, each time Nigeria confronts severe political challenges, the fear that the country will fracture is never far away. The notion that Nigeria will break-up has become the default position of a segment of the public, some politicians and political analysts of various persuasions. Two books published in the past one decade and half by foreign Policy analysts of Nigeria and countries in transition well capture this mindset: This House Has Fallen: Nigeria In Crisis by Karl Maier (2002) and Nigeria: Dancing on The Brink (Council on Foreign Relations Books) by Ambassador John Campbell (2010).
Yet, Nigeria has shown remarkable resilience in the face of adversity in the past. In many respects, the challenges that Nigeria faces are hardly unique: they are the product of the country’s stage of development and of its cultural, ethnic and religious diversity. But again, Nigeria cannot be the most diverse country in the world. This raises the question: why have other more diverse nations thrived, while Nigeria is frequently close to the precipice?
The answer lies in our inability to build and sustain strong, effective and functional institutional structure to tackle the many challenges of nationhood. The experiences of the Federal Republic of Germany and the United States of America (USA) clearly illustrate this contention. Germany with a population of almost 82 million people with diverse ethnic, religious, and political groups has remained united, strong and vibrant since her pre and post-second world war unifications brought about by Chancellors Otto Von Bismarck and Helmut Kohl, respectively.
Like in Nigeria, the Germans have passed through difficult times during the Second World War and its aftermath. But today, Germany is not only the fifth largest economy in the world, it is the leading country in the European Union of 27 member states-with or without Brexit- and one of the world’s most technologically, militarily and economically advanced and politically stable countries. It has emerged stronger and more stable.
The US also has had its own fair share of trying challenges during her various stages of national development: the constituent states fought a war over slavery, the country has struggled against institutionalized racism to build a just and free country where every American can realize the American dream. The 1776 declaration of independence and the Constitution of 1789 which form the foundations of the US federal structure are major milestones in the political evolution of that country. A critical factor in the successful efforts by these two countries to overcome their challenges are effective institutions. This is why both the US and Germany have fared so well-strong and prosperous- after centuries and decades of unification.
But in Nigeria, what do we have? At every point of national tensions occasioned by either ethnic, political or religious or a combination of the three tendencies, we often return to the familiar refrain that the British amalgamation of the Colony and Protectorate of Southern Nigeria with the Protectorate of Northern Nigeria to form colonial Nigeria in 1914 was a “grave mistake.” So, we must tear Nigeria apart. We must break up the union into smaller fragments now! That in my view is not the real challenge Nigeria faces now.
The real task besetting this generation and indeed the present generation of Nigerian leaders, is how to build a new Nigeria. It is how to foster the birth of a new Nigeria. When the average Swede, Canadian or American speaks about their country’s dream, he or she does so with so much conviction, passion and pride. Two years down the road, there are clearly no manifest indications yet that the Buhari administration has got what it takes to navigate the nation out of this crisis! As late Chinua Achebe, author of Things Fall Apart once tragically lamented ‘’Nigeria has lost the 20th Century and it is on the verge of losing the 21st century on account of poor leadership…’’
Both President Buhari and his deputy, Acting President Yemi Osinbajo should therefore move Nigeria closer to these models cited above in terms of road map and development. As Buhari himself once lamented at a meeting with members of the Newspapers Proprietors Association of Nigeria (NPAN), which I attended , the Jonathan ‘s administration was characterized by glaring acts of official corruption! There is no doubt that Jonathan is the worst President Nigeria has ever produced. He was ill-equipped, least exposed and ‘badly’ educated with a PhD! In spite of Olusegun Obasanjo’s imperfections, his barracks- style approach to governance, he still remains the best President Nigeria has ever produced.
But two years down the line, it is time for Buhari and his team to reset Nigeria! I believe that the administration may well have a vision but lacks the capacity to mobilize Nigerians to collectively work towards that vision. Examples of Ministers working at cross-purposes are quite evident. There is obvious lack of co-operation, cohesion and collective goal.
Going forward, Acting President Osinbajo should quickly to create a new vision for the country, a new leadership commitment to achieve such vision and a new way for Nigerians to think about themselves as one people. In short, he should chart a new course for a new Nigeria. His signing of three Executive Orders to ease business, fast- track budget submissions and promote made in Nigeria products is a good step in the right direction. But it is like an attempt to beautify a massive building whose foundation is faulty. This brings me to another crisis that Nigeria faces.
Nigeria is not only the most populous country in Africa; it is also one of the major exporters of crude oil products to American and European markets, with Minister of State (Petroleum Resources) Dr Ibe Kachikwu saying recently that he would resign by 2019(In any case, the first tenure of the Buhari administration ends in 2019, so it makes no sense for Kachikwu to talk about resigning in 2019.If he is serious, let him set a time-line of 2018 for his resignation if he fails to meet targets!) if Nigeria still persist in her tragic fuel importation. Anyway, the real crisis is that over the years, especially since the end of our civil war, the country’s dependence on oil has created a political economy of distribution –which is distribution of oil revenue — rather than of production. The extent of Nigeria’s dependence on oil is reflected in these data: oil and gas accounts for an estimated 95 per cent of Nigeria’s export revenue, 80 per cent of the government revenue and about 33 per cent of the gross domestic product (GDP).
Yet the perils of this heavy dependence on oil and gas have not been fully grasped by our political elite. These perils manifest themselves in various ways. Major sectors of the economy that should generate employment have been neglected. Acquiring political power is seen as a quick route to gain access directly or indirectly to the revenue from oil. Many states show less commitment to generating their internal revenue — in a reversal of the ethics of inter-regional competition before oil became a significant factor in our national fiscal arrangement. Closely related to this point, is the tension and agitation over an appropriate revenue allocation formula that can simultaneously address the needs of oil producing and non-oil states.
Nigeria’s governance crisis lies in the very faulty foundation of our presidential model. The scenario is akin to a construction engineer building a house on a faulty foundation. Put differently, what we have today is not a Presidential System. I will cite two examples. In a modern Presidency, there is really no room for the office of Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF). It is archaic and merely gulps scarce funds. Transfer the schedule of duties of the so-called SGF to the Office of Chief of Staff and scrap the Office forthwith! Another example is the so-called Ministry of Information and Culture. It is dictatorial in connotation!
In modern times, information has to do with communication because it entails feedback mechanisms. So re-name it, Ministry of Communication and Culture. Similarly, establish a Directorate of Public Engagement/ Consumer Affairs in the Presidency to drive all issues about Made in Nigeria products and mobilize Nigerians for this and sundry purposes, especially as it concerns policies that require citizens buy-in. In Norway, the Norwegians have institutionalized their on-going reforms in several sectors with the establishment of a ministry dealing with reforms directly supervised by the prime minister. This is with the clear understanding that reforms cannot proceed in a vacuum if there is no clear institution to drive and co-ordinate them. And proceed to encourage the States to follow suit by implementing similar reforms at the sub-national level.
Nigeria’s challenges are many. But I strongly believe that the Buhari administration owe Nigerians the responsibility of correcting these structural and design deficits (created by successive governments) which have combined to cripple national development in the last three decades. I rest my case.
Written by Oma Djebah, former Delta State Commissioner for Information, Harvard trained policy entrepreneur and Global Journalist, is the Chairman/Editor-in-Chief of The New Diplomat Newspapers and The New Diplomat Multi-Media Platforms.