By Emeka Nwachukwu
“The legitimate object of government is to do for a community of people, whatever they need to have done, but can not do, at all, or cannot, so well do, for themselves in their separate, and individual capacities” is how Abraham Lincoln wrote in one of his collected works, Fragment on Government.
Lincoln does not only justify the roles and functions of government in providing social infrastructure for the people, but reiterates the need for it to work at all times for the general good of citizens. In this part of the world, where Lincoln’s precept is practiced more in breach, citizens provide everything for themselves, including water, security, employment, good roads and schools, while a few corner the nation’s wealth to themselves.
Most worrisome is the fact that calls by stakeholders to reposition the country for the benefit of the citizenry continue to elicit poor responses from President Muhammadu Buhari. The frequent frictions between the legislative and the executive arms of government have been deeply rooted not necessarily out of altruism and desire to serve the people, but mainly self-centredness.
With the first tenure of incumbent President Muhammadu Buhari gradually coming to a bittersweet end, it is necessary to review major issues that refused to go away especially those that have direct bearing on the welfare and living standards of Nigerians.
These concerns, which come in different shapes of agitation due largely to government’s aloofness, if tackled would engender peace, development, and a more united country built on equality and justice. What is required is for Buhari to bend backwards a little and give the agitations a second look.
Restructuring, power devolution, and fiscal federalism
IT is noteworthy that over 60 per cent of the electorate who voted for Atiku Abubakar in the last polls did so because of his promise to restructure the country, which he vowed to do in six months. Also, the agitation of the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB), led by Mazi Nnamdi Kanu, which resulted in the loss of lives, could be traced to his desire for a redesigned Nigerian political structure away from what it currently is.
The various constitutional conferences held in time past, the most recent of which was the 2014 conference by former President Goodluck Jonathan, have always pointed in the same direction. Eminent Nigerians, including former Secretary General of the Commonwealth, Chief Emeka Anyaoku, Prof. Wole Soyinka, General Zamani Lekwot amongst others have also raised their voice in favour of the nation’s return to fiscal federalism to avert imminent disintegration.
Leaders of the Southern and the Middle Belt regions are not left out as well. Specifically, the leader of Pan Niger Delta Forum, Chief Edwin Clark, President-General of Ohanaeze Ndigbo, Chief John Nwodo, Afenifere leader, Ayo Adebanjo, and President of Middle Belt Forum, Air Commodore Dan Suleiman, have in several occasions made strident calls that have refused to go away.
Only recently, Yoruba’s Afenifere and Ohaeneze, while congratulating Buhari on his victory, also asked to steer the country in the direction of a restructured polity for justice and fairness. Even within the ruling party, APC, there are many who are in favour of restructuring. Kaduna State governor Mallam Nasir e-Rufai’s committee had submitted a restructuring proposal to Mr. President two years ago.
Also, Vice President Yemi Osinbajo has on many occasions spoken about restructuring although in terms that appear vague and a clear departure from the original intention of the Yoruba ethnic group prior to 2015 when APC attained power at the centre. Even Buhari has continued to task proponents of restructuring on what they actually mean by the term, suggesting that there yet to be a harmonious understanding of what the term mean even for him to take action. But Buhari’s posture at semantic confusion over the term seems delay tactics to postpone the evil day, as more and more Nigerians desire a country steered away from the perilous path it seems doomed to thread.
Though the president’s party, APC, had unambiguously placed restructuring on its agenda during the 2015 elections that brought him power, Buhari’s uneasy feeling about restructuring is baffling to its proponents. He had in a visit to the Nigerian community in France said, “There are too many people talking lazily about restructuring in Nigeria. Unfortunately, people are not asking them individually what they mean by restructuring. What form do they want restructuring to take? Do they want us to have the three regions we used to have? And now we have 36 states and the FCT. What form do they want? They are just talking loosely about restructuring. Let them define it and then we see how we can peacefully do it in the interest of Nigerians.”
The idea is simple, that Nigeria returns to the drawing board to re-engineer the foundation of its federal existence and make the centre less attractive, while the federating units manage their natural endowments and pay dues to the Federal Government.While most citizens blame the current cry of marginalization in most parts of the country for the unending agitation, the reorganization of the country would ensure economic transformation, as states will become competitive in developing their states, as it was during the regional era. President Buhari can leverage on this to regain the confidence of Nigerians and write his name in gold in the hearts of the people.
The success of any administration is largely dependent on its management of the economy, which determines the living standards of the people. Buhari’s government must strive hard to reset the economy. Nigerians expect a new cabinet to be ready even before the May 29, the inauguration date, with assigned portfolios. What obtained in 2015, when it took the president six months to constitute a cabinet should not happen this time around if Nigerians are to take him seriously.
In fact, at the heart of Nigeria’s economic revival is the proposed restructuring, which sets the parametres of engagement from all stakeholders. The country needs people with the capacity to drive sustainable economic growth, job creation and ability to enhance good governance.
In fact, the president has to be worried that the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) per capita (i.e. the average income per person for a country reputable to be the largest economy in Africa in 2018 was estimated at about $2,050 whereas that for South Africa is about $7,500.”Nigeria’s population growth rate of about 2.7 per cent has completely overtaken economic growth, which has dire consequences on standards of living and allocation of resources. Rising unemployment, poverty, and hunger are critical issues Buhari must pay immediate attention to.
The country’s unemployment rate worsened in the third quarter of 2018, as it rose from 18.8 per cent in the third quarter 2017, to 23.1 per cent in the third quarter of 2018, according to the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS). It said the total number of people classified as unemployed, which means they did nothing at all or worked for a few hours (under 20 hours a week) rose from 17.6 million in Q4 2017 to 20.9 million in Q3 2018.
Also, the administration should not pay lip service to agricultural development but continue on its current path. What it should know, which plunged the economy into deep mess in 2015 is that banning importation without a corresponding rise in production ruined whatever projection it had, which became a major cause of hunger across the country, as prices spiraled out of control.
Insecurity and herders’ crises
The duty of every government is to safeguard the lives and property of citizens. Failing in this function may mean failure for the entire administration. The president needs to seek lasting solutions to the Boko Haram menace, incessant clashes between Fulani herdsmen and farmers, which have resulted in hundreds of deaths particularly in the North Central geo-political zone and other parts of the country.
The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) in 2018 revealed that since 2013 more than 1,000 children had been abducted, with at least 2,295 teachers killed and more than 1,400 schools destroyed. This development should worry any leader, and Buhari cannot be an exception. Rising conflict between herders and farmers is already six times deadlier than Boko Haram’s insurgency, as over 1,300 people were killed in 2018. The conflict has evolved from spontaneous reactions to provocations and now to deadlier, planned attacks, particularly in Benue, Plateau, Adamawa, Nasarawa and Taraba States. To stop the bloodshed, the Federal Government should improve security, end impunity and shielding of assailants from arrests and prosecution. It should also hasten livestock sector reforms, with state governments setting the example for ranching procedure for herders to follow.
Some analysts have opined that while the president is believed to be fighting a one-sided war on corruption, they have asked him to broaden his scope to include even his party men and women.
One of them, Mr. Gerald Eze, had said, “That way, we can gradually sanitise the system. Let me tell you the truth, the kind of money and ethnic politics we play in this country cannot allow anyone to holistically pursue looters, because most of these people are their real campaign sponsors. If former presidents Olusegun Obasanjo, Musa Yar’Adua and Goodluck Jonathan had made any attempt, even against the opposition, we wouldn’t have gotten to where we are now”.Buhari must tackle the problem without considering affiliations, whether party and familial. He must strive to gain the confidence of majority of Nigerians including the opposition.
Though Minister for Power, Works and Housing, Babatunde Raji Fashola, had claimed that the Buhari’s administration has created hope in the lives of Nigerians by reviving work on abandoned projects, little seems to have been done. A survey by the Chartered Institute of Project Management of Nigeria revealed a litany of abandoned projects estimated at N12 trillion nationwide, with approximately 56,000 abandoned government projects.
One of them is the Ajaokuta Steel Company, which has the capacity to be a major hub for industrial machineries, auto-electrical spare-parts, shipbuilding, railways and carriages. Unfortunately, over 39 years after it was commissioned, the company is yet to produce a single beam of steel.
The steel plant’s first phase has the capacity to provide direct employment for 10,000 technical staff and indirect 500,000 for unskilled upstream and downstream employment if it is in operation. There is also the urgency to revamp the nation’s refineries and create the environment for private investment in refineries to curb the rising importation of petroleum products.
Nigeria National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) has just released the huge losses it incurred last year. This is unacceptable and it must be reversed. Brazil’s Petrobras steadily makes profits every year. Until NNPC reverses important of finished products, it will continue to make losses and under-serve Nigerians.
Electoral bill and others
Buhari should consider assenting to the electoral bill and several others he refused to sign last year. The National Assembly had forwarded the bill four times to the president, and in each case, he declined signing it into law. If signed into law, it would have enabled INEC to implement a technology-driven, foul-free general election devoid of election rigging, ballot box snatching, under-aged voting and other unlawful electoral acts that characterised the last elections for which new and strange lexicons like inconclusive, winning by duress, denied mandate, amongst others that have come to define 2019 elections.
Furthermore, the Act allows any person or political party to obtain a certified true copy of an election result that is stored in the National Electronic Register in a state, local government, area council, ward or polling unit. This could be printed or stored in an electronic format after paying the fees prescribed by the commission. Why President Buhari refused to assent to such an important bill in an internet age continues to baffle many.
Last Wednesday, even after being reelected, the president still declined assent to five more Bills passed by the National Assembly, including Nigerian Film Corporation Bill, Immigration (Amendment) Bill, Climate Change Bill, Chattered Institute of Pension Practitioners Bill as well as Digital Rights and Freedom Bill. It brings the total number of rejected bills passed by the Eighth National Assembly to 26.
Others earlier rejected since 2015 include Petroleum Industry Governance Bill (PIGB), Stamp Duties (Amendment) Bill, Electoral Act (Amendment) Bill, Industrial Development (Income Tax Relief) (Amendment) Bill, National Research and Innovation Council (Establishment) Bill, National Institute of Hospitality and Tourism (Establishment) Bill, and National Agricultural Seeds Council Bill.