– Beyond Zoning, the President Nigeria NeedsTHISDAYLIVE – THISDAY Newspapers
Happy belated 61st Independence Day Nigerians – well, whatever that means; or should it be Sad Independence Day instead, since majority of Nigerians are mostly unhappy, and feel that there isn’t much to celebrate, unless we want to engage in self-delusion. My question to every successive Nigerian Government, be it our Founding Fathers, the Military, NPN (National Party of Nigeria), PDP or APC is – “Nibo Ie gbe Nigeria de?” that is, where have you carried Nigeria to – where have you taken Nigeria to? Where have you reached with Nigeria? The answer clearly is, you have taken Nigeria to a BAD Place; you have made the country regress to an unimaginable level, one which we could never have envisaged.
Our Founding Fathers did a better job. In a nutshell, the Regions had started to develop at their own pace. The South had embraced Western education wholeheartedly, especially with the introduction of Free Education by the then Premier of the Western Region, Chief Obafemi Awolowo, SAN (of blessed memory). The Western Region engaged in trade in agricultural products like cocoa; and being surrounded by water gave the South an advantage for export trade. The Eastern Region, apart from being traders, mined coal. Calabar which had the first sea port in Nigeria, was also part of the Eastern Region at the time. The North too was doing fine. They grew millet, sorghum, cowpea, ground nut and sesame for trade and export, and they had the Fulani nomadic pastoralists. Things were looking up. In the 1960s, Nigeria even lent/gave South Korea (SK), then a rural agrarian economy, funds. Today, SK has metamorphosed into a first world country (and SK is not endowed with any mineral resources), while to date, Nigeria has remained a third world country, borrowing and sorrowing.
What Went Wrong?
So, what went wrong? I think the combination of the discovery of oil by Shell BP in Nigeria on January 15, 1956 at Oloibiri in the Niger Delta area, precisely in present-day Ogbia Local Government Area, Bayelsa State; and the intervention of the Military in governance, was in my humble opinion, responsible for the truncation of Nigeria’s growth, development and bright future. Unknown to us, it was the beginning of our descent from grace to grass. The discovery of oil, was both a blessing and a curse. Instead of using our oil revenue to build upon the infrastructure and institutions that our British Colonial Masters had started, those that were already in place were left to rot like the roads and the railways; the money was basically frittered away by the Military with not much to show for it, except maybe for the development of Abuja, the Federal Capital Territory, the Lagos-Ibadan Expressway, the new Murtala Muhammed International Airport, Lagos and a few other structures; not much infrastructure was put in place.
Nigeria became lazy, depending mostly on oil revenues as her main source of income, corruption which had started on a small scale during the First Republic steadily increased with the Military and blew out of proportion by the time we reached the Fourth Republic. The little armed robbery we had experienced with Dr Ishola Oyenusi (Dr of Armed Robbery) in the 1970s, and Lawrence Anini in the 1980s, gradually began to be on the rise. By the time we got to the era of General Ibrahim Babangida, we had started to experience occasional power cuts.
The Unitary system and sharing of oil revenue among the States, which the Military introduced, worked well enough when the going was good and there was plenty to share, but eventually turned sour partly when those revenues started to dwindle; and now we are faced with cries for Restructuring, and more divisive cries for Secession. Insecurity and kidnapping have become the order of the day in all parts of the country, and Nigeria, once the Giant of Africa, has become the poverty capital of the world! We now have one of the highest out-of-school children rates in the world, a low standard of education, inadequate health facilities, a high rate of inflation and unemployment; we manufacture little or nothing, food shortages are imminent; agriculture and mining which would have been viable sources of revenue are threatened, since Farmers are no longer able to go to their farms regularly, for fear of violent attacks, either perpetrated by Herders or Bandits, and also kidnapping, which unfortunately has become the new rave in town (Miners too, are under similar threats).
So, what are we really celebrating at 61? Failure? None of the Fundamental Objectives and Directive Principles of State Policy set out in Chapter II of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (as amended) (the Constitution) have been fulfilled. The Federal Government, just as the Military plucked the lowest hanging fruit – depending mostly on oil revenues to run the country, is using the second lowest hanging fruit – borrowing – and at an alarming rate too – to provide the infrastructure that its predecessors failed and neglected to provide when they had the opportunity to do so. The debt forgiveness that Nigeria secured through the efforts of President Obasanjo is now ancient history, as the country is now swimming in a deep ocean of debt. How will Nigeria repay its loans? How does a country thrive, when it lacks a good measure of security to be able to harness its resources?
Looking at the APC’S three major campaign promises, that is, eradicating insurgency and insecurity, fighting corruption and revamping the economy, it is obvious that if the fight against insecurity and corruption are fought effectively, the issue of the economy will be easier to solve.
Reinforcing Failure and Lack of Accountability
My point? While we, the Nigerian people are bothering our pretty little heads on how these challenges should be tackled, Politicians and rulers, who by virtue of their roles in Government are mostly responsible for mess we find ourselves in; who should be more concerned about the dreadful situation Nigeria is in, and be pre-occupied with proffering viable solutions to save our country, couldn’t care less. They are more concerned with talk of 2023, and which Zone should produce the next President! After plunging Nigerians into deep misery and suffering, the APC and PDP (Twiddledim and Twiddledumb) are more engrossed in how to perpetuate themselves in office – shamelessly cross-carpeting amongst themselves, in a bid to stay relevant. I was mortified when I heard that PDP was complaining that APC is poaching it’s members, by blackmailing them with the EFCC! If they didn’t have skeletons in their cupboards, surely the EFCC would have nothing to blackmail them with! Are these the kind of people we want in office again? Unfortunately, yet again, these two political parties seem to be the main contenders for the Presidency in 2023, unless some miracle happens to bring in a usable third party. Lest I forget, corruption under both political parties, is unprecedented.
So, when I hear some of the names being peddled as 2023 Presidential hopefuls, I wonder. They are old and recycled, and I find it hard to fathom why their names should even be mentioned. I challenge others, including the Youths, to organise themselves, and put forward worthy, capable and unblemished candidates. Definitely, Nigeria has more to offer than these same old people. Why is it that we like to reinforce failure? Should eligibility for office, at least for those who have held one public office or the other in the past, not be based on their previous performance? Even if the candidate is from the private sector, what are his or her achievements there? Why is it that the concept of accountability, is seriously lacking in the Nigerian set up?
Last week, I saw several news clips concerning other countries, in which public officials/government agencies were held accountable for their undesirable actions – a concept which we have failed to grasp in Nigeria. In Britain, Wayne Couzens, a Police Officer, was given the maximum sentence (usually handed down sparingly), life imprisonment without the possibility of parole, for murdering Sarah Everard. In Nigeria, ‘Super Cop’ DCP Abba Kyari, was cleared by the Panel set up by the Nigeria Police to investigate money laundering charges levelled against him by the American Government, in connection with convicted felon, Hushpuppi’s case, when the reports against him show quite clearly, that he has a case to answer. Former French President, Nicholas Sarkozy, was sentenced to one year house arrest for illegally financing his re-election bid. Again, the American Military have publicly admitted to making a tragic mistake in a drone strike which killed about 10 members of a family, including children, in Afghanistan (even though this admission of guilt isn’t nearly enough – there must be reparations to the family). In Nigeria, the authorities are still trying to cover up the fact that live bullets were used, and a considerable number of Youths were killed during the October 2020 #EndSARS Protest, despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary. When will Government understand that, without accountability there can be no progress?
Technically, Section 137 of the Constitution which sets out the Disqualifications of a Presidential candidate, may not have been proven in a court of law to be applicable to some of the 2023 Presidential hopefuls, though there have been accusations levelled against some of them, from presentation of forged certificates to INEC contrary to Section 137(1)(j), to corruption, which would have consequences by virtue Section 137(1)(d-e) of the Constitution and other criminal laws, if charges were laid against them, and they were convicted.
I suppose Section 137(3) of the Constitution which precludes a person who was sworn in to complete the term for which another was elected as President, from being elected as President for more than one single term, may not be applicable to President Jonathan who completed late President Umaru Yar’Adua’s term, since this occurred in 2010 before this insertion into the Constitution, which came by the Fourth Alteration of Section 137 No. 16 of 2017. The jury is still out on this. While some Lawyers reasonably argue that a law cannot be retrospective, others believe that it is applicable to anyone that is in this situation, because the amendment seeks to avoid a situation where any person stays in office for more than eight years. One would even imagine that, Politicians would ‘take the hint’ from this new provision, especially as President Jonathan’s administration has been fingered as being one of the main reasons for Nigeria being in the horrible position it finds itself today! Apart from the massive corruption in the Jonathan administration, in 2009, the extra-judicial killing of Yusuf Mohammed, the leader of the Boko Haram sect while he was Vice President under President Yar’Adua, is seen to be one of the major accelerants of the insecurity which Nigeria has faced since then.
While the argument that the next President should hail from Southern Nigeria cannot be dismissed with the wave of a hand, especially by those from the North who now conveniently and hypocritically say zoning of the Presidency is unconstitutional, after benefiting from the same doctrine not just during the last electoral cycle, but also after President Obasanjo finished his term of office – what is referred to in law as, ‘approbation and reprobation’ – “quod approbo non reprobo” – “that which I approve, I cannot disapprove”; as we enter into the next electoral cycle, it is imperative that CAPACITY should be our watchword and main consideration, in choosing a President. We must ‘shine our eyes’ and endeavour to select the right leader who can extricate Nigeria from the seemingly insurmountable, unconquerable dilemma that we presently find ourselves in. This, for right-thinking Nigerians, is the most crucial characteristic that we should be looking for in a Presidential candidate, along with attributes like vibrancy, integrity, vision and focus, unimpeachable ideas, moderation, justness, humility, patriotism; a true Nigerian who is not given to discrimination based on tribe, sex and religion, and one who is endowed strength, vitality and good health.