By CHINWEOKE AKOMA
Nigeria’s elusive economic and social greatness since independence from Britain, which international and national analysts and historians consider inexplicable in view of the country’s human and material endowment, would continue to be a subject for public discourse until the citizenry are generally comfortable and prosperous.
The issue remains a neck pain, especially when the economic performance of the country, dubbed ‘’the giant of Africa’’, is measured against that of its peers fondly referred to as ‘’economic Dragons, economic Tigers or the BRICK economies’’.
In such economic blocs are Japan, Taiwan, South Korea, China, India, Indonesia, Malaysia and Brazil, most of which have little natural endowment as Nigeria. Not even a few could understand why most of such countries which, like Nigeria, were rural and predominantly agrarian economies in the 60s (and even early 70s) when Africa’s most populous nation secured her independence, have made profound strides by all measure, ranging from technology to international trade and development whilst the sixth net exporter of crude oil in the world is still tottering.
It is within this context that some analysts have found solace and hope in a recent interface between the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Mr Dimeji Bankole, and a representative audience of the country’s youth and students of higher institutions of learning.
The lecture series has taken Bankole to Federal University of Agriculture, Makurdi; Federal Polytechnic, Ede; Bayero University, Kano; University of Benin, University of Lagos, University of Ilorin, and Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria where the new- breed politician spoke on ‘‘The Challenges and Prospects of Transforming the Nigerian Democratic Polity.’’ Also in attendance were academic and non-academic personnel of the universities.
According to Bankole, ’’the interesting and challenging experiences of the past 11 years have presented us (leaders and followers alike) with wonderful opportunity to exercise effective leadership in whatever positions we find ourselves in our collective effort to transform the Nigerian democratic polity and attain good governance. As we commemorate the historic attainment of our 50 years anniversary (golden jubilee) as an independent nation, Nigerians are becoming increasingly conscious of the imperative to confront and surmount Nigeria’s leadership, democratic and governance challenges.’’
The Speaker wondered why the country, despite its immense natural resources, had somewhat remained stagnant: ‘’ Even as the 6th OPEC highest crude oil exporter, Nigeria has immense mineral deposits, cultural and tourist destinations, highly-talented persons and tremendous human resources, but, sadly, in the midst of all these blessings, Nigeria, according to the 2010 UNDP Human Development Index, was ranked 142 in the Low Human Development category out of 169 countries surveyed globally.
Therefore, as patriots, this unenviable position is enough reason to compel us to take a second and serious look at this topic, ‘’The Challenges and Prospects of Transforming The Nigerian Democratic Polity.’’ In a sense, we are interested in establishing why we are under-performing in spite of over 11 years of unbroken democratic dispensation and nature’s immeasurable blessings to this potentially great nation.
Our return to democratic governance in 1999, the Speaker noted, was greeted by Nigerians with very high expectations of overnight miraculous transformation. “In some cases, the very high expectations of experiencing uninterrupted power supply, access to free education, good shelter, good road network and good transportation melted against the realities of accumulated decay in critical infrastructure, badly weakened key institutions of government, wholly assimilated military structure and tactics of doing things, poor voter-education, etc,” Bankole said.
These expectations, according to him, were further shaken by highly-controversial elections. As a nation, we have taken the bold and commendable step of returning to democracy and we are today and in the new future faced with the challenges of transforming our democratic polity through the enactment of people-centred legislations that are clearly aimed at improving the well-being of our people.
‘’Today, the good news, in spite of the obvious shortcomings, is that Nigerians have all demonstrated that the bottom line is that democracy in Nigeria is a work in progress, almost like in many other developing countries and emerging democracies around the world, and we all have a duty to ensure its sustenance.
Yes, we are on the right path to enduring democratic transformation, but not without formidable challenges that require all hands to be on deck for us to work hard and overcome them, if we truly treasure our democracy. To begin with, it is important to stress at this juncture that for Nigeria to have had more than a decade of uninterrupted democratic rule is a solid milestone,” he said.
The Speaker went on: “It is worthy of note that 31 per cent of Nigeria’s land is arable. Added to this rare blessing, Nigeria is stupendously endowed with many mineral resources, including gold, precious stones, oil and gas, to mention a few.
‘’The early nationalists made good use of our arable land as they invested heavily in agriculture which, in the 1950s and 1960s, was the mainstay of Nigeria’s economy. The nationalists never relied on revenue from gas and petroleum even as they had good visions of building strong human capital to support the economic and industrialisation efforts of their respective regions.”
Saying it is an incontrovertible fact that, the greatest resource for economic development is human capital, and education has been clearly identified as a major vehicle for creating and building human capital, he pointed out that in this era of knowledge economy, we are conscious that we have been badly outpaced by our contemporaries.
“We are understandably in a hurry to reverse the trend in order to be able to realise our national and global aspirations and occupy a pride of place in the world community. Therefore, as Nigeria focuses efforts on consolidating its socio-economic reforms, we must recognise that education remains one of the most effective tools in achieving this developmental process.
‘’Education is so crucial that, without the strategic empowerment it provides, we cannot hope to attain the target of the full and positive transformation of our democratic polity. Clearly, there is no doubt that leadership is central to our efforts to transform our nation.”
Bankole pointed out that the continuity we have experienced has afforded us the opportunity to conceive great ideas and fashion out effective strategies as a roadmap towards achieving the Nigeria Vision 20:2020 (NV20:2020), without sacrificing the freedoms, rights and best governance practices, noting that NV20:2020 is a 10-year economic transformation plan for stimulating Nigeria’s economic growth and launching the country on a path to rapid socio-economic development.
“All stakeholders are committed to the actualisation of this important vision using a series of medium-term development plans. With only nine years to 2020, we must work hard to achieve our target,” the Speaker stressed.
Pointing out that some of the reforms that have been introduced are to ensure the realisation of input, output and outcomes of budgeted amounts and to cure the problem of poor budget process caused by lack of due process and accountability, he said that the House of Representatives has passed several legislations geared towards ensuring that public funds are judiciously applied and accounted for.
“These laws, which include the EFCC, NEITI, Power Sector Reform, Nigerian Local Content, Fiscal Responsibility Act, Public Procurement, Assets Management Corporation on Nigeria Acts, etc, were passed to provide for the prudent management of the nation’s resources, ensure long-term macro-economic stability of the national economy, secure greater accountability and transparency, fiscal operations within a Medium-Term Fiscal Framework and the establishment of the Fiscal Responsibility Commission to ensure the promotion and enforcement of the nation’s economic objectives and to check the observed abuses that had characterised the budgeting process for decades.”
He added: “One thing is clear; this nation has no option than to progress. Now, for us to progress, everybody—leaders, students, journalists, lecturers—must cultivate progressive, responsible and maintenance habits, and take concerted step that would ensure the sustainable socio-economic, political and technological growth of Nigeria, the only nation we have. Nigeria needs effective leadership to be able to harness her immense potential in almost all facets of economic endeavour.
All hope, however, is not lost because nearly 11 years of uninterrupted democracy and the current efforts of President Goodluck Jonathan, especially in the areas of power supply, critical infrastructure and electoral reforms, have combined to commence the process of laying a solid foundation for sustainable national development.
“We must put in place a series of measures aimed at tackling unemployment and poverty at the local, state and federal levels. Unless we empower our youths and give them hope, we will continue to experience challenges in mobilising them for good deeds.”