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Democracy in need of inspiration


IN the first part of my contribution, we looked at Nigeria’s oil revenue, 1970 to 2006, and summarised the revenue streams as follows:
“Gross oil revenue in the 29 years, from 1970 to 1999 3.0 “Gross oil revenue in the next 7 years (from 2000 to 2006) 20.8
Total 23.8 .

We saw that our cumulative oil revenue in the 29 years, from 1970 to 1999, was only N3 trillion; while a whopping N20.8 trillion was received in the next seven years, from 2000 to 2006!

We also observed that while we could easily point at many things government achieved from the N3 trillion of the first (mostly military) 29 years, it was not the same for the N20.8 trillion of the following seven democracy years (2000 to 2006). We can draw many unmistakable lessons from this!

Unmistakable Lessons
A dead end! Every year, since the advent of this democracy, the lion share of our nation’s resources has gone to “recurrent expenditure”, which is what our democracy uses on itself, as its own fuel (as against capital expenditure, which it uses to create development). In this way, our democracy is presently consuming over 70 percent of federal government’s budget. In 2003, during the windfall, it was over 80 percent! The situation is even worse at the state and local government levels. How then will development come?

It is time to come to terms with the reality of this democracy: It has absolutely no capacity to develop us, the way it is going. It is an unmistakable dead end!

Not a problem of funds. As we saw in Part I, the resources available to government for developing the nation, doubled, tripled, and increased many folds, during this democracy; but without anything to show for it.Therefore, there is no basis to expect our lots to improve, even if the resources available to this democracy should once again increase. Our problem is not that of inadequate resources.

The 13 percent derivation controversy: That also makes it laughable, when some northern state governors try to attribute the poverty in their states to the 13 percent derivation amount going to the oil-producing communities.Even if that 13 percent is completely withdrawn and shared to all the federating units, how much will each state get as increase? Is that what will eradicate the poverty that these states failed to eradicate, when their allocations doubled, tripled, quadrupled, and increased many folds, between 1999 and 2006?

President Goodluck Jonathan
President Goodluck Jonathan

The military as saints? Our politicians are fond of blaming our nation’s woes on the military. But is it not an irony that after 13 years of democracy, almost everything left of our collapsed infrastructure, is a legacy of the military era? Even in terms of corruption, is their N3 trillion vs. our politicians’ N20.8 trillion not making them look like saints? In any case, is the average Nigerian better today, after 13 years of democracy, than in 1999, even with the N20.8 trillion windfall? The NBS figures for 2010 show that over 112 million Nigerians now live in poverty compared to 67 million in 1996!

Loot repatriation programme: As offensive as it might sound, should we not start thinking of a national programme to encourage a friendly laundering of our looted funds (for example, a reverse loots-inflow, through real investment projects that can create jobs and reduce poverty) instead of continuing with our uninspiring fight against money laundering?

As angry as most of us may find this, will it not be better than seeing the loots trickle back in the form of private planes and luxurious yachts, which are only aggravating our nation’s woes?

Opportunities in the global economy: Our democracy, designed around statutory allocations, does not fit into the global economy. Meanwhile, other countries, including those we used to consider poorer, are reaping the vast, unlimited opportunities of that economy; and overtaking us! We can still remember when Indian professionals (both men and women) flooded this country, teaching even in our secondary schools. Today, while we face escalating poverty with a federal government budget under N5 trillion, India’s export revenue in 2011 (without oil), was over N45 trillion! Its software industry alone, is expecting to rake in N10.5 trillion, in 2012!

Similarly, China is today being celebrated for the giants strides of its export-driven economy. But it is estimated that more than 50 percent of China’s exports are not by Chinese companies, but by foreign-based multinationals operating in China.

WHY can’t such multinationals
operate from Nigeria? The answer is that our democracy, designed purely for “statutory allocations”, does not even see the global economy. Instead, our governors focus all their energies, scheming to protect, or increase their miserable statutory allocations.

Ironically, this jostling for more allocations illustrates the tragic resource-trap of this democracy, and the greatest threat to our national unity. Since the shareable pool is not increasing, and you can only grab more allocation by scheming to reduce the allocations going to other federating units, we can expect this jostling to get nastier in the coming years, as the pressure for more resources (and attendant frustrations) build up.

Fifty percent civil service reduction: The CBN Governor, Mallam Sanusi Lamido Sanusi, recently came under very stringent attacks for daring to propose a 50 percent cut in the size of the bureaucracy.

Poor Sanusi! It is an irony that the few public officials that dare to query our dysfunctional system, are often the most vilified! Yet, the nation owes its little progress to such persons. In a free-enterprise system, the role of government is to create the necessary infrastructure and enabling environment for businesses to come in and do what they are best at – that is creating jobs and wealth for the society. It is disastrous when government assumes the role of the big employer, and spends all the nation’s resources paying the salaries of its officials, who are a tiny fraction of the population! How many citizens can government employ? Compare it with India, where the software industry alone creates direct and indirect employment for 12 million people (high-quality jobs, not the artificial, NAPEP-type)!

All the same, the real point I want to make is that this democracy is simply not structured for prudence and productivity. For example, even if a retrenchment takes place under this government, the next administration will simply reverse it. The Obasanjo administration did some retrenchment; but as Mallam el-Rufai once lamented, the Yar’Adua’s administration restored many of those retrenched; and of course, brought in its own wave of new people. There is no incentive to be productive in an “is-it-your-father’s-money” democracy.

In any case, what is the goal of carrying out such a retrenchment? If it is to free more funds (and put some funds into government’s hands for development), my question will be: And so what? Didn’t we see such resources double, triple, and increase many folds, from 1999 to 2006? What was the result? This democracy is just not structured for prudence and productivity!

Long stay for poverty:

Elementary logic should tell us that our current poverty problem can only get worse. Every year, this democracy spends over 70 percent of the nation’s resources on itself. And we dare not talk of slashing the bureaucracy, as Mallam Sanusi has been warned. So how will poverty be eradicated? Meanwhile, the oil revenue on which this democracy was structured, is not growing, while our population (which the revenue should cater for) continues to grow every year, meaning that the resource pool will become more and more inadequate. So how will poverty go? It is a dead-end!

Conclusions Going Forward
The real damage the military has done to Nigeria, is the disastrous democratic structure it foisted on us, which has become a direct engine of poverty, unemployment, collapsed infrastructure, collapsed education and health systems, and spiralling inter-ethnic hatred!

Our politicians have only one wise option: to take advantage of the ongoing Constitutional amendment, and surgically repair the flaws of this democracy! It is probably our last chance to get things right before 2015, already predicted (by those we dare not ignore) for our national disintegration. Ironically, as if in enthusiastic endorsement of that prediction, we seem to be galloping towards 2015 with spiralling forces of violence and inter-tribal hatred!

I have a special note of warning for those politicians clamouring that it is “our turn”, and even for the opposition parties jostling to take over the government. The last thing Nigeria needs today is our usual ethnic-minded, rogue-politics. Nigeria’s democracy is gasping for statesmen – those who can, for once, look out for themselves and their tribes by looking out for their country!

Finally, our governors, the National Assembly, and the Presidency must not give the impression that this democracy is incapable of correcting its tragic flaws; or that the military needs to come back to do the correction! May the Ekweremadu Committee save the day!

Mr. Zowam, a social critic, wrote from Abuja.


Comments expressed here do not reflect the opinions of vanguard newspapers or any employee thereof.