By Obadiah Mailafia
I HAVE been a keen student of systems theory. When systems methodology is applied to the Nigerian situation, one can easily be overwhelmed by pessimism.
At various speaking forums, I have often asked my audiences if, given our country’s current trajectory — and considering all the data they have about our economics, demographics, public finances, infrastructures and all – if they believe our country can survive in the next 20 years. The response has always been a resounding NO.
There is a phenomenon that economists tend “path dependence”. It derives from the idiom of Newtonian mechanics as applied to economic science. It refers to the fact that once a national system continues on a given trajectory, it will, by the ineluctable laws of nature, tend to continue on that path. And it will continue on that path until an equal and opposite force sets it on a different path. This is the reality of our current situation.
We know that Nigeria’s population doubles every 30 years. Our current population of 198 million is going to fall within the 400 million mark by the year 2030. We would have surpassed the United States to the position of the third most populous nation on earth, behind China and India.
Ours is a tragically divided country. Fissiparous pressures are mounting on our political system, fuelled by the embers of bitterness and state impunity. The moral fibre of the state is being weakened by incompetence and hidden, sectional agendas. There is lawlessness everywhere, and with it the continuing spread of egregious violence and the kind of nihilism that could only be conjured by the fables of Russian writer Fyodor Dostoevsky.
In spite of the much-touted “War Against Corruption”, grand larceny continues to prevail unchallenged. The leadership does not understand that a systemic problem of this magnitude could not possibly be solved by an infantile approach anchored on chasing common thieves. The state of our infrastructures is in a state of terminal decay, as indeed our major public institutions. Even a school child knows that this system cannot for long endure until we take bold and strong measures to stem the tide of secular decline.
Nigeria has been a country without goals or national purposes. We have never had a sense of national destiny. What we need today, more than ever, is a new coalition that believes in the Nigerian national project and that is ready to take the bull by the horns. The first step in this direction is for us to set the most important national priorities that ought to be pursued in the coming decade. I am a philosophical optimist. I believe in science and I believe in what the great sage and statesman Obafemi Awolowo termed “mental magnitude”. I believe that no human challenges are insurmountable. What is required is marshalling the requisite leadership and collective resolve. We need to have a high sense of vision and destiny. Nigeria is the only hope of Africa and the black race.
The ten national goals that ought to be the foundation for collective policy choice in the coming decade are the following: one, security, law and order; two, nation building and restructuring; three, power and infrastructures; four, agribusiness and food security; five, industrial revolution; six, human capital and job-creation; seven, public sector and institutional reforms; and eight, an aggressive trade and international economic diplomacy that puts our country and our collective national interest first on the agenda of foreign policy.
One, tackle insecurity and launch an assault against violence and criminality. The greatest challenge facing our country today is security. If it is not Boko Haram, it is faceless armed militias; and if it is not armed robbery it is kidnappers. Nigeria has become the kidnap capital of the world. We are not only a criminogenic society where banks and bullion vans are waylaid by daredevil armed robbers; rural banditry has become so rampant that life in our agrarian countryside has become, in the words of the English political philosopher Thomas Hobbes, “nasty, brutish and short”. Rich or poor, nobody is safe. On top of that, we have the unenviable record of having the worst road carnage in the world. It is estimated that over 20,000 Nigerians lose their lives to automobile accidents each year.
The first duty of civil government is to secure the commonwealth. This has been the first dictum of public administration since Aristotle and Plato. A government that cannot secure the lives and properties of its citizens has failed in its most elementary duty. To enhance the security of our people we must triple the size of the police and modernise the law-enforcement agencies through better equipment and training in detecting, countering and prosecuting crime. We must dig deep into the roots and causes of crime. We are particularly committed to the model that has worked so well in Tunisia, where greater emphasis is lesser on intelligence gathering to nip crime in the bud before it rears its ugly head.
We are also committed to building a virile and modern army. We see the Israeli Defence Forces, IDF, as a model some of whose elements can be applied to our situation. We need a better trained, more disciplined and better equipped military that will defend our people and secure our sovereign territorial integrity as a nation. We need to create a military-industrial complex whereby the armed forces work with industry in developing our defence capability and doing research and innovation that brings value-added not only to the task of national defence but also to our technological development and capability as a country.
Linked to this is commitment to building a new security architecture for our country. We also intend to decentralise the police to ensure that law-enforcement officers can leverage on local knowledge and local social capital to develop effective tools of policing at the local level. In addition, we shall create a new force of Forest Guards, to be largely recruited from local communities. Their role will be to patrol rural communities and ensure that rural bandits are apprehended and brought to justice.
Two, launch a nation building process anchored on restructuring to create a more viable federation. We must commit to the agenda of nation building that will give all Nigerians a sense collective belonging. The great Swiss historian Jacob Burkhart, in his epochal studies of the early modern state in renaissance Italy, famously described the political state as “a work of art”. The metaphor is very apt. It captures the understanding that nation states do not evolve by sheer chance or sheer historical accident. They are created and nurtured by statesmen. A state, like a piece of art, must be built with vision, creativity, patience and dexterity. Franz Fanon also declared that the task of every generation is to discover its mission and to fulfil or betray it. The mission of our generation is to re-imagine and reinvent Nigeria as a country that is both forward-looking and democratic; a progressive country anchored on the foundations of the positive science, the rule of law, freedom and social justice.