By Dr Ugoji Egbujo
Mr president, it’s the second leg. The gods are on your side. Your fans are no longer expecting a miracle. And they now know it’s not 1984. And they appreciate that the democratic setting feels like an away ground for you. They now understand your challenges. You are honest but not omnipotent. The euphoria has subsided. Time and reality have tempered their great expectations.
But Mr president, the second leg could be damning. It’s your last chance. A nondescript performance could leave an eternal sour taste in the mouth of your fans. And leave you in a forgettable place in history. And that won’t pay tribute to your sterling personal qualities and effort.
Mr president, you have to be decisive!
Our population is a seething volcano.
You have to leave a mark. But you have to tread cautiously. There are a few things you can do and leave an indelible mark of distinction . We have seen the railways. We have seen your determination against Boko haram. I will not waste your time. Mr president, this anemic country can not recover and thrive if she doesn’t control her growing obesity.
Mr president, our population is growing at a rate our economy cannot support. You have tried to improve agricultural yields. You have tried to establish food security . But a thoughtful man of limited means limits the size of his family. That is basic prudence.
Our population can kill us quicker than corruption
Mr president, our population was 45million in 1960. Then the United Kingdom’s population was 52 million. Today, we are estimated to be 190 million, and growing wildly. But United kingdom is only 67 million. In 60 years, we grew by 150 million while United Kingdom added only 17 million. And we are neither more virile, more fertile nor more intelligent and more foresighted than our former masters.
Mr president, we grew at ten times the rate of our erstwhile masters. Mr president, we were not breeding like rats. But we didn’t just care about the consequences of our lifestyle and population. We were told children were wealth. But we know now that only healthy educated happy productive children are truly wealth.
The GDP of the UK in 1960 when they let us to rule ourselves was about 73 billion dollars. The GDP of the UK in 2020 would be over 3000 billion dollars . Our GDP is about 400 billion dollars. Ad you know our GDP is “paper GDP”. The UK has one of the best healthcare systems in the world. The UK has some of the best public schools in the world. Yet they have remained cautious of the size of their population. If we cant think , why cant we copy?
Let us follow ‘those wey sabi road’
We didn’t breed like rats. But China saw the dangers of unrestrained population growth and took action. And today we want to be like China. We borrow from them. We buy from them. May we not become mortgaged to them. Amen!
Mr President, China was 670 million in 1960. She is 1.4 billion today. If China grew as recklessly as Nigeria, she would have been as fat as 2 billion today. And that would have meant an Asian Humpty Dumpty catastrophe. But she fastened her groins and accepted the sacrifice of one child per couple. We need not photocopy the severity of the Chinese protocol. We can tailor ours to fit our cultural sensibilities.
Mr president, you have done well but you have to leave indelible footprints. History has room only for remarkable feats. You have shown that you want to lay foundations for growth and not play to the gallery of today’s cheerleaders. You have to institute a population control policy. Our population explosion is a dire emergency.
A Census is long over due
Our income streams are poor. We have too many mouths to feed. Our infrastructure lags behind second world war. We have a huge population of out-of-school children. We have an army of unemployed and frustrated youths. You cant do everything. We know you are widening the tax net. You have lunched the school feeding program and other wonderful social intervention programs. But you have to do some more fundamental things. Not even the economy of the UK will support a population growing at our suicidal rate.
But your population policy has to be evidence based. So you will need to conduct a credible census sir. A Census will give us proper data for planning. Census will help us with efficient distribution of resources. Census will help us know how many we are, and what we are.
I know the previous census exercises were contaminated by dirty politics and rendered useless. That is why you are better suited than anyone else to deliver a credible census before you leave. You don’t play dirty politics. You are the General. Take that bull by the horns.
Mr president, I went straight to population . I know that we are a very religious people. And we all believe that every child was made by God and comes with his own wealth. The truth however is that every child comes with innate gifts and talents. But children have to be developed. We have seen poverty suffocate many God’s children in Nigeria. Millions of God’s children, with their wealth and talents, have died untimely from chronic malnutrition and preventable disease. And many that have survived, have languished with their talents, in the harsh environment of joblessness, homelessness and lack of health care.
Devolution of Power is the ultimate inclusiveness.
I went straight to population so that I would give a looming disaster the urgency it deserves. I would have ordinarily started with how Bishop Hassan Kukah would have started this game plan. I would have started by asking you to defuse tension around the country and create a sense of belonging on every side. I don’t insist that you should balance appointments in the security framework to reflect federal character. Even though that would help. Appointments are superficial. I didn’t want to bore you with worn out talks about ‘restructuring’ of the country. The country will benefit from devolution of powers sir. It’s not your job as you once said. You are not a parliamentarian. But anything that will bring peace, unity and prosperity is your job. It is good you have started with NFIU and making sure that local governments have some level of financial autonomy. You have to take it to the next level sir. Your party has an overwhelming majority in the National Assembly. The opposition seems willing. You have to decentralize power and promote fiscal federalism. The over concentration of power at the centre has not worked. I wont give you prescriptions sir. And you don’t have to call it restructuring.
Petrol subsidy is now prodigality.
Mr President, if you noticed, I am proposing a containment strategy. Many teams and their fans come into football matches with romantic expectations. But when the going gets tough then smart coaches go back to the fundamentals and do containment. I haven’t asked you to park the bus. But we cant win any match with a defense that has holes like our petroleum subsidy holes.
Mr president, I know you want everybody to enjoy the benefit of our God given resource – petroleum. And you want those in Yobe to buy it at about the same price as those in Oloibiri. They are citizens of one country. But we are spending an ungodly sum of money subsidizing petrol sir. The devil must be happy!
These citizens you love so much have no healthcare and lack education. I know if given time you will excommunicate corruption from our society. But the reality is that we are bleeding profusely. The world bank says we spent 731 billion subsidizing fuel in 2018. That is prodigal sir. Our daily consumption is now 54 million liters per day. We are obviously subsidizing smuggling. We sell at 0.39 dollars per liter. Saudi Arabia sells today at 0.56 dollars per barrel. We can’t be selling petrol on our streets cheaper than Saudi Arabia! We borrow from China to feed our wives and girls and fiancé the other room activities. China produces twice the volume of crude we produce. Yet rich socialist China cannot afford to subsidize petrol like us. Pump price in China is twice our pump price.
Only God knows why they still lend us money.
Petroleum industry Bill ‘is a goal’ for our fragile Economy.
There is an opportunity for a fundamental repair here sir. The petroleum industry has to be deregulated. The Petroleum Industry Bill (PIB) has been languishing in the National Assembly. If you own it sir, it will pass, speedily. If it becomes law, you can spend that 731 billion naira drained by petrol subsidy in meeting huge deficits in health care and education infrastructure. I know that a petrol subsidy withdrawal can spark inflation. We can remove the subsidy gradually before the bill becomes law. I know you have done well in rice. We can spend some of that 731 billion on cotton and cassava. The PIB is the sort of goal you should score quickly.
Our economy is fragile. We need money to diversify the economy! Our annual watery budgets cant do it. And we cant borrow much more. In 2019 we could spend all we would earn from oil, 2.14 trillion, in servicing debt!
We cant afford any leakages.
The Police and The Judiciary need ‘ special deliverance’
We have to catch and disgorge and punish all looters of public treasury . And you have been doing that sir. I know the system has not allowed you do it the way you would have wished. The opposition has lamented that investigations have targeted only them. But it is on record that you have recovered more stolen public funds and property than anyone else before you. So well done!
But do the best you can to create confidence in the public about the evenness and impartiality of the anti-corruption crusade. Public confidence and equity are needed to build the institutions that will continue the fight against corruption after you have gone.
I know the police and the judiciary have not changed as much as you would want. You are the grand warrior of War Against Indiscipline but you have left no mark on the police. You have to initiate a total reform of the criminal justice system. Rome was not built in a day. But it wasn’t built through adhoc measures and a series of makeshift operation puff adders. It was built through deliberate planning and meticulous execution. You cant leave the police force with its shortcomings as you met it. The staff welfare is still poor. The extortion of motorists still abound. Public distrust in the service is still rife. We have young men graduating from universities into joblessness everyday. We have security challenges . Our army is over stretched. The police force has to be reformed- roots, stem and branch. We have the human resources to do it. You only need to start. I don’t want to be prescriptive. But community policing with pride must be our goal. The police have to be answerable to the communities.
Let’s train thousands of the ‘lazy’ youths and make them our friends.
Remember sir, court orders are sacred.
Boko haram has been battered but not technically defeated. The vampire is still bleeding the nation.
We have entered the security sphere through the back door. But since we are in , we can as well get straight to the point. Mr president, you have done well against Boko Haram. You haven’t scored an A. Millions of Nigerians still live agonizing and dislocated lives in internally displaced persons camps (IDPs) in the North East. But you have taken back all our territories from the vampires. Professor Wole Soyinka has attested to that. My president, the Boko Haram war has continued to bleed the nation of precious lives and scarce material resources. You have a few years left. Something has to give. We cannot continue this war interminably. Our psyche and economy cannot support indefinite continuation of this war. I don’t have a recipe. But you have to find a way to get Boko Haram to negotiate a surrender. You must consider this the only real success on this front.
We have to concentrate the army on Boko Haram.
And we can help the Army. Besides the silver, gold , bullets and honor we can give them, we must enthrone social justice, fairness and conflict resolution mechanisms, everywhere. The herdsmen crisis has subsided. But you have to find a long-term fix before another flare erupts.
Let the cattle stay in ranches
The Army cant be distracted further. And we cant afford to balloon the army . We don’t have the resources to support a large army. We don’t need a large army. We must contain flares. Open cross country grazing belongs to the past. You have shown capacity to do things that are not politically rewarding. The constitution guarantees free movement of goods and persons. But the constitution grants you power to safe-guard lives , livelihoods and properties. Open cross country grazing engenders friction and strife and blood letting. Let the cattle live in ranches. And let the herdsmen live like humans. They are citizens too.
Rampant banditry threatening Agricultural revolution
The anchor borrowers scheme has done wonders. Abakiliki and its rice are buzzing. We have saved tons of foreign exchange from import substitution. Dangote refinery and petrochemicals are coming too. But Mr president The Economic Recovery and Growth Plan (ERGP) wont work if the violence mushrooming all over the country stop farmers from going to the farm as it has done in parts of Zamfara, Bauchi, Katsina, Kaduna, Benue , Taraba and Plateau states. We don’t expect magic from you. Many of these crises predated you. But we expect significant priority placed on human lives. Mr president, law and order measures should visit every act of lawlessness. Aggressive and comprehensive conflict resolution should follow to prevent further inclination to lawlessness and vengeance. The agricultural revolution you started has been arrested in many parts by bandits. Your fertilizer initiative has provided cheaper and all season round fertilizer. But widespread pockets of indiscriminate violence have forced farmers off swathes of farmlands.
We etched your promises on our walls
Mr president you promised to take us to the Next Level. You promised inclusiveness. You promised women 35% of appointments. We are waiting. Please push an affirmative bill through the NASS to guarantee that 35% female participation. These ideas should outlive you. You promised to re equip 10,000 schools a year, working with states and local governments. You promised ‘People Moni Bank’ and ‘Entrepreneur bank’. You promised to put a turbo charger into the N power program. You promised mass housing. You promised to further improve the ease of doing business. But let that ease affect Apapa grid lock and ease out bandits from our highways. You said every child will count and every teacher will be digitally upgraded. You promised to deepen internet penetration and build ICT parks and promote creative technology. You promised to spur entrepreneurship . And to establish youth mentorship programs. You promised rails, roads, Second Niger bridge , Power. We believe you.
But Mr president, inclusive growth means growth that lives on the street not on paper. And growth that reaches the rural areas and not just the urban areas.
Good plans need good hands and good brains
You have good plans Mr president. We know you keep your words. But wishes are not horses. So Mr president, hire competent hands with smart heads. And you don’t need six months to find them. We know you give your aides free hands. That is why when you hire bad eggs or round pegs for square holes, we , your people, bear the brunt. I won’t name names. That’s good sportsmanship.
Mr president , you are in your last term. You can close our eyes to political considerations and entrenched interests and employ like you were picking players for the super eagles.
Sitting on the fence can rupture precious
One last thing sir. Your days shall be long. You know you will leave in 2023. So you must have a succession plan. You need not dictate. We don’t need your son in law. You need not force it down the throat of people. But you could identify two or three capable hands and nudge them forward to contest . Please do not leave it for shadowy figures in the corridors of power to decide. We have reposed our trust in you. Please don’t let us down.
All we are saying:
Give us a census and announce a population control measure. Push devolution of powers and fiscal federalism. Reform the police and criminal justice system. Push the Petroleum Industry bill. Push the 35% women affirmative bill. Make violence very expensive. Let inclusiveness be your watch word. Start some discussion with boko haram.
And Leave the rest to us.
Some other persons will take us to the promised land . But you will always be in our hearts and the hearts of generations yet unborn.
It’s time Mr president . Keep your eyes on history. Go for it!…….. Ali boma ye!