By Tabia Princewill
ISN’T it interesting that those whose stock in trade for the greater part of our history has been to nurture and encourage the conditions favourable to poverty, illiteracy and violence, act as if the killings and insecurity in Nigeria appeared overnight? To score cheap political points, various actors bemoan insecurity in Nigeria while ignoring the part their combined inaction has played, thus enabling the current situation.
Over the past 30 years, Nigerians generally watched the destruction of the public institutions which are supposed to guarantee every citizen a certain standard or quality of life.
Without healthcare, education, running water and other services, combined with the mismanagement and outright looting of the ecological funds meant to combat desertification, what exactly did we think would happen when an entire generation came of age without access to the services today’s politicians received for free as children?
Today’s crop of leaders attended free or subsidised schools, yet the states they govern offer little to the poorest amongst us. The chickens have finally come home to roost. In Nigeria, everyone always focuses on the President, forgetting the state governors who are allowed to wring their hands and offer their condolences while proffering no meaningful solutions.
If every governor made it a point of honour to restore social amenities in local governments in Nigeria, by devoting more resources to community facilities from public housing to waste and water treatment or management, community grievances would reduce and it would be more difficult to recruit young people into gangs of bandits, terrorists etc. Without focusing on education and health especially, we can’t fight insecurity in Nigeria.
Ideally, every local government should have a functioning youth centre and the means to engage young Nigerians, to offer them access to new ideas, recreation and entertainment options. But the fact remains that many states exist only to pay salaries: we cannot pretend insecurity happens in a vacuum, or that inequality, or many state governors’ refusal to make social justice their mission, isn’t connected to violence in local communities.
What are the options available to young people in the far North? Why are life expectancy and infant mortality still such pressing issues across the federation? And most of all, why are state governments yet to adopt the fight against corruption? If we continue to misallocate and waste resources, the resentments and anger at the heart of violence and communal clashes will engulf this country. Suddenly, commentators seem to be awake to the mistakes of the past: we keep opening new universities yet there are no jobs for students once they graduate, and most of them have not been trained to see opportunities in the things their communities lack.
Even if they do, there is no support or enabling environment to encourage their efforts. Our de-industrialised nation, without a textile industry, without factories, was ripe for the current crisis. When the factories in Ikeja, Lagos shut down and were replaced by churches, we showed neither surprise nor outrage. Virtually everything we import was once produced locally: governors must ask themselves what their states’ comparative advantage could be, and focus on that. We must refuse the fatalistic attitude many politicians have towards extreme poverty. It is neither natural nor acceptable in a country as rich as Nigeria.
The issue remains a lack of creativity. Akwa Ibom has an unemployment rate of 37.7 per cent, according to the National Bureau of Statistics, NBS, the highest in Nigeria. It also has beautiful sandy beaches with crystal clear waters reminiscent of the Caribbean. Yet its natural potential as an international tourism destination is overlooked.
A recent visit to the National Museum in Abeokuta, Ogun State, left me saddened and a bit upset. Not only did the staff not seem to know the origins of most of the artefacts, they were unable to explain what they were. One guide referred to Lord Lugard as Nigeria’s first President.
Forget oil, Nigerian culture could be our greatest export, it could also be a way to positively engage communities in telling their own stories through the creative use of mass media. Unfortunately, in Nigeria, the best and brightest rarely get the opportunity to show things could be done differently.
As we continue to lament the state of insecurity, while simultaneously refusing to uplift the poor, and to restore forgotten communities’ dignity and pride, or to engage them constructively so they can contribute to society, rather than be treated as troublesome burdens, let us remember a new class of governors will arrive, come May 29th. Will we expect more from them or will we continue to look to Abuja to solve all local problems?
THE Nigeria Financial Intelligence Unit, NFIU, after tracing funds meant for local governments to various bureau de change operators stated it would henceforth sanction banks who allow state governments to withdraw funds meant for local governments.
Currently, state governments distribute funds at their discretion. If local governments, which were created to bring development closer to the people, aren’t able to have an impact on social infrastructure and amenities, then community dissatisfaction will continue, with dangerous consequences.
The NFIU is also acting to curb cash withdrawals from local government accounts so that any transaction over N500,000 must be done using cheques or electronic transfers which can be traced.
Anti-money laundering initiatives are key to fighting terrorism. “Henceforth, all errant individuals and companies will be allowed to face direct international and locally targeted sanctions, in order not to allow any negative consequences to fall on the entire country.
Not only the liable local government officials will be investigated and prosecuted; the bank concerned will also be fined and prosecuted accordingly. If this is effectively enforced, it will allow for the operations of the local government account by local government officials. And also to track where governors are usurping the powers of the local government chairmen,” an NFIU spokesperson said.
Prof. Yemi Osinbajo
THE Vice-President said the Federal Government would no longer do business with companies indebted to the Asset Management Corporation of Nigeria, AMCON, because he said such companies are “enemies of the government and the people”.
When past governments constantly wrote off debtors’ loans and left a hole in the treasury, upsetting the balance of payments with the Central Bank of Nigeria, CBN, which would then have to be offset through tax payers funds, the entire economy suffers.
The Nigerian elite have gotten away with such practices for far too long. AMCON is owed N5 trillion and the debtors walk the streets, often able to borrow more money from different banks due to their connections. The Federal Government has a moral obligation to pursue debtors and recover all funds. Those who use the judiciary as a tool to delay or escape payment should also face some form of prosecution for wasting the court’s time and resources. It’s about time anti-people actions came with consequences.
THE Director-General of the Department of State Services, SSS, recently said many security challenges are due to politicians’ distrust of security officials. “I joke with politicians that you people trust the marabouts and babalawos more.
“Once someone tells you nothing will happen, you just trust that person in all crisis,” he was quoted to have said. Besides pointing out the superstitious nature of many of our leaders, Mr. Bichi said the problem wasn’t a lack of useful intelligence but a lack of will to act at the state level.
He also mentioned the disconnect between intelligence gathered by traditional and grassroots leaders and the governors, as well as local government chair men’s disinterest in holding regular security meetings to understand what is happening in their communities. No matter the issue in Nigeria, the competence (or lack thereof) of the political class is often raised.
Like corruption, our fatalistic attitude to political incompetence will kill us all. Nigerians don’t demand accountability from their leaders, only short-term personal benefits, and while we all agree this country needs re-education and a new orientation, nothing seems to be done about it.
Tabia Princewill is a strategic communications consultant and public policy analyst. She is also the co-host and executive producer of a talk show, WALK THE TALK which airs on Channels TV.