By Professor Anya O. Anya
LESSONS for Nigeria: Having now taken a snapshot view of global development, the environment that conduces to desirable and acceptable outcomes, the character and values of the elite and the leader who can drive the social system to the desired end, we need to situate these lessons within the context of the Nigerian environment. In tackling the challenge we need to answer three questions:
- What lessons have we learnt that are applicable to the Nigerian situation?
- What is the current state and challenges that faces Nigeria at this juncture in her history?
- What must we do to steer the ship of state to the desirable and equable harbour?
Nigeria is currently enmeshed in a multi-dimensional crisis. We are in a political, social, economic and moral crisis. Cardinal Okogie was quoted recently to have diagnosed our situation when he observed that we are allergic to the truth and are addicted to falsehood. The depth of the moral crisis cannot be more aptly stated. What is the evidence on the ground? The cacophony of voices on the political issue of restructuring is a measure of the level of dissonance in the political system.
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Nigeria is a diverse society that is multicultural, multi-ethnic and multi-religious. Not surprisingly our pre-independence leaders chose a federal system of governance which will over time build a united but diverse nation of shared values of inclusiveness and national purpose. The military intervention destroyed this foundation and planted the seeds of division and centrifugal political forces. There cannot be a peaceful nation unless we return to the basics of federalism as the foundation of our national enterprise. The political challenge is how to operationalize Chapter II of our constitution- the Fundamental Objectives and Directive Principles of State Policy.
Unfortunately it would appear that current political actors do not see and do not hear. With regard to the economy we are faced with two fundamental obstacles: while our economy is growing at the miserly rate of two per cent, our population is growing currently at 3.8 per cent nearly double the economic rate of growth. So there is a fundamental dissonance between our demography and our economy. Additionally, the Debt Management Office tells us that our debt as of 2015 was a little over N12 trillion but is now over N25 trillion as of 2019. In other words we have borrowed in three years more than we borrowed in 30 years previously!
Much of the extra loans have been applied to recurrent expenditure given that most state governments could not even pay salaries. Indeed it has been alleged that we spend 60-70 per cent of our total earnings in servicing debts i.e. paying interests (NOT re-paying loans). In spite of these, the fact is that the normal metrics of economics continues southward – unemployment, inflation, productivity are not giving us cheering news either. The empanelling of an Economic Advisory Council is a step in the right direction but we must remind ourselves that these brilliant and eminent economists are no magicians. We must face the gravity of our current situation. In this context we must appeal to our leaders to wean themselves from an emerging attitude that is not helpful in our present circumstances: the tendency, to reply without deep reflection and usually with opinions rather than facts to any comments on our economy or other affairs often occasiond by new facts from research, whether from the World Bank, International Monetary Fund, foreign and local respected think tanks etc. The well-known advice is here relevant: when in a hole stop digging. It is also important to put in a word relating to the matter of trust. Absolute trust in a leader is vital. A leader who will lead in an era of change must enjoy total confidence and trust of the citizens.
The social crisis is as frightening as the economic crisis with tales of banditry, armed robbery, kidnapping, insurrection, militancy and the rampaging herdsmen. It would often seem as if the apocalypse has arrived. Historians of British history suggest that our situation is comparable to the situation of Great Britain in the years 1800-1850. The emergence of a leadership that understood and read the times accurately and accepted the responsibility and obligations of leadership made the difference. They steered their society away from the brink, embraced social and technological changes that ushered in the Industrial Revolution. The lesson is that it is possible to rechart a new course and there are Nigerians who have the capacity to steer us away from the brink if we are prepared to mobilise our best and brightest in a new challenge to rebuild and restore the dream of Nigeria. As an aside it is also important to observe that the campaign against corruption is an important issue on the social agenda. But corruption is a symptom not a disease. We must reexamine our strategies on this matter in order to tackle the disease and not merely the symptom.
What gives me confidence that we can face the new challenge to rebuild a new Nigeria are two facts of our present reality – as difficult as the circumstances are, our youths are doing fantastic things: unremarked and uncelebrated. Beyond the hordes of the unemployed and the uneducated are also battalions of brilliant men and women who do the unexpected that often challenge their peers in other nations. To challenge and incentivize them should be the current priority. They are there if we look carefully.
We must learn to celebrate our successful and exemplary citizens. In this regard let me ask the fatuous question: where was Aliko Dangote, Jim Ovia, Ernest Azudialo-Obiejesi, Leo Stan Ekeh, Aig Imoukhede 25 years ago? They are all products of the modest economic reforms that came after the debacle of the Structural Adjustment Programme particularly in the oil industry, banking and technology. If there is any regret on the modest success of those years it is the fact that we did not have the sharpness of mind and heart to ground the new wealth in the productivity of our people and hence develop an equitable process to share the new opportunities with the mass of the people.
Consequently, we have allowed a grossly unequal society to emerge hence the social crisis. We can tackle it by understanding the seeds of our success and the genesis of inequality which is presently a decomposed fly in the sweet smelling ointment of our success. If truth be told we were able to engineer reforms in the private sector with incentives but did not institute an equivalent system in the public sector. The situation in the public sector has been worsened by the repudiation of the principles of merit, competitiveness and the pursuit of excellence in the public sector despite the stipulations of our constitution as enshrined in the federal character principle.
Where can we begin? We must start from the recognition that the current situation is beyond the capacity of our political elite: it is beyond the capacity of APC as a party and government. It is beyond the capacity of the PDP or indeed any of the multitude of parties. We need to start again by instituting a new programme of national regeneration, restoration and renewal. We must mobilise our people beyond the political parties, beyond the ethnicities and other diversities and, beyond the limitations of our current situation. In this effort we must commit to Non – Violent Communication, NVC. So where are the wise elders? Where are the insightful statesmen? And where are the brilliant and industrious youth who are prepared to rebuild from the foundations?