Says constitutional restructuring a must to save Nigeria
Professor Kingsley Chiedu Moghalu, former deputy governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria, CBN, political economist and 2019 Presidential candidate of the Young People’s Party, YPP, In this interview, outlines the challenges of Nigeria after 59 years of independence, and charts the way forward for the country.
By Olayinka Ajayi
On the state of the nation
Nigeria is a country that has failed to become a nation even though it can, a country that has been hurtling in reverse gear instead of moving forward, wallowing in the delusion of its “potential” instead of working hard to realise it, and falsely believing that it is a great country simply because it has a large population or because its incompetent leaders have consistently paid lip service to the illusions of our greatness.
In nearly 60 years, the main distinction we have achieved is that in 2019 we are the poverty capital of the world. We are at the bottom of most human development indices and our average GDP per capita since 1960 is about $1600.
Today, Nigeria is more divided than in 1960. But I think this sorry state also presents us an opportunity to ask ourselves hard questions and begin to do the right things to build a nation and make progress.
Is this the picture of independence our heroes past fought for?
Certainly not. Our founding fathers, Nnamdi Azikiwe, Ahmadu Bello and Obafemi Awolowo wanted something different for Nigerians, even though they had sharp political differences.
They wanted a better life for Nigerians, especially education, health and infrastructure and thriving economies. They had plans to achieve these goals and were already on the path to doing so, but the military coups of 1966 derailed Nigeria’s destiny. Whether this derailment was permanent or temporary will depend on us as Nigerian citizens in the years to come.
Amid this derailment, what is your estimation of the new economic team formed by President Muhammadu Buhari?
At a technocratic level I think it is a competent team of economic advisers.
Do you see the team addressing our dwindling economic woes?
That’s the million Naira question. That outcome will depend on a lot of things, most important of which is whether President Buhari will in fact listen to and act on their advice.
It will require political will to shift from some of his well-known instincts. Claiming to love and represent the interests of the poor and actually managing the economy to achieve a better outcome for the poor ultimately are two different things.
Sometimes, what is in the medium to longer term interest of the poor may be difficult in the short term. The test of leadership is the ability to take people from their comfort zones to a new and better place ultimately.
Despite the economic woes, what is your take on the 9th Senate justifying the N5.5 billion budget on cars for serving Senators?
The cost of governance as represented in the budgets for recurrent expenditure have increased by approximately N1 trillion since or possibly much more, since 2015.
Budgeting N5.5 billion to buy cars for Senators is just one example of the problem. Our political leaders don’t want to make sacrifices but the federal government is quick to propose a 50 per cent in VAT. It is unfortunate for the poor masses of our country.
What is your view on the P&ID $9.9billion court judgement?
I think this is a very painful lesson for us on the price of carelessness in entering contracts without careful review of the fine print, corruption, and lack of continuity in governance.
As a Nigerian, though, I hope we can somehow within the international legal process find a way out and not have to be hit with such a heavy financial loss.
Do you think this administration is taking the best measures to address this?
I think they are taking the steps they are able to take, but I hope they are working effectively in the legal terrain rather than bluster on the pages of newspapers.
How will you describe the reported waterway bill reintroduced by the Federal government?
I think it is wrong-headed. It shows that this government simply has no interest in devolution of powers to sub-national units in the context of a constitutional restructuring.
The Federal Government of Nigeria should be shedding its constitutional and legal powers rather than acquiring more. It has powers over 68 items on the Exclusive Legislative List in the 1999 Constitution. Are we better or worse off? We need a return to real federalism with fiscal autonomy.
Also when we consider the Ruga controversy, I think many Nigerians have every reason to be suspicious about the motive behind this proposed legislation.
What is your assessment of President Buhari’s performance so far?
I believe his performance in his first term was dismal. I ran for President because I believe I have a better vision for Nigeria and far better preparation to lead Nigeria into the 21st century as a modern, united, and prosperous nation.
It’s still early in his second term, so let’s see how things unfold. I criticized the profile of his ministerial cabinet list broadly, although there may be one or two exceptions, but commended the President’s appointment of an independent Economic Advisory Council.
By the way, this was an idea that I recommended in my book Build, Innovate and Grow (BIG) which was the blueprint of my vision for Nigeria in the last presidential election. So, I was happy to see an attempt to use it. But as I said let’s see whether he will use it in such a way that it works out in practice by having a real impact on economic policy and management, because that depends on several additional factors.
What’s your take on jostling for 2023 presidency with North angling to retain it, the chances of Tinubu/Osinbajo, and the South-E?
It’s still a bit early, so it is rather premature to comment on those things. I know, though, that many Nigerians expect that the President in 2023 should come from the South, and specifically from the South-East. But this is politics, so there will be all sorts of debates and negotiations and lobbying, and we cannot predict the outcome with certainty.
How will you describe the speculative move against VP Osinbajo?
I would not want to comment on that question because I think it is speculative. I am not involved in or with the Presidency’s daily workings so I don’t have enough information to delve into it.
What is your take on Nigeria at 59 as an independent country?
Nigeria so far has been a huge lost opportunity. One British journalist, Richard Dow-Den, wrote that our country has been described as “a failed state that work.”
All hope is not lost, however, but hope is not a strategy. We must be serious and do more than just hope. Here, the citizens have not played their role. Their tolerance for bad governance is extremely elastic, it seems.
What is the way forward for the country?
Number one, fundamental electoral reform so that our democracy can become a real one. Our votes must count and be counted transparently. We need electronic/digital voting; the same way we reformed the payments system in Nigeria to go digital and electronic when I was a Deputy Governor at the Central Bank of Nigeria with Lamido Sanusi as Governor. The process of voter registration must be simplified. Our citizens need far more effective voter education. And the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, needs to be overhauled, starting with who appoints the chairman and members of the commission.
It should not be the President doing so, or at least it should be on the recommendation of independent voices in the judiciary and civil society.
Also, constitutional restructuring is essential if Nigeria is to survive and thrive. Third, we must begin a conscious search for competent and visionary citizens as our political leaders.