First of all, thank you for reading these short essays (pls read part 1 and 2 for more context). I would like to summarize the salient issues facing our beloved Nation before offering some ideas on how to solve them and ultimately what we can do together in the coming months. Based on my analysis, everything wrong with Nigeria can be grouped under these 5 categories.
#1 Corruption: This is the cancer that has been killing us slowly for decades. It’s so pervasive that it affects every aspect of a Nigerian’s life. Our core values and moral standards as Nigerian citizens are the biggest victims of corruption. People do not value hardwork anymore. Everybody wants to get rich quickly and we are constantly seeking short cuts. We are all to blame. Known thieves are praised and celebrated at events. These same corrupt officials donate large sums of money to their churches and mosques and are hailed as model citizens in our places of worship. Corruption is why our economy can’t grow and foreign investors get jittery when called upon. Corruption is why power is not constant in our country despite billions of dollars and efforts of noble men like the late Bola Ige have gone to waste. Corruption is why our hospitals are poorly equipped and our doctors are fleeing out of the country in droves (estimates show 1000–2000 doctors leave Nigeria annually). Corruption is why our roads remain bad even though that same road has been budgeted for year after year. Corruption is why Nigerian politics attract savages. Corruption is why the military brass can not effectively destroy Boko Haram because if there was not Boko Haram, how else would they justify taking $1bn from the Excess crude account? Corruption has infiltrated every aspect of our daily lives.
#2 Cost of Governance/Structure of Government: I tried to separate these two but they are inextricably linked. The center is too fat! In 2017, the state house clinic in the Aso Villa serving at most 1,000 people in a year received over N3b and UCH (a tertiary medical center) in Ibadan where almost 500,000 people are served annually received <N200m for capital expenditure. May I also point your attention to the cost of our federal legislative body. Our legislators are immensely overpaid, the Revenue Mobilization, Allocation and Fiscal Commission (RMAFC) which is charged with recommending their compensation should be reconstituted and truly independent. Perhaps, a bi-cameral legislative system in a presidency may not be the most efficient form of government for us. At the current rate, it is not cost-effective and certainly unsustainable. I remember the Buhari of old who prided himself as the austere general turned cattle farmer from Katsina, he certainly would not approve of a presidency which costs the nation N7billion in capital expenditure (new cars, new buildings, food, canteen etc). This same state house plans to spend N84m on tyres for their vehicles in 2018 (not new vehicles o, just tyres). If the presidency does not lead by example, how will they put pressure on the congress and the state governors to do the same. To put these numbers in perspective, our national assembly (469 members with about 1700 staffers) cost our nation N125bn which is just a little less than we spent on education and healthcare for 186million Nigerians.
#3 Weak Institutions: Strong men come and go but strong institutions endure. We have laws to prevent impunity, corruption and other crimes that retard our growth and development. But certain people deliberately undermine the bodies that are charged with protecting our people and preventing the abuse of power. What I am canvassing for are an independent judiciary whose funding is not determined by the executive or legislative bodies. In the same vein, we need a special elections malpractice court and laws that ban politicians who are found guilty from running for elections again. We need to ensure that Independent National Electoral Committee (INEC) is truly independent both in funding and in its provisions/jurisdiction. Imagine an INEC where the spirit of a leader like Attahiru Jega is acculturated and they rise above partisan politics because the leader of the institution has a fixed 6-year term and is not eligible to seek a second term, therefore his/her tenure will span past that of any president or governor. Same proposal applies to the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC). It is important that the EFCC chairperson does not devolve into an attack dog for the president against his political opponents. Again, there are policy changes that can be made to give the leadership of the EFCC some spine and empower them to go after anybody without any undue influence from the President, Senate President, Speaker, party chairman or any governor. Also, the President will not be able to abruptly defund or scrap such a crucial body which has actually made some progress in the war against corruption in the past 2 decades. I also believe the Nigerian Police Force and the entire ministry of justice could be better. At the current condition, they are too politicized. Over 50% of Nigerian police officers are involved in protection of politicians and VIPs. We discovered last year that 1 state governor had over 200 policemen attached to him for his personal and office protection. Clearly, any politician like that could use these officers to his advantage on election day.
#4 Lack of internal democracy within parties: Cross-carpeting is so rampant in Nigerian politics and frankly I find it disgusting! But this is easy to do when the parties are not based on any ideologies, tenets or philosophical leanings. As far as we can see, the same people in APC today were in the PDP yesterday and may return to the PDP tomorrow. Often times, they switch parties when they feel that they were cheated or unfairly disadvantaged. The process of selecting a nominee among aspirants within a party is often shrouded in more mystery than the accounting practices at the NNPC. How many card carrying members do you have at a ward level, local government and at the state level. Is it an open primary or a closed primary? How are delegates selected for each ballot? Is it an open ballot or closed? If it is closed, why so? Are the delegates selected or instructed on how to vote by any chairman, governor or party boss? These are crucial things that we need to see as our democracy matures. A month ago, our main opposition party selected a new chairman and the process was so flawed with imposition by powerful governors on how the delegates should vote. Several aspirants for that office boycotted the election because they felt that the scales were already tipped. Certainly, such a party can not champion free and fair general elections as they would naturally revert to the same tactics they used during their internal elections (bribery, intimidation etc). In a few months, the fourth republic would be 19 years old, certainly we need to shed our childish ways and entrench good practices at all levels. I posit that the party that gets this right would be the party of the future. It would be the party that would attract the youth and technocrats who will feel more comfortable participating. This party will eventually provide the best candidates who emerge from a pool of talent and on a platter of accountability. Unencumbered by any debt to any godfather, these candidates will be able to freely wage the war against corruption and deliver on the promises they made to the people. Ultimately such a party would also be able to limit the proliferation of dark money politics which threatens even the most mature democracies around the world (USA, India, South Africa).
#5 Lack of youth participation: Apathy among the Nigerian youth is sickening. They seem to care more about celebrity gossip, slaying on Instagram and turning up in the clubs. If you judged by the overwhelming success of all the end of the year music concerts in Lagos, you will assume that the state of the Nigerian youth was glorious. But it is quite far from it. 62% of our population is less than age 24. Unemployment rates among our youth is estimated to be 61% and about 53% underemployed among those who have a job. Our youth have endured so much hardship and continue to on a day to day basis (see part 1 of 3 essay). However, our youth remain our hope. They offer the promise of a new Naija and not the old Nigeria. A Naija where our resourcefulness driven by necessity and scarcity of opportunities have created adroit entrepreneurs/innovators. A meritocratic Naija where you are not judged based on your ethnicity, religion or gender. A Naija where we are proud of our music, films, food, clothing and culture. A Naija that is ready to take its place as the giant of Africa. Our youth offer that hope and we must reach them. We must make sure that they are not mere spectators in this decision-making process. Their leaders need to be the best of them and not the most corrupt or the grimiest politician among them. We as a society must make it easy for them to participate and discourage the systemic disenfranchisement that we have become so used to. We need to liberalize the way people get their voter cards (PVC). It must be as easy as being able to buy a recharge card. We must also make sure the voting booths are as accessible as possible, in every neighborhood. We need to also allow people to move freely on election day especially if the voting booths are not widely dispersed as they should be. The Nigerian police cannot continue to limit movement of citizens on election day in order to ‘prevent rigging’, that is a bullshit excuse that does not make sense in 2018. We all know that has not prevented rigging. They have a job to do on election day and perhaps if half of them were not busy protecting the politicians, they could actually protect the ballot. Getting the youth involved will reinvigorate our democracy, keep our ideas fresh, diversify the playing field and allow modern approaches to ancient problems. The youth can also be a great source of campaign finance, we saw how Bernie Sanders crowd-sourced hundreds of millions of dollars in the 2016 US presidential elections. Certainly, we have the technology to enable this in Nigeria.
OK Lanre, what do you propose we do now?
First, I need you to be more demanding of your candidates and of your political parties. I also want you to support movements/groups like Enough is Enough, BudgIT Nigeria, OpenNASS, Not too young to run, tracka.ng, follow the money etc. These are groups that are keeping an eye on the government and pushing for accountability and transparency. What we need very badly is a movement to ensure that everyone who can vote gets a PVC. I believe that is the only way to change the system, when we have PVCs and are ready to vote, that is when the politicians will take us seriously. Right now, we are all just twitter warriors who don’t matter. This is because most of us would not go through the stress it takes to get a voters card and then on election day, many of us will not walk 3–7miles where our nearest voting booth is. Since they know that they have disenfranchised us, they do not take our threats seriously. So, what I am proposing is the most massive voter’s registration drive Nigeria has ever seen. If 40% of Nigerians can vote, then we could theoretically get about 70million Nigerians to vote next year. Only about 28million voted in 2015, so if we set out to get 30million new voters registered, what a force that would be. This movement would need to tap into technology to raise fund from well-meaning Nigerians (all over the world). As long as there is transparency and results at each step of the way, set goals can be achieved. I must also state that this movement has to be entirely non-partisan otherwise it loses all credibility and goodwill. When more enlightened people go to vote, it will make it more difficult for politicians who go to the polls with bags of cash and food supplies to literally buy the votes. Also, with technology, we can have eyes and ears on ground and expose all of these malpractices as they are occurring in real time. I pray INEC is planning to corporate with as many of these ‘watch-dog’ groups as possible.
In conclusion, I can not tell you to vote for or against any particular candidate but I have my ‘5 requirements’ in electing a leader:
1. Character, values, antecedents, competence, vigor, wisdom and integrity
2. The process from which he/she emerged (transparency of campaign funding, intra-party democracy and lack of godfatherism)
3. Commitment to slashing cost of government (all 3 arms and all 3 tiers of government) by at least 50% within 2 years
4. Commitment to full transparency of all public spending from the federal to local government level.
5. Commitment to strengthen institutions that safeguard our democratic society.
Any candidate that meets all the above criteria will be an amazing president. The movement I suggest above will help increase the chance of such candidate emerging, if not for 2019, then definitely for 2023!