By Obadiah Mailafia
MANY of our chattering classes have been going on as if the presidential elections are all about the big gladiators. Nobody is talking about the issues that really matter to most Nigerians. I humbly submit that such people are profoundly in error. And it is too premature to conclude that the whole thing is a contest between two recycled dinosaurs.
In a country of such highly talented people, most Nigerians want to know how our leaders understand the issues facing them and policy solutions that they are proffering. We have heard no such thing from the gladiators. In intellectual terms, I’m sorry to say that they have nothing to offer.
It is not an exaggeration to say that 2019 elections will decide our country’s ultimate destiny — if Nigeria will survive and flourish and fulfil its destiny under God.
One of the biggest issues that will have to be settled is the intergenerational question. The youths of this country are tired of recycled politicians. They no longer care where you come, your manner of worship or your ethnicity. They want jobs, expanding opportunities and a peaceful and harmonious environment that unleashes their creative energies. They want to live in a country where they have a future and where their liberties and life-chances will flourish. The youths of this country believe that the Old Vanguard of recycled politicians have nothing new to offer other than the Old Corruption. Rather, they want a future where they are governed by the precepts of Enlightenment and civilisation – by the rule of law, positive science, progress and political meaning.
Anyone who wants to lead this country must put the issues that matter to the millions of our desperate teeming youths on the table: poverty, insecurity, unemployment, the power and infrastructures deficit, and dwindling economic opportunities. There is lot despair around, and with, an atmosphere of foreboding and gloom.
Conflict and violence have evidently driven a wedge between our people. Instead of bringing us together, our leaders have divided us. If we allow the trend to continue, our country will plunge into darkness. Evil will triumph when good men stand by and do nothing.
Added to the 10-year insurgency, we have the murderous mayhem by armed rural militias, many of them from neighbouring countries. I do not regard them as Fulanis at all. We have lived with Fulanis since ancient times. They are part and parcel of our communities. These people are mostly foreigners, most of them armed by shadowy foreign powers and local collaborationists, all with the goal of destroying our beloved country.
To all intents and purposes, the war against the insurgency has been a half-hearted mediocre effort. The ideal approach is a comprehensive strategy that not only dislodges the insurgents militarily but also eliminates the social conditions that generate their wicked ideology of violence and death. Linked to the foregoing is the need for a social development fund for war-affected communities. It is clear that military solutions alone will not checkmate violent extremism; on the contrary, they may serve to radicalise otherwise neutral groups. We must therefore tackle the social conditions that give rise to radical ideologies, in addition to winning the propaganda war and enhancing the capability of government to deliver social services and critical public goods to all citizens.
There must be a national dialogue on how to remove the culture of violence from our national psyche. We need nothing less than a new national compact redefining the fundamental contours of what it means to be a Nigerian. We must reinvent our country as a progressive and forward-looking nation at peace with itself and its neighbours.
There is also the problem of poverty. The World Bank recently announced our country as the new world capital of poverty, with 88 million of our people living in destitution. We recently overtook India, whose destitute poor currently number some 70 million. When you compare the fact that India’s population is 1.2 billion, you will appreciate that their 70 million poor amount to less than 20 percent of the population, compared to our 88 million poor out of 195 million. It is a frightening scenario that nearly 50% of our people are condemned to the darkness of the Middle Ages.
Unemployment continues to afflict many of our population. Among the youths, some 70% in Zamfara and Borno have no jobs. Tackling unemployment will require bold and resolute action. We need an agro-base mass industrial revolution and public works-based infrastructure development that expands job opportunities for millions of our people. We must restructure the economy to wean ourselves from the petrodollar rentier state, with its bias against productivity, agriculture and industrialisation. We must be aggressive about national competitiveness.
At present, there is no vision and no leadership. We have a government that is anti-people and anti-business. Most market women have emptied their bank accounts in droves, because anybody with money is deemed to be thief, no matter how legitimate their earnings.
Nation building is going to be one of the principal missions of the next generation of leadership. Some people talk of “restructuring”. I prefer to talk of nation building. We need statesmen who understand the imperatives of our current historical moment. We need to reform our federation to expand the foundations of participatory democracy, social justice and equity for all our multifarious nationalities.
Linked to nation building is the abiding challenge of corruption. We believe that the current fire-fighting approach is misguided. It is based on chasing rats when Rome is burning – flawed and partisan in every material particular. We need to institute in the heart of government a system of monitoring and evaluation of all government projects and programmes. The contract system is the principal source of corruption. We must reform the EFCC, integrate with the ICPC, with new judicial powers to investigate, prosecute and punish.
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The big mistake we have made in this country is to see grand larceny as merely a legal and moral problem. For the Chinese, it is treason. Today, we have a situation where you can steal N20 billion of pensioners’ funds and go ahead to use N2 billion to hire a gaggle of SANs to shield you from justice. You can even bribe the judges and court officials to hide the files, give you medical lead and pursue all other such subterfuges as would enable you extricate yourself from the law. Such iniquity has made our legal system the laughing stock of the world.
What is needed, in my view, is a systems approach. We should empower the Office of the Auditor-General of the Federation with more resources to perform audit functions throughout the departments and agencies of government across the three tiers of government. It is foolhardy to watch armed-robber-Governor commit acts of great financial wickedness on the argument that they have legal immunity from prosecution. I do not believe that the spirit of our constitution intends that those who commit such treasonable acts should be shielded from justice under any pretext. It is only in our system that immunity is broadly defined as the right to rob the people without any sanctions whatsoever!
It was Karl Marx who famously declared that philosophers have interpreted the world, but the problem is how to change it. Talk is cheap. There are all sorts of self-opinionated scribblers who offer half-baked nostrums on how to tackle our principal national challenges. Much of such opinions are often devoid of deep thinking.
What we need are leaders who have thought deeply about these challenges and can offer creative and original solutions. Those who aspire to lead this country must be challenged to bring their proposed solutions to the table instead of the noisome pestilence and empty grandstanding that we are getting today.