Nigeria: State of the Nation

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Professor Pat Utomi

Professor Pat Utomi

Pat Utomi 13 September 2011

opinion

The signals about the state of our nation are pervasive and palpable. In my church “The prayer for Nigeria in Distress” has returned. The newspaper before me as I reflect, has a piece, wondering if Dr. Goodluck Jonathan will be the last President of Nigeria, and small pub talk seems to have reached a consensus that the first 100 days of the current administration has been, to put it charitably, anything but what people had hoped for.

 

Still this reflection has been particularly challenging for me. It has been so for a variety of reasons. First I took the view that if our democracy is to mature, we have to cultivate what is “practiced restraint” to allow a new government a honeymoon to implement their promise so that share partisan bickering from day one, when what they are trying to do is not even clearly articulated in a legislative agenda, and the unfolding of certain policy initiatives, do not frustrate governance.

Secondly, the states of things are so fragile that a responsible statesman must be on guard, lest a statement not too well considered, produce an outcome more damaging to our collective desire for peace and progress.

Thirdly, this is a time of rapid change in the global arena making a certain delicacy in how we position, see ourselves, and project into that arena, critical for the legacy we bequeath to our children. It was important to make haste slowly at times like this in terms of rush to judgement in public comments.

All things considered, however, the grave nature of the current condition is such that failure to alert the simple, the ordinary, and the mighty and powerful about our country’s sad race towards anarchy may be a betrayal of the mission of my generation, in the Franz Fanon sense. Perhaps patriotic counsel can cause a reflection and review that may yet save us all unwarranted agony.

In this review, which is by no means exhaustive, we consider security of the governors and the sovereign wealth fund, we also reflect on failing institutions from the Judiciary to the Central Bank, the healthcare system, infrastructure in a rapidly urbanizing situation, the deepening electric power crisis and labour tensions.

Then we shall speak on the issue of constitutional reform, fiscal federalism and the competitiveness of the Nigerian economy as well as challenges with agriculture, corruption and the cost of governing.

On Security

The first demand of modern man on the Leviathan is security. Escape from the philosophical “state of nature” is pointless if the state cannot provide security. Yet to read our newspapers is to read a “manifesto” on insecurity. Kidnappings are now daily routine that attract little coverage unless high profile targets like Mikel Obi’s father and Dr. Kusamotu’s daughter are involved. Armed robbery reigns in many parts and big target hits like banks are not rare anymore.

 

Then there is terror. I do not have the statistics of exodus from Maiduguri but most admit that it is headed to “ghost town” status. The suicide bombing of the UN Building in Abuja, finally brought to the World, after the Police Force Headquarters bombings the phenomenon of Nigeria’s journey to Pakistan, which has already paralyzed several states in the North East of Nigeria.

To this alarming situation can be added saber rattling in the traditional Niger Delta battleground, and Plateau State’s travel on the road to Somalia.

Sadly, this has been tragedy foretold. The book by the American writer Robert Kaplan, The Coming Anarchy, in which West Africa’s descent into wantom criminality, ethnic and religious conflict and the revenge of the poor, pointed to Jos going this wayv15 years ago. But we did nothing, I was recently in Jos to speak at the National Institute for Policy and Strategic Studies in Kuru. To encourage responsible Youth, I spent hours in Radio interviews, and in meetings to motivate Youth to consider the dignity of the human person cardinal, and human life sacrosanct. I was sad that a day after my visit one of those youth listening to me died a torturous death in these ethnic and religious orgies that have stripped beauty from once serene Jos.

In the face of all this the reaction of government has been pathetic. Every new event shows that intelligence, instead of improving, is caving in. The desperate need to rethink the structure of the police force is apparently ignored even as experience around the world suggest the imperative of decentralization and review of command structure. I have always favoured community policing and the need for state and regional police force but the fact that no serious discussion seems to be going on about this makes one wonder what the purpose of the Federal Executive Council is. Evidence suggests that the FEC has become a tender board rather than the national operating committee engaging on our key challenges.

Failing Institutions

Central to my model for reviewing state performance for years are six critical variables. Among them, the state of Institutions, the Value System (Culture) and Leadership. The state of institutions is a veritable barometer for the health of a nation. Weak institutions have been the bane of progress in Nigeria for a long time. In the last 100 days they just got much worse.

 

Particularly traumatized and traumatizing for Nigeria are the immobilizing punches to the midsection of the last frontier institution, the Judiciary.

It is considered the hope of the Common Man, and the final bastion for expectation that all will get a fair, if not perfect chance to actualize in Civil Community.

The issues around the controversy over allegations by the lead judge of the Court of Appeals, Justice Salami, and the handling of the matter by the government left a sour taste about the possibilities of Justice in Nigeria. This is the dominant reason why many investors skip over Nigeria in spite of alluring market possibilities. As author of the 1998 book: Managing Uncertainty. I have evidence based reasons to be frightened about a future in which the judiciary declines so badly in the estimation of fair minded people.

Institutions are so central to progress that in dealing with them state actors must be focused on the long term good of society rather than small time transaction partisanship. Nigeria is hemmoraghly badly from the many errors of judgment of Justice Kastina-Alu and the Presidency. I recall that in my response when the story first broke I had suggested that both Kastina-Alu and Salami resign graciously, not because they were right or wrong but because the responsibility of high office which they had attained, made saving the institution more important than establishing who was right or wrong.

Just as troubling is the case of the Central Bank stumbling from one set of questionable decisions to another. I have to confess that each time I think of the actions of the CBN in the last two and half years the metaphors that strike me are Adolph Hitler in Germany and Juan Peron in Argentina. Both men enjoyed public acclaim in populist jingoism of their style but the effort in the end was the near destruction of their countries. Argentina went from being more or less at par with the United States in 1939, as Allan Beattie lucidly shows in his surprising Economic history of the World, False Economy, to West Africa level GDP by the 1990s, thanks to Peron’s nationalism. Hitler brought utter devastation to the Third Reich.

The description by someone of the CBN functioning like an Animal farm of mental asylum run by raving lunatics, is an extreme parody of George Orwell. What I am more saddened by is that we will wake up 10 years from now and realize this CBN has done more damages to the Nigerian economy than all the corrupt bank executives removed and left behind through some of the most arbitrary choices I have ever encountered as a student of the public policy process around the world, put together.

Even more ridiculous than the disruption of the financial system is the Islamic Banking matter that could result in the breakup of Nigeria. There is nothing peculiar about non-interest banking of even one of an Islamic flavour. I had collaborated with Alhaji Umaru Mutallab and others in trying to explain it, several years ago, including featuring the subjects on Patito’s Gang. But this CBN, staying in character, to score cheap points has made it polarising.

 

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