2015 Presidential election: Issues and choices
STEEPED in social, economic and political quagmire and pervasive despondency, Nigerians desire a change of the current situation to a better life. There is palpable dissatisfaction and discontent with the levels of corruption in the country, the attendant poverty, social dislocations and general state of insecurity of lives and property. They are desirous to see a new crop of leaders, men and women, of character to lead us out of this miserable state. Indeed, they believe we need a leader, strong enough to deal ruthlessly with corruption, an amorphous term that now encapsulates all manner of vices in Nigeria in order to liberate the country from a cycle of underdevelopment. Yet, corruption as a phenomenon is not peculiar to Nigeria; it exists all over the world and indeed, in every society. But in such other places, there are institutions strong enough to deal with it regardless of whose ox is gored. Such institutions remain strong, unfettered by changes in leadership of governments or by changes in the political parties in power. In Nigeria, institutions are weak and the rule-of-law compromised.
The eight years of Chief Olusegun Obasanjo as President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria were hallmarked by strong leadership, which found expression in his total commitment to anti-corruption crusade using the instrumentality of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), his brainchild. The EFCC then was strong albeit, in retrospect quasi, deriving its strength from the character of President Olusegun Obasanjo and his commitment to anti-corruption crusade. A number of landmark cases were recorded by EFCC not the least of which was the successful prosecution of a serving Inspector General of Police. Chief Obasanjo also introduced the Monetization Policy to cut down on government expenditure on sundry matters including maintenance of official cars and provision of accommodation for public and civil servants with the overriding objective to curtail corruption thereof.
That the EFCC had no independence and institutional strength of its own to deal with corruption was apparent in the tenure of the late President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua under whose administration, anchored on ‘the rule-of- law,’ saw to the enervation and decimation of the anti-corruption instrument. And lest we forget, AIG Nuhu Ribadu, the EFCC boss, was demoted, humiliated and haunted by the Yar’Adua administration as a result of conflict of interest in operational procedures. Furthermore, the monetisation policy of the Obasanjo administration was not sustained by Yar’Adua’s and has remained so, a sad commentary on policy somersault that has become the hallmark of governance in Nigeria.
President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan failed, perhaps conveniently, to strengthen the EFCC, resulting in boundless corruption and to unacceptable level of impunity. His defence, in this regard, of having blocked loopholes to prevent corruption is unconvincing. From the foregoing, it is evident that the effectiveness or otherwise of the EFCC in Nigeria is dependent on the leadership in the absence of an institutional strength imbued in it to be able to conduct its affairs unencumbered. Further, there is the pertinent question, why a central anti-corruption instrument? Why do states and local governments not create their own anti-corruption instruments? Arguably, the EFCC as a central instrument was ab initio overburdened and therefore ill-equipped to handle economic crime cases as may arise from 774 local government councils, let alone those from other sectors. Clearly, a system of governance so centralised is bound to be inherently ineffective, characterised by a systemic corruption as we have witnessed in Nigeria.
In the twilight to the 2015 Presidential election, there is the expectation that a strong leader at the helm of affairs will address corruption headlong, restore order and create the enabling conditions for political stability, economic growth and national development. Specifically, there is the expectation that such a leader will, in the short term, restore energy, get industries working and create jobs for the teeming unemployed.
The expectation of life made more abundant by the mere emergence of a strong leader as president of Nigeria is misplaced and takes no cognisance of the more compelling issue of the over-centralisation of governance in Nigeria under a system of ‘unitary federalism’ or more aptly, ‘feeding-bottle federalism.’ This system of federalism cannot operate beyond its installed or prescribed capacity as circumscribed by the Nigerian constitution. The defects in the constitution account, in a number ways, for the systemic corruption and other social, economic and indeed political problems of the country. No leader, no matter how strong and well intentioned, can rescue Nigerians from the vicious cycle of poverty, underdevelopment and despondency unless the Nigerian constitution is re-worked. Unfortunately, the voting populace cannot see the nexus between centralised, exclusive responsibility of the Federal Government, until recently, to generate and distribute energy and the inability of the country to meet her energy needs over the years currently at less than 5000 megawatts as against an estimated need of over 100,000 mega watts for sustainable growth and development. They cannot connect centralised policing to our inability to protect lives and property. They cannot see the nexus between vesting in the Federal Government exclusive control of the country’s mineral resources and non-development of the resources. In particular, the resultant rudimentary state of petrochemical industry that should exert multiplier effects on the Nigerian economy and create jobs for our youth.
On the way forward lies the merit of the National Conference convoked by President Jonathan, albeit belatedly in 2014. Belated, because political re-structuring of the federation ought to have been the fulcrum of his transformation agenda and outcome of the Conference the basis of a new political order well before the up-coming elections. Nevertheless, the National Conference has made far-reaching recommendations that will enable devolution of powers and responsibilities from the centre to the states as federating units. There is the need to implement the recommendations of the Conference and effect necessary changes in the 1999 Constitution. There is, of course, the constitutional hurdle as to the manner of integrating recommendations of the conference into the Nigerian constitution against the backdrop of a lethargic National Assembly and in the absence, in the constitution, of any provision for a referendum in this regard. President Jonathan must demonstrate that he is such a leader who will go the extra mile to navigate the constitutional hurdles ahead beyond the verbal commitment to implement the recommendations of the Conference.
On the other hand, General Buhari has dismissed the National Conference as a waste of time and resources and raises the fundamental question as to what extent he appreciates the enormity and gravity of degeneracy of the Nigerian state. He has pledged to run the country in accordance with the Nigerian constitution which, in light of his pronouncement, means the current defective and unjust constitution. Therefore, on this subject, it is clear where the leading aspirants for the presidential position stand.
The Afenifere’s position in seeking commitment of President Jonathan for implementation of the Conference’s recommendations is, in my opinion, instructive, consistent and patriotic in the understanding that, in the circumstance, it is a better option for liberating Nigeria from the current state of anomie.
President Jonathan, if re-elected, must demonstrate, in practical terms, a total commitment to creation of a new political order and of a governance system that conduces to development of the Nigerian state. Now, as to the choices, a strong leader or a restructured Nigeria, I am persuaded to choose the latter.
• Professor Ighodalo Clement Eromosele is former Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Academic), Federal University of Agriculture, Abeokuta