A stumbling start and the big picture
The first-year evaluation of the All Progressives Congress (APC)-led Federal Government, in general and President Muhamadu Buhari, has been quite entertaining. Nigerians are very patronising of their leaders, very resilient and incurably optimistic in the face of daunting challenges. They are the type of people that a visionary leader will move mountains with.
The APC gave us hope for radical change, from the old order to the new order, while campaigning for the 2015 general elections and cannot now benchmark the activities of the government it is leading to those of previous governments. In fact, it was presented as a welfarist party which had the executive capacity and everything else it takes to hit the ground running to deliver us from the yoke of the Peoples’ Democratic Party(PDP) and make life more abundant, in no time. Now, one can only say that “by the time an old woman trips twice, all the contents of her basket will be common knowledge.” The Federal Government which has tripped many times over promises made by its political party to voters, must be mindful of the adage. The need is very urgent to foster the rule of law and sense of justice and belonging among all sections of the country at this time.
Like the blind who describes the elephant from the part he is touching, the APC-led Federal Government which met a vandalised treasury seems to have summed everything as financial corruption whereas it is obviously more that. Its refrain of oil price decline cum fiscal rascality of the previous government has become repugnant. Executive capacity and largeness of heart are as critical as funds in our situation.
There was Nigeria before the exploration of oil and it was people-centered, economically prosperous and culturally accountable, based on a structure and a mindset. How do we regain that template? That is the big question and the big picture. APC is not the first party to take office in times of economic crisis (a golden opportunity to make the difference) and was supposed to have done the home work and counted the cost before making those alluring promises. Or, was it a case of fraudulent misrepresentation?
For the avoidance of doubt, the battle against financial corruption is essential and all who are found guilty must be punished. However, it must be understood that financial corruption is only a segment of corruption in totality and only a sub-set of the big picture and all that it will take to turn Nigeria around. Corruption is behavioural and can manifest as various forms of fraud, partiality, perversion, avarice or graft, and so on, all of which share similar genes and consequences and are mutually regenerating. Curbing one strain without curbing the others which can regenerate it can only be as good as hacking the branch instead of uprooting the evil tree. You will have a situation where graft or financial corruption declines temporarily while other strains that will regenerate it are at large.
For example, there is a lot of partiality in appointment to public offices. The wanton killing of peaceful demonstrators by agents of the Federal Government while armed herdsmen serially murder scores of citizens and ransack communities and farmlands are left to roam shows a level selective justice. Nigerians are now asking to be re-assured that the law is no respecter of person or religion and that there is no hidden agenda. To some people, there is the foreboding of an era of subjugation or iron grip which must be dispelled.
What about restructuring the federation to restore the economic activism that once existed among the federating units which is the surest step to diversification? Nigeria is currently federal only in form but unitary in substance. And it is largely this unitarism that has rendered the entire system indolent and predatory. What about prohibiting public funds for election? What about stringent preventive measures against profligate, do-or-die electioneering and licentious remuneration of political office holders underlying fiscal rascality and other forms of corruption? What about new practice directives on the current system of ‘after-the-fact’ prosecution of offenders which is laborious and full of leakage?
By job description (job content), job specification (preparation required to do the job) and output, should the compensation of a Nigerian senator be more than that of a medical doctor in the public service, for example? In the United States, where the gross domestic product of a city can be many times that of Nigeria as a whole, those two are comparable. The executive arm of government is equally implicated in this irrational compensation system: Our leaders are living in a world of their own, insensitive to the penury of the people. You can then figure the inability of states to meet the salaries of public servants and other recurrent obligations (not to talk of capital projects) beyond the decline in oil revenues.
Corruption cannot be curbed without the objective reward system and economic activism that generate competition, diversification, productivity, opportunity and universal access. And it is only a subset of the big picture. Those other anomalies that constitute the evil tree along with corruption must be uprooted before there can be a new lease of life. The aim should be to turn Nigeria around, not just to punish corruption. A version of the prolific old-time War Against Indiscipline (WAI) together with re-orientation campaigns in the mass media, schools, mosques and other public places is also called for.
So far, it has been a stumbling start. There is still a long way to go. But, with God, all things are possible.