Wednesday, 29th November 2023

Retooling Nigeria’s democracy to favour the people

By Ayo Oyoze Baje
22 June 2023   |   3:00 am
Given the bold and commendable efforts so far taken by the President Ahmed Tinubu-led government by signing the Electricity Act 2023, giving approval for loans to indigent students and getting the legislative arm of government in place, he has taken the first steps forward to rekindle hope in repositioning the tenets of democracy.

President Tinubu

Given the bold and commendable efforts so far taken by the President Ahmed Tinubu-led government by signing the Electricity Act 2023, giving approval for loans to indigent students and getting the legislative arm of government in place, he has taken the first steps forward to rekindle hope in repositioning the tenets of democracy.

What more, on the sensitive issue of combatting insecurity, he has met with the security chiefs to get them working in synergy in the frontal battle against terrorists, bandits, kidnappers, oil-thieves and sea pirates. That came in response to the piece of news that at least 78 Nigerians killed and 12 abducted in violent attacks across the country within his first week after he took the oath of office”. The incidents took place in Rivers, Zamfara, Kaduna, Ogun, Sokoto, and the Federal Capital Territory. This was contained in data obtained from the Nigeria Security Tracker, a project of the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR).

On the Electricity Act it authorizes states, companies and individuals to generate, transmit and distribute electricity. That has repealed the Electric Power Sector Reform Act (EPSRA) signed by President Olusegun Obasanjo in 2005 which provided the legal, regulatory and governance frameworks underpinning the Nigerian Electricity Supply Industry (NESI).
The Electricity Act include the feature that the states can regulate their electricity markets by issuing licences to private investors, especially those who can operate mini-grids and power plants within the state. However, the Act precludes interstate and transnational electricity distribution.

The import of this Act is significant in providing an enabling environment for businesses to thrive. But the fears being raised are predicated on the fuel subsidy removal when the palliatives have not been put into effective use. So, the million-naira question these initial moves bring forth is if indeed, Tinubu’s administration will truly favour the most vulnerable set of Nigerians, including the poor, the aged, the malnourished as well as widows and widowers.

The significance of this question is based on the report that in 2023, nearly 12 percent of the world population living in extreme poverty are in Nigeria, considering the poverty threshold at 1.90 U.S. dollars a day, while 133 million (63 percent of the country’s population) are multi-dimensionally poor. That is according to the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS).

Worrisome too is that the Nigerian Economic Summit Group (NESG) estimated in 2022 that unemployment will surge from 33 per cent to 37 percent by 2023. Inflation stood at 21.34 back in December 2022. It rose for the fifth straight month to 22.41 percent in May 2023 from 22.22 percent in the previous month, according to the latest inflation report. That means the N30,000 minimum wage approved in 2019 is grossly inadequate to put food on the average worker’s table.

It would be recalled that in June 25, 2018 the report by the World Poverty Clock stated that Nigeria overtook India as the country with the largest number of people living in extreme poverty’. It explained that extreme poverty in Nigeria was growing by six people every minute, being the highest number in the world!

One’s persisting argument is that the cost of accessing political power and the payment structure here in Nigeria, skewed in favour of the political class all constitute cogs in the wheel of any meaningful and sustainable socio-economic development.

With trillions of naira revenue, mostly from crude oil sales from the ‘60s till date, it is a crying shame that Nigeria parades some of the most disturbing dismal figures in the Human Development Index (HDI). The reasons are not far-fetched. Much of our national wealth has gone to feather the nests of the shameless, avaricious locusts that have held the reins of political power since independence.

While some have stashed their loot in dark, foreign vaults, others, as recent revelations from the EFCC go, have theirs hidden in overhead tanks, underground troves, soak ways, abandoned houses and even stinking graveyards! What a country?!

Painful still, the perpetrators of these heinous crimes against poor Nigerians are walking our streets as free men! At the worst, they are held captive for a few days, then granted bail and paraded for media trial, with all the initial hoopla that soon dies from Doppler’s effect. But the concomitant implication of their crimes and the attendant impunity are telling on our frail democracy.

From increasing poverty rate, decrepit infrastructure, poor healthcare delivery system, high maternal and infant mortality rates, high food insecurity rate to huge youth unemployment, our nation’s sordid economic situation is a criminal betrayal of what God has richly endowed us with.

The bitter is that we can no longer sustain the huge capital flight committed by our unpatriotic politicians, who bulldoze through the national till only to empower foreign nationals. For instance, in July 2004, UNIDO Report listed countries such as China, India, Singapore and Thailand amongst those with robust economies that reduced poverty rate from an average of 40% in 1981 to 21 % in 2001, while ours was escalating.

In fact, the Report singled out Nigeria as the country with the worst-case scenario of capital flight and advised us to borrow a new leaf from Uganda, which had a similar challenge but was able to reverse the drift.

Back then in 2004 our politicians were accused of stashing $107 billion abroad. Similarly, in April 2011 CNN MarketPlace Report stated that Nigerian politicians own 40 per cent of luxury properties in Central London, with the cost ranging from 17 million to 33 million pounds sterling. Dubai is not left out. Such barefaced robbery of our common patrimony must also come to a halt. But how? That is the million-naira question.

But what is the way forward? To tread the path to prosperity, political re-engineering is sine qua non. The Tinubu-led administration should muster the courage to retool our concept of governance. The payment structure of political appointees must be drastically scaled down, in tandem with the harsh economic reality.

Next is the compelling need for restructuring of the polity. The undue fixation of political power at the bloated federal centre must be done away with. We should revisit and implement some of the well-thought-out recommendations of the 2014 National Conference. With true fiscal federalism in place, the over-fixation on the so called Federation Account would come to a halt.

So far, President Tinubu has shown the will to right the wrongs of the past. But he should go further to fight the monster of corruption in high places, channel funds to build the infrastructure to reinvigorate industrialisation and encourage foreign direct investment, all with the objective of reducing poverty in the land