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Consolidating Nigeria’s strides for a prosperous new decade

By Onyedika Agbedo
04 January 2020   |   3:21 am
With these words, President Muhammadu Buhari assured Nigerians of a brighter future ahead in his well-publicised new year message on January 1.

“Today marks the dawn of a new decade. It is a time of hope, optimism and fresh possibilities. We look forward as a nation to the 2020s as the opportunity to build on the foundations we have laid together on security, diversification of our economy and taking on the curse of corruption. These are the pledges on which I have been twice elected President and remain the framework for a stable, sustainable and more prosperous future.”

With these words, President Muhammadu Buhari assured Nigerians of a brighter future ahead in his well-publicised new year message on January 1. In the message, President Buhari spoke on his achievements so far while restating his earlier pledge to take 10 million Nigerians out of poverty in the next 10 years.

“During my Democracy Day speech on June 12, 2019, I promised to lay the enduring foundations for taking a hundred million Nigerians out of mass poverty over the next 10 years. Today I restate that commitment. We shall continue reforms in education, health care and water sanitation. I have met international partners such as GAVI, the vaccine alliance, and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation who support our social welfare programmes. I will continue to work with state and local governments to make sure that these partnerships deliver as they should. Workers will have a living wage and pensioners will be looked after. We are steadily clearing pensions and benefits arrears neglected for so long.

“The new Ministry of Humanitarian Affairs, Disaster Management and Social Development will consolidate and build on the social intervention schemes and will enhance the checks and balances necessary for this set of programmes to succeed for the long term.

“I am able to report that the journey has already begun with the passage and signing into law of the 2020 Appropriation Act. As the new decade dawns, we are ready to hit the ground running,” the president declared.

But some Nigerians are of the view that unless far-reaching reforms are effected in the country, President Buhari’s optimism that 2020 would be “Nigeria’s Decade” would turn out a mirage.

Speaking with The Guardian, a multi-dimensional scholar and lecturer at the University of Lagos, Dr. Fassy Adetokunboh Yusuf, noted that even though the president means well for the country, he needed to effectively communicate the programmes and policies of his administration to the citizens to get their buy-in as a means of accelerating the realisation.

His words: “The little I know about Buhari, he is a gentleman; his military background has not been found palatable by many Nigerians but he means well for the country. However, communicating his dreams to Nigerians has been something herculean. In communication, if your receiver finds it difficult to decode your message, if the channel is distorted, it will be difficult to get a response. That is what is happening. Because Nigerians had been taken for a ride in the past, because Nigerians had been disappointed, they find it difficult to trust their leaders. And this is because there is a disconnect between the leaders and the followers. So, how Buhari will successfully communicate with Nigerians is something that should engage his team.

“Again, why is it not possible for us to lead by examples rather than by precepts. They are asking us to tighten our belts; are our leaders tightening their belts? While should a minister be using four to six official cars, with each car costing about N100 million. Why must a minister go to a ministry with about 40 aides, especially when these ministers will not be permanent in office? What is the purpose of the civil service? After four years or a maximum of eight years, they will leave that place and the civil servants will not be able to have a full idea of what is happening because the aides would be the ones doing the job. It is the same thing in the states. During our own time, we had only nine commissioners. Most states now have up to 20 commissioners, special advisers, special assistants, senior special assistants, consultants and all the rest. We were not allowed to come with any personal assistant; we inherited the personal assistant we used from the system.

“Time was when only Peugeot cars were used by public officials. Now you see some public officials using vehicles worth N500 million. These are leakages. The overhead costs and recurrent expenditure of this country is too high to the extent that we have only 20 to 30 per cent of the budget for capital expenditure. And even if we have 30 per cent, at the end of the day may be a maximum of 25 per cent will be executed. So, we have a problem there.”

He urged the Federal Government to strengthen its policies towards making agriculture the mainstay of the nation’s economy, saying: “Agriculture should be the mainstay of the economy and I hope it would be pursued to a logical conclusion. The border closure to me was a desperate solution to a desperate situation and I hope the government can capitalise on the closure and turnaround of the agricultural sector because things are improving for farmers now. People are now going into farming and I hope there won’t be any policy summersault.”

He added: “Again, this country should be restructured. We cannot sustain the kind of democratic structure we have now. We don’t need a bicameral legislature; one should be enough. And our presidential system is too expensive. Look at the number of aides in the presidency. And when the president was trying to restructure, people read meanings to it that he was trying to emasculate the vice president. So, Nigerians themselves must declare what they want.”

For the Secretary-General of Eastern Consultative Assembly (ECA) and founder of the Igbo Youth Movement (IYM), Elliot Ugochukwu-Uko, the new decade provides an opportunity for the Nigerian political elite to rise up and do the needful for the betterment of the citizenry.

“This new year, 2020, provides a wonderful opportunity for the leadership and political elite of Nigeria to rise up and do the needful. They have to urgently begin the process of reconstructing the polity in order to whittle down excess power from the centre and devolve same to the federating units via a new people’s constitution. 

“A bipartisan, respectable committee of eminent and patriotic leaders should be raised now to begin the process of a holistic restructuring of the polity. We have pretended for too long that this military decree called1999 constitution can sustain, unite and grow Nigeria.

“We have lied to ourselves for much too long. Consistently resisting the truth, in preference to falsehood, is a dangerous and unhelpful response to the stark reality facing us as a country. Voting huge amounts to acquire military hardware just to contain internal disaffection, setting up dozens of military operations, some codenamed after reptiles and wild cats only deepens the anger, bitterness and frustrations in the land. 

“Anti-hate speech laws and suppression and repression of rights to free speech, again, only succeeds in establishing an atmosphere of apprehension and fear which in turn only encourages more dissent and revolt. Circumventing reality and going round in circles while struggling to avoid the needful did not help Somalia, Sudan, the USSR and Yugoslavia. It will never save Nigeria. Only doing the needful, which is devolving powers to the regions by reverting to the 1963 constitution will. Only returning to true federalism will save Nigeria,” he said.

Ugochukwu-Uko, who is also the Deputy Secretary-General of the Prof. Ben Nwabueze-led Igbo Leaders of Thought stressed that 2020 should be a year of stock-taking, reminiscing and ruminating on the development strides of the First Republic from 1959 to 1966 and the unwieldy rigmarole of today.

He added: “The untidy and unjust unitary system has destroyed cohesion, enthroned nepotism, prebendalism and hatred from the oppressed peoples, which in turn has given birth to everything evil dominating the land today. Continuing to deceive ourselves is unkind to the good people of Nigeria, especially our progeny. Our decade-old hypocrisy has not and will never solve the problems. Things can only get worse with time. 

“The hunger, poverty and criminality ruling the land today are only signposts of a dysfunctional unitary structure imposed on the country by the military. Corruption, unemployment, disequilibrium and calls for revolution are direct consequences of ignoring reality for too long. Calls for secession only confirms to the deaf and the blind that the termites of injustice and oppression have eaten the foundation of the edifice called Nigeria. The cracks are so obvious. Yet our leaders across board prefer to paper over the cracks in pretence. We have pretended for too long. The trumpets could sound any day now. Nigeria’s restructuring agenda should be rolled out without further delay as time is clearly running out.”

Ugochukwu-Uko described as disappointing comments from regional and ethnic groups in response to President Buhari’s new year address, saying they were only concerned about appointments while the foundation of the country was shaky.

“Nigerians are shocked that all these groups could concern themselves with are mundane and banal desires of the political class – appointments and accommodation. Pity! Nigeria is tottering at the precipice and all our ‘leaders’ could care about is political accommodation in this squeaky, rickety vehicle burdened with a frightening foreign debt profile, crawling in a most directionless manner to only God knows where. So sad!

“All hands should be on board to both plead and pressure the government to embark on the only solution to our miseries through the holistic restructuring of the polity without further delay.”