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‘We must make our politics less attractive’

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Dr. Jasper Uche

Dr. Jasper Uche is a Lecturer in the Department of Political Science, University of Nigeria, Nsukka (UNN). In this interview with LAWRENCE NJOKU in Enugu, he spoke about missed opportunities as Nigeria prepares for its 59th-year independence celebrations. Excerpts:

How would you assess the country’s march towards nationhood as she celebrates 59 years of Independence?
Analyzing Nigeria’s march towards nationhood is an uninspiring commentary. It’s a narrative of forlorn hope, mutual suspicion, political instability, policy flip-flops, social dislocations, failed opportunities, arrested development, and attendant cries of marginalization and exclusion.

At her independence in 1960, the departing colonial masters bequeathed a nation that was set up for implosion. The strength of our diversity was disingenuously undermined. Thus, the First Republic was trailed by the politics of recrimination. The first military coup in 1966, which was initially seen as patriotic move eventually accentuated cycles of coups and counter-coups.

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The emergence of Gen. Gowon as Head of State on July 15, 1966, created disaffection in the military because of the issue of seniority. The showdown and the attempts by the emerging power brokers to resort to self-help snowballed into the 30-month civil war. From then, successive administrations (military and civil) adopted a ‘siege mentality’ in the management of national affairs. Today, the country is more divided than it was in the 1960s, and welding Nigeria into a nation has remained a far cry. So, my verdict is that Nigeria at 59 is a giant toddler.

Could there have been more appropriate ways of handling the country than have been witnessed so far?
Certainly, yes! Nigeria had a great promise, but the faulty foundation of injustice, impunity and scant regard for her pool of talents is her greatest undoing. More often than not, those with the pedigree of excellence and cutting-edge initiatives are hounded as endangered species. This gave rise to the emergence of mediocres, wheel-dealers and ethnic jingoists in public affairs. They politicise every aspect of our national life. Politics has become ‘the only game in town’.

With the prodigality of the political class, the military intervened and entrenched itself as a new power bloc. And with the discovery of oil, our politics became messier. National Development Plans had no sustainability. We lost our pride of place in agriculture. The Netherlands that is half of the size of Nigeria’s largest state (Niger State) is currently the second-largest producer of agricultural products in the world. Solid minerals sector remains untapped. We have over 20 strategic minerals that are unexploited, hence artisanal mining bred criminal gangs. Industrialization has been shoved aside. Our Ajaokuta Iron & Steel Plant that was conceived almost the same time with South Korean Steel Industry is a shadow of itself.

Today, South Korea is not just in automobiles manufacturing, but also one of the largest exporters of steel in the world. Our education system suffered serious neglect under anti-intellectual leaderships. No Nigerian university is among the best 800 in the world. The health sector became comatose. In the 1960s, Saudi Royal family used to visit UCH Ibadan for medicare but today our people spend so much for medical tourism abroad.

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The strategic initiatives to empower the teeming population ended up either in sloganeering or as paper tiger. The massive oil revenue could not be invested in critical sectors. Nigeria’s state oil company, Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC), is a cesspool of corruption. So, while our NNPC, by its opaque operations, incurs liabilities, its counterparts in Malaysia (Petronas) and Norway (Equinor ASA) have subsidiaries in about 35 countries and are repatriating profits in billions of dollars to their home countries. It is no surprise that Nigeria recently overtook India as the Poverty Capital of the World. There is also a projection from Gatekeepers Report that Nigeria and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) will harbor about 40% of extremely poor people on earth by 2030. These staggering statistics are saddening.

The call for restructuring has been raised to a feverish pitch. Do you see it as solving Nigeria’s problems?
Restructuring is a means to an end, not an end in itself. It is a significant step towards defusing tension arising from the struggle for the control of power at the centre, and unleashing latent opportunities. There is a need to unbundle the present Federal Government. The 68 items in the Exclusive Legislative list of 1999 Constitution should be reduced and transferred to the constituent units. We should go back to the 1963 Constitution where the regions developed their resources and remitted certain percentages to the centre, and to a distributable pool account for collective emergencies and contingencies. There is no region of the country that is not hugely endowed. Also, Nigerians must engage in sincere discussion as a confidence-building measure. We also need to decentralize policing.
 
Fundamentally, we must make our politics less attractive. The cost of governance in Nigeria is too high. Over 90 per cent of corruption in Nigeria is perpetrated during procurement. Our procurement process must be more transparent. So, while we talk of restructuring, we must embrace a system that promotes transparency and makes it difficult to loot our resources mindlessly, otherwise our constituent units would be turned to theatres of war.

Taking a look at our electoral system (both now and then), what role has it played in getting the country arriving she is at the moment?
Our electoral system exemplifies the character of the Nigerian state. The operators of the election management body are not angels. They are Nigerians. And so, their activities are largely influenced by the disposition of the appointing incumbents and the electioneering environment. However, the credibility of our nation’s electoral umpire – Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) blossomed under the chairmanship of Professor Attahiru Jega. The reforms were far-reaching, but we lost those gains in the 2019 elections. It was unfortunate that the electoral law, which would have consolidated some of Jega’s electoral reform, was not signed before the last elections. Going forward, we need to strengthen our laws to regulate and monitor campaign financing, internal democracy of political parties, electronic voting and military deployment in elections. INEC should refrain from the usual dismissive posture, and take relevant recommendations from the reports of election monitors and civic society groups to improve our electoral process. It is also high time that our nation institutes a code of conduct with sanctions for the political class.

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What can you say about the many agitations and calls for secession from different quarters?
They are indicators of the absence of peace and justice. Deprivations and poverty have no ethnic colour. The agitations will cease when the conflict drivers are addressed. The haves cannot sleep when the have-nots are awake. For instance, it is a double standard and selective justice to negotiate with gunrunning criminals, while you declare peaceful protesters as terrorists. The multi-ethnic nature of the country must be considered in policy pronouncements and distribution of public goods. So, people must find a way to ventilate their grievances which the powers-that-be most times view as subversive.

It has become increasingly difficult to embark on concrete development due to security challenges. How do we get out of this, bearing in mind the huge investments made so far in this sector?
One, invest massively in education and human capital development, especially in areas with a high incidence of poverty. As noted by Bill Gates, the Economic Recovery & Growth Plan of the Federal Government has ‘investing in our people’ as one of the three strategic objectives, but its execution prioritizes physical capital over human capital. We must consciously invest in idle minds. Two, Mr. President should rejig his security architecture. I think the nation needs to test new hands who would want to prove their mettle. The continued extension of tenure of the present service chiefs is a great disservice to the military institution. Three, the damaging reports from soldiers in the war fronts against their bosses should be discreetly handled. Four, the porous borders in the North that facilitate free movement of arms, illegal migrants and criminals should be closed down, as done in the Seme border.

This Southeast’s cries about marginalization, how real is it?
The facts are in the public domain. No Igbo man is heading any of our security formations. The massive reconstruction of railway lines across the country is nowhere in the zone. The southeast Development Commission bill is being politicized at the lower chamber of the National Assembly after it was passed by the 8th Senate.

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The Southeast collects the least allocation from the Federal Government as a result of the imbalance in the number of states and local government areas. For instance, three states in the North West alone (Kano, Katsina, and Jigawa) have a total of 105 LGAs, while the entire five Southeast states have a total of only 95 LGAs. Calls for the creation of one additional state in the zone are yet to be worked on. The only international airport in the zone was closed down for rehabilitation without notice and provision of an alternative route. When Abuja airport was closed down, the contract for the rehabilitation was awarded a completion timeline of six weeks. Kaduna airport was put in order as an alternative route, while the Federal Government dedicated two transport companies that shuttled between Abuja and Kaduna.

In the case of Enugu airport, none of these measures were taken. Currently, efforts are in top gear to deny the Southeast a shot at the presidency in 2023, but I thank God for principled northerners like Balarabe Musa and Tanko Yakassai who are publicly opposed to the plot against Ndigbo. So, the cries of marginalization of Igbo are not make-believe.

Going forward, what do you think Buhari needs to do differently to print his name in gold?
One, he should unify Nigerians through his appointments and policies. Two, he should fast-track the unbundling of NNPC through the passage of the PIGB bill. Three, he should tackle the security crisis across the country head-on. Four, Mr. President should not be captured by experts to inflict more pains on Nigerians. He should rather mobilize resources by reducing the cost of governance at all levels, impose taxes on luxury products and curb unnecessary tax waivers. Five, he should provide incentives like (You WIN) for increased participation in agriculture and ICT to reduce youth unemployment. Lastly, he should provide the leadership and ensure that the ruling APC zones the 2023 presidency to the Southeast. It is a legacy for justice and political stability in Nigeria.


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