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E O EkeMonday, November 26, 2012
eoeke@aol.com


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REMEDIES FOR A DYSFUNCTIONAL AND CORRUPT DEMOCRACY (PART 1)

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The selling of Nigeria to those who looted her in the name of Privatisation is a crime against humanity.

The privatisation effort in Nigeria is another crime taking place before our eyes. Suddenly Nigeria has embraced privatization without first studying how it was implemented in some countries and what the results have been. Countries which went through privatisation many years ago have a lot of lessons which Nigeria should have digested before embarking on what is by all evidence a scramble by those who looted Nigeria to buy it back with what is in effect Nigerians money. This cannot be right and fair.

The evidence today would suggest that complete privatisation of government utilities is a mistake that favours only a very small clique of the elite. Countries that went down the line of privatisation, first established powerful and robust regulators to moderate the greed and excesses of the private companies running the utilities. Even with this, the governments have continued to regret the throwing away of state assets in the name of privatisation. For instance, since the privatisation of the British Rail, and utilities the British government has reacquired a substantial interest in the Railway and continues to subsidize the profit of the private companies. Moreover, when we factor into the Nigerian case that the money made from the sale of government utilities would probably end up in the foreign accounts of corruption politicians, the case against privatisation at this point in the development of Nigeria will become stronger. When you consider the amount of money the British government for instance still pays private rail companies in form of subsidies, you will understand why it is called reap off Britain.

Countries like France and Germany have refused to follow the British example of outright privatisation of public utilities and have instead, retained a substantial share in their public utilities on behalf of their people. Time has proved that this is probably the best model. China retains a substantial interest in its utilities and it is a creditor nation while countries like Spain, Greece, Portugal, Britain, USA, etc., who advocate privatisation of government utilities in the name of free market are debtor nations. Nigeria has to choose whether it wants to exist as a creditor or debtor nation. The fact is that whole sale privatisation of government utilities is not the best and only option for Nigeria. There are better alternatives which the government should honestly consider if indeed it is acting in the best interest of the Nigerian people as it claims, and not in the interest of the corrupt elites who looted Nigeria in the first place.

Looking at Nigeria’s economic policy the lack of integrity becomes obvious. A government that is pursuing privatisation agenda, by selling government assets and utilities to those who looted Nigeria is at the same time trying to set up a national airline. Maybe, so that it can sale the national asset to themselves at cheap prices afterwards. The leaders build houses with government money, only to sale it to themselves at a ridiculous fraction of its real value. Nigeria is indeed run by those whose morality is different from what is obtainable in well governed countries. Unless Nigerian leaders review their attitude to integrity, honesty and accountability and realise that without them, people will yield to corruption, we will be building on sand and our edifice will give way when the storm comes.

Nigeria does not need to repeat the mistakes of developed countries that did what it is attempting to do. We can learn and do better. Instead of outright privatisation, the government may consider people government partnership also called the John Lewis model which is currently considered the fairest and best way of approaching free market. It is an arrangement where the people, workers and government owe the factors of production and work for their common interest. It eliminates the current exploitative unrestricted free market model where owners employs workers who are exploited to create surplus wealth for a few.

The model Nigeria is embracing has created very unfair and unequal societies with problems which threaten the safety of all. In many aspects, it contains many of the ills of capitalism which Karl Marx warned against. Nigeria is a developing country. It cannot afford to copy verbatim the economic policies of the west. World Bank and IMF recommendation for Nigeria are too concentrated and need to be diluted to make it appropriate for the Nigerian situation. There is need to modify whatever works in the west to suit the evolutionary stage of Nigeria's development, and out right privatisation would seem to be the wrong policy at this time.

Lack of emphasis on Integrity is a bad omen for the future.

I often wonder what integrity means in Nigeria because of the reaction of the government and attitude of the legislators to corruption, impropriety and crimes. The recent refusal by the Chief Justice of the federation to swear in a female justice is an example. The candidate in question was discovered to have changed her state of origin when she thought she stood a chance of being appointed in the past. This disparity in the information she presented is a clear sign of the type of person she is and should disqualify her from being a judge, talk less of being appointed to the position in question, but not in Nigeria. When such things happen in developed countries, it is the individual who will accept that their behaviour has disqualified them and would honourably resign. However in Nigeria, you hear of people saying forgive her as if this makes any difference to the character trait which would become a great obstacle to her performing the role in question afterwards.

This lack of attention to details and the tendency to rationalise evil by allowing a religious attitude to wrongly inform the treatment of offenders, is one of the factors which perpetuate the Nigeria problem. Developed nations know that the only reliable predictor of future behaviour is past behaviour and therefore scrutinise the past behaviour of people who attempt to gain public offices to ensure that there is nothing objectionable which would have a bearing on the way they should discharge the duties of the office they aspire. The apparent inability of the Nigerian state to bring to justice those who have committed serious crime against her, the failure of the judiciary to dispense justice and abuse of the law and courts by the legal professionals are some of the most serious features of the failed Nigerian state. No people can claim to have a country when its governments allow unscrupulous lawyers to abuse its judiciary to make mockery of its laws. Yes, the law can be an ass, but even an ass can be well treated because of the valuable role it plays. An abused ass soon dies and the owner will then realise that it has cut his nose to spite his face. Nigerian Lawyers collude with corrupt politicians to abuse our judiciary process to their peril.

The senior Advocates of Nigeria, who sale their expertise to those who destroyed Nigeria and use the technicalities of the law to prevent them from paying for their crimes are like the scientist who helped Hitler to build his war machine. No man can claim to be moral when he knowingly helps criminals to escape justice and subvert the rule of law. No one can hide behind the practice of law in a matter of morality. The misuse of the law to enable evil triumph over good in Nigeria is another feature of our failed nation. It is wrong. In fact, it is immoral to use the law in the way many respectable Nigerian lawyers are using it to enable corrupt politicians to escape justice. This is abuse and misuse of the law. Those who enacted the laws did not intend that lawyers would use the laws to frustrate the administration of justice as they are currently doing in Nigeria. Nigeria has to undertake serious reform of the judiciary to stop the abuse of our Courts and laws by immoral lawyers who exploit the status quo to enable the criminals who have brought Nigerian to her knees to escape justice. In this wise, the Nigeria Chief justice deserves the support of Nigerians in her determination to restore probity in our national life. Once again, the Nigerian Senate is on the side of the person in the wrong. Unfortunately, before the publication of this article, the Nigerian chief Justice capitulated and swore in the Judge in question, further pushing back the day the change Nigeria needs will begin.

Constitutional amendment by those who have only abused the existing constitution is unacceptable.

Nigerian constitutions should not be amended by those who have need to protect their own personal interests or the interests of the group or organisation they belong to or benefit from. If this becomes the case, then care should be taken so that they are not allowed to be the one that amends the section of the constitution which would govern how they discharge their duties and the benefits of their office. In this wise, members of the national assembly should not be amending the part of the constitution that covers their duties and remunerations. This part should be handled by an independent constitution review or amendment committee, if the national assembly insists on amending the constitution; instead of approving a new constitution writing committee that would report to it to review and then the people to rectify in a referendum. It should be made very clear what areas they should amend to avoid conflict of interest. Nigerians have to accept that there is no one pure form of democratic process or system and that the important thing in a democracy is that whatever is done, should be what the majority of the people want, and everybody given a real chance to be involved, and the process, fair, just and open.

Therefore, I will argue that Nigeria needs a new constitution and not the tinkering of the old ones by corrupt legislators to make holding them account for corruption impossible. Nigeria needs a new constitution which would be adopted in a referendum by Nigerians. Nigeria needs a constitution written by a committee elected by the people for the purpose of writing the said constitution. Such a constitution should be adopted in a referendum and only then will it truly be a constitution of the people. Nigeria has operated under constitution written by appointees of military dictatorships which gave unaccountable powers to politicians which has fuelled corruption, impunity and disregard of due and democratic process. A military dictatorship does not become a democracy simply because the military painted it over with democratic paint. A fundamental ingredient of democracy which is missing in the Nigerian experience is accountable power. Nigerian politicians are exercising the autocratic powers bequeathed to them by the military and this is not democracy. Those who exercise power must be account to those from whom they derive the power for a system to be democratic.

The president or Nigeria and the state governors are far too powerful and autocratic for a democratic system of government. The imposition of an undemocratic parallel political office in the place of the office of the first lady is a democratic aberration which is another feature of our mutated democracy. The power given to governors in the conduct of local government election and over local government areas is to say the least preposterous and a subversion of democratic principles. The way many of them have abused it by misappropriating resources meant for local government areas and refusing to conduct local government elections speak for its self. A country that is honest and serious about its democratic values and development will address these abuses of power in its constitutional amendment with the view to making it impossible for state governors to frustrate the development of local government areas and system of government for selfish political reasons. Unfortunately,state governors in Nigeria have constituted themselves into a power block that is influencing the Nigeria democracy in the wrong direction even though their body has no constitutional powers or recognition.

For Nigeria to make progress, power must be made more accountable by putting a check on how politicians can exercise whatever they understand their executive powers to mean and ceding some of their powers to agencies, ministries and other institutions. The task of building strong institutions should start by ensuring that the powers that are currently being abused by the executive arms of the government are secured in ways that would make their abuse impossible and their legitimate exercise accountable. This is what operates in true democracies. If the national assembly is sincere in its attempt to amend the constitution, it should start by removing immunity from prosecution from politicians indicted for crimes so that the thieves could be pursued while they are committing the crime and not after they have finished and hidden their loot as is the case at the moment. In addition, the national assembly should also enthrone transparency and accountability so that all politicians will be under obligation by the law to openly declare their assets and maintain transparency in their financial affairs while in office. Nigeria cannot eliminate corruption without transparency in the way the government is run and establishing strong and independent institutions empowered to hold politicians to account.

Creation of more states to retain the status quo is simply madness in a country where the cost of government already constitutes 80% of recurrent expenditure.

Nigeria does not need more states but less. The right and reasonable things for Nigeria to do is to do away with state structure and return to regional structure. This will stabilise the country. No one can unite a people by splitting them into smaller groups on the basis of peculiar ethnic differences. This only results in those one regards as different getting closer and closer and it is simply madness, if the aim is to keep them as one. Nigerians need to define themselves by an encompassing identity instead of the very narrowly defined identities of ethnicity, religion and state of origin. It is very clear that the state structure was a reaction to Biafra and was wrong and a big mistake. It has divided Nigerians and has neither ensured development nor enhanced the unity of the country and must now be jettisoned if Nigeria will survive as a united country.

At the moment it is clear that of the six geopolitical regions of Nigeria that the East is marginalised by having five states. This should be rectified and then Nigeria should revert to six regions with six regional houses of Assembly and six regional governors. The current state structure should disappear and the local government areas become the unit of governments. Each local government area should elect one representative to the regional house of Assembly and have an elected council. The number of legislators in the national assembly should be reduced and the senate converted into a chamber that reviews legislations and made up of part time representative who would be paid allowance to cover the cost of their sittings. Apart from bringing clarity and direction in the role of the national legislature, this structure would be the most economical and democratic.

It will eliminate one of the corruption nucleuses of the Nigeria arrangement which the executive state governors, have misused to impoverished their states. The state assemblies are a useless drain on resources. By reducing them to six regional houses of assemblies a lot of money can be saved. The savings in the cost of the legislature which currently consumes 25% of government budget would be enormous and release resources for development. Nigeria is over governed and political powers under regulated in a way that enables the unscrupulous to abuse powers and subvert the rule of law. Therefore, to rectify the problem, a structural tinkering of the status quo is necessary.

This restructuring of our democratic structures will attract the right kind of people into politics who will lay a true democratic foundation for Nigeria based in civil values. The continuation of state structure is one clear example that Nigerian leaders do not understand how to lay a solid economic and democratic foundation for Nigeria as a country. The continuing fragmentation of Nigeria into states defined on mono-ethnic basis is one of the most serious mistakes anybody who wants a united Nigeria can make. We are already seeing the effect of the existing on such narrowly defined identity in the attempt by a woman who is married to a man from Abia state to use her state of origin to gain a position she should never have applied for by virtue of her marriage and the discrimination by the Abia state government against Igbos who are not from Abia state in her civil service. State creation sows the seed of xenophobia which we are already experiencing in Abia state with the governor destroying Aba because he does not come from the area. What Abia state governor has done to Aba would have been impossible if we had a regional government.

To be continued.

E O Eke is qualified in medicine. At various times he has been a General medical practitioner, Medical missionary, Medical Director and senior medical officer of health in Nigeria. He specializes in child, Adolescent and adult psychiatry and lives in England with his family. His interest is in health, religion philosophy and politics. He cares for body and mind.

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