FEATURE ARTICLE

E O EkeThursday, December 6, 2012
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REMEDIES FOR A DYSFUNCTIONAL AND CORRUPT DEMOCRACY (CONCLUSION)

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Fuel subsidy scam; a crime that must be stopped to move Nigeria forward.

he attempt to remove so called fuel subsidy without addressing the thorny issues of corruption, the excessive pay of politicians and sanitisation of the oil industry is another example of lack of honesty on the part of the government and an insult on the intelligence of Nigerians. Nigerian government is behaving more like a mafia which is only really interested in the interest of a few strong individuals or groups than as a democratic government, elected to act in the best interest of the majority of the people. A sensitive, patriotic and honest government faced with the type of economic problems that Nigeria faces, would prioritise the closing of the holes in the national treasury by addressing the issue of corruption, impunity, lack of transparently, decisively and then review its internal revenue generation with the view to maximise it; before implementing any policy whose effect would impact the average citizen disproportionately and worsen the condition of those with natural disadvantages.

Then, it would ensure that all the people who have been benefitting from the dysfunctional government, pay their due by making sure that they pay their taxes. An honest and sincere government committed to building a strong, fair and secured country will place reforming the tax system high on its agenda and will be closing all identified loopholes and ensuring that all the millionaires pay their tax. It will make effort to tax luxury goods like private plane, air travel, churches, Mosques, mansions, number of cars, etc. Such a government will make sure that members of the national Assembly which seems to be the most expensive part of our democracy pay their taxes and bring their remuneration in line with what is reasonable in light of our level of development. All these are some of the things any serious government would prioritise before confronting the sensitive issue of increasing the prices of petroleum products cleverly called the removal of oil subsidy. Such a good government would be considering better ways of making refined petroleum products available to Nigerians which would not require the government to pay subsidies to selected individuals. Nigeria is an oil producing country. All it needs to do is ask owners of refineries outside Nigeria to come and lift oil. The government will not need to pay a single kobo to any of them. When they refine the oil, they will keep the quantity that will cover their cost and profit and simply return the rest to Nigeria where the government will sale them to the marketers at a fixed price and then fix the pump price of petroleum products. It is not rocket science. It is corruption that makes a government unable to find simple solutions to complex problems.

However, the Nigeria government prefers to continue the racketeering that has been going on in the name oil subsidy and this is unfortunate. It will be immoral and contemptuous of the people, for the Nigerian government to go ahead to increase the prices of petroleum products when many of the people who are stealing and had stolen from the country and abused their position of trust are flying around in their private jets, or enjoying their loot in their mansions. It is simply criminal for the government to budget, 2 billion Naira, for the accomodation of the vice president, 9 billion Naira for presidential jet fleet and 2.2 billion niara for presidential banquet hall when Nigeria has the the type of serious economic problems that has confined 70% of its population living below the poverty line. The government cannot continue to function in the best interest of those who loot the treasury. Nigerians will soon have enough and when the people have had enough, no army or police can stop them. Time is running out for those who are in a privileged position to make Nigerian better, but seems to prefer to continue the deception and corruption that have been her bane. History is not on the side of those who prefer business as usual in Nigeria, sooner than later, their time will run out and they will reap what they have sown.

A new formula for generating and disbursing revenues from natural resources should be agreed and the land use decree should now be abrogated and land returned to those who own it. Perhaps, we need to go back to what was in place before the civil war. The oil will not flow for ever. My next car may be an electric car and as the technology for lithium car battery gets better the price of oil may fall lower than bottled water. The west is very serious with developing alternative energy to oil and the future they want is one where the price of oil is very low and they will not have to depend on it. Nigeria government should show by its policies that it thinks ahead and minded to make Nigeria competitive in the future.

Nigerian government should not abandon Bakassi. If Bakassi was a Yoruba or Hausa speaking part of Nigeria, would Gowon and Obasanjo have signed it way? Nigerian government should take the case of Bakassi back to United Nations and expose the fact that the Judge was French, whose Cameroon based oil company ELF had interest in the oil in Bakassi. Bakassi cannot be a part of Cameroon. It is unjust what Nigerian government has allowed to happen to a people who were happy being part of the Nigerian family. The people of Bakassi should have been offered a referendum to decide their future and it is never too late right an injustice. No person or a people should be asked to accept an injustice which another enjoys. Such injustice makes men mad as the Bible says. Nigerians need to support Bakassi in their struggle. If Nigerian Government fails to assist the people of Bakassi in their struggle for self-determination through civil and democratic means, ordinary Nigerians should support them by contributing to their struggle. If the rest of Nigeria and the government fail to assist the people of Bakassi to achieve justice through peaceful means, they will find people who will assist then in an arm struggle for freedom. Trouble is brewing on the other side of Nigeria and soon there will be war going on in north, south east and south of Nigeria unless the Nigerian leadership acts wisely, fairly and intelligently.

Military spending is a black hole in the Nigeria economy

For some reason which I can only ascribe to fear, Nigerians do not talk about her military spending. However, it is one of the biggest black holes in the Nigerian economy. Every year, the government budgets billions of Naira for the military without the military experiencing the modernisation intended. The result is that Nigeria has produced the world highest number of millionaire ex-military generals. Not even the American generals, who fight real wars to become generals, are half as rich as the average Nigerian general. Nigeria’s military procurement is a very dark alley in the Nigeria economy which the government has refused to focus its touch of accountability and transparency to eliminate corruption. Nigerians need to know who the country’s military contractors are and how the military budget is spent.

To develop as a country, the military will have to account for its budget like any other government agency and deal with corruption that makes millionaires out of military men at the expense of effective and modernised army. There is need to bring transparency into the way and manner military contracts are awarded and for Nigeria to rethink its military priorities. Nigerian government must ask itself, whether Nigeria needs such a large army, and what is the best way of providing security for Nigeria in the future? Nigeria cannot continue to maintain a military which has presided over the loss of Bakassi, appears unable to articulate effective strategy to contain Boko Haram, truncated its democratic evolution by series of coups and whose greatest achievements include its many millionaire ex-generals. Nigerians need to know the ex-military generals who act as contractors to the military so that they can be held accountable. We cannot accept that it is alright for contracts to be awarded, the money paid but the work not done and allow those involved in the scam to fly around the world in their private jets. I am not against people flying in private gets if they have earned their money in a fair and honest manner. This is wrong and unacceptable.

To make progress, Nigeria has to seriously consider reducing the size of its regular army and converting the National youth service scheme into a two years compulsory military training for all Nigerian youth between the age of 17 and 40. This will give the country a reasonable amount of men to be called up in times of war without the need to maintain a large regular army. The Israelis uses this method and it has proved very effective and Britain is at the moment attempting to convert to it. In addition, such a policy would stimulate the economy as it will force employers, who depend on NYSC members to actually employ graduates there by stimulating employment and job creation. Believe me; Nigeria can be fixed in four years with the right kind of minds in charge.

The future

I believe that the future of Nigeria will rest on the quality of its leadership. There is no point Nigeria continuing the self-deception we have engaged in, since independence. Without a wise, detribalised intelligent and liberal minded leader, who believes in the rule of law, equality of all, justice as fairness and probity; Nigeria has no chance and this decay will continue. Until the best of Nigerians take over power the rot will continue. It is the type people who Plato described in the Republic as unfit to rule that are currently in power in Nigeria. Nigeria needs candidates who will run for office not on the back of their ethnic group, or wealth of their godfathers, but on the strength of their character, vision, dream, anti-corruption agenda and love for Nigeria as a united federation based on justice, equality, freedom and rule of law. The sooner Nigeria develops a mechanism to enable it derive its leaders from amongst its best, the sooner our journey to nationhood and development will begin. To make this possible, Nigerians of all ethnicity and or religion should begin to focus on the character and values, not the bank accounts of those who aspire to public offices.

Nigerians should also watch out for those whose first recommendation for revamping the economy is to suggest or recommend the reduction of the workforce employed by the government without producing a plan of how the retrenched workers are expected to make a living after giving years of service to the government. Evidence would suggest that retrenchment of workers only makes life more difficult for the people and benefits only a very small number of people, especially in an economy where corruption is endemic. Nigeria is a developing economy and many rich people made their money from government patronage, it would be immoral to inflict more pain on the ordinary citizens without first ensuring that those who have benefitted much contribute more. The salary of one senator in Nigeria will pay the salary of about 20 civil servants at 210,000 Naira per annum. So instead of retrenching civil servants, Nigerian government should first reduce the number of legislators and number of states to start with. I believe that this is a better way to restructure the Nigerian economy, than the retrenchment of thousands of civil servants being suggested by the Central Bank governor and all the other agents of World Bank and IMF who have done nothing to address the thorny issue of corruption and excessive pay of politicians.

Whatever, the government decides to do; Nigerians should insist that it deals with corruption and excessive pay of politicians before attempting to reduce the number of people employed by the government. Nigerians should not accept retrenchment of civil servants when one senator goes home with three million Dollars a year, a governor can steal 350 million Dollars and many ex-military general and corrupt politicians fly in their private planes. The government need to first address the inequality in the country and create a level playing ground not skewed by corruption before asking the people to make more sacrifice.

Furthermore, the government as a matter of urgency should address the problem of impunity which exists in all the strata of the society. Anybody with some power in Nigeria acts as a god and pays no attention to the law. From the police, who lock up accused citizens for longer periods than the law allows them to, and subject them to extortion, to army officers who usurp the power of the police to unlawfully detain people in their barracks; abuse of law and due process is pervasive in Nigeria. The rights of the ordinary Nigerian citizens can be trampled upon by anybody who has money, power or connection. This is wrong and unacceptable. No country can develop which does not take rule of law and due process very seriously. Nigeria should not continue to a country ruled by Emirs, Obas, Igwes, governors, godfather, military men, warlords, etc. It should become a country ruled by laws. President Jonathan can do something about this by championing the defence of the right of the people to be respected. He can ask the army and police to start complying with the law by not arresting people illegally and not detaining them longer than the law allows. The president should then enable people who have been so ill-treated, to sue the army or police and for the government to pay the damages from the army’s or police’s budget. Once the army and police realise that they will pay for their breeches of the law from their budgets, they will take notice of the law. Developed countries use fines to compel people, organisations and agencies to comply with the law I see no reason why Nigeria should not do the same, if indeed, the government is sincere about solving the problems holding Nigeria back.

In addition, every Nigerian should get involved in politics not primarily to become leaders, but to help to shape the political future by participation. Unless, Nigerians are prepared to participate in the political process, they cannot change it for good and this madness will continue. No amount of national prayer will solve the Nigerian problem, if the people refuse to be involved and support the people with the right ideas, characters and vision for Nigeria. Our future is literarily in our hands.

In 2015, Nigerians should make character their basis for choosing leaders. All aspiring politicians should be made to pass a character test which is simply to examine their past behaviour the only reliable predictor of future behaviour. Politicians should be made to ask those who know them well in secondary schools, universities and work place to testify about their characters and integrity. Former teaches, classmates, friends etc., should tell the people about the person who wishes to exercise power on our behalf to enable Nigerians make informed choices. In addition the political process should be made less money driven but more democratic to enable good men to compete. No Nigerian can afford five million Naira as deposit to run as a governor or one million Naira deposit to run as a local government counsellor and remain honest in office. We need to make changes to the structures that give impetus to corruption in offices in Nigeria, in addition to being tough on those who may choose to be corrupt.

The people must take over their political parties to give Nigeria a chance. It does not belong to the elected leaders of the parties and they cannot be allowed to continue to run the party like a private company. It is simply hypocritical to claim to want to change Nigeria while leaving untouched structures that exclude those who can bring about the change from taking part. Instead of demanding large sums of money, contestants can be asked to ensure that a significant but reasonable number of party members support their application and all contestants selected at local, state and federal party primaries. It is important to restore grass root political participation by giving the people back their right to truly select and elect those who exercise power over them. Every Nigerian must now be involved in politics, not to get his share, but to help build a truly democratic country where justice, liberty and rule of law reign supreme. I believe this is possible. We do not need to continue in our failed state as a nation.

I will be taking a long break from commenting on Nigeria’s affairs. I will return in the future, God willing. I wish to sincerely thank all my readers from the bottom of my heart. It has been a life changing experience. Especially, I express my gratitude to those who cared enough to write to me. In particular, I thank those who disagreed with me, criticised and opposed me. Even though we did not agree some of the times, I learnt a lot about why they hold their position and it made me a better person. I have only written because I love Nigeria from my heart and wish her well. I wish Nigeria had not had, and continue to have the type of leaders who have caused our failure as a nation, but I believe there is hope; if we do not give up on Nigeria. I hope also that those who disagreed with me will continue to respect my right to hold my views as I respect their right to hold theirs’. It has been a wonderful two years and I suppose, I need the rest. . I believe I have made my little contribution to a better Nigeria and will continue to do so, as God gives me the opportunity. Good bye and merry Xmas and a happier new year.

God bless you all and God save Nigeria.

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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