Troublers of Nigeria -by Leonard Karshima Shilgba, PhD

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If you have a broken-down engine, do you re-brand, re-paint it or you fix it (repair it)? This is a question that young Mohammed of the TV program, The Debaters asked during a debate session. He pointed out the fact that while in the USA, President Obama was leading the efforts at fixing America's image and problems, in Nigeria, a Minister was parroting the Re-branding slogan without productive efforts at creating jobs and reducing poverty in the land. It is all about slogans, isn't it? With more than 70 percent of Nigerians living below poverty line, and over 40 percent of Nigerians unemployed, the government of President Yar'Adua of Nigeria is busy wasting Nigeria's resources on Re-branding Nigeria and promoting a Buy Made-in-Nigeria products campaign!

At this time in our history, when we should be fast-tracking national development, our government is enveloped in the euphoria of the “success” of an “Amnesty” program for the Niger-Delta militants. Our governments create a plum of smoke and commit unspeakable acts under the cover while gullible Nigerians celebrate the “victories” the officials have defined for themselves, quantified by themselves, and promoted for their selfish ends. Dr. King once said that, “Peace is not the absence of tension, but the presence of justice.” Justice to all Nigerians, not least the people of the Niger Delta, is the pre-requisite for lasting peace.

Mind-blowing amounts are announced in the yearly rituals called Budgets in Nigeria. But the outcomes for which those stupendous billions are voted simply don't add up. We are not interested any more in the billions of naira announced for “revamping the railway transport system”, we want to see those lines working, and long after they are “commissioned”; we are not moved by the billions of naira announced for road construction in Nigeria, we want to see quality roads serving us at least 10 years after “commissioning” before needing re-habilitation. It is not the declaration to soon launch a national development agenda or a vision 20-20-20 blue print that should excite Nigerians. It is a significant positive change in the life-style of our government officials which will signal a seriousness to develop our nation.

A government that talks of de-regulation of the oil sector because the government needs to save the subsidy money for national development should first convince Nigerians of their seriousness by reducing significantly the salaries and allowances of the less than 18,000 public officials, which amount to over 1.2 trillion naira every year. The government of Yar'Adua claimed that it spent about 640 billion naira in 2008 on fuel subsidy; this amount is about 50 percent of the salaries and allowances of our public officials whose only accomplishment is national wastage of talents, resources, and opportunities. If for a start, the Nigerian government (The executive, legislature, and judiciary) expedite the necessary processes to reduce remunerations of public officials in Nigeria by at least 70 percent and invest the savings in building refineries, transport infrastructure, electricity power infrastructure, and our health and educational infrastructure, then Nigerians will quickly take notice of their personal example and the power of this example will be the gain of confidence needed for government programs to succeed.

But while those public officials' annual salaries and allowances accounted for almost 50 percent of the 2009 federal budget of about 3.1 trillion naira, with some of those public officials importing bullet-proof vehicles at scandalous amounts in the midst of sprawling poverty, does the Nigerian government have a conscience? While less than 18,000 public officials in Nigeria take more than 1.2 trillion naira in remuneration only 2 percent of the 3.1 trillion naira of the 2009 federal budget was budgeted for education (that is, less than 0.005 percent of the remuneration of less than 18,000 Nigerians!). Does the nation put the welfare of generally unproductive 18,000 Nigerians above its educational sector, with more than 100,000 lecturers and teachers, and hundreds of thousands of students? Will it not astound even a casual thinker that 18,000 scarcely productive Nigerians, with generally low educational level and thinking clarity, should earn more than 200 times the whole annual votes for the nation's educational sector for overhead costs, salaries, and maintenance?

When government pretends that in order to solve our national problem, fuel subsidy must be completely removed, a usual argument is that “government will not subsidize corruption”. What the Yar'Adua's government is confessing to is that there is fraud in the fuel subsidy issue. In other words, there are some smart Nigerian business men who have taken advantage of fuel subsidy to feather their nests. The solution that Yar'Adua and his group have come up with is to scrap the fuel subsidy since the poor people for whom it was intended do not enjoy the benefits. This sounds plausible; but sadly, it is a dumb thing to say and do.

First, is it no more the responsibility of government to detect and punish fraud? In April, 2009, after I did an article titled “On fuel subsidy and Yar'Adua's time up”, his government announced that they had uncovered a “cabal” that was responsible for fraud in the oil sector. Furthermore, government confirmed that generator-importers were frustrating its efforts at solving the electricity problem. The government also announced that it was setting up a probe panel to probe the pricing template of the Petroleum Products Pricing and Regulatory Agency (PPPRA). The questions are these:

1. Who are the people that constitute the “cabal” which is abusing the fuel subsidy regime; and what has the government done to bring the wheel of justice over them?

2. If there are corrupt business men whom government has discovered have been feeding fat on a necessary program or project, would government rather punish them or completely cancel such necessary programs and projects?

3. When the federal, state, and local governments permit the sale of fuel on road sides and other public places, public safety is endangered, and corruption in the fuel business has got a stamp of approval. This contributes in defeating the good intent of fuel subsidy. Is government, therefore not complicit? Should the government not rather prevent such illegal sales of combustible fuel? In some states, governors have openly permitted such sales. Some traditional rulers also have given this illegal business some traditional support. Do we claim to have a functioning government when it has become captive or purveyor of corrupt business operations? And while it would have been more honorable for President Yar'Adua and some of the governors to resign for incompetence, they have instead chosen to afflict innocent poor Nigerians with more suffering without a cushioning? I am yet to hear that a state governor has taken an open position against this unconstitutional intent to remove fuel subsidy and deregulate the pricing of petroleum products without first repealing relevant pieces of legislation which impose on government the responsibility to regulate prices of petroleum products, hence the creation of the PPPRA.

4. Since Yar'Adua's government has refused, ignored, and neglected to publicly unmask the “cabal” it had announced to have uncovered, will it not be accurate to allege that this “cabal” consists of some public officials in government?

5. What news does government have for the public about the “probe” it announced on the PPPRA? The “probe” has equally ended up in the same basket of our antiquated collection of national duplicity.

Truly, many who claim to be serving the public interest are troublers of Nigeria. I have documented information about past public pronouncements of government officials on proposed policies, programs, and projects, and reasons for them. It has amazed and irritated me that many of those officials have gotten drunk on the wine of amnesia. They say something some few months ago, and say completely contradictory things later without blinking an eye. And because the Nigerian news media generally is also sunk in the drunkenness of amnesia, those officials are allowed to get away with this culture of inconsistency. I am determined to remind Nigerians as often as I have the opportunity of the shameless duplicity and double speak of government. I must also warn government officials that they cannot continue fooling Nigerians. The reason is this. Confidence in government is fast waning because of unrelenting duplicity; and this is dangerous.

The Central Bank governor announced recently after a meeting of the Monetary committee that should the planned de-regulation of the downstream oil sector sail through it would lead to spiraling inflation and further consequential erosion in the disposable income of Nigerians. If the federal government insists and removes fuel subsidy against the overwhelming current of opposition, the least I would expect from the Nigeria Labor Congress (NLC), Trade Union Congress (TUC), and petroleum workers unions such as NUPENG will be a total shut down of the nation. Should they fail, then the leadership of those unions must quietly resign. They cannot claim to be leading such change-influencing unions at this defining moment and yet fail Nigerians when it matters most. I shall personally do everything I can and use any platform at my disposal to show to Nigerians that the leaders of those unions have also become the troublers of Nigeria.

The business of governance only ends in failure if the people lose confidence in their government. It is not a secret that Nigerians have lost confidence in their government. By the actions of many of Nigeria's public officials, it is evident that they scarcely spend enough time thinking about welfare of the people. The childish contentment with official titles is enough for those officials; therefore, they spare no thought for a lasting legacy.

The task of rescuing Nigeria requires that Nigerians with a strong burden for change step up on the political turf. It is no longer acceptable to say, “Politics is a dirty game.” This declaration betrays ignorance of what politics is all about. Politics is about managing men and resources for public good. We willy-nilly become either victims or beneficiaries of politics on university campuses, business places, homes (especially polygamous ones), religious assemblies etc. Someone can be involved in national politics at different levels. We have consultancy, organization, fund raising, public imaging, and active candidacy for an elective position. Life is bland and dull when it is lived only for a few—the nuclear family. Sacrifices must be made now if we would like to reduce the burden on our children after we have gone. It is by actively getting involved to shape things up that our children can hope to have their future burden reduced. Let this be our motivation.

There is a re-configuration of global influences and interests. As sudden as the fortunes of a team could change in a soccer game, so also do those of a nation. I cannot guarantee that the ruling party shall win in 2011 as many states as it presently controls. But I know—please, mark my words—a complete change of instruments and complex of power will happen then. No matter your vision and ideas for a nation, you need political power to bring them to reality. It may just be that you have this by proxy. In Nigeria, proxy influences in politics are fast becoming difficult to guarantee or sustain.

Nigeria is presently rudderless without a performing national leader. Yes, there are few governors that are giving us hope. The task is to widen the perimeter of the ripple until poor governance becomes an island in an ocean of excellence.

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