The inevitable change
The President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, President Muhammadu Buhari (PMB) published an article in the Wall Street Journal (WSJ) recently, titled, “The Three Changes Nigeria needs”, where he brilliantly articulated the three major changes he feels Nigeria needs at this point in time, the summary of his postulation is hinged on the fight against corruption and rebalancing of the economy away from oil dependence to create durable economic growth. For me, corruption is indeed a very serious problem to the Nigerian state, if it can be properly tamed, then development will manifest genuinely in the polity. And, it is on this premise that the change mantra should be largely predicated. If the issue of corruption is properly addressed and dealt with then; other sectors of the economy can be effectively taken care of, as things will methodically fall into place; it is important to note that, corruption festered like a rancid sore threatening to consume the whole country in one fell swoop. Corruption in Nigeria had more or less become the official policy of the state; any nation that exalts corruption to a place of pride can never make any tangible progress in the real sense of the word. Development and progress will be elusive while the resultant poverty will exacerbate violence and conflict. Such a country will take a step forward and ten steps backward. That is the truth and the reality that cannot be circumvented.
We are all too familiar with important development projects that are initiated for the wrong reasons; they are located in places where they are least beneficial economically on the account of political considerations. Moreover, important contracts and licenses have been given to politically significant people who are unable to execute them successfully or who sell them to other contractors in circumstances which defeat the national interest. Sometimes well paid positions are created just to give jobs to people whose political support is considered important; the country pays for no service rendered, worse it pays for nuisance value. In some cases people are overpaid for what they do in order to keep them happy, thereby creating demoralizing disparities between reward and effort. This why corruption is antithetical to growth and development as well as precipitates violence. It makes countries backward; it retards progress, makes planning cumbersome, spreads poverty and engenders the development of underdevelopment in any social formation. Once corruption spawns poverty and want, these ubiquitous deprivations automatically breed violence. Violence to demand for legitimate rights; violence to demonstrate disaffection for state policies and violence as an expression of the contradictions inherent in the prevailing order. Violence is not just physical but psychological. Corruption buoy up poverty, societal inequality, and inequitable resource distribution that fuels conflict, corruption is endemic in all aspects of Nigerian society, government and the private sector. Again, it is germane to note that, much of the corruption in the public sector is the result of the adaptation of the existing institutions to corrupt modus operandi with bureaucrats and other agents of the state following the predatory examples of, and taking instructions from, their principals in the political arena.
The alarming rate at which corruption continues to loom large in the country, in spite of all attempts to curb it by this government, is very disturbing and indeed an abnormality; all aspects of Nigerian society and government are replete with corruption in one form or the other. Yet, so much lip-service has been paid to the issue of fighting corruption over the years, but there is no silver lining in the horizon, until the coming of the present administration. The issue of corruption is therefore, not only worrisome and appalling but outrightly disgusting. Is it the case of police officers collecting bribe from motorists on the highways across the country that we want to talk about or various government officials at different levels of government that openly demand for gratifications before they can carry out their lawful duties. It would be recalled that, some few years back how CNN ran a damaging documentary about corruption in Nigeria, in spite of this; corruption is still firmly rooted in the country. Albeit, the PMB's government has made a bold statement and taken practical steps to stop corruption in the country, the efforts have been acclaimed locally and globally too.
The various anti-graft agencies, namely ICPC and EFCC which have become toothless bull-dogs over the years until the present government came to power and they have been a drain on government's lean purse; and should therefore be merged, re-structured and empowered to fight corruption in a functional and pragmatic manner. Secondly, government should put in place people-friendly policies that will ensure gainful employment, drastically reduce poverty, thereby minimizing the proclivity for corruption. This is because; development cannot be achieved by proxy. A people develops itself or not at all. It can develop itself through a strategy of self-reliance that is through the commitment and the energy of the people. That is where democracy comes in. Self-reliance is not possible unless the society is thoroughly democratic, unless the people are the end and not just the means of development. Development occurs, in so far as it amounts to the pursuit of objectives set by the people themselves in their own interest and by means of their own resources.
Also, there is the exigent need for reappraisal of our values away from the influence of get-rich-quick syndrome to values predicated on true religious orientation and sound moral ethos. Furthermore, those who are corrupt must be brought to book; there must be no two sets of law in the country, one for the rich and the other for the poor. Those who ran foul of the law must brace up to the consequences of their misdemeanor. Then, at all levels of government and society, there must be exemplary leadership by example. Corruption is cancer that must be exterminated from our midst; this is indeed one level of change.
The other level of change with is also closely related to corruption is making democracy real in the country, democracy in Nigeria has to be properly democratized, and this has manifold dimensions, first, the electoral reforms particularly as put forward by the Justice Mohammed Uwais panel must not only be strictly adhered to, but must be implemented wholesale without any manipulations and arm-twisting antics, which is what this government is doing, as it has been noted earlier , this government is making giant strides to build institutions of government that are truly enduring and not personality cults around a few characters at the helm of affairs that are ephemeral. Secondly, there must be the integrity of the ballot box and the vote of the people must always count; the era of having elections without voting should be jettisoned. If the various political gladiators know that indeed ultimate political power belongs to the people and that they can be voted out of power, politicians would be forced be more decorous and decent in their approach to politics as well as up their performances while in office. A situation where the vote of the people do not matter, where the INEC is always on the side of the party in power and where some so-called power brokers think they can decide for the whole country without their consent is not only totally unacceptable, but it would also not allow the occupiers of public offices to have legitimacy and this would ultimately have adverse consequences on their productivities. It is in this connection that it been argued that the political class place a high premium on power. They accumulated power by all means, do everything to secure it and to prevent others from getting it. As rulership became permanent, politics became Hobbesian: power was pursued by all means and kept by all means and the struggle for power became the overriding concern. Indeed politics became the only game in town, it was a game played with deadly seriousness for the winners won everything and the losers lost everything. Development does not occur in the framework of a political style which essentially institutionalizes warfare; this ugly scenario must stop pronto, in our clime.
Democracy must be properly democratized to be meaningful, and it has to address in a systematic manner, the various problems that confront the people. The problems of unemployment and underemployment, infrastructural decay, parlous state of the economy, over-devaluation of the naira, high rate of inflation, increase in the cost of living, low capacity utilization of industry, mono-cultural based economy, bad roads, terrible state of education, poor health facilities, bastardization of the agricultural sector, non development of non-oil sector, abandonment of solid minerals, poor state of tourism and aviation, problems in the power sector as well as many other problems such as housing and transportation, so that, democracy can have an appreciable impact on the polity and the people. But a democracy that focuses on the needs of the rich in society, that increases their allowances and emoluments, that provides for them all the things of life that alienates the electorates from those in public offices, is a system of government that is unfit for any decent human society. It is for this reason that the PMB's government is trying to diversify the economy and make life easier for the people. It is in line with thought process that professor Claude Ake argued that the kind of democracy Nigeria requires is a social democracy that places emphasis on concrete political, social, and economic rights, as opposed to a liberal democracy that emphasizes abstract political rights. It will be a social democracy that invests heavily in the improvement of people's health, education, and capacity so that they can participate effectively. This is because the kind of democracy obtainable will be dependent on how far the democratization is driven by Nigerians themselves and the modalities employed to achieve this, through their own means and projections.
Like I have noted earlier, managing the affairs of a highly pluralistic, highly complex and sophisticated country like Nigeria transcended mere having good intentions or being a good man or being a lucky lad. Nigeria requires a purpose-driven leadership that is sincere, honest and credible which would inspire confidence in the people and help galvanize the economy to greater heights; this is exacting what the Buhari led administration is and vividly is doing; there are seriously challenges on ground, no doubt, that will take sometime to fix, hence patience, understanding and support are the watchwords here. But these snags will be dealt with beyond all reasonable doubt, consequently, Nigeria and Nigeria will ultimately be the better for it.
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