The Choice Is Theirs

By Emeka Asinugo, KSC

It came to me as a rude shock.
When I read that the French government was ruling out any support for those agitating for secession from Nigeria, especially the Biafrans who he predicted had no hope for a future, I pinched myself.

Could it possibly be true that Denys Gauer, the French Ambassador to Nigeria, as has been widely quoted in major Nigerian media recently, actually said that despite the unfavourable economic climate, his home country exports a lot of goods to Nigeria and that a lot of French companies are interested in establishing their stronghold in Nigeria? Could it be true that the ambassador told the world that his country will not in any way work with any group in Nigeria or elsewhere that is agitating for the breakup of the Nigerian nation because France is working with Nigeria and supporting it as a country? Could it be true that France found it comfortable to keep selling arms to Nigerians so they can keep killing each other in the name of insurgency and counterinsurgency?

I can’t believe it.
But before that, let me say straight away that Biafrans are not the only group in Nigeria that are agitating for self determination. The splinter group of Boko Haram called Ansaru which was absorbed under the Islamic State of West Africa, ISWA has come to stay. So, currently the number of armed groups in Nigeria include the Islamic State West Africa and the Movement for Unity and Jihad in West Africa, both of them offshoots of ISIS and Al-Qaida in Islamic Maghreb; the menacing Boko Haram, Armed Nomadic Herdsmen, the Resurrected and Re-armed Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta, the Ijaw/Oduduwa Militant Movement in Ogun and Lagos States and the Agatu Warriors in Benue State. There are the Emancipation of the Niger Delta, the Niger Delta Volunteer People's Force, the Niger Delta Liberation Front, the Niger Delta Avengers, the Biafra Avengers, the Red Egbesu Water Lions, Asawana Deadly Force of the Niger Delta, the Adaka Boro Marine Commandos, the Utorogon Liberation Movement, the Joint Niger Delta Liberation Force, the Joint Revolutionary Council of the Joint Niger Delta Liberation Force, all operating in the South-South of Nigeria.

Others are the Red Scorpion, the Ultimate Warriors of the Niger Delta, the Niger Delta Red Squad, Niger Delta Vigilante, the Niger Delta Greenland Justice Mandate, also operating in the Delta Region of the South-South.

The number of armed insurgency groups has actually soared tremendously in the less than two years General Buhari has been President. And if indeed France cared about the welfare of Nigerians generally, it would have pondered, like the rest of us, on why there are so many armed insurgencies in the country already and why more are likely to spring up in future.

The answer is simple. And it is this answer that the French government should have been more interested in addressing if it had good intentions of doing business in a Nigeria that can provide the right atmosphere for genuine business.

That answer is that there are lots of injustices going on in the country, perpetrated by a triumvirate sector of what they now call “state actors”, comprising of Nigerian politicians, the Nigerian Civil Service and the Nigerian business class. The fourth would be people like the French government whose poise is certainly giving teeth to the insurgency to bite.

Take the ruling All Progressives Congress, APC, government for example. They presented a manifesto which Nigerians bought into to vote them into government. Almost two years or half of their 4-year tenure is gone. What have they achieved in concert with the electoral promises they made?

When General Buhari was elected President, Nigerians were full of hope. They saw a more meaningful future in the advent of the new government or so they generally thought at the time. 18 months into their tenure, an overview of the APC manifesto which enabled the party win the elections clearly shows that the party is not using its compass much as it ferries Nigerians across the ocean that is its evolving democracy. And where would they land the nation without making good use of their compass?

The APC pledged to initiate action to amend the Nigerian Constitution with a view to devolving powers, duties and responsibilities to states and local governments in order to entrench true Federalism and the Federal spirit. That meant decentralising power from Abuja to the state and local government capitals. But so far, the government has done nothing along this line. Power still lies in Abuja. Countries like France decide to turn a blind eye to facts like this because their country is more interested in supplying arms to Nigerians to keep murdering themselves in order to build up French national economy. The French are not at-all interested in the general welfare of the Nigerian people, their so-called friends. They are only interested in their business and how they can get Nigerians to buy their arms. And that is not hidden. It is obvious. And it is typical of France.

The APC pledged to strengthen INEC to reduce or if possible to eliminate electoral malpractices in the country. They have not done so yet and there are no indications that they are ready to do so any time soon, if the electoral processes since the party took over governance is anything to judge by.

The APC pledged to attract the best and brightest of the country’s sons and daughters into Nigerian politics and public service by aggressively recruiting private sector people, academics and professionals within Nigeria and in the Diaspora through internships, fellowships, executive appointments and special nomination to contest elective offices. Nothing visible has been done to fulfil this pledge. And if anything has been done at-all, it is the appointment into public offices as compensation to those who donated funds to the party, so that they can recover the money they spent on APC, with profit.

The APC pledged to strengthen the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC and its counterpart, the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission, ICPC – two heavily equipped anti-graft bodies charged with virtually the same duties – and to prevent abuse of executive, legislative and public offices through greater accountability, transparency and strict enforcement of anti-corruption laws. The anti-graft agencies have indeed been strengthened morally and financially. But they have also been directed mostly against the opposition party, giving the impression of a vendetta government that is out to weaken the very strong opposition it needs to build a virile and sustainable democracy in the country.

The APC pledged to amend the Constitution to remove immunity from prosecution for elected officers in criminal cases. But it has not done that and there are no indications that it will do so in the near future. Instead, impunity has quietly crept into the system and is gradually becoming an acceptable way of life among most Nigerians because that is the direction their government is piloting them.

The APC pledged to restructure government for a leaner, more efficient and adequately compensated public service. While it was able to reduce the number of ministers, it increased the number of directors and heads of parastatals, leaving a question mark on its true intentions and its ability to implement this aspect of its election campaign manifesto.

The APC pledged to reform and strengthen the Justice System for efficient administration and dispensation of justice along with the creation of special courts which would accelerate hearing of corruption, drug trafficking, terrorism and similar cases of national importance. What Nigerians have experienced so far is the hounding of the judiciary by law enforcement agencies, nocturnal visits and arrest of judicial officers, the refusal of government to obey court orders and a general growth of impunity within the government circle against the justice system, giving the impression that the government is above the laws of the land.

The APC pledged to ensure full implementation of the Freedom of Information Act so that government held data can be requested and used by the media and the public at large and published on regular basis. The government has not made its intentions open so far, and there is no indication that it will do so in the foreseeable future. For example, the APC government has since its inception, concentrated on retrieving funds that were allegedly stolen by public officers in the previous government. No one knows how much has been collected or how the money is being dispensed. All we hear is that the government is planning to borrow more money from some foreign country. And all we see is that the value of the naira continues to depreciate to an all time low. Nothing is being done, or so it seems.

The APC pledged to seek to amend the Constitution to require local governments to publish their meeting minutes, service performance data and items of spending over N10m. As of now, there are no local governments in some states. The governors found it more expedient to appoint caretaker committees so that they will be in a position to fully control the funds that come to the local councils.

The APC pledged to maintain a sound macroeconomic policy environment, run an efficient government and preserve the independence of the Central Bank. It promised to restore and strengthen financial confidence by putting in place a more robust monitoring, supervising and regulating of all financial institutions and to make the economy one of the fastest growing emerging economies in the world with a real GDP growth averaging 10% annually. It promised to embark on vocational training, entrepreneurial and skills acquisition scheme for graduates along with the creation of Small Business Loan Guarantee Scheme to create at least 1 million new jobs every year, for the foreseeable future. The government is yet to look that way as more than 4 million Nigerian graduates are still stranded with their parents, still looking for jobs that seem to be found nowhere.

The APC pledged to embark on export and production diversification and to invest in infrastructure; promote manufacturing through agro-based industries, expand sub-regional trade through ECOWAS and the AU and make information technology, manufacturing, agriculture and entertainment key drivers of the nation’s economy.

The APC pledged to balance the economy across regions by creating 6 new Regional Economic Development Agencies (REDAs) to act as champions of sub-regional competitiveness and to put in place a N300bn regional growth fund (average of N50bn in each geo-political region) to be managed by the REDAs. Indeed, some of this has been implemented by the government. But no competitiveness in any form of economic activity has been generated by this innovation. I think that all that the state governors are interested in is to ensure that they get this money and use it the way they like and the federal government doesn’t seem to have evolved a way of ensuring that such huge sums of money are profitably utilised for the welfare of Nigerian citizens.

The APC pledged to create an additional middle-class of at least 2 million new home owners in their first year in government and 1 million annually thereafter by enacting a national mortgage system that would lend at single digit interest rates for purchase of owner occupier houses. But today, the naira is 540 to the pound. The APC is yet to point at the location of the 2 million new houses it has built in 18 months.

I could go on and on to show how the APC has become a massive failure and why people like the French ambassador are bent on “working with Nigeria” for whatever reason.

The APC pledged to undertake an urgent review of the Public Private Partnership (PPP) enabling environment with a view to addressing the legal, regulatory and operational challenges and, if necessary, introduce an enabling legislation. In addition, it would create a National Infrastructural Development Bank to provide loans at nominal interest rates exclusively for this sector to help rebuild the country’s infrastructure and provide gainful employment. The government is yet to show how it has fared in this area.

The APC pledged to generate, transmit and distribute from the current 5,000 – 6,000 MW to at least 20,000 MW of electricity within four years and increasing to 50,000 MW with a view to achieving 24/7 uninterrupted power supply within ten years and simultaneously ensure the development of sustainable/renewable energy.

The APC pledged to embark on a National Infrastructural Development Programme as a PPP that will ensure the construction of 3,000km of Superhighway including service trunks and the building of up to 4,800km of modern railway lines – one third to be completed by 2019.

The APC pledged to enact new legal and regulatory frameworks to establish independent regulation and to offer incentives that would accelerate public and private sector investment in seaports, railways and inland waterways and also embark on PPP schemes with a view to ensuring that at least one functioning airport is available in each of the 36 states. These are good plans but they are nowhere yet to be claimed by government as successfully implemented.

The APC pledged to ensure timely payment of retirement benefits for all pensioned senior citizens and create a poverty safety net for all aged citizens above the age of 65. But instead, pensioners are crying every day that their pensions are not paid in time and in some cases not paid at-all. Many elderly Nigerians who spent the better part of their lives in the service of their nation join their ancestors grinning because poverty made them die earlier. And government was responsible for that lapse. Buhari has not been able to influence the situation yet.

The APC pledged to provide the opportunities for youths to realize, harness, and develop their full potentials and to facilitate the emergence of a new generation of citizens committed to the sustenance of good governance and service to the people and the country. It promised to establish world class sports academy and training institutes and ensure that Nigeria occupies a place of pride in global sports and athletics. It promised to revive the Nigerian football league and put incentives in place to make it as competitive as other national leagues. It promised to put in place measures to identify talents early and ensure their participation in local and international games to enable them become professionals. It promised to mandate schools and communities to create playgrounds and sports centres with needed equipment to develop skills and to assist Nollywood to fully develop into world class movie industry that can compete effectively with Hollywood and Bollywood in due course.

But what has happened to those lofty promises, those hopes that made Nigerians vote for Buhari and for his change agenda? Were the APC government of General Buhari more properly focused on fulfilling some 70% of these election promises and its many more pledges which won it the hotly contested elections in May 2015, it is obvious that so many militant resistance movements would not have found their existence necessary by now. What all these insurgencies mean is that there is a crying need for justice in the land.

And how do Nigerians achieve that?
First, there is a need to discourage the idea that public offices are the new heaven for money bags and social gamblers. Nigeria has been widely touted as a country that has always sent out the signal that violence pays. That is why they provide amnesty for those who are willing to carry the gun to defend their rights to self determination and hound into prison those who benignly go about peaceful demonstrations to create greater awareness of their desire for the same self realisation. That understanding has to be discouraged by reversing the signal. Those who go about peaceful demonstrations to bring their plight to light should be encouraged and those who deploy force to impress their rights should be discouraged.

Second: the Nigerian politicians must have the political will-power to reduce the remunerations that accrue to public office holders like members of the national and state assemblies in particular. There must be a determination on the part of the political class to key in with the practice in developed nations to make public offices unattractive to non-career politicians. If, for instance, the average of the salaries of a legislator in the USA, UK, Japan and Australia or Canada is calculated and regarded as the salary of a Nigerian legislator, the country would be getting closer to dismantling the numerous armed insurgencies that threaten the peace. They won’t need to be told that their representatives in the legislature are not being motivated by greed. They will know because they will feel that their legislator is feeling like one of them.

Third: The idea of tribal leadership should be discouraged. Nigeria can never attain true nationalism as long as there are tribal leaders in the system. This one is a Yoruba leader. That one is a Hausa leader. The other one is an Igbo leader. That is a Middle Belt leader. These are at the root of the issues that are breaking up Nigeria, not actually the militant agitators who are encouraged by tribal leaderships of sorts.

To attain true nationalism, I suggested earlier that a law can be legislated which will make it compulsory for every Nigerian child born from the day the law is passed to learn the three major ethnic languages at primary school level. And that should be compulsorily. If a Nigerian child can speak Hausa, Igbo and Yoruba, that child stands a better chance of being a freer, truer Nigerian than when they need an interpreter to make them understand each other. In two generations, I am almost sure Nigeria would have evolved a true national spirit like it is in America where a citizen sees himself first as an American before he can see himself as a New Yorker, an Alabaman or as coming from any of America’s 50 states. By the same token, a Nigerian child who speaks the three major languages is likely to see himself or herself first as a Nigerian.

Nigerian leaders should recognise that those countries which advise them to spend on acquiring arsenal and military hardware the money they should spend on the welfare of their people are not their true friends. Nigeria needs to spend more money on making its people happy and not on arms and ammunition. They need to create more farms and factories that process the farm products, like cassava, garri, melon, pineapple, oranges etc and package them neatly to give the Nigerian buyer a higher sense of decent business deals than the prevailing situation where, for instance, garri is measured in cups that are open to germs and other health hazard. Such food items should be well packaged to give Nigerians a greater sense of belonging to globally accepted best practices in delivery services. They need to create more recreational areas at city and town levels so that communities who work so hard like farmers can have a place to relax after a hard day’s job and interact with other members of their communities.

There is so much to do to make every Nigerian happy and fulfilled. And surprisingly it won’t cost a fortune, only the imagination of the public office holder, the leader of the community.

Nigerians must make no mistakes about the reality of international politics. Neither France, nor the UK nor the USA nor any other country for that matter can make or mar Nigeria. Only Nigerians can make or break their nation. The choice is theirs.

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