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NIGERIA: WHERE ARE YOU HEADING FOR?

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In 2008, two US based organisations, Fund for Peace and Foreign Policy Magazine prepared and published the annual Failed States Index. The report measures many indicators like demographic pressures, group grievances, economic decline, and security apparatus up to possible factionalised elite. The release of the report at that time led to a considerable uproar in Nigeria. This was because the report ranked our country as number 19 among countries that have either failed or likely to fail globally. In the 2011 version that was recently released, Nigeria has made “progress” and is now occupying position number 14 just below Yemen and Pakistan. This may not be a surprise to many as it is obviously an indicator how the world perceives the current state of affairs in our country. There are common characteristics of a failing state which include: a central government that is so weak that it has little practical control over its territory, non-provision of public services, widespread corruption and criminality.

It is imperative to note that the primary responsibility of a functional state is (and should be) the provision of public goods to persons living within its territory. States succeed or fail based on their effectiveness in delivering the most crucial public good. Experts who have put public goods on a ranking insist that security is the most critical of all. Indeed, other good can only be delivered when a reasonable measure of security is achieved. In an unfortunate situation when states fail to provide security, citizens begin to raise questions about the legitimacy of such states in their heart and minds.

Another reason for discomfiture about the Nigeria situation is contained in the Human Development Report (HDR) that was recently released. Nigeria’s ranking has dropped from a position of 142 in 2010 to 156 in 2011. Even with an estimated receipt of 34 trillion naira (0.2 trillion dollars) Gross National Income (GNI), per capita of 2,069 US dollars, the average life expectancy in Nigeria is still 51.9 years and may be getting worse. The under-five mortality figures rest at 142.9 per 1000. This means that approximately 143 infants are expected to die out of every 1000 live births. In addition to this, 1500 women die every day in our country from pregnancy related complications, while another 96 die daily from road accidents. According to Nigerian National Malaria Control Project, 821 children still die daily as a result of Malaria. As at 2009, 220, 000 people had already died of AIDS. We must note that both malaria and AIDs are preventable, treatable diseases. Furthermore, only 17.2 per cent of the population have access to pipe borne water while 33 million people still do not have access to adequate sanitation. As a result of this 1500 people died of Cholera in 2010 alone.

The state of affairs in Nigeria was further confirmed by the Mo Ibrahim Index of Africa Governance 2011. Out of the 53 African countries assessed in that report, Nigeria was ranked 41 far below countries emerging from war like Sierra Leone, Liberia and even Burundi. Broadly speaking, the Mo Ibrahim mirrors the performance of African countries in areas such as rule of law, accountability, personal safety, national security, participation, rights and gender.

Despite uncountable versions of neoliberal economic sloganeering, growth has been stubbornly elusive in most sectors of our economy. The marginal commodity-dependent growth recorded in the past few years has been disappointingly less pro poor and has been reversed by chaotic policy architecture. Rather than trickle down as the proponents predicted, what was evident was an increase in accumulative tendencies of the vampire political elite and their cronies, heightening frustration and inequality, among the citizenry.

Several factors can be attributed to the Nigeria situation out of which five intricately interlinked issues stand out. These are: ethnicity, fiscal centralization, over dependence on oil revenue, unprofessional bureaucracy and corruption. One does not need rocket science diagnostic skills to decipher that whatever security challenges we witness in Nigeria today or have witnessed in the past arose from a feeling of exclusion or inclusion from the primitively skewed distributional politics. The palpable desperation on is an indicator that there is no service delivery content in our politics. Every member of the Nigerian parasitic elite is fixated on the oil revenue and how to take a bite-cost what it may. The mobilization of primordial sentiments (whether ethnic or religious) is just an effort to create access to siphon the national patrimony.

The 1954 (erroneous) action by the colonial masters cast us into a cartographic federation to service their oppressive convenience and exploitative agenda. Our post-colonial leaders hurriedly and thoughtless embraced it because the status quo seemed favourable at that time. Any form of rigour would have revealed the kind of complex challenges that lay ahead. Here we are today.

For more than fifty years, we have struggled in vain to try to achieve nation cohesion. I therefore propose that one of the ways out of our current national dilemma is to urgently reconstruct our faulty federation. The over concentration of power at the national level must be comprehensively reviewed and diluted by altering our revenue formula to 70: 30 in favour of state governments. That will definitely put more money at the disposal of the states but also more responsibility. It is in the long term interest of the political elite to put aside selfish considerations and use the current constitution review process to recommend the dismantling of excessive federal powers and redistributing same to the federating units i.e. the states and local governments. We must not forget that there are other natural resource endowments in Nigeria beyond oil while making efforts to diversify our economy. Zamfara State will look at for their gold deposits, Ondo State will look out for their Bitumen, Kogi will mine their iron ore, Ebonyi will exploit their salt, Taraba/Bauchi will exploit their Bentonite and Baryte and Bayelsans will not only take oil rent, but will also look at towards scaling of production Peremambiri rice while Rivers State will take oil rent and consider reviving palm oil industry. Lagos and Abia can generate substantial amount of revenue by putting in place, a transparent mechanism of taxation. That way Abuja will not be attractive to many people except those who are willing to offer service. The current pressure and murmurings will move to another direction. Those who make a living by laying claims of rotational and zoning debates will look for another job. Competence and willingness to serve will come back to the agenda. States governments will sometimes compete; other times collaborate and often learn from one another to improve governance. Periodic Peer Review will offer an opportunity for positive examples and good practice to be replicated. Regional economic zones like the BRACED for Bayelsa, Rivers, Cross River, Edo and Delta may be the way to go. Decentralization will bring government closer to the people and raise the bar for participation, service delivery and accountability. Our leaders should have the requisite foresight and courage to make these tough decisions now or wait a bit longer to supervise a national implosion.

** Uche Igwe is a Visiting Research Scholar at Africa Program, School of Advanced International Studies Johns Hopkins University Washington DC. He can be reached on [email protected]

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