The picture that was painted last weekend of the looming catastrophe that could engulf the nation was frightening. The venue was the Yoruba Tennis Club, Onikan, Lagos and the event was the 2017 Ramadan lecture organized by the Club. The Guest Lecturer, Mr Ibrahim Babatunde Jose saw in the near future, fracas between the elites and the masses. He believed the yawning gap between the rich and the poor has reached such an alarming level that it is already threatening peace in the land.
According to him, “there is too much injustice in the land; people are dispossessed and impoverished as a result of the inequitable distribution of benefits which accrue from our God-given resources. The hungry poor will soon have nothing to eat and will begin to devour the rich. Then the fight will start!”
Former federal Minister of Works and Chairman, BoT, Yoruba Tennis Club, Alhaji Femi Okunnu, SAN in his contribution to the discourse argued that the problems with Nigeria have nothing to do with restructuring but leadership. He blamed the state governors for socio-economic underdevelopment saying they had more powers to change the tide but chose to go begging at the centre.
“Don’t blame federal government for poor housing, it is a state matter. It has been so since 1954 and it is still so today. It is the indolence of your governors and their lack of vision. Blame the governors for all inadequacies. Our problem is leadership that has shown no clear vision and not restructuring. As a matter of fact, I don’t even know what you want to restructure.”
Babatunde Jose, the son of the late doyen of Nigeria’s Journalism, who is also a seasoned journalist, publisher and political scientist, indicted the elites for not doing enough to change the tide, lamenting that economic reforms in Nigeria, unlike in other countries, have not met the expectations of the populace. He said, “the reforms are supposed to improve basic infrastructure such as electricity generation, potable water and roads but, unfortunately, these public utilities are still inefficient. While relatively few rich people live in affluence, (most of which were acquired through corrupt means), the poor masses live in squalor and abject poverty.
“Today, we stand on the threshold of history. Our nation is on the precipice. At the last count, our leaders are beating the tom- tom of religious and political secession: Ethnic and religious jingoisms are on the rise, naked poverty in the land, children out of school, selling pure water on the roadside instead of being in the classroom; parents without roof over their heads just as the sick have no medical care, resorting to quacks and’ Ajase Poki-Poki’.
Babatunde Jose expressed fear that if urgent and workable solutions were not applied to the dwindling economy, hopes would be lost and youth restiveness might become the order of the day. According to him, “There are very dark clouds on the horizon. A nation that imports everything is now in the death throes with the price of oil on which it depends for its revenue unsteady with each passing day. Even attempts to pump more and increase output are not having any desired change as demand has fallen to the lowest ebb. Our currency has been devalued and the economy that was recently re-based is now debased. 400 Naira to the dollar is a matter that was never contemplated. Very soon all hopes will be lost and our youths, who constitute 60% of our population, will start getting restless, fighting the rich”.
Heaping the blames on the elites in the country, Babatunde Jose said the elites had not done enough to effect positive change but rather did a lot more to worsen the situation. “Let it be said that the root cause of our problems are the elites. As for the average citizens of this country, all they ask for is their daily bread. As late Awolowo said: ‘The common man is not concerned with who is in power; he is more particular about food, clothing and shelter; of a wretched type’.
He decried the uneven wealth distribution in Nigeria, adding that the huge gap between the very few extra wealthy and the poor masses was unfair as the wealth resides in the hands of a few who mostly are not engaged in productive ventures. He agreed that government had attempted numerous economic reforms; however, most of the reforms have had some adverse social impact. “For instance, the reforms are supposed to improve basic infrastructure such as electricity generation, potable water and roads but, unfortunately, these public utilities are still inefficient. While relatively few rich people live in affluence, (most of which were acquired through corrupt means), the poor masses live in squalor and abject poverty. All told, solving the leadership challenges will free this country from the shackles of underdevelopment and squandering of its rich resources. Our problem could therefore be summed up in one word: ‘Leadership’ and the answer lies in a purposeful and resolute leadership.
Today, we are challenged as a people. The current economic crisis is the result of the failure of leadership on a monumental scale. Nigerians today provide for themselves most basic services; they generate their own electricity, sink boreholes for their water, incinerate their own waste, procure primary health care and God knows many other services. We even provide our own roads, as many communities would attest to. These are the hallmarks of a people living at the ‘Gates of Hell.
In seeking solution to the issue, Jose submitted that the economy should be urgently diversified, to stem the current over-dependence on oil, which is a finite commodity. He stated that investments should be directed to revamping and expanding the moribund industrial base, especially in the less advantaged parts of the country, to address unemployment. “The pay-off of this strategy will not only address the problem of unemployed youth but will substantially increase productivity, reduce importation and reduce poverty in the country,” he added.
Urging government to invest more in education, agriculture, he emphasised the need to make education available to the poor masses adding that a well informed and educated mind would grow to be the best against contagion of folly and vice. “The importance of education to society cannot be over-emphasized as it is important for the formation of character, creativity and intellect. Conversely, a growing uneducated and unemployed or underemployed population will lead to rising social unrest rather than to economic growth.
“One problem that has defied solution is the power issue; a problem which is now inching towards a total system collapse. This supply/demand gulf is the result of a myriad of problems ranging from obsolete and dilapidated power plants with some as old as 40 years, lack of and very poor maintenance of the plants, and pitiable managerial efficiency: This is however, what you get when you have leaders that lack vision. Due to the low supply of power in the country, manufacturers rely on generators to augment the local supply. This has made the cost of production very high and unattractive to foreign firms that may want to invest in the country.
“From the petty trader selling pure water, to the small welder, the street corner barber and the Mallam selling soft drinks in the neighbourhood, it’s complaints galore. Add the cries of agony and anguish of industry and commerce; it’s a tale of woe and lamentation. The matter has got so bad that Nigeria now ranks as one of the largest importer of personal generating sets in the world.
“It is indeed a very sad commentary on the leadership of this country; both past and present. Between 1975 and 1983, the following power projects were developed; the Jebba Dam, Shiroro Dam, and Egbin Power Station. Between 1983 and 1999, there was no single kobo invested in power generation. If anything, the ones that were there were allowed to rot. Between 1999 and now, close to $32 billion has been spent on power and nothing to show for it, but a paltry 4000 MW. Yet, in other climes, resources of less amount have been judiciously used to provide reasonable amount of power.
Elites deceive Nigerians through clamour for ‘Restructuring and Reformation’
With the tempo of the demands for restructuring seeming to be inversely proportional to the cohesiveness or otherwise of the political elite; Jose said restructuring, was being promoted by the elite to deceive Nigerians when they want to capture their attention in a bid to demonstrate that they are fighting their cause and for their prosperity. He added that when the goodies are being divided on an equitable basis among them, the clamour becomes inaudible. But it is when the proceeds of robbery are not shared equitably that we hear the noise and accusations of cheating. This however, does not diminish the need for total overhaul and restructuring of the political system as it is presently constituted: A relic of colonialism and military adventurism. Colonialists started the ‘ojoro’ (fraud) with their rigged census and lopsided division of the country; while the men with the gun created a structure that was more attuned to their command structure.
“Restructuring has come to mean different things to different proponents, depending on the ethnic divide they are shouting from. It could be return to old regional structure and invariably, a restructure of the revenue allocation formular. Some are even canvassing for secession and a breakup of the country; like the Biafra resurgent and even our own advocates of Oduduwa Republic. The common thread that runs through all of them is the dissatisfaction with the current political arrangements where the centre is ever so strong and its propensity to dispense patronage and allocate resources has turned the idea of a federal structure on its head. There is no doubt, what we currently have is a unitary structure, which is a throwback of military administrative structure. Even the constitution we currently operate was designed by the military to suit their command structure.
“Changing this structure is most desirable; but problematic. A proposition that cannot be easily achieved but by a long and arduous process that will involve the National Assembly and the concurrence of all the states in the Federation. These are not the men who would effect change in the structure of our political system. In the 16 years since they have been talking of ‘resource control’, ‘fiscal federalism’, true federalism’ and now ‘restructuring, no bill has been raised in our ‘collective’ called the National Assembly. Under this tainted and odious climate, we might wait till eternity for any meaningful change; definitely, not from this present crop of leadership”.
He however suggested that the National Assembly should have only one chamber and the President should be elected for a single term of six years. He added that members could sit on an ad-hoc basis and allowances fixed like it is done in all progressive countries. Local Government councils should be made more relevant and responsible, being the nearest unit of government to the people.
He also suggested establishment of State Police, considering the fact that it’s the right thing to do in such a federal structure.
Religion, ethnicity are our major problems
— Femi Okunnu SAN
Alhaji Femi Okunnu, former Federal Commissioner, Minister for Works and Housing (between 1967 and 1974) and member, Ad hoc Constitutional Conference 1966 and the Constitution Drafting Committee, CDC 1977, also said religion and ethnicity are our major problems. According to him, “the present leadership thrives on religion and ethnic differences. Unfortunately, these two never used to dominate the polity even before independence.
“During Balewa’s government, religion was not dominant. Awolowo, like other leaders in the past, did not use religion to get power. Same with the Sardauna who had most of his appointments from the Christian minority states. All he did was to prevent the northern youths from the invasion of the southerners. But these days, if you want to gain power, religion is brought in.
Okunnu said: “Again, local governments should be left solely in the hands of state governments. They were never part of the National politics. Local governments were arrangements within regions.
The problems with Nigeria have nothing to do with restructuring. As a matter of fact, I don’t even know what you want to restructure. To me the word is relative and differs from man to man. You see, there is utter confusion about restructuring. What exactly do you want to restructure? The problem is about poor leadership which has bedeviled this country over the years. There is misunderstanding about the number of colonies Britain had in Nigeria. It was not only North and South. Britain had three colonies and not two. Lagos colony, (1861) was the first colony British had, then Northern and Southern protectorates. “Then, those who were born in Lagos were British citizens with British Passport until independence. Lagos was independently ruled until 1950-1954 during the McPherson Constitution. Then Lagos was never part of Western region or South West. So, what are you going to restructure? What we should look into is the legislative list. That is where power lies. In 1954, when Nigeria adopted federal system of government, there were five constituent parts which formed the federal government; they were Northern region, Western region, Eastern region, Lagos colony, which was a constituent of the federation and Southern Cameroon. After independence, and because of political manoeuvring, Mid-west was carved out of Western region with Lagos having a separate administration.
“It is a pity some military leaders made fools of us. To me, the best structure Nigeria has had was the 12 states structure. So, we don’t need restructuring, the power of the government resides in the legislative list. Even with the 1999 constitution, powers of the federal government are still limited.
“Residual powers are vested in the state government. Agriculture is a state matter. The federal government has no role to play in agriculture because it has no land. The same goes to Housing, so don’t blame federal government for poor housing, it is a state matter.
The legislators also dabble into executive functions, they don’t know their boundaries. Instead of concentrating on making laws, they also want to execute laws through what they call constituency project. It is illegal. Executive powers are vested in the executive arm of government. But because they want money in their pockets and not satisfied with what they get, they resort into taking over executive functions. Could you imagine Sardauna coming to Lagos to beg Balewa for money or Awolowo coming to Lagos spending days, waiting to see the Prime Minister to beg for money? Awolowo and Sardauna exercised the kind of powers the governors exercise today. Today instead of governing their states they are always in Abuja begging for money,” he lamented.