Like millions of Nigerians who prayed and fasted all over the years for some kind of change in Nigeria, for some sort of leadership that will take the collective social and economic interest of the ordinary Nigerian at heart, and work towards a semblance of betterment of their current situation where the distance between the classes have widened exponentially, and the middle class completely eliminated, I was elated when the All Progressives Congress (APC) swept the presidential and national assembly polls.
My elation is not borne out of expectation of some waving of a magic wand by APC that will solve a myriad of problems that have long plagued that country, or a quick succession of miraculous intervention of some high power, partial to the APC, that will decree henceforth and it is done with fiat; rather, it was borne out of the realization of a long hoped-for emergence of an alternative choice for Nigerians; an offering of an opportunity for comparison of a present with a past; a weighing and evaluation of leadership styles, political manifestos, and deliverance on promises. This elation will not be subdued in any form if the PDP were to regain power at the center come 2019, because, mindful of its experience in the last general election, it will strive to outperform its main rival in anticipation of victory 2023 general elections. Finally, an era when political parties will survive in Nigeria based on its performance have arrived; a throwback to the first republic years when leaders of each of the regions struggled to outperform the other in delivery of social services to the people
For sixteen years, Nigerians – even diehard loyalists of PDP – have suffered under a party that appeared aloof to the yearnings and suffering of the people; a party that did little to improve the social and economic lives of the majority of the governed, that concentrated wealth on a mere 1% of the Nigerian population, and distributed the nation’s resources among its members and few friends and loyalists. The PDP elevated corruption to an institutionalized cancerous state permeating every facet of the Nigerian society, and turned a blind eye to the blatant excesses of the haves to the detriment of the have-nots. To make the situation more nauseating, the president, on more than one occasion, insisted that there was no such thing as corruption in Nigeria; rather, what we have is stealing by thieves. This was the proverbial bale of straw that broke the Carmel’s back. With that, Nigerians had had enough of the insensitivity of the Jonathan administration, and they let the PDP know it with their votes.
It is against this background that Nigerians have expressed unprecedented optimism for the in-coming Buhari administration; especially, given that over the decades Buhari has come to be seen as a “messiah” of some sort by the rank and file, evidenced by his austere lifestyle – something alien to former African leaders –, his projection as a champion of the poor (an Aminu Kano with a military background), and his continuous railing against corruption. He had further endeared himself in the hearts of many Nigerians, and convinced them of his genuine desire to serve, in the many times he ran for office believing that he will one day have that opportunity to let the people weigh his actions against his utterances. That time has come, and for his administration to succeed, these are a few things they must focus on:
1. The new administration should focus on securing Nigeria's oil and gas pipelines to ensure steady supply of gas to the turbines and reduce, if not eliminate in its entirety, illegal siphoning of the crude. It is estimated that Nigeria loses about $280,000 daily to illegal bunkering, which is about N56m daily in revenue; a lot of money when one adds it up. Savings accruing from the stoppage of these illegal activities could be channeled towards developing the host communities of these pipelines, by investing them in job-creating or skills acquisition ventures, and cleaning up oil spills.
2. Improving power generation by insisting that the power companies perform their responsibilities dutifully. Government had generated a lot of revenue from the privatization of the power industry, and that revenue should be used for upgrading and extension of the national grid, developing of hydro, solar, and wind energy sources, funding of new energy source research stations in some universities, and sponsored training of selected Nigerians overseas to form the core of the future in power generation engineering. Also, the licenses of some of the private companies who have not made any impact should be revoked immediately. For those who are serious, government should play an enabling role to ensure that needed equipment is imported and cleared with ease by eliminating bureaucratic bottlenecks.
3. The administration should counter security problems by adequately equipping the various security agencies- including the Nigerian Civil Defense-, providing continuous training programs, paying them a living wage, housing and sundry allowances, life insurance schemes, thereby making the profession attractive for university graduates. Government should, equally, not hesitate to make an example of any erring security personnel regardless of the branch or rank. Though elimination of a centralized police system is preferable, where it is not achievable, a flatter leadership structure should be introduced to make for quicker decision-making process.
4. On agriculture, you cannot have adequate food supply without a functional distribution network, and you cannot have such networks without good road and rail networks. To go with a distribution network is a safe, secure, and strategic storage system for excess products or harvests. So, before talking of empowering farmers, the Buhari administration must provide the means to bring the harvests from the farms to the consumers. The cheapest form of mass transportation of people and goods is the rail system, so this administration must continue the rehabilitation of the railways started by the Jonathan administration, and make efforts to extend it to commercial farming communities. A network of quality rural roads connecting rural farming communities to urban, high consumption, areas is very necessary for on-time evacuation of harvests. Also, a network of interstate highways is necessary for improved interstate commerce.
The government should, also, encourage the creation of agricultural enterprising zones within each of the six geo-political zones based on comparative advantage system, and invite international agricultural giants to partner with local commercial farmers to run such zones. It should consider further reduction in import duties for farming equipment too. To decongest the Lagos wharf, and make it easier to clear imports, government should fast-track the construction/rehabilitation of Onitsha, Onne, and Calabar ports. It should also consider the dredging of the Niger-Benue confluence so that a port can be sited there to serve the states of the North Central
5. On education, Nigeria does not need a wholesale reform of the system; what the schools need are good and conducive facilities, instruction materials, and modern technological tools to compete with the rest of the world. Teachers and lecturers should be paid a living wage, and on time too; however, they must also be forced to enroll in continuing education programs every two years to maintain the currency of their teachers’ certificates at primary and secondary school levels. A uniform academic curriculum, with a focus towards the future and what drives it, should be developed at the state and federal universities level. Also, government should encourage the designation of research programs in various fields at select universities in each of the geo-political zones. Nigeria graduates the most of university students in Africa; unfortunately, their knowledge is more theoretical than practical. Government should set guidelines for universities to invest more on the practical aspect of teaching than the theoretical, in line with international best practices. Finally, emphasis should be more on 2-year vocational and technical education than it has been before.
6. On healthcare, all the 774 local governments should have a functional hospital that will serve as a hub for rural primary care clinics. The national health insurance program should be revisited and the kinks worked out so Nigerians can easily enroll in, and benefit from, the program. Indigenous drug manufacturing companies should be financially supported, with a caveat that will deter nefarious activities and corruption. Importation of durable medical equipment should be facilitated through the waiver of time-wasting bureaucracy, and any such company wishing to invest in Nigeria should be granted express consideration.
An immunization program for every child ten years and under should be free and enforced to nip some illnesses in the bud. Government should draw up requirements and guidelines for establishment of rural clinics and private hospitals in Nigeria, to ensure a safe and healthy environment. Training program of healthcare workers should meet the minimum of international acceptable standards; finally, the national assembly should enact a law making it easier to sue healthcare workers – especially doctors – for medical malpractice and criminal negligence.
7. Small and medium scale businesses, being the foundation of every nation’s employer and economic growth and development, should be encouraged by providing low-interest loans for technology and service-oriented companies, and tax breaks for establishing of manufacturing facilities in rural communities. An inducement fund should be created by the ministry of commerce to encourage research into new, safer and cheaper consumer products by universities and other independent research facilities. Banks should be encouraged to invest in promising inventive ideas that will benefit the society at large. The administration should, also, encourage foreign direct investment by offering attractive incentives such as ease of entry, movement of capital, tax breaks, and ease of exit – where applicable. It must also encourage domestic production by assisting in sourcing for markets for made in Nigeria products through the ministry of commerce.
8. On ways to decongest some major cities like Lagos, Kano, Kaduna, Ibadan, Owerri, Port Harcourt, and Aba, governments should site needed infrastructure and social services, like water, power, roads, effective transportation system, and adequate security in rural areas to make it attractive for corporations to relocate headquarters to rural areas. Some Fortune 500 corporations in US and Europe have their headquarters in the so-called suburbs, and the main attraction is provision of what I listed above. Also, this administration should encourage corporations to engage in community restoration actions to augment the efforts of local governments in stemming migration to urban areas
9. On solid minerals development since this requires advanced technology and is capital intense, government should seek out and partner with foreign companies with the necessary capital and technological expertise to extract and develop Nigeria's solid minerals on an arrangement that will include training of Nigerians for possible transfer of management responsibilities, transfer of technological and technical know-how to the indigenous employees, and creation of foreign markets for these minerals.
10. Corruption has been diagnosed as the cause of what ails Nigeria, and the first monster that must be tackled if any/all of the first nine suggestions are to work. The president-elect has harped so much on corruption that one would expect corruption, if it were a being, to be seeking a hiding place by now. Unfortunately, corruption is not a being, it has assumed the status of a characteristic in Nigerian state; it is now a way of life, and it has eaten into the souls of many at every level in government. However, as the saying goes; cut off the head of the snake and the body withers. The fight for corruption must start at the top; it must start with the judiciary, the heads of federal parastatals, police commissioners and their superiors, heads of financial institutions, friends and families of the presidency. Because eradicating corruption has a trickle-down effect, when the larger Nigerian society sees those “untouchables” being convicted of even the smallest of crimes, the petty thieves (apologies to President Jonathan) will get the message and mend their ways.
For the fight against corruption to succeed, Nigerians must play a larger role than the government. Anti-corruption agencies can only prosecute if they know of an act, if Nigerians in the know choose to keep silent because of their complicity, or because their kit and kin are involved, then corruption will never be eradicated; the roads will never be built, neither the borehole, the railway line, the transformer, the national grid, the hospitals nor clinics will see the light of day. This means that the majority will continue to suffer, and unnecessarily blame the government for their own refusal to carry out their civic duties. The Buhari administration should cause the national assembly to set up a special tribunal (akin to a military court martial), devoid of civilian court interference, to try cases of corruption. The DSS/SSS should collaborate with the EFCC in the investigation of corrupt practices. Finally, prosecution must involve both the giver and recipient of bribes, and the proceeds of the corrupt practice must be forfeited and sold off at auction as a part of the punishment.
One thing is clear, this administration is not expected to achieve all of these feats in four years; however, a convincing effort is what Nigerians want to see, and they want to see it soon. Where the new administration fails to show best effort in the first 100 days, the hope and faith Nigerians have placed on Buhari will fade overnight. On their part, Nigerians should exercise some patience, considering that the damage and destruction of the Nigerian society took more than 16 years and it will take more than that amount of time to steer the ship of state right again. What the Buhari administration needs to do is lay a solid foundation that his successor can continue to build on, and for that to happen, it must continue to groom a collection of successors with the love for, and progress of, Nigeria as their first priority of public service.