Nation building ideas for Nigeria

About two weeks ago, Feyi Fawehinmi wrote commendably about his regret of not asking enough questions during the last presidential campaign on the ideas President Buhari intended to pursue after assuming office. A day later, he published another article on how Nigeria can move forward from its current malaise and if Nigerians can organise themselves around ideas or other organising principles that could move our country forward.

About 18 months ago, I published some rants, Rant I, Rant II & Rant III on my blog about how to deliver a sustainable Nigeria and argued that if we can organise ourselves based on ideologies, over time ideology may become a better unifying factor than ethnicity and religion among Nigerians — a long shot I know, but still worth a try.
Feyi focussed on trade as his initial idea on what may bring Nigerians closer together, although he has since admitted (worth a listen if you haven’t already) in a recent podcast with Tola Sarumi that it may not be enough. I agree and as my contribution to the debate which Feyi has now joined, I’ll summarise the ideas in my rants hopefully in a less “ranty” way in this foregoing article.

We currently don’t exist in a power or constitutional vacuum, so there’s nowhere else to start other than the Constitution. The Constitution in one of its opening preamble states “we the people of the Federal Republic of Nigeria; having firmly and solemnly resolved, to live in unity and harmony as one indivisible and indissoluble sovereign nation under God…” That preamble given our history, especially the most recent, is a lie — a lie that needs to be fixed. A lie that can only be fixed when we project dignity on all Nigerian life equally by recognising the unalienable human rights of every Nigerian; by developing a judiciary and civil service that applies the law impersonally and a police service that protects neutrally and uniformly. Without this impersonal application of rights and neutral protection of life, it will be difficult, as we’ve witnessed, to live in unity, harmony and peacefully.

Being a multi cultural and multi ethnic society, disagreements are inevitable — heck even closely knitted families have disagreements. So whilst strengthening our ties through trade is laudable and lofty, not having an institutionally neutral trade arbitration system that inexpensively and efficiently adjudicates disputes will result in a swift breakdown of any ties based on trade. So it is important that we urgently strengthen the Judicial arm of government by making it truly independent, properly funded and by revising its working processes for optimal efficiency and effectiveness.
Linked to the above is the necessity to separate religion from state. Whatever state administration system we agree on, must near militantly, defend the secularity of our laws especially in the implementation and application of such laws. We need to take personal and collective responsibility of defending governance from religiosity. Praying at state functions, expecting state sponsorship of religious pilgrimages, religious rhetoric in political campaigns or party constitutional documents must be firmly rejected. Religion must be separated from state in form, substance, perception or reality. Religion must become personal and personal only. It goes without saying that no one should be killed for practising their religion.

As we are finding out, incompetence is proving to be more expensive than corruption. We need to celebrate the dignity of hard work and increase the value we place on competence. Job openings, contract tenders, political appointments, promotions in public and private sectors, business deals should be made based purely on the hierarchy of competence of those or entities considered. We have to kill the patronage system in all its forms. This is the only way that iron can sharpen iron and the only way we can create an environment for objective competition. Any Nigerian (irrespective of gender, faith, orientation etc) should be confident that regardless of where they are in the country, if they demonstrate competence clearly for any endeavour they should expect commensurate compensation. Any Nigerian should be able to live and participate fully in any locality they choose to be resident. We should be against a patrimonial society. Celebrating and embracing competence as an overarching value system would enable the inclusion that our diversity needs to be the positive developmental weapon that it should be. The elevation of competence in our society should be most visible in our civil service and other societal agencies that facilitate business and trade eg CAC, Regulatory Commissions etc.

As has been mentioned by others, the Constitution of our Republic is in need of a root and branch review. That revision needs to recognise that all constitutional power devolves from the people. The extent of the powers of government has to be clearly defined and limited. The extent to which government can intrude into our lives or prescribe how we should live our lives should be limited. This last sentence is a personal preference but it’s based on recognising the militaristic foundation of our current constitution in the absolute and near limitless powers it confers on and reserves for government. Whilst democratic, this conferment is clearly despotic and must be reversed. The Land Use Act is a case in point. The Constitution gives the executive arm of government too much power in relation to property rights.

In recognising the plurality of cultures in our nation, we need to embrace federalism fully and truly. This can be achieved by having federal laws, which I’ll refer to as Constitutional Minimums, which guarantee federal rights. This idea of Constitutional Minimums is based on “what is yours is yours, what is mine is mine, what is ours we decide”. Constitutional Minimums are the laws that will underpin the rights freely given up by each federating unit to the federal government to form the basis on which we will remain a federal union. For example, a Minimum can be a law that guarantees that every Nigerian child must be educated to at least junior secondary school level. The law could compel every local government to make access to educational institution available to every child. The law should make it criminally punishable for any parent or guardian that prevents their/a child from getting this minimum education. We can have minimums for everything — health, eligibility for security services, citizenship, education etc.

We can have Minimums for taxation for example. During the last presidential primary campaign, Atiku Abubakar in one of his Q&A sessions responded to a question on development with an answer that intrigued me. To fund his idea on driving development, he said he would commit all revenues from oil to capital expenditures only and that recurrent expenditures will be funded by tax receipts! Wow! Let’s think about that for a minute, if we want government to be only focused on facilitating trade (Executive & Legislative arm), securing lives and property (Judiciary) then this is a wonderful way of focussing their minds and aligning governments interest with economic activity and productivity. When government realises that its recurrent expenditure can only be funded from tax receipts and not resource rent, it will start behaving like the Chamber of Commerce that it should be. So the Minimum in this regard, applicable to government at all levels, will be that all revenues earned from resources can only go to capital expenditure. I know this has implication for the size of the civil service at all levels but this is a good thing. Government should do well only when businesses do well and not the reverse.

Finally and in recognition of the plurality of our society I think we need democratic reform. We need to decide what form of democracy suits us. Democracy by default is a system of government that facilitates debate. Plurality of opinions is healthy to any debate and contributes towards a qualitative outcome. A proportional representation electoral system may be more suitable to us than the current simple majority system. A proportional representation system will ensure that all votes contribute to the result of an election not just the majority of votes. We should consider this proportional representation at least for legislative elections. It would mean that the size of parties in parliament will be linked to the percentage of votes they received in an election. I also think we should split the election cycle of the legislature from the executive. Elections for both arms of government should be split two years apart. This should enable, preferably force legislator’s to campaign on their own merit rather than ride on the popularity of a presidential candidate. It would also focus the oversight responsibility of our legislator’s as it becomes difficult to ride on the popularity of the executive especially if the party in office isn’t delivering or is different. We also need political campaign finance reform, something I previously wrote on too.

Hopefully some of what I’ve written above is useful and contributes to the debate of moving Nigeria forward along ideological lines.

Nation building ideas for Nigeria

The insincerity of our elites 

In my last piece I mentioned the insincerity of our political and economic elites and how a change of attitude from them is necessary to move our nation forward. All of these elites travel outside Nigeria regularly for all sorts of reasons. Some of them were born, raised and trained in developed countries. Most if not all of them send their children abroad to study or gain exposure.

These elites have observed with their own eyes what a developed culture, society and country is and should look like. They’ve been on London underground trains, travelled on Japanese bullet trains, driven on Germany’s autobahn, and have houses in the US, UK, Middle East with superb construction and luxurious finishing. They’ve been to world class airports like Heathrow, Dubai, Singapore and have experienced first rate services that should be the norm. These elites have experienced what a proper capital, banking and finance infrastructure should be when they stash some of their (ill-gotten) wealth abroad.

What is befuddling is how these elites see these structures and infrastructures abroad; knowing it was all man made some even within the last 3 decades, yet come back to Nigeria to perpetrate a culture and structure that makes it impossible for Nigeria to rise above a failing or failed state? These elites own banks, yet some of their banking processes, apps and services are 18th century in nature. They just can’t see how development need not be sacrificed for wealth generation.

Issues like bad roads, lack of electricity, lack of proper water or sewage system, fuel queues, lack of train or transport infrastructure, dilapidated airports and such things that are now basic infrastructures in aspiring nations – how can the lack of these things not get on their damn nerves and grate them to their bone marrow? Why in 2016 would they want this type of issues be what is distracting their minds from focussing on more important world problems like eliminating malaria permanently or child poverty globally? I just don’t get it.

The one that is even more perplexing is how young Nigerians below the age of 40 that are either from elitist families or by sheer luck or maybe hard work have plugged themselves in the elitist patronage network, have turned themselves into doormats or enablers of this dysfunctional system. How can you as a young man with a young family not be wound up by the thought of spending what should be the prime of your youth in endless fuel queues or carrying your generators on your head to get fuel to power your “I better pass my neighbour”? Why should your Saturday, better spent with your young family, be spent at a mechanic village? Aren’t we all tired of dealing with poverty type dysfunction? Abi you think because you are not caught by the $2/day metric you are not facing similar challenges to poor people? How can young Nigerian’s explain their short-sightedness and insincerity during the last general election?

President Buhari was elected on three promises – anticorruption, security and economy. Of these three, anticorruption was by far President Buhari’s unique selling point. He self-styled himself as an incorruptible leader particularly playing on the War Against Indiscipline policy he implemented as military head of state. In my opinion, his claim was hollow at best. When President Obasanjo left office as military head of state, he did not disappear into a vacuum. He launched policy groups, was invited to and joined other leadership groups, represented Nigeria in peacekeeping efforts, he wrote books and basically immersed himself in governance and leadership circles communicating his ideas and ideologies whilst allowing himself to be shaped by the ideas of others so much so that he nearly became UN Secretary General. What President Obasanjo was about between 1979 and 1999 wasn’t in doubt. By the time he became President in 1999, he could refer to an established profile within the international community when it was time to beg for debt relief. Those he was begging already knew what he was about. It smoothed the process.

Can we say the same thing about President Buhari? Between 1985 and 2015 that he won the presidential election, corruption became an outsized monster in Nigeria. What did President Buhari do in those years to elevate and progress the anticorruption discussion? What book (ghost writers exists even if he couldn’t write it himself – Dele Momodu would have been too glad to be his ghost writer) did he write to enrich and propose ways that Nigeria can solve its corruption problem? Did he create or sponsor any CSO to pursue the anticorruption agenda? Did he give speeches at conferences to advance the movement? What conferences did he attend – local or international? Did he take his fight to international organisations like the World Bank, IMF or the UN? Did he link corruption to tax haven countries and how they enabled corruption? Did he raise the issue of the difficulty of repatriating proceeds of corruption stashed in tax havens? Did he create any profile of substance for himself beyond shallow rhetoric by referring to a dysfunctional policy he tried to implement in 1984? There’s little to no evidence that President Buhari did any of the above, so why did young people place so much faith in him being able to resolve the nation’s problem with corruption let alone institutionalise it? Now that he has become President and he wants to repatriate stolen funds, he needs to start from scratch what he should have donated his prime years to, yet he is surprised by his slow progress.

President Buhari’s lack of capacity is now being questioned and people are beginning to think ahead to 2019. Of course the elites are intelligent, they too are already thinking ahead and are also beginning to position themselves. One of the people being promoted by the young elites as a potential candidate in 2019 is Mallam El Rufai. This promotion suggests to me that some of our young people haven’t learnt from their 2015 mistake. We are a divided nation, a nation whose elites have used our multi ethnicity as a weapon. One of them, Mallam El Rufai, has been particularly guilty of highlighting our multi ethnicity and uses it against our nation to further his self-interest. His utterances on social media over the years have been truly shocking.

Prior to the general elections, Sheikh El Zakzaky was a good citizen worthy enough for Mallam to visit his home for photo opportunities to further his gubernatorial ambition. After elections, he became a persona non-grata with Kaduna (under Gov El Rufai) and Nigeria’s governments complicit in hiding the murderous rampage of 347 innocent Nigerians committed by the Nigerian army. Think about this, one of Governor El-Rufai’s state resident has been in illegal detention for months by the federal government, what has the governor done to raise this injustice and secure the release of Zakzaky? How will someone that finds it so easy to stoke ethnic sentiments inspire the kind of political and economic inclusion that our nation needs if he becomes President? Has he demonstrated that he has the capacity to inspire this leadership quality? Some will argue that his current cabinet is multi ethnic and say this is evidence enough, but how can this be? Surely we need a longer history that demonstrates this capacity beyond his current cabinet that has been put together mainly for Mallam’s benefit rather than Nigeria’s? Should our bar be so low as they want us to accept?

At the African Pension Summit held in October 2015, Mallam El Rufai said “I am warning the banks to bring down interest rates or we will do it for you”. Does this suggest Mallam understands economics at all? Should someone of his calibre and supposed exposure advocate for interest rates by political fiat – a move that erodes the independence of the Central Bank? It’s one of two things; either he lacks adequate economic understanding or he is pandering to President Buhari knowing fully well it was a wrong economic strategy but one that serves his self-interest of cementing his alleged position as “de facto” Vice President? Either way Nigeria is worse off by Mallam’s positioning and suggests perhaps he may do things that are not in Nigeria’s best interest but furthers his own? We need to shine our eyes.

At Nigeria Summit organised by The Economist in March 2016, Mallam said he was against devaluation as he cannot see the economic benefit for it. He asked “is the market the only way to solve the scarcity problem”? Again, this is something President Buhari will say and something someone of Mallam’s calibre and supposed exposure shouldn’t. In fact he said at the same summit that he’d always been in favour of devaluation and had experienced it thrice but somehow on this occasion, when our finances are in such dire state, he doesn’t think it expedient?

In 2018 when the sound-bites and rhetoric start flying about, I hope we all remember these things so that we don’t repeat the Buhari mistake of blind followership.

In fact what I hope is that a party like Kowa or firm like SBM Intelligence will create a tab on their websites where these shocking statements by elites that should know better will be displayed as a reminder so that when they start spewing their lies in 2019 we will call them out on it and ask the right questions.

The insincerity of our elites 

REQUIRED: new attitude, new leadership

Nigeria’s problems have been extensively analysed over the years by a plethora of intelligent people. In fact, lack of ideas or solutions to our teeming problems isn’t our biggest challenge. The political, visionary and leadership will to do the hard but necessary work to move our nation forward is what, in my opinion, we are most deficient in. The socio political and economic history of the world is littered with examples of the policies and strategies that work in moving a nation forward and firmly establishing it as a developed nation or at least lead it on the right path of development. Whilst right now, global politics is battling with social and income inequality that has led to the rising popularity of extreme political movements; this was not always the case with the global economy experiencing unprecedented wealth creation and transfer in the 40years to the Great Financial Crisis of 2008. To stem the rising popularity of extremism, global politics needs to come up with a new economic and political (democratic) transmission mechanism that efficiently deals with post-crisis income inequality and social mobility.

Sadly for Nigeria, our problem isn’t the same as the global world’s although some will argue its similarity. The number of Nigerians living, sorry existing below the poverty line is such that we need to first solve how these tens of millions of Nigerians can earn any income (sufficient to at least feed a small family thrice daily) at all before we even consider first world problems like those of the developed world of reducing income inequality. The good news however is that we have the economic system that delivered the biggest wealth transfer in global history to observe and copy verbatim. We don’t need to come up with new economic ideas, we don’t need to discover electricity, we don’t need to design new technology and neither do we need to come up with new ways of constructing road, rail or housing in order to move ourselves along the right developmental path. And with respect to politics and or governance, there are tons of countries whose struggles we can observe and learn from to avoid foolish and unnecessary mistakes. There are so many books on nation building that we can read, so many great leaders still living we can learn from, or even autobiographies of great leaders like Lee Kuan Yew, Nelson Mandela etc. Besides, we can also learn from our own history of what doesn’t work. 

At the risk of rehashing what others have already stated, I will summarise what I believe are changes to attitudes and mentality that our nation needs to move forward: 

1. Our history tells us that having an overbearing federal government with outsized powers isn’t supportive of developing Nigeria. It has so far been a burden and a headwind to political and economic development. Therefore, we need to urgently rethink, redesign and agree a new governance structure that reflects our sophistication as a society.

2. We know that true federalism works. It works in the USA, Germany, Canada, Australia and in other places. Most of these countries like ours have a history of similar inter ethnic tensions; some even fought civil wars like us, but have moved past this and are now developed nations economically and politically. So we need not fear true federalism, it will not lead to ethnic domination. Transferring majority of constitutional power to the governments that are closer to the people is one way of minimising our debilitating fear of ethnic domination and developmental bypass.

3. The role of government needs to be clarified especially in relation to the economy. We are at a developmental stage where we need all of our resources to be allocated and managed efficiently. The history of the world with economic systems shows us that a market based economy has been the most efficient at allocating resources – natural, capital, human and goods/services. This economic system was responsible for lifting the greatest number of people out of poverty the world has ever seen. History also tells us that this economic system is most efficient where government intervention is limited, interference (intervention and interference are two different things) a no-no and regulations are designed such that the proper and orderly functioning of markets is of utmost importance. There’s hardly a sector within Nigeria that the federal government does not heavily and unduly interfere in. Government intervention is certainly needed or even required in certain sectors. Such interventions must however be strategic and time pressured. It can never be open-ended as it has become in our case – a near obsession even. 

4. Our history as well as those of most members of OECD countries suggests that government doesn’t always know best and interventions need a specific purpose that is measurable and achievable within a reasonable timeframe. For example, affirmative action to get more of our brothers and sisters in the North educated or into schools may be necessary, but the lowered threshold for admission can’t stay low permanently. If for example admission requirement is 20% cut-off in year 2000 for entry into federal secondary schools, the government must draft affirmative action policy that aims to get that threshold to say 40% in a decade and on par with the highest in the country in two decades. Right now, what we have in the north re education is interference rather than intervention, an interference that has failed and is failing.

5. Our educational reforms need to match and reflect our developmental needs. Everyone needs to be educated at least up to a basic level (JSS) but not everyone needs to go to a university. Adult education needs to be encouraged especially with respect to health and hygiene, civic rights and obligations, role of government and how society should function and basic financial education. 

6. We’ve attached so much value to a university degree that everyone wants one, yet our universities are under resourced to cope. We need to reset our value system such that qualifications from educational institutions that are not universities are as valuable. Wages have to reflect living standards and actual value add from economic activities rather than just qualifications. We have to get to a point where not having a university degree does not automatically mean a decent living standard is unachievable.

7. Whilst it is important that we manage corruption better with stricter consequences and prosecutions that meet international standards, it is equally as important that we emphasise a value system that reinforces the idea that it is more rewarding to do good or right than to circumvent societal systems. We need to evolve our culture irrespective of ethnicity in a manner that makes doing good or doing right more economically rewarding and psychologically satisfying. The shame from proceeds of corruption must be elevated and harsher than even the consequence or punishment for corruption. Our threshold for corruption or corrupt people must be so low that those that perpetrate wrongs against society must prefer to commit suicide than face the shame of being proven to be corrupt. We need to get to a value and ethical place where you must be the low of the low or absolute dregs of society to contemplate let alone carry out acts of corruption.

8. Linked to improving our ethical and value system against corruption above is elevating meritocracy and competence as value systems. We must as a society abhor incompetence especially from public and civil servants. Incompetence must be fought like a plague and not tolerated. That President Buhari is comfortable with the incompetence displayed by some of his Ministers so far is disappointing and telling, even confirming the fears some of us have had all along. The Nigerian attitude that ‘lets get there first and worry about what should have been prior preparation and proper planning afterwards’ must be eschewed from our society. The mnemonic Proper Preparation Prevents Poor Performance that was drummed into us as kids needs to be brought back into our consciousness and imbibed across board.

9. Over the last two decades, the United Nations has published reports (UNHR Report) on an annual basis that supports the idea that diversity is contributory to economic development. The most developed nations, the most successful businesses typically have and aim to have a diverse nation or employee pool. These countries and successful businesses know that diversity isn’t the problem rather inclusion is. They realise that their success and development is linked to how inclusive they can make their diverse citizens or employees be. I am not suggesting that discrimination or racism doesn’t exist in these countries or companies, it does but steps have been taken to ensure it doesn’t compromise development, growth or profitability. So our urgent task is to infuse inclusion in every area of our societal life, systems and institutions. Our diversity should be the weapon that enriches our lives.

10. Finally we need a sincere political and economic elite class. Our current crop of elites must be ashamed of their mental laziness. Their current attitude and behaviour seems to suggest that their continued enrichment is impossible or will be compromised if Nigeria was a developing or developed nation. We know there are some members of the political elite that if not for a corrupt structure; their very limited skill would prevent them from having access to the wealth and power they currently enjoy. There are also others, some foreign born and trained, that do have skill or exposure that should be well compensated if Nigeria were a developed nation yet their behaviour is such that they just can’t imagine themselves being well to do in a developed Nigeria. This insincerity of our elites is what I find most befuddling about Nigeria. A cursory look at the most developed countries in the world or countries that are at the top of the developing list, shows us that it is possible to have billionaires in all works of life of a country whilst not sacrificing the socio-economic development of that same country. The individual and collective ambitions for a better tomorrow are not at odds with each other. Both can and have been achieved simultaneously in other countries. Examples abound around us. Steve Jobs was not born a billionaire, but he died as one. He did not need to sacrifice America’s development for his ambition. Donald Trump, as bigoted as he is and although he got $1m leg up from his dad, his current billionaire status has not stopped the US from remaining a developed nation. Across the Atlantic in UK and Europe, there are lots of millionaires and billionaires that successfully attained and continue to maintain their wealth status without the development of their nation being compromised.

11. So our elites need to stop being mentally lazy and stop perpetrating the depraved culture and structure that sacrifices development for wealth when both can be achieved simultaneously. More importantly though, the youth of Nigeria especially those between the ages of 25 and 40 need to come together en-masse and in sufficient quantity to demand almost militantly for a change in values and attitudes that will stem the hopeless spiral their parents generation seems to have anchored Nigeria to.

REQUIRED: new attitude, new leadership