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.

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Nation building ideas for Nigeria

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