Nigeria: Bidding Farewell to 2022 – Nigeria and the Question of Leadership

As the Buhari administration winds up, the question of his legacy is on the table. Unfortunately for the President, who has always seen himself and built his image as an anti-corruption crusader, his legacy might well be that of running the most corrupt regime in Nigerian history.

As we move into 2023, we the people must take the resolve that Nigeria can and must address the security challenges it faces by providing the leadership for the security forces to be properly equipped and encouraged to do their work. It is still possible to promote national cohesion and social inclusion by ensuring a fair distribution of socio-economic amenities across the states.

“Civics and the words and deeds of a Nigerian politician” was the title of my column of 18thMarch. The theme is the state of wisdom in Nigeria that you believe the words of a politician only at your own peril. Therein, I circulated one of the posts going around on WhatsApp about specific lies some politicians allegedly told but did exactly the opposite of what they swore not to do. I have not fact-checked the quotations and I should be forgiven if they are all lies:

“I will never go back to the PDP. PDP is beyond redemption!” ~ATIKU ABUBAKAR

“I will never leave APGA. I’d rather quit politics. PDP is a curse to the South East!” ~ PETER OBI

“I would rather die than to join APC!” ~ FEMI FANI- KAYODE

“May God punish me if I ever leave PDP!” ~ Gov Bello Mohammad Matawalle

“I will not join these people who carry brooms like witches. Over my dead body!” ~ Chibuike Rotimi Amaechi

“Only house helps go around with brooms.” ~ Godswill Akpabio

My position remains that Nigerians do themselves a great disservice by accepting it as a given that they expect their leaders not to be truthful to them. They are as guilty as the politicians in creating the ideological basis for excusing the political class from responsibility for what they say and promise. In a democracy, the political class is by definition supposed to be composed of people with character and integrity, who keep their words and do exactly what they promise to do. The democratic civic culture is about citizens making clear demands on their elected representatives that they should keep to their promises when elected.

The year 2022 was marked by hordes of applicants paying to political parties for the opportunity to apply for the position of President of Federal Republic of Nigeria, which was advertised. A large crowd of governors and former governors, ministers and senators made bids and applied. I did not really notice any of them telling the selection committees – comprising party delegates and the shareholders, Nigerian citizens of voting age, why they were applying for this specific job. I remember one candidate, Governor Nyesom Wike of Rivers State explaining his qualification: Nigeria, he said, needs a madman like him to turn things around. Maybe Atiku Abubakar was not listening when he said that. I also recall that when Bola Tinubu visited President Buhari to inform him of his intention to contest for the vacancy, he told Nigerians that he was applying because he has always wanted the job. He later added that, in any case, it was his turn to rule.

Leadership requires people with the vision of what they want to achieve for Nigeria. Of course, those who want to present themselves can get good consultants to write up visions and programmes for them. It is therefore important to define competence on the basis of the track record of proposed candidates – their professional backgrounds and accomplishments; community engagement and service; views expressed on political, economic and social issues.

At the end, the candidates with the deepest pockets won the various party primaries and are now on the campaign trail. The primaries were money contests and the question was: where did they get such money from? As governors or ministers, none of them earned N100 million as legitimate income to buy the political party nomination forms. We are forced to make the only possible conclusion that they must have stolen these monies from government coffers. A democracy cannot survive when those in power steal from the treasury and use that money to continue in power; this time to occupy even greater offices.

Leadership requires people with the vision of what they want to achieve for Nigeria. Of course, those who want to present themselves can get good consultants to write up visions and programmes for them. It is therefore important to define competence on the basis of the track record of proposed candidates – their professional backgrounds and accomplishments; community engagement and service; views expressed on political, economic and social issues. There has to be a minimum education standard, either as a degree or higher national diploma. Finally, age and good health are key factors in leadership and Nigerians know a lot about this issue. People over seventy years should be encouraged to stay out of politics because they are unlikely to have the energy for the enormous work involved in running a country as large and complex as Nigeria is.

As the Buhari administration winds up, the question of his legacy is on the table. Unfortunately for the President, who has always seen himself and built his image as an anti-corruption crusader, his legacy might well be that of running the most corrupt regime in Nigerian history. At the core of the problem is the Ministry of Petroleum, which he has been minister of since his return to power. Of course, one dossier President Muhammadu Buhari is supposed to know very well is that of petroleum affairs, afterall he was petroleum minister from 1976-78. He was also Head of State for 20 months from December 31, 1983. When, therefore, he told Nigerians as a presidential candidate in 2011 that the fuel subsidy regime is a fraud, people believed him and the √©lan of hope around this anti-corruption crusader finally got him to power in 2015. We all remember when he posed the basic question: “Who is subsidising who?” His answer was categorical, the then PDP regime was using fuel subsidy to fund corruption. The legacy President Buhari would leave is the trillions of naira spent to fund corruption in the name of fuel subsidy.

In October, I reported a workshop that Nextier organised with the Institute of Security Studies in South Africa on “Nigeria in 2050: Global Player or Poverty Capital of the World”. It was a trend analysis of where we are headed if we keep to the current pathway – annihilation. It is therefore, above all, a warning that to survive as a people, we must change our ways and move away from the massive level of public corruption that makes it virtually impossible for governments to do their work of producing public goods for the people – security, welfare, good health, infrastructure and so on. We must improve governance or perish. The problem is who in government will listen. Who has the power and at the same time the empathy to listen to what the people need desperately?

Nigeria has made little progress in export diversification. The country remains a rentier economy but, currently, even that is lost as most of the petroleum produced is stolen and sold by government and security cabals that have become pipeline bandits. Macroeconomic instability, a skills shortage, an unfriendly business environment and infrastructure deficits constrain productivity and growth in the non-oil sector.

The study drew attention to the fact that over four decades after the introduction of compulsory universal basic education, more than 30% of the Nigerian population is illiterate. The country is in chronic crisis, with an essentially bankrupt economy that has sank into a debt trap. Nigerians have never been so unsafe, with multiple insurgencies, widespread banditry, separatist agitations, policy discontinuities, massive corruption and a level of poor governance that presents an existential threat to all.

Graphics were shown demonstrating that Nigeria and Malaysia where at similar levels of economic performance at independence but today, Malaysia has transformed its economy and moved far ahead, while we remain in crisis. Nigeria is not on track to achieve most of the SDGs by 2030, and it is forecast to have the highest number of poor people globally by 2050. Internally, there is a polarity of poverty between northern and southern Nigeria, with the north lagging far behind. Nigeria has one of the world’s lowest tax revenue-to-GDP ratios, leaving little fiscal space for productive expenditure. The public health and education sectors are incapacitated by mismanagement, corruption and inadequate funding.

Nigeria’s population is forecast to increase to over 450 million by 2050, by which time it will be the third most populous country in the world. Although Nigeria has great agricultural potentials, the sector is unable to meet the nutritional demands of a rapidly growing population. Nigeria has made little progress in export diversification. The country remains a rentier economy but, currently, even that is lost as most of the petroleum produced is stolen and sold by government and security cabals that have become pipeline bandits. Macroeconomic instability, a skills shortage, an unfriendly business environment and infrastructure deficits constrain productivity and growth in the non-oil sector.

As we move into 2023, we the people must take the resolve that Nigeria can and must address the security challenges it faces by providing the leadership for the security forces to be properly equipped and encouraged to do their work. It is still possible to promote national cohesion and social inclusion by ensuring a fair distribution of socio-economic amenities across the states. A national social protection programme needs to be set up to support the poorest and most vulnerable in order to reduce poverty and inequality. Also, the struggle against corruption has to be intensified, while public financial management and domestic revenue mobilisation are improved through the acceleration of digitalisation to enhance tax efficiency, alongside the addressing of the country’s infrastructure gap by the creation of an enabling environment for public-private-partnerships in infrastructure development.

A professor of Political Science and development consultant/expert, Jibrin Ibrahim is a Senior Fellow of the Centre for Democracy and Development, and Chair of the Editorial Board of PREMIUM TIMES.

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