A short commentary on the Nigerian condition – Guardian Nigeria

Ladipo Adamolekun
“… We are among the most underdeveloped and backward countries in the world. All our economic, social, political and human development indices are among the worst…” – Vanguard, Editorial, “Nigeria’s 56,000 abandoned projects”, November 28, 2021.
“Any government that is deaf, dumb and blind is a government that will not last. As a government, you need to listen to the people…” – Former President O. Obasanjo in Punch, October 30, 2021.

I belong to the tribe of public intellectuals whose contributions to public opinion that are focused on how to turn around the country’s stunted development have been both loudly and silently ignored by successive post-1999 governments. The consequences that cause worry, sadness and anger include the following:
Item: The Nigerian condition at the end of 2020 was summed up as follows by the country’s number four citizen, the Speaker of the House of Representatives: “This year (2020), we have seen the structural inadequacies of our economy and health care systems. Our internal security and justice architecture have left us dangerously exposed to the risk of a complete and irreversible loss of faith in the Nigerian project by a large section of our citizenry” (bold and italics added) – Cited in Punch, Editorial, “Restoring faith in the Nigerian project,” January 6, 2021.
Item: “The definition of a failed state is one where the government is no longer in control. By this yardstick, Africa’s most populous country is teetering on the brink… Nigeria has more poor people, defined as those living on less than $1.90 a day, than any other country, including India… one of every five children in the world out of school lives in Nigeria, many of them girls… The economy has stalled since 2015 and real living standards are declining.” – Financial Times, Editorial, “Nigeria at Risk of Becoming a Failed State”, December 22, 2020.
Item: In the Ibrahim Index of African Governance (IIAG) that was published annually between 2007 and 2018 and published every other year from 2020, Nigeria has recorded almost consistent low scores. In the latest IIAG report (2020), the following are Nigeria’s scores and rankings out of 54 countries: (i) Participation, rights, inclusion & equality, and gender, 43.6 per cent, 32nd; (ii) Security & safety, rule of law, accountability & transparency, and anti-corruption, 44.3 per cent, 34th; (iii) Human Development (health, education, social protection and sustainable environment), 46.5 per cent, 37th; and (iv) Foundations for Economic Opportunity (public administration, business environment, infrastructure and rural sector), 47.8 per cent, 28th. Overall, Nigeria recorded “increasing deterioration” in governance in 2020 with a score of 45.5 per cent, and was ranked 34th out of 54 countries. – Compiled by the author.
Item: “… organised crime and political violence have grown so intense and widespread that most of the country is sliding towards ungovernability. In the first nine months of 2021 almost 8,000 people were directly killed in various conflicts… some 2,200 people were kidnapped for ransom, more than double the roughly 1,000 abducted in 2020… Economic troubles are compounded by a government that is inept and heavy-handed… Without urgent action, Nigeria may slip into a downward spiral from which it will struggle to emerge.” – The Economist (London), Editorial, “Nigeria – The crime scene at the heart of Africa”, October 23, 2021.
Item: “From being a potentially prosperous haven, Nigeria is mutating to a place of excruciating misery. A fresh attestation of the country’s steady descent to a land of woes comes from Hanke’s Annual Misery Index, a global economic study of countries in which Africa’s most populous country plunged four places, from 15th in 2020 to the 11th [out of 156] most miserable territory in 2021. Without a doubt, inequality, poverty, joblessness and economic hardship are rapidly conflating to make Nigeria an unliveable contraption – Punch, Editorial, “Global misery index mirrors Nigerians’ woes”, May 16th 2022.
What is to be done?
The following answer is provided in my monograph: Getting politics right is the sine qua non for making Nigeria work. Three critical ingredients for getting politics right are discussed: a devolved federation; good democratic practice; and administrative competence. And I include a recommendation on the need for a development-oriented political leadership.
First, a major reason why Nigeria is not working is because we have maintained a unitary federalism oxymoron inherited from the military at the inception of civilian rule in 1999. To enhance our chances of keeping Nigeria one, consolidating democracy, tackling insecurity effectively, and achieving accelerated socioeconomic progress, Nigeria needs to urgently adopt and function as a devolved federal system. This political system will have the following defining characteristics: six federating units; assignment of functions between the central government and the federating units based on the principle of subsidiarity similar, to a considerable extent, to the assignment of functions in the country’s 1963 Constitution; and allocation of resources that is consistent with both the imperative of fiscal federalism and the proposed increased functions for subnational governments.
Second, Nigeria’s current poor scores with respect to key measures of good democratic practice need to be reversed. Specifically, improvements are required concerning electoral legitimacy (ensuring free, fair and transparent elections), functioning of the party system, scope of political participation, respect for the rule of law, protection of human rights, and freedom of speech and association. The goal should be to ensure the legitimacy of governments and a functioning law-based state that would help promote accountable governance.
Third, the country’s lack of administrative competence that is largely responsible for poor service delivery to the citizens since 1999 was recently acknowledged by incumbent president Buhari in his Independence Day speech on October 1st 2021. He said: “For far too long we have neglected the centrality of the civil service as the engine of governance and this has manifested in ineffective service delivery. There is widespread discontent and disillusion about the efficiency and probity of our civil service. It is for this reason that we are refocusing the Nigerian Civil Service to provide World Class service to run our country.”
To reverse this lack of administrative competence would require rapidly updating and implementing comprehensively the largely neglected National Public Service Reform Strategy (2009) which has the following vision: “A world-class public service delivering government policies effectively and implementing programmes with professionalism, integrity, excellence and passion to secure sustainable national development.”
Finally, Nigeria needs a development-oriented political leader, one under whose watch the country can begin to record steady progress in growing the economy, reducing poverty, assuring security, and moving towards prosperity for all the citizens. This would be a leader who, at the end of his/her tenure, would be competitive for the Mo Ibrahim Africa Leadership Prize that was established in 2007. The Prize “recognises and celebrates African leaders who have developed their countries, lifted people out of poverty and paved the way for sustainable and equitable prosperity.” To the imperative of development-orientation, I would add four essential leadership attributes to the characteristics of the political leaders that would make Nigeria work: integrity, intelligence, competence, and vision.
Whilst maintenance of the good practice of producing political leaders through the ballot box must be maintained, political parties should, henceforth, agree not to adopt former military leaders as party leaders or as presidential/gubernatorial candidates. The two recycled military leaders who have served as presidents during the post-1999 era have demonstrated clearly that military culture trumps democratic culture; a “civilianized” Nigerian military leader cannot be a democrat.
Last Word
The three possible future scenarios that I had envisaged for the country in Whither Nigeria? Directions for Future Development (2012) remain pertinent today.
A. Maintenance of the status quo: muddling through until the country settles for either B or C below.
B. Optimistic scenario: the country finds a viable path to achieving a federal democracy and economic prosperity.
C. Pessimistic scenario: the dreaded “D” word – disintegration of the federation.
To achieve the “Optimistic Scenario” that I desire for our youth within the next quarter-century or earlier, it is important for political leaders at both the central and sub-national levels to adopt and implement a devolved federal system and commit, in word and in deed, to good democratic practice, combined with administrative competence.
Professor Adamolekun wrote from Iju, Akure North, Ondo State.
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