Nigeria @57: Poverty As Threat To Democracy, By Olawale Rasheed

Public discourse on state of the nation appears to concentrate more on national structure as the real danger facing the republic and democracy. The nation focuses on nature of our federalism and why adjustment is the route to survival. I think we are missing the main threat today-grinding poverty among the citizenry.

The best national structure can be compromised; the best constitution can be subverted when the populace is hungry with no hope of sustainable survival. Operators of democratic machine from top to bottom of national ladder will cut corners for many reasons. While we expect the leaders and public servants to be above board, they are faced with army of desperate and poverty stricken citizens, whose language is survival irrespective of the source of poverty alleviating largesse. The officials and the citizens are married in unholy game of survival with poverty becoming a preferred weapon of choice in some depraved settings.

I make bold to say that poverty will compromise any referendum or plebiscite that may be held in case of a new constitution.

The situation is becoming increasingly unsustainable as the rich are targets of criminal offensive even as the armies of criminals grow by the day. Major junctions in our towns are now controlled by gangs to whom the leaders pay protection fees. The grassroots is deeply challenged as economic machine of the local level has been largely destroyed due to the paralysis of the local government. Purchasing g power of the people is decimated as many states owe salaries and pensions even after billions of naira of bailout funds. The central government is overwhelmed as state governments have successfully lured the public to blame Abuja rather than their governors.

The consequence is that there is an increasing elite migration to Abuja. In a bid to escape pressure at home, top leaders have switched to staying more in their Abuja residences than ever before. Interestingly, the masses are also migrating to Abuja to have a taste of commonwealth cake. The satellite towns are now homes to thousands of new arrival with Abuja population now estimated to be close to six million. Thousands storm the municipal every morning seeking jobs and support. Around Maitama and Asokoro are emerging fresh slum populations. Street boys are popping up in various corners and criminal attacks within the capital are increasing with alarming proportion. The poor are taken the battle to the abode of the elites.

Thus when the debate about restructuring takes the center stage, I wonder what we are thinking about human misery that is gradually enveloping us. If you restructure –which is a difficult task-what do you do to the troubling question of mass poverty? The best of constitution to emerge from that federal reform is sure to fail as no one –not the millions struggling to survive-will obey it. It will be subverted even more easily at the state level where Governors are tin gods. Expecting reform to aid poverty solution is a false hope as electoral inducement will stop genuine patriots from getting elected.

First, genuine patriotic leaders can rarely emerge under a poverty ridden democracy. Yes. Real leaders with patriotic desire to serve the people can hardly make it at election because of poverty crisis. Voters who are hungry and bedeviled with multiple survival questions can hardly make right decision. He wants to survive first before thinking of what happens tomorrow. He has issues he wants to address now and he is ready to collect money from the devil to survive. His vision of the ideal leader is blurred by survivalist rationalization. So he may vote for the armed robber who appears on the ballot if that is the highest bidder. There was a time in India when close to half of
the legislature were confirmed criminals. Until recently many state governors in that big democracy are leaders of criminals organizations.

In society where poverty crisis is substantially addressed, voters’ judgment is influenced by patriotic evaluation of the antecedent and integrity of the candidates. In fact, western democracy survives and blossoms for that long because voters across western world are not within poverty trap. Offering inducements as the sole basis for getting elected is a failed strategy in North America and Western Europe. Nigeria and other African countries can hardly compare with such settled societies because the voters here operate within poverty cage, a condition that negatively affects electoral judgments.

It is also a fact that as the poverty level decreases, citizens’ challenge to the leaders and rulers increases. In Uganda, President Yuweri Museveni has succeeded in reducing poverty level to less than 30 percent of the population. Interestingly, resistance to his rule is growing on daily basis. Why? The voters are released from state of perpetual want. They are empowered to rightly exercise their democratic rights to vote and be voted for. The same scenario is playing out in Rwanda.

Poverty is an existential threat to democracy for many reasons. Democratic rights cannot be judiciously exercised in a state of fear of tomorrow occasioned by survival demand. Two, Poverty enables the criminal world by supplying needed manpower. Hence the wrongly elected have armies of militant to suppress the needy and the hungry. Three, citizen docility is encouraged as majority of the citizens are worried more about what to eat than how the state is governed. Four, the leaders are complacent as they have adopted poverty as an electoral weapon to be deployed at each election circle.

But is it possible for poverty crisis to work the other way? Can it make the populace to rise against their oppressors? Can the citizens sacrifice to liberate themselves from clutches of oppressors? Can they reject inducement and vote for the right leaders? Nothing is impossible. People of Osun state did just that in 2003.This may however be an exception to the rule.

I maintain that poverty may not just kill democracy but may even enthrone a dictatorship. I restate that our challenge now is not the structure of government; it is about the conditions of the citizenry and the leaders. Poverty stricken population cannot hold their leaders accountable. If leaders are not accountable, democracy is imperiled.

*Olawale Rasheed is an Abuja based media entrepreneur.

 

El-Rufai And Governance In Kaduna

By Muhammad Lawal Shehu Molash

I have been inundated with calls from most parts of the country, in connection with my present stand on El-Rufai’s government. On a personal note, I have been El-Rufai’s fan for almost two decades, to the extent that I read his “Accidental Public Servant” more than 50 times.

But in developed democracies, vibrant oppositions are welcomed to put the people in power under check. Eight months ago, I was an unrepentant supporter of El-Rufai. But not anymore. My position is hinged on the fact that certain things are wrong with the way governance has been reduced to. How come the official houses of the state House of Assembly members were sold cheaply and secretly without the Open Bidding System, as it was done in the case of the civil servants?

How come a government that was massively voted for to ensure that the rule of law prevails, will allow Sole Administrators as local government chairmen, when the constitution declared them Illegal? Is

it constitutionally right to refuse to conduct the local government elections on the vague excuse of waiting for some super machines from China? It seems the governor does not even trust the card reader that ushered him into the government. Why collect taxes on behalf of the local councils?

Why do you have to abolish the indigene-ship in Kaduna State and embark upon a “White Elephant ” venture called “Residency Card? Is Kaduna State more cosmopolitan than Lagos and Kano? The civil servants have had to contend with endless verification for about 18 times!

Perhaps, someone, somewhere is benefiting from this verification that has left over 20,000 workers without salaries for several months. In addition, no person that retired after 2015 has collected his gratuity. Another angle that I premised my opposition to Malam Nasiru El-Rufai, is the much hyped educational “Revolution” in Kaduna State, where the manpower aspect, arguably the most important, in any genuine “revolution ” has been neglected. It is a fact that a good teacher can impact knowledge to his students, even under tree shades.

But El-Rufai ignored all that and concentrated on painting classrooms that have 34,000 “deficits” of teachers. Meanwhile the teachers are daily being demoralized, debased, demotivated and rendered dysfunctional to carry out their functions.

The use of consultants in almost every sector in Kaduna State is one area I am not comfortable with. In any case, they mostly help in making a state governor to misapply public funds.

Furthermore, our party, the APC, is facing extinction owing to its non-conformity with the internal democracy mechanism, set in place by our revered leader, President Buhari. Pointer to this fact, emerged from the Kangaroo delegates elections and the recent charade, called endorsement. We should also be mindful of the fact that it is only in Kaduna State in whole of the North West that we have a former vice president, PDP national chairman and the only PDP Senator from the zone. The so-called achievements in employment is laced with fallacies.

Some VIOs, who are trained in vehicle administration, accident inspection etc, were dissolved to pave way to a revenue inspired agency, Kastelia.

Kaduna State has about 1500 health centres. But of the much celebrated 255 health centres, only six are completed after 2 years! The N10 billion spent on school feeding within eight months, should have been channelled into providing decent healthcare centres or complete the 300 bed specialist hospital started by Namadi Sambo. Kaduna State, with about 5 million people, has less than 200 Medical Doctors and the governor is celebrating the repainting of some PHCs that even fall below the minimum requirements of a standard primary health care centre.

Most of these centres do not even have common Malaria testing equipment.

In any democratic clime, human capital development is one of the major indicators of the success or failure of governance. But in a situation where a government is marketing poverty to its electorate and declaring them unfit to participate in rendering even the most elementary service like waste collection, is most unfortunate. A certain Yoruba lady has to be “imported” for that purpose.

Based on campaign promises, he’s performing below expectations, which is why I am disappointed with the quality of roads being churned out in the name of “infrastructural developments.” The roads cannot withstand two rainy seasons. In two years, not a single primary school teacher was employed.

Hundreds have either been sacked or frustrated into retirement. No provision of materials: Chalk, Registers, Broom, Cutlass and he is “committed to revamping education.”

In Kaduna, the running of a close circuit leadership which negates the tenets of democracy seems to be the order of the day. Of the six top appointments, the minister from Kaduna State is El-Rufai’s cousin, ambassador is his cousin, SSG is his close friend, Chief of staff is his close friend. Political Adviser is his very close friend. And they all come from Zaria, in addition to two commissioners, head of service and several Special Assistants, (SAs) and heads of parastatals. If anyone thinks that the above detailed explanation does not “ring a bell” then I rest my case.

– Molash is a member of the Kaduna Restoration Group and wrote in from Kaduna

After The Election, Germany’s Democracy Faces Its Hardest Test Since 1949

By Constanze Stelzenmuller

 

Germany, my country: It is a somber day for you, for me and for democrats across the West.

In Germany’s earthquake national elections, a radical right-wing party entered the federal legislature for the first time in more than half a century. Founded in 2013, Alternative for Germany (AfD) failed to pass the 5 percent threshold in that year’s elections. But it has now gained nearly 13 percent of the vote, becoming the third-largest force in the Bundestag, Germany’s parliament.

The governing parties of the current grand coalition — Chancellor Angela Merkel’s conservative Christian Democratic Union (CDU) and the Social Democratic Party (SPD) of her challenger Martin Schulz — were both brutally punished: Merkel was dealt her worst personal result at 33 percent; the CDU’s Bavarian sister party CSU and the SPD saw their worst-ever outcome since 1949. Small parties, meanwhile, benefited overall: The Liberals returned after a four-year hiatus at 10.7 percent, and the Greens as well as the Left Party at around 9 percent. Voter turnout, at 77 percent, was significantly higher than four years ago — but that did not help the democratic parties.

This is a caesura in German postwar history. In her fourth term, a weakened Merkel will have no other choice but to painfully forge an unprecedented, difficult three-way coalition between her CDU, the Liberals (FDP) and the Greens; the SPD has already ruled out another grand coalition. The Liberals have made it clear that they want a much more restrictive immigration policy and are skeptics on European Union integration — a blow to France’s young president, Emmanuel Macron, who had set his hopes on a renewed Paris-Berlin partnership to reinvigorate the E.U. The Greens’ leadership will be wrestling with a fierce fundamentalist left wing that would rather be waterboarded than compromise. So expect coalition negotiations to last until December at least — and an introverted, conflicted Germany that is barely present in international debates.

At the same time, this outcome sets up a fight for Merkel’s succession and a harsh power battle between her own camp of moderate modernizers and those in her party who want to chart a much more hard-edged conservative course. It will darken the tone of German political debate, polarize the country and possibly change the political party landscape forever. The future of social democracy in Europe is more in question than ever.

Yesterday’s vote in the country that for months was thought to be a firm bulwark against the populist wave will be seen as an encouragement by populist movements who lost traction in this year’s elections in the Netherlands and in France, as well as by the alt-right in the United States. The Kremlin, whose official and unofficial propaganda organs were vociferously promoting the AfD, must be beside itself with joy.

Let there be no doubt about it — the AfD is no alternative for any democrat. It is a party bent on disruption and destruction. It seeks to tear down my country’s postwar centrist consensus, its postwar commitment to atonement for World War II and the Holocaust, and reconciliation with their victims. Its program is nationalistic and xenophobic, anti-European integration, anti-NATO, anti-Western, anti-Muslim and overtly pro-Russian.

AfD’s leadership — once content with discreet dog-whistling signals to the extreme right, and with refusing to distance themselves from the party’s most Islamophobic and anti-Semitic elements — managed to nearly double the number of its supporters within a month with a ferociously aggressive, deliberately taboo-breaking campaign waged on all fronts. On social media, it developed a commanding presence (supported, it seems, in the final stretch by repurposed Russian bots). On the street, the AfD made sure to send jeering and howling protesters to each and every one of the chancellor’s appearances. In his first post-victory speech on national TV, party leader Alexander Gauland promised to “hunt down the government” and to “take back our country.”

My parents, who are now both dead, would have been horrified. My father, born in 1927, was drafted into the Wehrmacht at 16; my mother, born in 1933, was bombed out of Berlin as a child. They were part of a generation who despised the Nazis and rebuilt their country as a strong democracy so that it would never again succumb to totalitarian temptation. They would have been dismayed to recognize, in the language and the ideas of the AfD, deliberate references to Germany’s darkest age. I cringe with shame to think how Holocaust survivors, Jewish Germans and Muslims in Germany citizens must feel today.

And yet — it’s important to look at the exact reasons that people voted for the AfD. Germany has been spared major terrorist attacks, it boasts full employment and record surpluses; and the uncontrolled inflow of refugees has slowed to a trickle. But more than two-thirds of respondents in exit polls said they were concerned about terrorism, crime and immigration, showing that they remain worried about integrating the more than a million refugees that are likely to stay in Germany. Revealingly, two-thirds of AfD voters said they had cast their vote as an act of protest rather than as an act of conviction.

This, sadly, speaks volumes about the grand coalition’s — and, yes, Merkel’s — inability to speak to and calm ordinary Germans’ concerns about the ability of institutions and civil society to cope with historic challenges. The AfD pulled in 1.2 million new voters, half a million votes from the SPD and nearly a million from the CDU.

But it also shows the way out of this debacle.

The 94-strong party grouping of the AfD in the next legislature will contain many members with no experience even in local government. Its leadership has spent much of its four-year existence with vicious infighting. Experience with the AfD’s performance in the European parliament and 13 of 16 state legislatures has shown that it is mostly neither willing nor able to engage constructively on the business of legislation and governance.

Still, the fight is the democrats’ to lose. Politicians, media and civil society must learn to resist the AfD’s constant attempts to trigger them with polemics and distract them from solving problems. They must learn to fight the enemies of democracy on issues, not on slogans; on merits, not on morals. And they need to address the concerns that drove nearly 13 percent of German voters into the arms of a radical right-wing party — but not by adopting its positions. This has to be the end of the sleepwalking complacency that has so often irritated even our friends.

Without a doubt, this is the hardest test for German democracy in my lifetime, perhaps of the republic’s postwar history. It will take a huge effort, but I believe our institutions and our civil society are strong enough. We owe it to ourselves, to our neighbors and allies, and to fellow democrats worldwide.

Source: The Washington Post

A Bleeding Democracy

When the new dispensation that heralded the fourth Republic of Nigeria’s democratic era came in 1999, not a few persons were expectant of speed of economic recovery and democratic dividends. Nigerians thought they were already in their halcyon days since the protracted military rule of 16 years of political oppression, economic depression, and social repression had finally collapsed.

The three major political parties of the day all came up with slogans that inspired hope and confidence in the country. People’s Democratic Party (PDP) brandished ‘power to the people’ All People’s Party(APP) swanked ‘one Nigeria’ while Alliance for Democracy (AD) flaunted ‘justice, peace and progress.’
The youth who bore the greater brunt of military brutality and crudity wholeheartedly embraced the development. There were before now remonstrations and demonstrations across the nation’s Ivory Towers against continued military dictatorship.

Although the democratic ethos of the Western world was still sketchy in our climb the tragedies which followed avoidable carnage especially in the Northern part of Nigeria evoked elements of pathos in those early days of our democratic experience. There appears to be no respite since.

 

The intention here is not to disparage our democracy, though many would prefer to call it a civil rule. It is not only baleful, there is also a handful of noticeably marked differences in the policy. For instance, there is a reasonable press freedom. Liberalisation of the economy, deregulation of the telecommunications sector, new salary structure for civil servants, the war against corruption and others are some of the gains.

Whatever Nigerians thought were dividends to consolidate were later overshadowed by both unimaginable physical and economic insecurity. It was during this time that Alhaji Ahmed Sani Yerima the then governor of Zamfara State smuggled the Sharia legal system into the country in February 2000. This was done in utter disregard of the Constitution which entrenches the secularity of the nation. It posed a serious threat to the corporate existence of the country, but surprisingly, its allure, like a devastating tsunami spread to the extent that 12 northern states fully embraced it while others had restrictive application. The development led to widespread riots in Kano, Kaduna, Niger, Taraba states and others, resulting in great fatalities.

With the introduction of Sharia, the consciousness of fundamentalism was already aroused among the peasant majority Muslims. Moved by the spirit of the time the late Mohammed Yusuf galvanised youths in Borno State and ensured electoral victory for the then governor of Borno State, Ali Modu Sheriff, but after a while, he could no longer enjoy the patronage of the incumbent. Things started going awry as they became antagonistic to the government of the day and events gradually snowballed into what is now known as the dreaded Boko Haram sect. The story of Boko Haram’s blaze of basilisk wantonness which has left many people dead, displaced, orphaned, widowed and destitute is reserved for another day. But what is shocking is the recent revelation by the governor of Borno State, Kashim Shettima, that over a hundred thousand people have been killed by the sect while about two million have been displaced and that the cost of the destruction is estimated at $6 billion.

While the North has its own contributions to our harrowing democratic experience, the South particularly the South –South has its own share. The boys who were used and dumped by politicians after procuring their victories, bounced back to express their grievances with a massive attack on oil infrastructure, militancy and kidnapping.

Today, the impact of their activities can be felt when one considers the statement made by the Group Managing Director, Nigerian National Petroleum (NNPC), Mr. Maikanti Baru, that the government lost up to seven billion dollars (N2.1trillion) in 2016 due to militancy. This excludes deaths, personal losses and pollution arising from oil spillage from numerous bombing of oil facilities and the general insecurity in the area.

Also, our electoral process has been bedeviled by the flagrant travesty of the process. Heavy militarization of elections does not prevent the callous destruction of lives and property. According to a post election report by Centre for Democracy and Development, more than a hundred people were killed during the 2015 election alone. And this has continued to be our lot from the inception of this republic.

 

Apart from these sanguinary tales that have always trailed this expensive democratic sojourn, there is apparent profligacy and malfeasance in official conduct of business.The fourth republic has continued to parade a congeries of self-serving and greedy leaders whose only reasons for being in power is to cart away public resources for personal aggrandizement. Nigerian political office holders are reputed to be the highest earners in the world while the civil servants are among the lowest paid. Our dilapidated social infrastructures stare at us menacingly, crying for attention. Today, many things may be on our governors’ priority list but certainly not the civil servants, and the pensioners’ salaries. Many have met their untimely death while others are languishing in sundry deplorable conditions.

We cannot continue to pretend that all is well, with military personnel being deployed in 30 out of 35 states amid various agitations and growing tensions in the land. There are palpable discontent and visible ominous signs in the air and this calls for a convocation of all stakeholders to redefine our continued corporate existence as Nigerians.

 

 

Source: The Guardian

Eighteen Years of Threatened Democracy By Alabi Williams

The Guardian 
 Opinion

Opinion | Columnists
Eighteen years of threatened democracy
By Alabi Williams | 04 June 2017 | 4:14 am

Alabi Williams

After 18 years of democracy, we do not need to search very far to know how well the journey has fared. The glaring evidence of how troubled it has been is the very fact that we are still discussing the idea of a coup, no matter how embryonic and remote it may have been. That some people still nurse nostalgia for the salvation procurable via coups suggests that this democracy is not offering what it was programmed to deliver. There is sufficient amount of desperation that triggers a search for alternatives. Unfortunately, the one ready alternative people tucked somewhere in their psyche, is the military, with capacity to obliterate the present nonsense and begin afresh. Very tempting.

But many have rushed out to condemn the thought of a coup because of very ugly past experiences. The military has so debased itself that its original messianic capacity has been squandered. At the point it was forced to exit from civil governance, the military had transformed into a rampaging occupation force, abusing rights of citizens and stealing their money.

That was why in the twilight years of Gen. Sani Abacha, a global outrage was triggered to compel the military to return power to the people. As it was, it became the privilege of Gen Abdulsalami Abubakar to see that happen in 1998/99. It was a staggered process to quickly exit those horrifying days. Perhaps, that was when appropriate quality controls were not put in place to ensure a deepening of the systems. Remember that prior to 1999, the last time there were serious political formations was between 1979 and 1983. That was when our heroes past, professionals in party politics, men who participated in the struggle to attain independence and were the dramatis personae of the first republic, returned for a last effort at consolidating party supremacy. Unfortunately, all their experiences put together could not rescue the second republic.

After that, it was a long process of trial and error, with soldiers tampering with core values of party systems. First, it was General Ibrahim Babangida, who toyed with the idea of decreeing parties into existence. His two political parties, Social Democratic Party (SDP) and National Republican Party (NRC) were programmed to fail, because IBB never wanted to transfer democratic powers to politicians. He was too enamoured of awesome state powers to let go. He dribbled Gen Shehu Musa Yar’Adua and exhausted the man. Yar’Adua was later to be picked by Abacha, and liquidated. IBB then picked MKO Abiola and had him thoroughly dishevelled. He too was handed to Abacha for final winding up.

In between the two Generals, the party system was humdrum and lacked direction. Whereas there was an assemblage of eggheads to nurture a transition system, what took place was a calculated freeze to create suspense and kill reality. It was Kafkaesque at its best, because IBB was a master in power and mind game. So, many serious minded politicians stayed away. The ones who operated were jobbers and military apologists who didn’t have anywhere else to go. They were the leproused hands that were to crown Abacha with lifelong powers, like those of late Kamuzu Banda. But fate played tricks on them.

Come 1998, therefore, there were not too many good people around. Abdulsalami was left with little choice but to groom some people. Meanwhile, there were no good political parties to fall back on. A new template was rolled out and the requirements not very lenient. But that was not the issue. It was an emergency transition. So, political associations formed and three parties emerged.

Power was handed to former military head of state, Gen Obasanjo, after his party, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) came first in that first election. After that, the military left the scene, supposedly. From there, the so-called democratic leadership was tasked with responsibility to grow the new system, deepen party structures and allow constitutional checks and balances to dictate the running of the process.

Eighteen years after, we have seen all sorts. First, budgets do not work. Whereas military budgets are read on January 1, every year, civilian budgets are tossed back and forth between the executive and legislature for many months. In between those months, the economy is left miserable. While that exchange of budgetary debates was designed by owners of the presidential system of government to carry everybody along for purposes of accountability and transparency, what we have in Nigeria does not inspire any confidence. There is still no transparency of any sort. Even the All Progressives Congress (APC) that promised transparency went to town in 2016 with the most padded budget in the history of this dispensation. As we speak, in June 2017, budget 2017 is yet to be signed into law. These frustrating trammels of democracy help to nourish nostalgic feelings about military rule.

While military regimes are trim and less expensive, the presidential system is full of baggage. It is costly and less efficient. The three arms of government share the budget, with the executive having lion share. More than 70 percent of that of the executive is used to service government. The remaining that is supposed to drive infrastructure is too little to make Nigerians feel there is a government in place. As little as it is, that sum, most times does not leave government coffers. It idles away because the distance between the Central Bank, Finance Ministry and Budget Office is made deliberately cumbersome, so that nothing happens.

The Judiciary that is supposed to instill fear and restraint in the other arms is starved of funds and made impotent. To enjoy better life like their counterparts in the other arms, judicial officers are ensnared in filthy sums dangled at election tribunals. They become complacent and cheap, without bite. Democracy is threatened, when election matters are deliberately programmed for the courts, where politicians may influence outcomes with huge sums. The playing field is skewed to make the Judiciary appear lower than other arms and subservient. But that was not how the original owners of the system planned it. But here, the executives are too powerful. The system kills democracy, just as it did during military rule.

The legislature, powerful and lacking in patriotic acts, is the most troublesome. Many who were elected into Houses of Assembly in states and federal in 1999 had no idea what they were going for. They were never groomed, but once they saw the resources available there, they became entrenched, cult like. Whereas the parliament of a nation can turn its fortunes around, the Nigerian legislature has specialised in grooming a political class united by resources. You cannot rely on them to transform the economy, which is why they are now proposing another petroleum tax to fleece Nigerians. Instead of reducing from their allowances to make sums available to build roads, they are going for the easy way out. They want to transfer the burden to hapless Nigerians.

There is no synergy among the three arms of this democratic system to frog-jump Nigeria into serious action. There is no vision and there is no patriotism. If you are fair enough, if you look up north, south, west and east, there is despair. That is why some are afraid that soldiers are warming up to sack this system.

I still think we can salvage this system. But people have to open their minds and stop being ethnic champions. The lean resources available can no longer service a presidential system that is consumption driven. We are very close to that time, when men of good will should show Nigeria some mercy. It is time to begin with simple forms of restructuring, beginning with a more manageable and result oriented parliament. The one we have now is too large and wasteful.

If we must run a federal system, since some are afraid of returning to regions, states must be encouraged to earn their own resources and pay taxes to Abuja. Let there be substantial decentralisation of responsibilities and obligations. Let democratic institutions be freed from federal stranglehold.

If those who have capacity to effect changes refuse, the very monster we are all running away from will be waiting ahead for us, willy-nilly.

The Road We Should Not Have Taken By Dan Agbese

When life in the present tense becomes difficult or outright a hard scrabble, it is both easy and tempting to wallow in the somnolence of nostalgia. And romanticise the past as the golden period of our national history. But it is difficult not to look back against the advice of the late Lt-Col Emeka Odumegwu Ojukwu who said that if the almighty wanted us to look back, it would not have been beyond him to provide us with a pair of eyes in the back of our heads. This from an Oxford trained historian.

The business of history is to hold the mirror to the present tense of life and force us to see the footprints of the doers and thinkers who were here and who are, God being so kind, now lapping it up in the luxuries of the Eternal City up in the clouds. We must look into the past, not as a mirror but as a source of inspiration as we negotiate the tortuous bends of the paradigms of development.

However, our willingness or even our capacity to peep into the past runs against a formidable granite wall called military propaganda. The propaganda advises us against looking back to two important periods of our national history divided between military incursions. I refer to the First Republic, which lasted from October 1, 960 to January 15, 1966; and the Second Republic that lasted from October 1, 1979 to December 31, 1983.

Military propaganda tells us it would be foolish to be nostalgic about them. They are periods best forgotten, according to the military propaganda, because our leaders in each of those periods led us down the wrong path and thus forced the military to intervene to turn our nation back from the way to Golgotha.
This propaganda has been positively detrimental to our developmental health as a nation. When a nation swings between the good and the bad with no grey areas in between, it leads to a pronounced disconnect between the past and the present. You could not connect military doers and thinkers with civilian doers and thinkers because you would be mixing saints with sinners, for which, heaven forfend. Something is bound to give.

What gives in this case is our inability to marry the good in the military with the good in the civilian regime. This, for me, partially explains why our nation is in a perpetual swing, unable to hold on to a development paradigm deemed by thinkers to change our fortunes and free us, for instance, from our current total dependence on crude oil earnings at all levels of government. The easy money stifles creativity, hence the lack or the poorly internally generated revenue in the states. I am sure you do notice the number of abandoned projects throughout the country. Projects begun by a civilian regime are abandoned by the succeeding military regime. And, of course, projects began by one civilian governor is abandoned by his fellow civilian successor.

Someone once estimated the cost of the abandoned projects down the length and breadth of the country at five trillion Naira. This, of course, is a chicken feed in an oil rich nation. Yes, Nigerian chickens are unwisely given to gluttony. But beyond the loss of money to the public that these abandoned projects represent are the loss of hope and the despair they inflict on the people.

This is not likely to change so long as we accept that the past is a burden on the present. Why drag a burden along when, with your signature, contractors can help you embark a new set of projects destined to be abandoned sooner than later? We hail our country, as indeed, our national anthem obligates us to do.

I give three instances of pragmatic civilian thinkers in response to either the problems they confronted or as a means of giving the nation a leg up in focused development. I draw my three instances from the Second Republic, sadly tarred and feathered by military propaganda.

Today we face a housing crisis throughout the country. The sight of fellow Nigerians sleeping under bridges and uncompleted buildings in our towns and cities could be pleasing only to sadists. President Shehu Shagari saw it coming. He initiated a low cost housing project in each of the then 19 states. It was a proper and pragmatic response to what would likely give rise to a national scandal. Sadly, it was politicised. The late Chief Bola Ige, governor of old Oyo State, would not even give the president land in the state for the project. The triumph of politics has never been, and never will be, healthy for national development.

These houses were completed in some of the states but they were abandoned in many other states. The military never even bothered to give a thought to reviving and sustaining the housing projects. They most certainly accounted the housing projects as an act of folly or corruption by the civilian regime. I say no more.

Go-slow was a major problem in the Lagos metropolis in the seventies. It is not as bad now but still bad enough. Governors before Alhaji Lateef Jakande had tried all sort of solutions, including park-and-ride and even numbers and odd numbers, all of which made no discernable impression on the traffic bottleneck in the city. Alhaji Jakande, the action governor of Lagos State in the Second Republic, thought hard about this and came up with a novel idea to address the worsening traffic congestion. His preferred solution was an underground railway system. He borrowed a leaf or two from other major cities in the world such as London and New York that show the wisdom of an underground rail system.

An underground rail system is cheap and fast. Jakande contracted a French company to build the underground rail system. The company was hard at work on it when the military abandoned the barracks once more for the government house. The first thing the new military governor, Group Captain Mudashiru did was to cancel the project. Why sustain a well-thought out project such as this conceived by a civilian governor?

Then come with me to my state, Benue. Mr. Aper Aku, was our governor in the Second Republic. Let me add that I served that government for 17 months. But this is not about romanticising the past. I am telling it as it was.

The Tiv area of Benue State is the largest producer of soya beans in the country. Much of it was exported or sold in other parts of the country with minimal earning for the farmers. Aku decided it would be more helpful to the farmers and the internally-generated revenue of the state if he turned the soya bean into raw materials for an agro-industry. The state government went into partnership with a Swiss company, I believe, and set up the Taraku Oil Mills. It was a very good agro-industrial project. The soya beans farmers had a good and ready market. It encouraged them to produce more and earn more money.

Again, the succeeding military government accounted it a foolish act. The Oil Mill has since been abandoned. The farmers lost; the state lost and the hundreds of distributors and transporters of the product lost. It closed the door to other possible agro-industrial projects using readily available raw materials in the state.

I have given these three examples to show that the colours of the clothes we wear have nothing to do with wisdom or foolishness. Thinking, pragmatic thinking, is a function of the grey matter, not the rustling of khaki or agbada. Let me add, on a final note, that a disconnect between the past and the present is no way to build or develop a country. It is a wrong road and one we should not have taken.