Nigeria’s journey to independence came to fruition when on October 1, 1960 the British colonialists granted her request to be independent. Since then, the country’s development has been described by many from different perspectives all through the emergent Republics and actions of politicians.
On the whole, rather than see the country’s existence to date as development, many prefer to view it as mere “moving on”, because, as they are wont to put it, “there’s nothing tangible to show for it, only suffering”. To what extent this is true, is dependent on who says it. A cursory look at Nigeria’s political history puts a lot of what the country is going through under perspective.
At independence, or on attainment of the First Republic, the dominant political parties were Northern People’s Congress (NPC), led by Sir Ahmadu Bello, National Council of Nigerians and Camerouns (NCNC), under the leadership of Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe, Action Group (AG) led by Obafemi Awolowo and Northern Elements Progressive Union (NEPU), with Malam Aminu Kano as its figure-head.
These parties were in control of their regions and areas of dominance. For instance, the Ahmadu Bello-led NPC was in firm control of the North, save for areas controlled by Aminu Kano’s NEPU. It is the same way that Azikiwe’s NCNC held sway in the Eastern part of the country, while Awolowo’s AG was in charge of the Western Region.
Some of the parties did well for their regions in such areas as infrastructure, education, and commerce. It is important to note here, for instance, that the benefit of Awolowo’s free education policy for the people of the old Western Region is still being reaped till date. The reason is that the people of the region embraced the policy and sent their children abroad to be educated. The result is that currently in Nigeria, the South West Zone has the highest number of educated people.
Awolowo also used proceeds from the sale of cocoa, which his region had in abundance, to build the first television station in Africa and the famous Cocoa House in Ibadan.
One notable snag in the politics of the period was the inability of the political parties to embrace unity and avoid electoral violence. This led to the first military coup of January 15, 1966: a group of young officers led by Major Chukwuma Kaduna Nzeogu toppled the government of Tafawa Balewa, who was Prime Minister, while Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe was President in the parliamentary government the country operated at independence. Following the coup, Major-General Aguiyi Ironsi became the first military Head of State.
Ironsi’s rule was cut short as it lasted for only six months, following a counter-coup staged by mostly officers from the North who believed that the first coup was one sided in favour of the South-East.
A young Colonel Yakubu Gowon was then elevated to the rank of General and became the second military ruler of Nigeria. He remained in power until August 27, 1975 when he was overthrown by another group of officers led by General Murtala Mohammed.
General Mohammed’s reign was short-lived as he was assassinated in another bloody coup. But the coup was aborted and Murtala Mohammed’s second in command, General Olusegun Obasanjo took over the reins of leadership and continued with the transition programme initiated by his predecessor in 1976. The transition was to put in place a civilian government in 1979, and also move the nation’s capital to Abuja.
Obasanjo successfully implemented the return to civil rule in October, 1979, which led to the emergence of the Second Republic, with an initial five political parties being registered: National Party of Nigeria (NPN), Nigerian People’s Party (NPP), Unity Party of Nigeria (UPN), Great Nigeria People’s Party (GNPP), People’s Redemption Party (PRP), and later Nigeria Advanced Party (NAP).
The NPN emerged as the ruling party after the elections with Alhaji Shehu Shagari becoming the first Executive President to be elected under the Federal Republic. This period witnessed some level of stability following the alliance of the NPN and NPP in a government of national unity. Although this alliance packed up later, the NPN still won in the 1983 elections. But no sooner had NPN won than the military struck again, this time under the leadership of General Muhammadu Buhari. The coup brought General Muhammadu Buhari to power on December 31, 1983.
Buhari’s government was toppled in another coup led by Brigadier Sani Abacha, which brought in General Ibrahim Badamosi Babangia (popularly called IBB) in August 1985 as Head of State.
One major innovation Babangida brought in his tenure was to change from multi-party system to two-party system with the Social Democratic Party (SDP) and National Republican Convention (NRC) setting the motion for the Third Republic.
The subsequent election that resulted from Babangida’s transition programme in 1993, though adjudged the “freest and fairest” elections Nigeria ever had, was annulled for reasons best known to the government then. The presumed winner of the elction, Chief Moshood Abiola, popularly called MKO Abiola, was not inaugurated as President.
Shortly after, the military set in motion another return to civil rule, following which the PDP won the 1999 elections to commence the present Fourth Republic, which set the record as the first time a civilian government handed over power to another civilian government.
So far, President Olusegun Obasanjo, who emerged the President of the Fourth Republic, had served two tenures of four years each and there had been Umaru Musa Yar’Adua, Goodluck Jonathan, and currently, Buhari.
In analysing the country’s political growth since independence, political analysts are of the opinion that what all the political parties in power seem to lack is ideology.
Two scholars stand out in this instance: Dr. Emmanuel Onah and Dr. Ferdinand Ottoh, both of the Department of Political Science, University of Lagos.
According to them, “the political parties have no ideologies. They do not have a guiding principle to run their affairs”.
Otto, for one, is of the belief that it is this lack of ideology by political parties that has played out in the recent massive defections from one party to another.
“If we have ideology-based parties, it will be difficult for politicians to leave their parties for another. Instead, members would remain in their parties to remedy any challenge or problem to make the party stronger.
“The defections are for selfish reasons, and what we are witnessing is not healthy for our democracy. Some politicians, unfortunately work to satisfy their selfish interests”, he said.
On his part, Onah said multi-party system is good, but having 90 parties to contest an election is outrageous.
According to him, “it makes the system uninteresting because the big parties will certainly swallow the small ones. I think it is better to have two or three strong parties that should have strong national base and ethnic or religious influence”, he said.
This level of selfishness has no doubt transcended to all facets of the country’s being, so much that every other consideration seems to supersede the show of patriotism to the nation, which is the essence of governance.
In looking at economic development, Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria, Godwin Emefiele, while stating the importance of budget in the economic life of a nation, was quoted by Observer in 2015 as seeing budget in the light of it being “the roadmap to our future. It outlines government revenue and expenditure for a given fiscal year”.
From the perspective of the layman, the budget is what guides a government in what money is available, what amount should be spent in what sector, and at the end of the total amount what is earmarked as expendi-ture? This means that care would be taken to plan and execute it. Anything less is likely to spell doom for a country. The question therefore is how has Nigeria fared in this wise?
An idea of the answer to this question can be imagined from the experience of 2017 in Nigeria: Acting President, Yemi Osinbajo signed the nation’s Appropriations Bill into Law on June 12 in 2017. This was well over five months into the 2017 financial year. What this means is that for over five months, the government was spending funds that were not appropriated.
Interestingly, this misnomer is not new to Nigerians, even as it runs contrary to the dynamics of modern development which weighs heavily on effective planning and management of resources in the attainment of development objectives. This no longer happens in developed climes.
In fact, in most developed countries, the time span from the start of the preparation of budget proposals by Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs) to the enactment of the Appropriations Act before the beginning of the financial year takes at least 12 months and there are defined time limits for each of the milestones in the budget process. This is currently not the case in Nigeria. The result is that monies are often spent at will, and later “retired”.
What this means is that, unlike budgeting in the private sector, which relies on free-flow of information between consumers and producers, with price signals reflect consumer preferences, customer satisfaction, and supplier costs and producer performance, while competition eliminates poor performers and shifts resources to those entities that improve efficiency and elevate utility, in the public sector, governments generally use past funding levels to determine future resource allocation.
In doing so, they virtually do not consider reflecting on preferences, satisfaction, or performance of the previous budget. This has no doubt given room to avoidable profligacy, and encouraged corruption, which seem to be the only truly developing phenomena in the country.
To counter this trend, and hence be seen serious in developing its economy, Nigeria needs to, among other things, adopt Performance-Based Budgeting to checkmate unnecessary and unwarranted spending.
Religion in Nigeria’s political space has always been with the country right from its inception as a nation in 1960 when the British colonialists handed power to Muslims.
In their paper titled, “Religion in Nigerian Political Space: Implication for Sustainable National Development”, Ntamu, G. U. , Abia O. T. , Edinyang, S. D. , and Eneji, Chris-Valentine Ogar captured it thus:
”Given the philosophy of Islam as a complete way of life for Muslims, Islam has always been closely attached to politics in Nigeria, especially in the Muslim dominated north. As alluded above, the British government duly recognised this fact in their dealings with the northern Islamic societies and explored it to legitimise their colonial rule in the region.
“Oyegbile and Abdulrafiu, (2009) observed that after the 1914 amalgamation of Nigeria and emergence of indigenous national politics, Islam has effectively represented a source of ethnic identity, group unity, political mobilisation, de-mobilisation, regime legitimisation and de-legitimisation in the country.
“As a result of this, the northern Hausa-Fulani therefore see themselves as the off-springs of the Sheikh Uthman Dan Fodio, representing the epitome of the Islamic holy Jihad and a product of an enviable Islamic socio-cultural history.
“Based on this, the popular Hausa-Fulani Muslim cleric, Sheikh Abubakar Gumi, asserted that Islam has a cultural and religious affinity with its members, thereby providing ‘many common cultural elements’ that united the people of the region who become adherents together (Human Rights Watch, 2005, Ihedirika, 2011 and Okune, 2011) thereby empowering them to be politically cohesive and formidable and using same for political mobilisation.
“It is however popularly held that the north were absolutely been held in contempt because of its unique historical, religious, cultural and political antecedents (Akaeze, 2009). Thus, Islam has since been conceived to be synonymous with the North in the political matrix of the entity called Nigeria”.
The result is that this has set the pace for religious politics in the country. The fact that political parties are still formed based on religious (geographical) divides, and efforts are still being made deliberately to balance positions within political parties along religious divide only confirms religious politics in Nigeria. Another way to note this is deciphering the origins of most top government functionaries.
Religious politics has in Nigeria’s 58 years proven to be a key factor of under-development as it encourages people being appointed to positions of trust just for the reason of them being of the same religion as the President, without recourse to their competence. It has also comes to play in political leanings in which incompetent persons are handed positions for which they have little understanding of.
The late playwright, Chinua Achebe summed it up in his book, “The Trouble with Nigeria”, when he said the county’s problem “is simply and squarely a failure of leadership. There is nothing basically wrong with the Nigerian character. There is nothing wrong with the Nigerian land, climate, water, air, or anything else. The Nigerian problem is the unwillingness or inability of its leaders to rise to their responsibility, to the challenge of personal example, which is the hallmark of true leadership”.
Consequently, the state of Nigeria’s pitiable socio-economic development has been a direct consequence of the actions and inactions of the leadership class that has managed the affairs and wealth of the country since independence. The result is that at 58, Nigeria is still yet to find her fit as the acclaimed “Giant of Africa”.
The situation is such that the numerous achievements of Nigerians the world over are greatly dwarfed by the bigger picture of the country, even as countries still respect individuals who have genuinely excelled in their fields of endeavour.
As Nigerians mark 58 years of nationhood, therefore, one key factor that should never cease to bother their leaders is how the country can truly allow the Rule of Law to take its rightful place: How can Separation of Powers be made functional? And, when shall the people truly enjoy their resources?
These are the banes of Nigeria’s development.
Nigeria’s Economy: More Pains, Less Gains
There is no gainsaying the fact that Nigeria has come of age, having attained political independence for six decades. In spite of its numerous challenges ranging from socio-economic to infrastructural deficit, insecurity and endemic corruption, Nigeria remains Africa’s big brother and and an important member of the world body – the United Nations.
Beside being the largest economy in Africa and the 27th in the world in terms of nominal Gross Domestic Product (GDP), Nigeria has the 6th largest gas reserves and the 8th largest crude oil reserves in the world. It is rich in commercial quantities with about 37 types of solid mineral and has a population of over 200 million people. In addition, the debt-to-GDP ratio is 16.075 percent as of 2019.
Yet, the Nigerian economy has grossly underperformed in comparison to its enormous resource endowment and its peer nations. In the 1970s, the emerging Asian countries like Thailand, Malaysia, China, India and Indonesia were far behind Nigeria in terms of GDP per capital. Today, these countries have transformed their economies and are not only miles ahead of Nigeria, but are also major players in the global economy.
In April last year, Nigeria was rated the poverty capital of the world, with 91.51 million people living in extreme poverty. Only recently too, Nigeria’s Country Director of Oxfam International, Constant Tchona, revealed in Abuja that 94.48 million Nigerians live below N684 per day, meaning they are living below poverty level. This also means that 25 percent of the world’s extremely poor will be living in Nigeria by 2030. In this circumstance, it is difficult for the country to meet the Sustainable Development Goals set by the United Nations.
This is not a good testimonial for a country that prides itself as the giant of Africa and the 27th largest economy in the world.
How Nigeria came about this ugly narrative has remained a disturbing paradox of a nation.
In the closing days of Nigeria’s independence, things seemed to be well arranged for a new country to take off. The lands and rivers were in their pristine state – virgin, lush and sumptuous, to guarantee a rich harvest for the farming and fishing population which then constituted 80 percent of the native population. The weather was generally good and the people were energetic and hardworking.
We have gold in Ilesha, cocoa in the South-West, palm oil in the East and groundnut pyramid in Jos, which sustained the economy and earned the country good revenue as a net exporter of agricultural produce. As a bonus, the nation found oil in Oloibiri, in the present-day Bayelsa State, which made the story sweeter and the future rosier.
Initially, the agricultural sector, driven by the demand for food and cash crops production was the centre of the growth process, contributing 54.7% to the GDP during the 1960s. The second decade of independence saw the emergence of the oil industry as the main driver of growth.
As the nation began to produce oil in commercial quantity, Nigeria abandoned its agrarian economy and embraced an economy driven by oil. Oil thus became the mainstay of the nation’s economy. Since then, government expenditure has become dependent on oil revenues, more or less dictating the pace of the economic growth. Paradoxically, the oil boom turns out to be the bane of the country’s development till date.
Since independence, economic policies have not been in short supply. Successive governments have, since 1960, pursued the goal of structural changes without much success. There was the First National Development Plan between 1962 and 1968, the Second Development Plan (1970-1974), the Third Development Plan (1975-1980) and the Fourth National Development Plan (1981-1985).
We also had Operation Feed the Nation during General Olusegun Obasanjo’s military regime, Green Revolution under President Sheu Shagari, Structural Adjustment Programme (SAP) under President Ibrahim Badamosi Babangida, the National Economic Empowerment Development Strategy (NEEDS) under President Olusegun Obasanjo, as well Nigeria’s Vision 2010 and Vision 2020. All these plans and programmes are geared towards breathing life into the nation’s economy, by reducing dependence on oil, diversifying the economy, generating employment, and creating a globally competitive and stable economy.
The purpose of the NEEDS, for instance, was to raise the country’s standard of living through a variety of reforms, including macroeconomic stability, deregulation, liberalization, privatization, transparency and accountability.
It was also intended to create seven million new jobs, diversify the economy, boost non-energy exports, increase industrial capacity utilization, and improve agricultural productivity. The initiative was meant to be replicated at the state level known as the State Economic Empowerment Development Strategy (SEEDS). But the programme, like many others before and after it, didn’t succeed much due to various factors ranging from insincerity on the part of its drivers, policy inconsistency and somersaults and lack of continuation by successive governments.
However, the transformation in telecommunications sector stands out as the most successful reform in 60 years. Many sectors of the economy have leveraged on this transformation to make significant progress in the use of information and technology in the service sector of the economy. This has enhanced service delivery although it is prone to impairment by frauds and corruption. Sadly, the corruptive activities of fraudsters in the banking industry have made the telecoms transformation unsatisfactory. Moreover, the poor quality of service, the high cost of doing business and multiple taxation, unrest and banditry are sources of concern to investors.
Generally, the major factors accounting for the relative decline of the country’s economic fortunes in spite of these lofty policies, are easily identifiable as political instability, lack of focused and visionary leadership, economic mismanagement and corruption. Weak infrastructure and weak institutions also pose threat to the nation’s economy, just as power supply remains a major burden on businesses.
Prolonged period of military rule stifled economic and social progress, particularly in the three decades of 1970s to 1990s. However, since 1999, the country has returned to the path of civil democratic governance and has sustained uninterrupted democratic rule for a period of 21 years. But have things changed? Maybe; maybe not.
No doubt, economic growth has risen substantially over the last decade, with annual average of 7.4%. But the growth has not been inclusive, broad-based and transformational. This implies that economic growth in Nigeria has not resulted in the desired structural changes that would make manufacturing the engine room of development and induce poverty alleviation.
Even though economic statistics shows that the non oil and gas sector accounts for 90.9 percent of the GDP while oil and gas accounts for 9.1 percent, the paradox is that the oil sector accounts for over 50 percent of the nation’s revenue more than 80 percent of its foreign exchange earnings. This reflects the imbalance in the economy since independence and also underscores the declining productivity in oil and gas for the past 60 years.
The lack of political will to restructure the oil and gas sector remains a major drawback to Nigeria’s economic growth and prosperity. It is this lack of reform, restructuring and planning that is the bane of the nation’s economic backwardness so far. It makes the Nigerian economy vulnerable to external shocks owing to its weakness in economic inclusion.
Although oil revenues contribute two-thirds of state revenues, oil only contributes about 9.1% to the GDP. This means that oil remains a small part of the country’s overall economy.
The fall in oil prices since 2015 has further weakened Nigeria’s economic base. The country experienced economic recession for the part of 2016 and 2017. The period witnessed serious devaluation of the Naira with high inflation throwing ordinary Nigerians off-balance and the private sector groaning in excruciating pain.
One sector Nigeria has failed to develop maximally over the years is agriculture.
Nigeria ranks sixth worldwide and first in Africa in farm output. The sector accounts for about 18% of GDP and almost one-third of employment.
However, the largely subsistence agricultural sector has not kept up with Nigeria’s rapid population growth. The sector suffers from extremely low productivity, reflecting reliance on antiquated methods, thus making Nigeria, once a large net exporter of food, to now import some of its food products.
However, the present administration under President Muhammadu Buhari, through prioritisation of local agricultural production and ban on importation of foreign food items, is making efforts towards making the country food sufficient again. Mechanization is now gradually leading to a resurgence in manufacturing and exporting of food products, and the move towards food sufficiency.
Other sectors which could have helped the nation’s economy such as tourism and mining suffer from the country’s poor electricity, roads and potable water.
For instance, the mining of minerals in Nigeria accounts for only 0.3% of its GDP, due to the influence of its vast oil resources. The domestic mining industry is underdeveloped, leading to Nigeria having to import minerals that it could produce domestically, such as salt or iron ore.
It will be recalled that organized mining began in 1903 when the Mineral Survey of the Northern Protectorates was created by the British colonial government. A year later, the Mineral Survey of the Southern Protectorates was founded. By the 1940s, Nigeria was a major producer of tin , columbite, and coal .
Iron and steel sector in particular, received priority attention in the 1980s. For instance, iron and steel industry was established in the nation’s bold march towards industrialisation. It will be recalled that about one billion Naira at that time was allocated to this sector in the Third National Development Plan.
Considering the increasing demand for steel, the availability of iron ore and coal in the country and the importance of steel industry to rapid industrialisation, the Federal Government established iron ore and steel plant in the country. A steel authority was also created which gave birth to three organisation – the National Steel Council, the Ajaokuta Steel Company Limited and the Associated Ores Mining Company Limited. In addition, the Delta Steel Company was established in Aladja, Warri, Delta State. Contracts were also signed for the establishment of three rolling mills at Osogbo, Jos and Katsina.
The concentration on oil resources, however, hurt the mineral extraction industries, as both government and industry began to focus on oil resources. The Nigerian Civil War in the late 1960s did not help matters either as many expatriate mining experts left the country.
The Nigerian economy further suffers from an ongoing supply crisis in the power sector. Despite Nigeria’s oil and gas potentials, power supply difficulties are frequently experienced by residents.
Private sector-led economic growth remains stymied by epileptic power supply leading to the high cost of doing business in Nigeria. This is in addition to the need to duplicate essential infrastructure, the lack of effective due process, and non-transparent economic decision making, especially in government contracting.
In all of these, the ordinary Nigerian bears the brunt of economic hardship. For example, the pump price of Premium Motor Spirit (PMS) which was N87 in the run-up to the 2015 general elections has increased to N160 despite the fall in oil price. The Federal Government attributed this steady increase since June this year to removal of fuel subsidy.
In the same vein, electricity tariff has jumped up by 100 percent, despite epileptic power supply in the country. Just four days ago, a nationwide strike called by the organised labour in protest against the increase in electricity tariff was averted due to the suspension of the new tariff by the Federal Government.
In all, Nigeria’s recent economic indicator showed that its GDP in real terms declined by 6.10% (year-on-year) in Q2 2020, thereby ending the three-year trend of low but positive real growth rates recorded since the 2016/17 recession.
This is according to the second quarter (Q2) GDP report, released by the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS).
According to the numbers contained in the GDP report, the performance recorded in Q2 2020 represents a drop of 8.22% points when compared to Q2 2019 (2.12%), and 7.97% points decline when compared to Q1 2020 (1.87%). Apparently, the significant drop reflects the negative impacts of the disruption caused by COVID-19 pandemic and crash in oil price on the Nigerian economy.
The latest GDP number somewhat surpassed both the IMF and World bank forecast for year 2020, which implies the nation’s economy may witness yet the biggest contraction in four decade. The International Monetary Fund (IMF) disclosed in its June outlook that the Nigerian economy would witness a deeper contraction of 5.4% as against the 3.4% it projected in April 2020.
According to the NBS, the 6.10% decline in GDP was largely attributable to significantly lower levels of both domestic and international economic activity during the quarter, which resulted from nationwide shutdown efforts aimed at containing the COVID-19 pandemic. The non-oil segment of the economy such as manufacturing, transport and trade were the worst hit even though the vital oil sector was also badly affected by the pandemic.
The recent labour statistics report released showed that unemployment rate in Nigeria rose to 27.1% at the end of Q2 2020, as the impact of Covid-19 pandemic is significantly being felt across critical sectors. While Nigeria has embarked on gradual easing of lockdown since Q2 2020 with a N2.3 trillion stimulus intervention, economic activities are yet to fully peak, indicating a muted outlook in the remaining quarter of the year.
Although economic activity, especially in the area of trade and services, seems to be gaining some momentum as restrictions are loosened, sentiment is still relatively downbeat and the recovery is likely to remain constrained going forward as the lingering effects of the health crisis continue to take their toll.
However, amidst high unemployment, mounting price pressures, tighter Forex liquidity and a subdued global economy that cloud the future outlook, economic experts are optimistic that the economy is expected to bounce back to growth, next year, even though it will remain modest. They project GDP to grow 2.3% by 2021, which is unchanged from last month’s estimate.
How this prediction will translate into economic fortunes for ordinary Nigerian, however, remains a puzzle only time will unravel.
Nigeria has a bold vision of becoming one of the top 20 economies in the world by 2030. This is very achievable by virtue of its size, its vast oil wealth and human resources. But this goal can only be achieved if Nigeria makes the transition to a new economy based on knowledge, productivity, and innovation that will enable it to be competitive in a 21st century context.
According to the World Bank, there are common factors that are associated with successful development. No country has attained development outside these common denominators. These are:
Good governance: Good governance is perhaps the most important factor in development. Without good governance, every other thing is in disarray. Good governance in both public and private sectors creates an environment where contracts are enforced and markets can operate efficiently. It ensures that basic infrastructures are provided, with adequate health, education and security.
Economic growth: This has to do with poverty reduction. Experience has shown that countries that have reduced poverty substantially and in a sustained manner are the ones that grow fastest.
Vibrant private sector: It has been established that private firms, including small and medium-sized businesses play a critical role in generating employment, particularly for the youth and the poor. This is where the contribution of the micro-finance banks is needed.
Empowerment: The citizenry must be empowered to contribute to development. Accordingly, every person should be able to enjoy essential public services such as good health, education and safe water. These are critical social services that should be provided equitably.
Ownership: A nation’s development agenda must be homegrown. The country must start from the grassroots to transform the economy.
Knowledge development: Knowledge has always been central to development. The era when natural resources dominated trade has given way to an era in which knowledge resources are paramount. This has positioned countries like the US, Republic of Korea, China, and India in a better stead.
To achieve Vision 2030, Nigeria needs to move beyond the stop-start development patterns of an oil-based economy to create a stable and prosperous base for a 21st century society built on knowledge. How much is Nigeria ready for this transformation? Only time will tell.
We Have Our Indivisibility To Celebrate -Wonwu
As Nigeria clocks 60 years of existence as a sovereign nation today, the unity and security of the country appear to be the leading concern among the plethora of issues inundating the Federal Government and the generality of the citizenry. While the view of the central administration is expressed in its chosen theme, ‘Together At 60’ for the year-long celebration, individual citizens and groups at all levels have also been speaking their minds on the momentous occasion.
In this interview with our Deputy Political Editor, Opaka Dokubo, an accomplished entrepreneur, industrialist and politician, the governorship flag bearer of the Labour Party in Rivers State in the 2019 general elections, Chief Isaac Wonwu shares his thoughts.
What are your thoughts about the fact that Nigeria is 60 years old as a nation?
Well, I must congratulate this country for attaining 60 years as an independent nation and I must congratulate all of us as Nigerians, particularly, for being steadfast over time and remaining united (and) peaceful, as one nation.
I must salute the founding fathers of this independence. I must also salute the heroes of this country; our military, those that man our healthcare-the resilience of Nigerians, particularly in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Nigerians, that despite the challenges of our time, have remained with wide smiles, the Nigerians that even in the process of the hard times are resolved to move on as compared to many countries that have been enmeshed in processes of protest, demonstration, violence and other measures of expressing their frustrations in the face of the bad economy. I must commend us. Nigerians have passed through hard times and it is making us to be much better and prepared for the future.
It is my belief that the younger generation will learn lessons from our ease processes to do better for the development of this country.
How does the theme of the celebration that borders on togetherness come across to you?
Well, the unity in diversity of this country, the multi- ethnic nationalities, reality in this country is a great concern to all of us and I think that the primary objective of every leader is how to keep the country united. And for whatever economic challenges there are, the security of lives and property in the country is key. I think that the unity of Nigerians is very very important and we must celebrate the indivisibility of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
What is your assessment of the country vis-a-vis the recent warning by former President Olusegun Obasanjo that Nigeria was becoming a failed state?
We’ve actually done well in terms of unity as a country. We’ve done well in managing our diversity; we’ve done so well in being a continuous Nigeria.
No nation, no organization exists without challenges and with our population and multi-ethnic nationalities, with our diverse interests, we are bound to have some friction.
In management, with out such challenges, it means you don’t have people who can proffer solutions. It is only when you have problems that you can identify people with capacity to trouble- shoot.
I must say that the country has been doing well despite the deficit in infrastructure or mismanagement that we have actually suffered which is as a result of what I call indiscipline, and most people call it corruption.
I think that our administrators in the past should have devised ways to re- orientate our people to be able to appreciate the importance of discipline, most importantly, in our law enforcement and various agencies of government. The system has actually created more strong individuals rather than building strong institutions and our institutions are weak because our laws are weak, our Constitution is weak.
I quite agree with those who have shared their thoughts about Nigeria as a nation but in my view, any house without a strong, solid foundation is bound to vibrate. What we are suffering today is the vibration as a result of weak institutions and agencies of government. But as soon as that is straightened out, we will remain strong.
What do you think about the proposition for Nigeria to return to a parliamentary system of government?
Yes, our laws are weak, our institutions and agencies of government are weak as well but a major problem has also been that the individuals themselves who are operating the system have not been able to obey our laws, they have not been able to have regard for the agencies of government. The law enforcement agencies are also weak and Nigerians generally have been lawless. The lawlessness has brought in a level of impunity and we have grown to a very high level of impunity that has resulted to violence and what you call corruption is characterised with a high degree of non-challance and indiscipline. And until we strengthen our institutions, we may not be able to get it right.
How do we go about strengthening the institutions in your view?
The military will have to live up to its responsibilities; the judiciary must rise above board; the law enforcement agencies must rise up to their game; the civil servant must also rise up to his expectation; over politicization of institutions must stop; the politics must be limited to the political parties; and there must be a time to say the politics is over. As soon as we are able to do this and the judiciary stands firm, I’m sure Nigerians will have respect for the rule of law.
What do you think about the clamour for political power to be rotated to the South-East come 2023?
I am of a different school of thought. I subscribe to democracy, I accept democracy and I want to practise democracy and if Nigerians are to practice democracy, we must allow the democratic process to uphold itself.
I condemn the view of anybody that thinks that power must shift because power shift will more or less weaken the system, democracy must take its course and democracy must be about the will of the people and if we allow the will of the people to prevail, we may not actually mind who becomes the president. What should concern you and I is the dividends of democracy, the provision of basic amenities, the infrastructure, the education, the healthcare.
With 60 years gone, where do you see Nigeria in the next 40 years?
Unfortunately, the nation has not talked about building for tomorrow, we have only built for today and until we begin to come up with a clear vision that will be able to sustain the next generation, we’ve not actually grown. When I was growing up, I heard about Vision 2020. I was actually wondering whether I would live up to the year 2020. Here I am in the year 2020 (and ) first I was hit by the pandemic and I thank God for surviving it. But in terms of socio-economic amenities, in terms of infrastructural development, we have not done enough. So, we’re believing that the next leadership will be able to get the track right in investing in basic infrastructure that will bring the country to a pride of place among the comity of nations. The world is actually on a fast track. The world has become an environment where countries are competing vigorously and I think Nigeria also need to key in.
As a state within the region that sustains the country, would you say that Rivers State has had a fair deal within the 60 years of Nigeria’s independence?
It depends on what you call a fair deal in this country called Nigeria for a state or the Niger Delta region but I think that with the resources we have; with the infrastructure we have on the ground, even if a lot more money was given, I’m not sure we would have actually done much more than we have done. More money has been looted than has been invested into the development of the state, so even if you had pumped more money, they would have looted more. We have seen more people dabble into politics just to loot funds and what has continued to unite us as a people today is our ability to compromise in corruption.
And until this in-disciplinary act is minimized, we may not be able to justify our level of development going by the amount of resources we’ve got.
If you look at the history of the amount of money being looted in this country, you may be surprised that one Nigerian civil servant is stealing about a billion naira a day and you begin to wounder how much time he puts into service. So, we continue to hear about more billions of naira being looted and thousands being ulitised for projects. If you look at what we have on ground in the Niger Delta, it can not justify the amount of money that has come into the region. Only a few persons have carted away the resources as palliatives for themselves while the vast majority of the people are wallowing in abject poverty and dying. We have not done well if out of 10 million people only few have had something.
Finding A Place For Rule Of Law
The idea of the rule of law dates back to the ancient time. As early as 2000 B.C, the famous Greek philosopher, Aristotle averred that rule of law was better than rule of man.
Nonetheless, the rule of law is a somewhat nebulous concept. It is one of the most overused and misused concepts, the meaning of which is believed to change from place to place. It means different things to different people.
Interestingly, both the democrat and the dictator all claim abiding loyalty to the rule of law in spite of their misapplication of the concept. What then is the rule of law? Rule of law means the supremacy of the law. It is a preference for the spirit and content of the law instead of the whims and caprices of the ruler. According to Encyclopedia Britannica, rule of law is a mechanism, process, institution or norm that supports the equality of all citizens before the law and secures a none arbitrary use of power
In the 19th century, Prof. A.V Dicey, a constitutional scholar and lawyer, wrote the twin pillars of the British constitution in his classic work, Introduction to The Study of Law of Constitution; the twin pillars are the rule of law and parliamentary sovereignty.
It was he who first attempted to reduce the concept to a definite legal meaning in his lecture on English law at the University of Oxford in 1885.
Dicey’s concept of the rule of law states that no man is punishable in body or goods except for definite breach of the law and no man is above the law, the term rule of law means paramountcy of the law above government. It excludes arbitrary powers.
Though, the rule of law appears not to have a consistent meaning, the concept suggests an overriding supremacy of the law over the whims and caprices of man. Hence, there is a preference for governance through the laid down laws and regulations to that of whims and caprices of the ruler.
Under the rule of law, arbitrary powers are excluded; powers must be exercised in accordance with the law.
Again, the rule of law requires that all acts must be in accordance with the law to be valid;(b) that government activities be conducted within a framework of defined rules and regulations (c) that disputes involving the legality of government actions must be decided by courts independent of government; (d) there should be no undue privileges and discrimination to the society and (e) that no one should suffer punishment outside and authority of the law.
Where the rule of law applies, the fundamental rights of individual are expected to be guaranteed. Fundamental rights, according to natural law theorists, are the species of rights which are believed to inhere in every human person hence they are regarded as inalienable and immutable. Nobody can be denied of such rights. The fundamental rights stand above the ordinary laws of the land.
However, many citizens of Nigeria are dissatisfied with the lack of application of the rule of law.
The say present and past governments have either ignored, neglected or failed to apply the rule of law. They say the situation has left the citizens at the mercy of their leaders.
Executive recklessness has been a major setback in the nation’s democracy yet still, those who run foul of the law believe that foul is fair and fair is foul.
There is a tendency to rejoice that our fundamental rights are entrenched in the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 as amended, but a tale of woes belie our day-today lives.
However, the present administration of President Muhammadu Buhari, which came into power on May 29, 2015 has been accused of large scale human rights abuses and lack of respect for the rule of law.
A Port Harcourt based lawyer and human rights crusader Mr. Chijoke Agi, who spoke with The Tide in Port Harcourt on Monday, said the present administration had no respect for the rule of law.
According to him, “the removal of the Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN) in 2018 through a method unknown to law is not only an affront to the rule of law but an utter disregard for the judiciary which is an arm of government. The removal of CJN Walter Onnoghen by President Muhammadu Buhari is the height of disrespect for the rule of law.”
The legal practitioner opined that trial of the former National Security Adviser, Sambo Dasuki over corruption charges was bereft of the rule of law as security agents continued to detain him in spite of the fact that he had been granted bail by a court of competent jurisdiction. He noted that President Buhari violated court orders with impunity. This, according to him goes, against the grain.
Mr. Agi opined that the use of soldiers during the 2019 elections in spite of the Electoral Act was a blatant disrespect for the rule of law.
He pointed out that many lives were lost in Rivers State because of the use of soldiers instead of unarmed policemen as prescribed by the Electoral Act.
The legal practitioner noted that more lives had been lost within the five years of Buhari’s administration than those of his predecessors, yet nothing has been done to stem the tide.
Mr. Agi said that Amnesty International had rated the present government very low on human rights.
He said despite the much touted independence of the judiciary as granted by the present administration nothing seemed to have changed. “the judges are still doing the biddings of their appointees. It will be recalled that Amnesty international had this to say about Nigeria on 31 May, 2019,” the human rights violation such as extrajudicial executions, arbitrary arrests and detentions, torture and other ill- treatments, enforced disappearance, violence against women and girls, restrictions on the rights to the freedom of expression, association and peaceful assembly, mass forced evictions, environmental pollution and lack of accountability for human rights violation and buses.”
Another lawyer, Mr. Endurance Akpelu who spoke with The Tide in Port Harcourt on Monday said the rule of law had become a moonshine to the present administration. According to him, “with the crisis in the North East, the issue of rule of law is a foolish talk. Most importantly, the primary function of government is to maintain law and order and when there is a breakdown of law and order, the rule of law cannot subsist.
He said the insurgency in the Northeast, the killing of Christians in the north and the unchecked violence perpetrated by herders were all indicative of the state of the nation.
Mr. Akpelu said President Buhari was yet to purge himself of his despotic mentality.
According to him, “President Buhari exercises wide discretionary powers sometimes arising from the use of unchecked executive orders. The main plank of civilized democracy is the strict adherence to the rule of law.
This is because when wide discretionary powers are exercised it becomes difficult to differentiate between discretion and arbitrariness. There is a very thin line between the two, that is why Nigeria must adhere strictly to the rule of law instead of self-help.”
The human right lawyer expressed regret that a Nigerian journalist, Omoyele Sowore could be re-arrested by the Department of State Services in a court in Abuja.
Mr. Akpelu also cited the detention of the leader ofIslamic Movement of Nigeria, Ibrahim el-Zakzaky and his wife and former National Security Adviser, Sambo Dasuki as cases in point.
It will be recalled that at the aftermath of the DSS’s invasion of Abuja court room and its re-arrest of Sowore, the Punch newspaper announced that it would prefix President Muhammadu Buhari with his military rank, ‘Major General’ and refer to his administration as ‘regime’ “until they purge themselves of their insufferable contempt for the rule of law.”
The Port Harcourt lawyer, however remarked that all hopes were lost not in terms of correcting the wrongs of yesteryear as country turns 60.
He expressed hope that the country would be great if she maintained strict adherence to the rule of law and punished violators.
Also speaking, a Port Harcourt-based political scientist, Mr. Isaiah Dioku, noted that for the country to move forward there must be strict adherence to the rule of law.
Mr. Dioku pointed out that to promote the rule of law there must be a successful political culture. “In Nigeria today, there is literately a poor political culture. The ballot is nothing to write home about and our political office holders are not accountable to the people instead act as overlords,” he stated.
“It is interesting that the present administration is fighting corruption but there must be a sincerity of purpose on the part of the crusaders. A discriminatory fight against corruption will not remedy the national malaise. A genuine fight against corruption will certainly promote the rule of law. Besides, those who breach the rule of law should be punished,” Mr. Dioku stated.
He expressed regrets that despite yawning gap in the nation’s democracy, some state governors were squaring up to muzzle the media and ban the right to protest through the manipulation of state houses of assembly.
Dioku explains that the separation of powers is one of the niceties of the rule of law and points out that when the executive and legislature are fused anarchy thrives.
The political scientist, said though there must be good working relationship between the two; not fusion of powers.
He warned that the legislature should not allow itself to be used to pass oppressive laws which would occasion rule by law instead of rule of law. He says rule by law simply means rule by any law no matter how untoward that law may be, which is laid down by the authority of legislature of that nation or state. He says in rule by law, “one is not concerned about what the law is or what its purpose is, on the other hand, the rule of law connotes rule of law which is based on certain principles of law.”
Mr. Dioku said at 60, Nigeria had come of age to do things right. He said several decades of military rule and its command hierarchy had affected the psyche of Nigerians. “We don’t have true federalism but a unitary government.
There is only little devolution of powers. So much power is concentrated at centre. This cannot promote the rule of law. Every month all states of the federation gather at Abuja to share oil revenue accruing from the Niger Delta region. What other regions of the federation contribute is not known and never shared,”
He also remarked the Land Use Act is one of obnoxious laws extant laws and noted that the laws on Exclusive Economic Zone and Contiguous Zone were intended to divest revenue from riparian states in favour of landlocked regions.
The political scientist advised the Federal to repeal obnoxious in order to promote the rule of law in the Nigerian nation-state.
By: Chidi Enyie
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