Does Nigeria matter?
As an alumnus of this illustrious university, I consider it a great privilege to be invited to address this esteemed body. I am particularly humbled by this opportunity, as it is the third time since my graduation in 1976 that you have graciously asked me to be guest lecturer at our Annual General Meeting. I am grateful for the opportunity to address such a distinguished group again, and at a time our nation and university require a deeper conversation on issues of great importance to us all.
The organizers of this AGM have given me the latitude to address any topic of my choice. With such unfettered freedom, I have decided to take as my theme for today, the question: “Does Nigeria Matter?” I was inspired to speak to this subject for a variety of reasons. First, there are many centrifugal forces challenging the existence of the Nigerian state in varying degrees of gravity. Many of these forces are rooted in our recent history and they can be viewed from economic, political, social and national security prisms. Every now and again these forces ebb and flow, appearing and receding like the tidal waves of the ocean – pushing the country to a tipping point whenever they charge forward with ferocious intensity. There should not be much disagreement that today we stand at one of those pivotal moments in our history where the nation is severely challenged by these forces. Because we are all heavily vested in the future of this beautiful and great country, it is incumbent upon us to parachute into this contentious but important national conversation.
Second, given the constellation of cool rational heads residing in ivory towers, the Ahmadu Bello University is a pre-eminent platform where such a burning issue can be subjected to rigorous analysis and a fair and balanced judgment. My intention in this discussion, therefore, is to deliberately lift the tone of the national discussion to a level higher than the mundane, elicit more contributions on the way forward for our nation. I recognize that as one of the shining beacons of academic excellence, this institution, Ahmadu Bello University, should take the lead in shaping and molding the national debate in ways that should enlighten our larger population, and in a manner that introduces a more sober, contemplative and reflective dimension in dealing with such a delicate question that carries huge ramifications for our national destiny.
In this age of the social media there are no shortages of pontificators who may not necessarily be firmly grounded in knowledge or have a good memory of our painful national journey – but who nevertheless are too quick to make inflammatory comments and “proclamations.” The stakes are that high and we cannot stand aloof or continue to remain indifferent.
However there cannot be any doubt in your minds as to where I stand with regards to the question I posed in my choice of topic for this lecture. Nigeria does matter greatly to me and I believe it matters to everyone in this distinguished assembly.
The rest of this paper is structured into six parts. In Part two, I will discuss Nigeria’s evolution as a sovereign state and its very important attributes, justifying its viability as a nation state. Part 3 takes a snapshot of our performance so far and argues that the country is a laggard compared to some of its peers with whom we started the walk to freedom in the early 1960s. In Part four, I will attempt to lay bare the symptoms that are more often mistaken as the underlying causes of the nation’s malaise and stunted growth. Part five, will go beneath the veneer of these symptoms to dredge up the root causes of Nigeria’s challenges. Part six, will focus on proposals on what all citizens must collectively do to build the nation of our dreams. I will conclude in Part seven with some general remarks.
Evolution of Nigeria As A Nation State
Speaking of Nigeria as a nation, one question that arises is whether such a concept applies to Nigeria as presently composed, or whether it is a fallacious misapplication of terms? To address this question, we must look through the lenses of history and examine the process of state formation in our part of Africa. This will enable us to determine whether indeed a historical process of nationhood has been interrupted or enhanced by the imposition of the colonial system, and the subsequent transition to independence.
According to social scientists, there are many theories about state formation, and various definitions of what a state means. I do not propose to go into such a discourse since I shall assume that you are all familiar with this subject. Suffice it to say that from Ibn Khaldun to Hegel, Karl Marx and Frederich Engels, to modern scholars like Max Weber and Francis Fukuyama, various interpretations about the state and state formation have been proffered. While they all have to some degrees succeeded in addressing aspects of the phenomenon, they have, however, remained silent on others. The greatest drawback in most of the theories about state formation is the lack of proper contextualization about this process among people with no written records such as most of the Nigerian societies before the arrival of the colonial power, the British.
In this respect, many of our achievements have been classified as outside the pale of history since none of it was written down for posterity, and as the bias of the outside world was more towards written records rather than other sources of history such as oral traditions and recollections of elders. The processes that attended the formation of the state system in this part of the world were deemed inconsequential at best, or primitive at worst, and therefore, not worthy of the attention of serious historians. This perception has been corrected to some extent by the outstanding researches of historians and anthropologists like Dr. Abdullahi Smith, Professor R. A. Adeleye, Dr. Yusuf Bala Usman, Dr. Mahmud Tukur, Professor Kyari Tijjani and Professor Ali Mazrui.
Going beyond conjecture and polemics and standing us on firmer ground, the modern state as it came into being can be traced to the Treaty of Westphalia of 1648 that ended the so-called Thirty Years War in Europe. Following from that document, identifiable entities with clear boundaries, possession of coercive powers and capacity for enumeration of populations and taxation came into being, and became designated as states. They entered into relationships with other kindred entities and modern diplomacy took root from there on. Wars became no longer between feudal families but between states with organized armies led by rulers claiming defined territories as their sovereign enclaves.
The transfer of this system by the European colonial powers into Africa especially the British in our own case, provided the template for the evolution of the Nigerian state as we know it today. However this may not be entirely true. The British found in existence in most of the Northern part of the country, and to some extent in the Western part as well, clearly defined state structures with hereditary rulers in the form of Emirs, Kings and Obas, who controlled armies, conducted warfares, imposed taxes and meted out justice to offenders in accordance with the laws of their land. The British incorporated this system, which they called the Native Authority system into their form of administration, and perfected the model that they called “indirect rule” particularly in the Northern Emirates.
The evolution of the various entities that comprise Nigeria today towards nationhood may not have been coordinated, synchronized or even planned, but the drive towards a semblance of states was indeed emerging with the consolidation of vast territories under the Fulani dynasties that were established across Northern Nigeria by the Jihad of Shehu Usman Dan Fodio. Likewise, the consolidation of the ancient kingdom of Kanem-Borno under the new El-Kanemi dynasty was a transformation and reformation of the moribund state into a more compact and cohesive entity under a new system of governance. The various Hausa States particularly the “Hausa Bakwai” or the Seven States, and those others in Central Nigeria such as the Nok Culture, the Jukun Kwararafa State, the Nupe and Igala Kingdoms, the Lamibe of Fombina, and even the decentralized states like the Tiv and Igbos in South Eastern Nigeria, all portend towards the evolution of distinct state and national structures that served the needs and purposes of their various constituent units. Nigeria therefore, even from ancient times, was a gravitational point from which the diffusion of cultures, languages and civilization took place, and the useful arts such as metallurgy, the casting of bronze and iron implements, the making of ornaments and the development of long distance trade across vast territories emanated.
Nigeria is a magnificent land, which showcases all of the endowments so generously bestowed on it by Providence and nature. There are not too many countries in the world that are nearly 900,000 square kilometers in size. She lies near to the Equator and has therefore escaped the extremes between cold and heat, which is the burden of temperate countries of the world. Mercifully saved from the scourge of natural disasters, her proximate distance to the Equator brings her ample rains during the wet season, which lasts between four to eight months depending on the parts of the country. This country encompasses two of the most precious resources – abundant water resources and over 80 million hectares of arable land. The country is rich in other natural resources such as precious metals and stones, tin, columbite, iron ore, coal, cooper, nickel, limestone, bitumen, gypsum and of course the ubiquitous oil and gas resources.
Expressed in economic terms, Nigeria has been amply equipped by Mother Nature to play to its comparative advantage, raise the quality of life of its citizens, create a resilient, prosperous and globally competitive economy and build a just and egalitarian society. Any nation so strategically located with maritime access to world markets, with its large size of land, vast market, a teeming entrepreneurial population that celebrates its unity in diversity represented by the confluence of its beautiful rainbow cultures, and endowed with all forms of natural resources – surely such a nation should be shooting for the stars and Nigeria should have become a runaway success, at least 25 years after its independence.
Unfortunately, in the real world, you cannot depend on any magic wand or miracle to climb the ladder of success. Even a gifted child endowed by the Creator with a large and powerful brain has to do some hard work to convert his latent potential into a powerful success story. The moral here is that natural resources, in and of themselves, cannot help you much unless you apply imagination, skills and wisdom in exploiting them to secure the future of your country. This argument can be flipped around by suggesting that while natural endowments can give a country a head start in the race to the top, it is not necessarily a precondition for success. We know that 87% of Japan is rock and water, yet it was until recently, the second largest economy in the world. Singapore is only a city state, but it is today a high income country punching above its weight on the Human Development and Global Competitiveness indices. Dubai located in the scorching desolate desert, and with rapidly depleting hydro carbon reserves, is today an amazing global economic success story. The common thread, which explains all of these success stories is the ingenuity of the human mind. The human brain and mind is so powerful that if applied in a disciplined and focused manner over an extended period of time, individuals, firms and countries can achieve dramatic and mind-blowing results. The experience of many developing nations, including Nigeria, seem to suggest that factor endowments can encourage a culture of indolence and profligacy leading to stunted growth – the phenomenon of “resource curse.” As the saying goes, necessity is the mother of invention. The evidence shows that people and countries when stacked against the harsh vagaries of nature and life tend to have a far greater incentive to pull a rabbit out of a hat.
Just 56 years after her independence, Nigeria is still a country in the making with excellent prospects before her, but burdened by a mixed bag of successes and failures. On the positive side we emerged from the civil war a more united country where many others faced with similar challenges have since fragmented into smaller pieces. After a long military interregnum, the nation has learned to settle down and accommodate a popular democratic form of government, which is approaching its second decade by 2019. This, in and of itself, is a very big deal. Another big deal is the current war being waged against corruption. Although in its infancy and, therefore, still work in progress, it remains a monumental landmark project for a number of reasons. First, corruption has been acknowledged as a cancer that has been devouring the very fabric of our society, and literally brought our country to its knees.
Second, the man behind this crusade, President Mohammadu Buhari, is reputed for his huge moral fibre and Spartan discipline. Third, if anybody doubts his grit and determination to pursue this war, they should read the President’s authorised biography by John Payden, which was launched two weeks ago in Abuja. Very importantly President Buhari’s increasingly successful fight against insecurity and his courage in deregulating petroleum prices coupled with his unrelenting focus on the entrenchment of fiscal discipline and accountability, are significant and noteworthy attributes. On other economic fronts, we have registered a string of victories since the mid-1980s. Through an orderly programme of privatisation and commercialization, a large chunk of our public enterprises have been transferred to the private sector resulting, in many instances, in significantly improving performance levels, propelling expansion and diversification of operations of these enterprises, and availing the public of better quality products. You do not need to look too far for the evidence all around you.
Classic cases in point are the banking, oil and gas and telecoms industries. Although spurred by high oil prices, it is fair to say that we posted significant economic growth for 12 years leading up to the beginning of 2015. GDP more than doubled with average year on year growth rate surpassing 6% over this period. It also bears mentioning that the structure of the GDP underwent significant change over this period with the non-oil sector and services accounting for a huge chunk of the GDP pie. The other noteworthy achievement is the ability of the Obasanjo Administration to sterilize the country’s balance sheet by seeking a large unprecedented debt relief from the international club of creditors thus freeing us from the shackles of the IMF/World Bank bitter pills. Due to this and related reforms in the capital market, international credit rating agencies started rating Nigeria for the first time. The country also took the bold step of complying with the anti-money laundering rules designed by the Financial Action Task Force, which resulted in the creation of such bodies as the EFCC and the ICPC. So, on balance, there is a positive story to tell about our journey so far as a nation. However, beneath this veneer, there remains an unflattering evidence of the huge task undone.
Relative to our struggle to move out of underdevelopment, Nigeria ranks 152 out of 188 countries on the Human Development Index (HDI) with Niger Republic at the tail bottom. We have been hovering around this score for almost a decade. Consequently, our prospects for long term development and progress based on a long and healthy life, access to knowledge and a decent standard of living presents a bleak outlook. The picture is not any better relative to our ranking in global competitiveness. We are 124 out of 140 on the Global Competitiveness Index, sandwiched between the Gambia – a country of two million people – and Zimbabwe, which has been in economic free fall for a considerable period of time. Legatum Prosperity Index ranks Nigeria 125 out of 142. This turns reason on its head when contrasted with HDI rankings where Niger Republic is 188 but ranks ahead of Nigeria at number 114 in Prosperity Index. The implication being that Niger Republic is better able to galvanise its lean resources to lead its people to prosperity.
Based on these statistics, it is no surprise that income disparities in Nigeria are widening at an alarming rate. Such disparities are not limited to just income gaps between rich and poor people but also between regions of the country, with Northern part of Nigeria bearing the brunt of grinding poverty. Relative to access to social services, such as education and health services, the regional disparities between the north and the south are mind boggling. The Southern part of Nigeria has over the years, taken aggressive steps over the last 15 years to expand access to social services, with the establishment of numerous private schools, clinics and hospitals.
Take a pause and compare Nigeria’s performance with some of our peers who were not any better than us at independence. I am talking of Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia and South Korea. As a case in point. Malaysia has posted one of the highest economic growth rates in Asia averaging 6.2% per annum real GDP growth since 1970. Thanks to a patriotic, dynamic and progressive leadership coupled with a world class public service delivery system – Malaysia successfully transformed itself from an essentially agro-based economy in the 1970s to manufacturing in the mid-1980s and to modern services since the 1990s. Malaysia’s national per capita income grew from $400 in 1970 to almost $11,000 in 2014 and is expected to join the league of high income countries by 2020 when this figure is expected to exceed $15,000. Incidence of poverty has been reduced from 49% in 1970 to 0.6% now; approximately 76% of the population are home owners and over 96% have access to both potable water and electricity. Today it ranks 20th out of 144 countries on the Global Competitiveness Index. Based on these compelling statistics we can confidently conclude that while Nigeria got quite a few things wrong, Malaysia got quite a few things right in their respective journeys of development.
• Mohammed Hayatu-Deen delivered this speech on the occasion marking the 11th Annual General Meeting of the Ahmadu Bello University Alumni Association, Assembly Hall, Ahmadu Bello University Main Campus, Zaria, recently.
Symptoms and Causes of Nigeria’s Challenges
Against the backdrop of Nigeria’s sorry economic and social statistics, we should not be entirely surprised by the existential threat posed to the unity of the country by various groups for reasons both real and imagined. A dispassionate review of a few of the underlying causes of these grievances and restiveness provides some powerful insight. At the top of this list is what I call the problem of the elite. The elite in any nation should act as a custodian and preserver of the national conscience. It should always seek to forge a consensus on what is best for the country and make its interests subservient to the overarching interest of the nation as enshrined in the constitution and codified in the laws and statute books. The elite thus exists to solve problems consistent with the progressive aspirations of a nation. However, for the most part, the elite in Nigeria does not exist to solve problems; rather it seems to exist to create and perpetuate problems. In so doing, it advances its interests and undermines the national interest – a classic case of “I am for myself and God can take care of the national interest.”
Because the Nigerian elite has such unbridled control over resource allocation and distribution of political power and patronage, they make it a religion to maneuver themselves into elective offices across the various tiers of government. This has been the chief causative factor responsible for many of Nigeria’s problems for decades. It follows that a country that is not governed in the national interest cannot but achieve mediocre results and show stunted growth. The humongous cost of running government operations at all three tiers leaves barely a miniscule for capital and development projects essential for boosting national output and employment, and raising the quality of life of the citizens. For majority of our people, the GDP growth of 6% or even 10% was a mere statistical abstraction because it bears no meaning to them – thus instead of experiencing shared prosperity and inclusiveness, all they see daily is grinding poverty and disease and erosion of their self-dignity and self-worth. When the law and order environment is dysfunctional and the judiciary is weak and compromised and public service delivery is crippled, citizen’s attachment to their country becomes challenged.
This has been going on for a long time and you will agree that under these conditions the social charter between the rulers and the governed gets broken. Because the people have completely lost confidence in the ability of their rulers to cater for their welfare, everybody is looking out for himself and as a result our social structures have completely broken down with our ethos and values gone out of the window. This free for all environment has given rise to a call to arms by all kinds of disaffected people and agitators often aided and abetted by the elite. Kidnapping for ransom which started in the Delta region has grown into full-scale nation-wide industry. Intra and inter-community conflicts represented in many shapes and forms, including cattle rustling, have become the defining features of our social and economic landscape. At the political level are those caught by the nostalgia of securing the resurgence of the defunct state of Biafra from Nigeria.
Superimposed on this structure are the far more dangerous and well-resourced movements in the Niger Delta represented by any number of coalition of militants, and the North East represented by the sinister and evil Boko Haram which mercifully is in retreat, thanks to the decisive and courageous leadership of President Buhari. The ultimate solution to mitigating all of these threats fundamentally lies in meeting the everyday needs of people so that they are free from want and they can clearly see a bright future for themselves and their children. I reject the misguided notion that these problems will go away if Nigeria fragments into smaller pieces. The problem of the Nigerian elite is not the exclusive phenomenon of any particular region, state, ethnic group or religion. Greed has no religion, tribe or geographical boundary. Therefore, breaking up the country does not solve but accentuate the problem because the connoisseurs of fragmentation will now be involved in a dog fight over a smaller and shrinking pie – a zero sum game.
The Pillars for building a new Nation
It is for a good reason that President Buhari is staking much of his presidency on the need for systematic change through a major reorientation of our ethos and values embodied in national discipline, anticorruption and national security. This is a critical and fundamental goal. But for reasons argued elsewhere in this paper, these are symptoms of a dysfunctional system. The President who is a patriot to the core must have taken very seriously, where others were dismissive, the classification of Nigeria about 10 years ago on the “High Alert” list of Failed/Fragile States. Our ranking which was 54 out of 76 countries in 2005 sharply deteriorated to 14 out of 175 countries in 2015. The first 13 countries include South Sudan, Somalia, Central African Republic, Yemen, Afghanistan, Iraq and Pakistan.
We have been living in denial for far too long and this is a wakeup call for us as a nation to redefine and shape our destiny. And it is not about applying band aid and tinkering with the system. It is about redesigning the system to meet our peculiar needs and realities and prepare us for the future. I propose that this system reengineering should rest on seven pillars. The first is constitutional reform. Constitutional Reform
There is an overriding need for Constitutional reform. Our Constitution is modeled after the American grande norm. Our experience of operating this form of constitutional democracy fits and starts since 1979 would suggest a need for major modification. The current structure of Governance and Administration in Nigeria is unwieldy, over bloated and frighteningly expensive. A colossal proportion of the nation’s revenue earnings is devoted to servicing the cost of public administration. I propose that we pivot more towards the French Presidential system of government by embarking on the following amendments:-
• An Executive Presidency, which allows for the election of a President for a term of seven years, subject to a maximum of two terms.
• The President should have the free hand to appoint as Prime Minister an experienced technocrat to run the government on a day-to-day basis – the equivalent of a Chief Operating Officer in the private sector, while the President performs the role of Chief Executive Officer. The Prime Minister will be the public face of the Executive in parliament, participating in debates and consideration of bills. The President should have the powers to hire and fire the Prime Minister based on performance and conduct.
• The current bloated 36-state structure should be collapsed into six Regional Administrations to be governed by elected Premiers. These Regions should be contiguous to the existing six geopolitical zones of the Federation. This will yield several benefits. It will drastically reduce the cost of public administration and thus reduce waste and inefficiency. Many of the existing states are not economically viable entities and hence their agglomeration into these larger units will enhance their economic viability significantly. This is bound to improve the quality of leadership because of the likelihood of a more rigorous process involved in the election of a Premier since the stakes are a lot higher in electing a Premier compared to a Governor of a much smaller geographical entity.
• We should jettison the existing bi-cameral legislature in favour of a single chamber comprising of 200 or so part time legislators. In the light of our current experience, the benefits of having a much smaller legislative chamber are overwhelming and too obvious to bear mentioning here.
I am not naïve enough to presume that constitutional reform especially in Nigeria is an easy or even doable task. Some attempts to tinker with the Constitution at the margins since 1999 have hit the rocks. However, it is a necessary task that must be undertaken if Nigeria is to have a fighting chance at development and not become a wasteland of extravagance and profligacy. If the President were to get his act together very quickly, do very well for Nigerians and succeed in securing a second term, he will be best placed to formulate the campaign for his re-election around the theme of constitutional reform. He has the moral force of character, sincerity of purpose and patriotism to create a groundswell of support for such an idea; with the caveat that significant effort and energy must be invested in making a convincing and credible sales pitch to the Nigerian people. A national referendum or plebiscite is ultimately required to ensure its passage.
Crafting a National Vision
We need to decide whether we want to take responsibility as adults capable of becoming masters of our own house or forever remain children. No nation can become globally competitive and prosperous without clearly articulating and implementing a long term Vision based on discipline, sacrifice, hard work and patriotism. We attempted Vision 2010 and Vision 20-20-20 but both faltered due to reasons that are only too well known – lack of seriousness and commitment. The following attributes are essential in crafting such a vision document:-
• It must place the prosperity and welfare of the Nigerian people at the epicentre of the Visioning process.
• It should clearly define the desired end state and the period by which we shall attain such an end state. Given the very low base from which we are starting, I recommend that we set our sights on Vision 2050 – by which time we should have long become one of the top 10 economies in the world.
• Mass mobilisation of the populace is essential and this is best achieved if broad segments of the population are represented in the Vision Development Committee. The Committee in turn will establish a variety of outreach programmes and delivery channels for getting inputs and buy in from the general public.
• Every President of the country through to 2050 should be the chief sponsor and cheer leader of the Vision project which must have his undiluted attention and focus for it to have any reasonable chance of success.
Designing an Economic and Social Philosophy
A clear, coherent and robust economic and social philosophy on which the nation’s vision will be anchored should be formulated. At the heart of this philosophy is the need for all successive governments to demonstrate their unwavering commitment to bringing development to the people by raising their quality of lives, enhancing their sense of self-worth and raise their potential to share in national prosperity. Reliance on the market as the most efficient allocator of resources should form the bedrock of macro-economic philosophy. Knee jerk reaction to external shocks through crude capital controls, price control and import bans should be avoided at all cost. Experience around the world and here in Nigeria suggests that resorting to such crude techniques can cause more harm to the economy. Rather, in the face of shocks to the economy prices must be allowed to adjust to restore balance and equilibrium, otherwise output and employment will bear the brunt of bad policies with a vengeance. It is largely on account of the decision by the current Administration to fix prices and impose capital controls that Nigeria found itself in a severe and avoidable recession today. It is accepted that countries, when faced with sudden shocks, can impose controls for a brief, transient period, but this should not become entrenched state policy. The fundamental point to be made here is that the independence of the Central Bank should be religiously safeguarded at all times.
Anchoring National Vision on Development Plans
As I suggested earlier, if Nigeria is to join the ranks of the ten leading economies in the next 30 years, it must rely on Development Plans as the primary vehicles for delivering on the lofty goals and aspirations of the National Vision. There should be three development planning cycles in the journey to Vision 2050. The first Development Plan should focus on building a true nation by eradicating poverty and ensuring the balanced development of all parts of the country and economic sectors. This plan will last from 2018 to 2030. The second plan, which will span a decade should seek to make Nigeria a highly industrialised export driven economy positioning it to become a high middle income country by the end of that period. The third Plan beginning in 2040 should position the country to become a highly innovative economy that is resilient and globally competitive with the services sector accounting for a significant share of the GDP. By 2050 the goal should be to make Nigeria a high income economy that is both inclusive and sustainable.
Economic Game Changers
The transformational journey that we are talking about is only feasible if we develop a new National Industrial Policy designed around the following organizing principles:-
• Anything we choose to produce and market should be based solely on our comparative advantage. We should not produce those goods, which can be made better and cheaper by other people as we cannot be the best in everything.
• Develop and implement a package of investment, trade and tax policies designed to provide incentives to investors across various industries.
• Develop an operating model consistent with global best practices for inter
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