I start this piece with certain caveats that explain the complexity of the Nigerian situation. The reason for this is that in order to attempt to solve a problem, it is important that you first understand what the problem is. Medical practitioners call it a diagnosis. Unless a doctor or a mechanic is able to carry out a proper diagnosis of a situation, he will be unable or unlikely to solve the problem. A more appropriate title for this piece should be the problem with Nigeria. But it appears that every Nigerian, whether educated or not, understands the problem of Nigeria. You only need to enter a public bus or sit in a bar and listen to heated debates from Nigerians who attempt to dissect and explain the problem with Nigeria and why we have become the laughing stock of the world.
First, I must state unequivocally that Nigeria has a systemic, fundamental and foundational problem which we have inherited from our founding fathers. For instance, we run a bicameral legislature that is arguably the most expensive in the world. We spend nearly 80% of our budget on recurrent expenditure that has no bearing on 97% of Nigeria’s population. In actual sense, only politicians and public servants benefit from the 80% and become stupendously rich for doing nothing. In the last nine months, Nigeria has spent over N2 Trillion importing petrol. That amount represents one third of the country’s annual budget. We’re supposedly the seventh largest exporter of oil in the world but the entire country is in total darkness without power and majority of Nigerians live in extreme poverty.
Changing Nigeria is impossible without changing the system and let no one be under the illusion that a miracle can happen. It doesn’t matter who becomes the President. You cannot build an edifice on a faulty foundation. It is obvious that changing Nigeria is clearly more than just having a ceremonial constitutional review. In any case, who will do it? These bunch of people at the NASS? When I talk about system, it is more than the constitution. It is a complex and complicated situation that affects the very existence of our Nation. Nigeria, as it is today is going unlikely to go far and that is not a curse because everyone definitely wishes the country well. If a builder or architect told you that your building had a structural problem, what would you do? You’re unlikely to try and repair it because that will be futile and utterly stupid. The building needs to be demolished and rebuilt so that the foundational problem can be corrected, once and for all. It would seem impossible to rectify a structural problem while the building still stands. It must be brought down. The option is to keep it and try to manage it so that it doesn’t fall. That is the situation of Nigeria.
Clearly, we cannot demolish the building called Nigeria. So we are left with the option to repair and patch and try to make it work. Even if you brought the best architect in the world, he or she would only try to patch and repair and spray some paint here and there. Nothing significant or structural can be done on a building with a faulty foundation. The long term solution is to bring the whole building down and rebuild.
Over the years, these structural problems have been further exacerbated by weak and inept leadership. So whoever aspires to be the President of Nigeria must first be aware of these limitations which have created other challenges. He or she must know the constraints that have been imposed on him/her that make it difficult to make lasting change in the system and in the lives of ordinary Nigerians. Be that as it may, the following are the minimum requirements Nigerians expect from any person who is aspiring to be the President of Nigeria:
Live by Example. The President of Nigeria must be willing and ready to be live by example in ensuring that the entire Aso Villa and all the houses that are occupied by government officials do not have generators. The reason for this is that the president must feel the pain of the ordinary Nigerian who sometimes do not have power for a month and is unable to afford a generator. The second and most important reason is that the urgency of the situation can only be felt if the President himself is in darkness. Of course, there must be a Power road-map but the President
can only take it serious if he experiences the same inconveniences as an ordinary citizen of Nigeria.
Be Educated. The President of Nigeria must have at least a university education. This is despite the fact that the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria recommends secondary school as a minimum qualification. It would appear that the framers of the constitution did not envisage a time when there will be this many Nigerians from every corner of the country who have attained university education. It must be emphasised that having a university education supposedly provides the candidate with a better and broader world-view. The president’s world-view is important because he must understand that the world is bigger than his compound, clan, religion or ethnicity. There is a way people who are not educated view the world and we do not want our President’s view of the world to be narrow and parochial.
Invest in Social services and use them for self and family. The President of Nigeria must be willing and ready to invest in social services from day one in office. This would mean that neither he, his family nor his ministers will be allowed to travel to the United Kingdom or anywhere else for medical treatment. He would only be interested in fixing the hospitals in the country if he/she knows that his life and that of his/her children depend their functionality. He and his ministers will also be morally bound to send their kids to government schools and universities in Nigeria so that they can feel the pain when public schools are shut down and kids have to stay at home.
Declare Assets. The President of Nigeria must be willing to declare his assets from day one so that Nigerians know what their President is worth. He must compel his ministers to do same and all this must be within the public domain so that if they are not honest about what they have, Nigerians can easily know that they are hiding something. This introduces an element of transparency into government as people know that they will be required to publicly declare their assets when they are leaving office. Nigerians want a President who tells them that he will be content to live off his pension as ex-president and that he doesn’t need to embezzle any money. He doesn’t need to have foreign accounts as all his kids are here in Nigeria and attend public schools.
Merit and not nepotism. The President of Nigeria must be ready and willing to take his ministers through a competitive process so that Nigeria can have the benefit of having the brightest and best as their servants. The first major task of the President is to engage the services of a reputable Consultancy firm to advertise the roles of the ministers so that all eligible Nigerians can apply and go through a competitive interview process. This will finally put to bed the whole problem of a President hiring only people from his backyard or people who belong to his religion or ethnic group. It must be made clear from the start that only the best will be hired, irrespective of their religious beliefs or ethnicity.
Reduce NASS to one Chamber and part-time legislators. The President of Nigeria and the party he belongs to must work together to achieve two main objectives with Nigeria’s parliament. First, we must collectively agree that at this stage of Nigeria’s development, we do not need a bi-cameral legislature. So we must work towards ensuring that we have only one house in the Parliament. Second, we must work towards ensuring that parliamentarians work on a part-time basis and only get paid when they sit and based on the number of bills which are passed. In the long term, this is intended to drastically reduce the cost of running government so that government policies can benefit the ordinary Nigerian.
Ensure fairness in resource allocation. The President of Nigeria must be ready and willing to ensure that he sponsors a bill to the parliament that creates a balance in the six geo-political zones of Nigeria. Since local governments are the basis for resource allocation, we must be ready to deal with this issue once and for all. We must be willing to answer difficult questions such as why does Kano have 40 local governments and Lagos has only 20 when they are about the same in population? This may well be the first step towards the much-talked about and contentious restructuring.
State of Residence and Not State of Origin. The President of Nigeria must be ready and willing to ensure that he sponsors a bill to the parliament to the effect that State of Origin is replaced with State of Residence after people have been resident in that State for a number of years. In the same vein, Nigerians should be indigenes of the States where they are born and not where their parents come from. This will go a long way in reducing friction and cementing the bonds of our nationhood.
No Sponsorship of Pilgrimage. The President of Nigeria must be ready and willing to ensure we do not pay money for people who are going to Jerusalem or Mecca to pray as we are neither a Christian nor a Muslim country. We are a secular country. People who wish to go on pilgrimages should go at their own expense and not at the expense of Nigeria. Money budgeted for these purposes should be used for social investments that benefit every Nigerian. It must be clear to the President that playing the religious card is at the expense of development and we will never be developed as long as religion plays a major role in the country. While praying is good, it must be clear that it is not prayer that develops a country but enterprise and investments in key infrastructure.
Road-map for Infrastructural revolution. Finally, the President of Nigeria must be ready and willing to develop and defend a road-map for critical infrastructure such as local refineries, roads, railways, social services, etc. He must be able to show that he is willing to create the needed confidence in the economy including an enabling environment for people to invest in key infrastructure in order to create employment. He should demonstrate his willingness to remove subsidies in sectors so that markets and competition can determine the prices of these commodities and services.
It is not certain if this kind of person exists in Nigeria or if the system will allow him but perhaps if we search deeply, we can find such a person. However, what is not in doubt is that until we have this kind of person as our President, Nigeria will continue to move in circles and never reach its full potential.
Martins O. Itua