Policy Briefs

Rebooting Nigeria

Nigeria in its present state is analogous to a dysfunctional computer. In both instances, there is evident systemic failure arising from non-responsive applications and institutions not operating as intended. Such instances require a reboot in order to overcome the redundancies. As Nigeria’s nascent democracy evolves, it is evident that the nation has arrived at the critical juncture where identifiable governance pitfalls, challenges as well as institutional and infrastructural failings compel urgent directional change.

Moreover, Nigeria seems to have deviated from the conventional paradigm of an emerging democracy. Given its badly frayed national aspirations and values, we must accept without being coy, that the nation is faced with two stark choices: reboot instantly or risk total systemic collapse and a consequent catastrophic failure. Paradoxically, the booth up process cannot default or rest entirely on President Muhammadu Buhari, even as his personal role remains catalytic in stabilizing Nigeria.   As a 1998 Council on Foreign Relations and The Century Foundation report titled “Stabilizing Nigeria”  surmised, the “people’s effort to realize their potential have been frustrated by internal conflicts and misrule…Despite the many obstacles, Nigeria is not the hopeless case it is so often depicted as being. It has tremendous human and physical capital….” That seventeen year-old conclusion remains valid and instructive, despite the intervening years.  Nigeria is not yet a hopeless case. For this single reason, there’s an urgent need to reboot Nigeria as one might reboot a dysfunctional computer. The parallel herein, is that all the necessary operating applications exist in Nigeria but are not functioning in a synchronized, predictable and efficient manner. Now is the time for blunt talk, proactive engagement and hard-headed decisions as we look on President Buhari to offer purposeful and adaptive leadership. Meanwhile, some strategic and soft power measures will be required to extricate Nigeria from its present rut.  These are:

1.) National Insecurity: Broad insecurity posed by internecine insurgency in the northeast and militancy in the south-south regions continue to affect our overall national security adversely.  In the northeast there can only be a dual-track response and solution. Domestically, we must throw the entire might of the Nigerian military against Boko Haram. No excuses; no exceptions and no cost saving limitations.  Contextually, and to paraphrase Madeleine Albright, “What is the point of having this superb Nigerian military we are always talking about if we can’t use it?” Gaining traction on the war against BH also require pursuing a second track in a concerted and constructive manner. Regionally, a seamless cohesion in command, communication and control within the Chad, Nigeria, Niger -Cameroun and Benin military coalition (CNN-CAB Coalition), should result in an early containment and obliteration of BH elements. Since BH threat is shared, the counter-insurgency costs should also be shared. It’s noteworthy that when an African military coalition intervened in Chad in the 80’s, Nigeria underwrote most of the costs; and it was Gen. Buhari’s who in 1984 wrote off the $82 million balance owed to Nigeria.

 2.) Managing Greed: It is greed rather than corruption that is destroying Nigeria. Poor funding and poor system of governance combine with insentient and unbridled greed to underpin the spiraling rise of corruption in Nigeria, more so in the public sector. Greed-induced corruption impacts negatively on social development programmes; and policies required to tackle such challenges are often implemented perfunctorily. Three critical changes need to be made and enforced. First, is the abolition of domiciliary accounts, which undermine our national sovereignty and is being incessantly abused by banking professionals and their policymaking cohorts. Secondly, the intensification and completion of the Bank Verification Number (BVN) now in place will eliminate prevailing abuses and the various fraudulent schemes used in syphoning public funds.  There is need, however, to make a clear distinction between BVNs for personal accounts and corporate accounts. Third, the extant mandatory Code of Conduct Bureau declarations should be made mandatorily accessible to the public under the Freedom of Information Bill. This will curtail various forms of economic sabotage and financial niftiness.

3.) Tackling the Unethical Judiciary: Attaining a progressive and corrupt-free Nigeria will require a politically neutral and non-corrupt and ethical judiciary. Nigeria must transcend the belief that corruption within its judiciary is not deep-seated. Judicial corruption is rampant as evidence by the inconclusive nature and inexplicable outcome of many cases before the courts, including electoral tribunals. There is also a clear nexus between the scope of judicial corruption and the continued hindrance of judicial independence by the Executive Arms, especially at the State level.  Insofar as the justice sector is tainted and beholding to governors for their funding, the judiciary will remain malleable. Hence, confidence in the Nigerian judiciary needs to be restored as a matter of priority. The National Judicial Council must take formal or whistleblower complaints against members of the bench seriously. Those judicial officers in breach of standing ethics should be suitably sanctioned; after all, leges sine moribus vanae ~ laws without morals are useless.

4.) Tackling Impunity and Underachievement: Good governance is being undermined by impunity, profligacy and the resulting colossal leakages. Because government policies, programmes and projects are rarely benchmarked, monitoring is generally lax and project failure rampant.  Nobody is ever sanctioned for underachievement in Nigeria. Consequently, Ministries, Department and Agencies (MDA’s) are notoriously derelict in their due process compliance and project implementation.  The related high-level of impunity is also possible since some elected officials charged with oversight functions become complicit and do not carry out their functions exhaustively.  First, President Buhari should end ploys aimed at evading of Federal Executive Council (FEC) collective decision-making processes, especially requests for anticipatory approvals with financial implications, which seek to bypass full FEC consideration. Second, he must insist in accordance with the extant Financial Rules and Regulations that aside from audit queries being responded to within the prescribed period, statutory audits must be completed within the set timelines. Third, project monitoring and completion certification must rest with a special agency sufficiently immune from the lure of bureaucratic trappings. Management and Zero Corruption Compact at all levels must tie every approved project to the Head of the executing MDA.

5.) Powering Up For Development: Meeting the electric power and other energy requirements for industrial, commercial and home use remains critically essential to Nigeria’s economic growth and development. There is a surfeit of sunlight required for solar energy generation for domestic use. However, big money brokers with special interests are only vested in huge power generation ventures. Their collective approach is conspiratorially profit driven. Private homes and small and medium scale enterprises need to be decoupled from the national grid, via affordable solar powered systems backed by broad tax-relief and zero-percent energy independence loans from the Bank of Industry. Entities that generate more power than they need can sell the surplus or get loan amortization credit for it. This plan will improve power delivery.

6.) Cutting the Cost of Governance: Nigeria’s presidential system – a hybrid of parliamentary and strict presidential system – remains amorphous and hugely expensive. Our long national penchant for fiscal subterfuge compels a rethink of extant regulations since the recurrent expenditure for running the system is disproportional to national revenue and policy outcomes. Plugging abuses and leakages require pegging the number of political appointments at all levels of government and limiting the use of consultants and the outsourcing of projects. The number of political and administrative aides attached to heads of MDAs must be specifically pegged with a view to pruning overhead and related recurrent expenses.

7.) A Federal Highways Trust Fund: Nigeria’s dilapidated mass transit and heavy haulage system continue to stymie national economic development. To paraphrase President Ronald Reagan, “the state of our transportation system affects our commerce, our economy and our future.” The federal government should create a Federal Highway Trust Fund using resources currently dedicated to Sure-P to carter for the building and maintenance of Federal Highways. This will, remove the highways and mass transit costs from the federal recurrent and capital expenditures.   The cost of resurfacing, restoring and rehabilitation of federal highways should be jointly funded by the federal and state governments on a 90-10 ratio per mile, with the States retaining responsibility for the maintenance of highways within their territories.

8.) Mandatory National Tax Filing Regime: Shifting our national revenue base away from oil is long overdue. Most governments predicate their budgetary expenses on income taxes; that practice is still not applicable to Nigeria where non-coordinated tax codes, filing system and the absence of a clear filing deadline compounds the prevailing revenue challenges. The culture of tardiness and non-compliance by employers in remitting withholdings taxes to federal and state governments is unacceptable. A refocus on our taxation system with a prescribed filing date is now imperative.

9.) Equitable Representation: For Nigeria’s democracy to claim its bona fides, it must pass the equity litmus test.  The 1999 Constitution offers unambiguous clarity on federal character; yet the Buhari Administration is for now, in breach of those provisions. The ruling government must find ways of fulfilling its obligations of entrenching true federal character.

These action-points may seem rudimentary. But should the Buhari Administration tackle them, it would have embarked on a good governance culture and the proactive rebooting of Nigeria through purposeful and non-coercive methods.

Oseloka Obaze, MD & CEO

Oseloka Obaze, MD & CEO

Mr. Obaze is the former Secretary to the State Government of Anambra State, Nigeria from 2012 to 2015 - MD & CEO, Oseloka H. Obaze. Mr. Obaze also served as a former United Nations official, from 1991-2012, and as a former member of the Nigerian Diplomatic Service, from 1982-1991.

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