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 Daniel Akerejah -
a capacity building and international education expert was Manager for Africa at the influential Institute of International Education, New York and the 1999 AD gubernatorial flag bearer in Edo State. Currently lives in Lagos.

Olodi Apapa, Lagos
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BELOVED COUNTRY NIGERIA: STEP BACK FROM THE PRECIPICE

by Daniel Akerejah
 
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We will get there as the lyrics in the title track album of one of my all time favorite groups, Osibisa’s WOYAYA says “It will be hard we know and the road will be muddy and rough as we get there, heavens know that we will get there and we know we will” Let us put national interest above all other parochial interests.  Yes, we can do it and we will do it. Nigeria has come to stay and we will not go the way of Yugoslavia, Czechoslovakia or the Soviet Union. God bless the Federal Republic of Nigeria.

This is an optimistic piece. My optimism is derived from my age long enthusiasm for the glorious possibilities of the Nigerian nation project. The clock is ticking as March 28, 2015 beckons like a colossus. Political frenzy and all manners of postulations and permutations abound. The question still comes up about the possibility of another postponement as we get closer to election date. There is no doubting the fact that Nigerians have been experiencing a sustained period of political, social and economic instability since we attained political Independence in 1960. It is regrettable that despite a superlative revenue profile, the most recent period from 1999 has been the most traumatic since the Nigerian civil war with a depressingly worsening poverty for the overwhelming majority of the population. The late Obafemi Awolowo left us the immortal phrase “After Darkness Comes a Glorious Dawn”. Despite all the negative prognostications about the disintegration of Nigeria, I believe that we must step back from the precipice with a credible 2015 presidential election and embrace our glorious dawn as a nation.

 

We must concede these are indeed times of pervasive darkness in our beloved country, Nigeria.  This country was full of promise at independence in 1960 and almost universally acclaimed to be a budding dominant superpower on the African continent.  What went wrong? When shall we finally step into our glorious dawn as a stable and respected nation?  These questions may be answered by the outcome of the 2015 elections. While acknowledging the presence of several peripheral candidates in all the countrywide contests, of particular importance is the presidential election that pits incumbent President Goodluck Jonathan of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) against three-time candidate Muhammadu Buhari of the All Progressive Congress (APC). There are certainly those who would argue with the assertion that Nigeria is bedeviled by a hopelessness that has stunted our development in all sectors. The country is drifting unstopped towards disintegration of the failed state variety. This is clearly visible to everyone except to the few who are profiting from our commonwealth in and out of the corridors of state.  At this time in our history after many missed opportunities, 2015 presents Nigeria with another golden chance of righting the ship of state for good governance and purposeful leadership towards our true destiny as a great nation. We may finally begin to fulfil the promise of nationhood widely touted at independence in 1960.

For full disclosure, I am a member of the APC and the1999 Alliance for Democracy (AD) governorship flag bearer in Edo State. I give due respect and recognition to all those who laboured in the trenches to shepherd this formidable party that is now poised to rescue Nigeria from the evils of a corrupt one party state. The issue for me has always been the interface of the personal interest of some and our collective national interest. For this reason, the personal interest of any citizen must not be allowed to supplant the national interest, including the inordinate personal ambitions of any individual. Every day since my first foray into Nigerian politics with the advent of civlian rule in 1998, I think of what I can do to help my country get back on the course of development that she deserves and to make Nigeria a truly great and respected nation. Like most Nigerians I have had the privilege of meeting, I am prepared to work tirelessly to see the enthronement of a stable and progressive nation. The current crop of politicians holding Nigeria back from becoming a truly democratic and developed country must be stopped by the collective will of the people in the 2015 elections. We must work to build a nation that is devoid of ethno-religious chauvinism and dominanting pseudo patriotism of the looting variety. In this regard, the defeat of any incumbents in the elections will be the beginning of real democracy practice in Nigeria and the final signal to the end of Executive, Legislative and Judicial impunity now part of the fabric of our beleaguered entity. Nigerians must finally wake up from our long slumber as voters to reject further bondage and speak loudly about our abhorrence for the pervasiveness of impunity in the governance of our country, including the squandering of our commonwealth by a few.

Whither Nigeria as we again come to the starting lineup of political office seekers in 2015? The United States can make all the predictions about the disintegration of Nigeria but the Nigerian people have the ultimate say about what becomes of our country in 2015 and beyond. Our continued quest for that magic shock to jolt some badly needed sanity into our national life must bring forth incorruptible and courageous men and women of integrity to finally bring Nigeria back from the precipice.  I am an admirer of the story of the legendary United States Treasury agent, Elliott Ness, who was sent to the city of Chicago during the prohibition era to tackle the mob anarchy that had almost rendered Chicago a failed city due to unbridled corruption and other vices. Elliott Ness’ group became known as the “Untouchables” because they could not be bribed, corrupted or intimidated by threats of death from carrying out their lawful duty to save Chicago from total collapse. Nigeria, at this crucial juncture in our checkered history, really must install our own equivalent of the “untounchables” to rescue this beautiful country and potential world power from the continued drift to a failed state.  The Jonathan Administration may score itself high despite all the negative indices to the contrary but it is obvious that the best best efforts of the administration pale in comparison to what the country needs to develop at this time.

On March 28, Nigerians must come out to vote massively for change and prepare to hail the enthronement of a real departure from governance as usual and vote to elect Muhammadu Buhari as President.  I am personally wishing for a Buhari revolution as I expect a change in the trajectory of governance in Nigeria. At the same time, I am mindful of the various criticisms of both Buhari and Jonathan by fellow Nigerians and particularly Wole Soyinka. On President Jonathan, Wole Soyinka said “I will not vote for the continuation of this government. . . There has been a failure of leadership. . . To encourage anyone to vote for this regime is a travesty of intelligence”I agree and my sentiments exactly. On Buhari, Soyinka posits that “The grounds on which General Buhari is being promoted as the alternative choice are … not only shaky, but pitifully naive. We know that human beings change” Yes, I do agree that human beings do change. Apologies and respect to Uncle Wole Soyinka’s treatise and opinion on the “crimes” of Buhari’s military regime of 1983-1985. These times call for a citizens’ proclamation of forgiveness for Buhari whether or not we share Wole Soyinka’s view.  Buhari is now being called upon to lead in the democracy and civilian supremacy environment of today’s Nigeria despite his controversial antecedents as a military Head of State.  And yes, Wole Soyinka has now endorsed Buhari for president. This is the time for Buhari as his incorruptible and courageous credentials stand him heads and shoulders above the rest.  We must make a choice as the country’s march to a failed state of the last 16 years has established the necessity of a Buhari presidency. We must choose business as usual or chart a new course of leadership for our potentially great country. Nigeria deserves a new course and Buhari must of necessity be forgiven to lead this charge.

There are ominous trends apparent in Nigeria today and the country is losing the basic existential reason for remaining a corporate entity with inviolate territorial integrity. The Boko Haram insurgency has exposed the rot in the leadership of our national institutions such that two hundred schoolgirls remain in captivity nearly one year after their abduction. To add insult to all the shame are the frequent reports of troops from neighbouring countries traversing our teritorries at will?  Where is that Nigerian military establishment touted as the finest in Africa and a toast of international peacekeeping operations in times past? Nigeria ranks third among countries having extremely poor people, according to the World Bank. We cannot continue to dwell on the mere rhetorical “giant of Africa” tag but must seize the moment to rise up to the true meaning of this tag.  This election provides a beginning opportunity. There is no doubt that the cynicism and depression in the land has been anchored by corruption, resurgent ethnic and religious bigotry.  The educational system is in a state of decline. There is a general lack of confidence in the area of security and government’s ability to protect citizens. There is a precipitous decline in the quality of life of the overwhelming majority of our citizens. We must hold these facts to be very real that Nigeria’s development has been strangulated by runaway corruption at all levels of our public and private lives. Despite claims as Africa's giant and current status as Africa’s biggest economy,  Nigeria was not only one of the world’s least prosperous countries in 2014, but also one of Africa’s poorest surpassed by smaller countries like Benin, Cameroon, Mali and Niger according to a recent annual global prosperity survey.  This is unacceptable and untenable in a country blessed with abundant natural and human resources, the twin essential ingredients of development. These are the major issues perceived as diminishing the quality of life in Nigeria. They must be addressed forthwith as had never been seen before.  We have the human and material resources but have been lacking in leadership and political courage.

The six years of the current occupant of Aso Rock is more than enough and voters in a free and fair election must send Goodluck Jonathan to a well deserved retirement in Otuoke.  He has tried his best as his supporters would claim but his best is not good enough for Nigeria at this juncture in our checkered history. Change at this time is sine qua non to Nigeria's march forward in this century and beyond.  We have stayed with the same medicine for too long and this patient has not improved while the prognosis is truly frightening. National policy particularly in the Jonathan Presidency has been rather long on platitudes and very short on real commitment and constructive actions.  As a matter of great emergency, Mr Buhari must come galloping out of Daura like a victorious warrior prince to slay the corruption dragon which has rendered Nigeria comatose and made the country a laughing stock in the comity of nations. A Buhari Presidency must hit the ground running with some carefully crafted and courageously implemented executive actions and principles within the first few days after inauguration.  It must begin with the selection of a cabinet and staff of truly patriotic men and women of unimpeachable integrity, away from the usual appointments to positions just for the sake of sharing booties and spoils of electoral advantage.  A President Buhari will have to seek out such persons, constitute a cabinet and staff of non-hustlers and god-fathered individuals. Nigeria needs a crop of new even if yet untested individuals rather than the usual recycled government to government persons with the already apparent abysmal performance over the decades. Talents abound in this great and blessed land thatdonot just want the jobs but are itching to get the job done in true service to country.

In deference to the details in the APC Manifesto, there must be immediate and distinct policy and performance departure from what had been the norm in the last sixteen years. The politics must not necessarily be smart but must produce great and decisive policies that are smart and effective. The people must immediately feel and know the difference in their quality of life and living standards.  As a further antidote to the disinformation campaign to impugn Mr. Buhari’s integrity,  a President Buhari must live up to his billing as incorruptible, resolute, courageous, non-religiously nationalistic and patriotic. The expectations of Nigerians are very high for a positive restoration of broader initiatives that will strengthen democratic inclusion and institutions.  The following are a few recommendations that will surely signal that the country is going to savor a real change from the status quoaway from mere political sloganeering as opponents have postulated. Anything short of these will be business as usual but with different actors and there will be election consequences in just another four years:

  1. An immediate and unconditional reversal of all petroleum pump price increases and the institution of a price regime of N50per litre for petrol; N20 per litre for Kerosene (the fuel of the masses) and a proportionate price set for diesel and other petroleum products.  If Venezuela, a fellow OPEC country, can have N7 a litre for petrol, these prices cannot be unreasonable for a low income population like Nigeria. The mass of Nigerian population will be relieved while the beneficiaries of anomalies inherent in the system will kick and try to disparage the efficacy of such. But the first real test of a committed and a courageous administration would have been established.And we must get all our refineries working at installed or close to installed capacity in the long term.

  2. A temporary institution of an exchange control regime that pegs the exchange rate of the Naira atN100 to the US Dollar.  Some traditional economists and other institutional apologists will kick and cry foul but a steadfast and courageously patriotic leader will weather the storm in the interest of the long suffering mass of the population. A people already bludgeoned into submission by the unrelenting hardships in a blessed land of plenty due to unbridled corruption and the failure of leadership. Afterall, exchange rate intervention or what some call manipulation is a regular feature of the international system. Countries high and low must always act in their best interest and Nigeria must not be an exception.

  3. An immediate declaration and publication of the assets of the President, Vice President and all members of the new administration. The administration must give a damn because it is the law of the land that they have sworn to uphold. Transparency and serious anti corruption must begin with this.  There must be an immediate end to our judicial inertia. The EFCC must be directed to press for the expeditious adjudication of cases languishing in the system since 2003 within the first year of the administration. There must be no more judicial or prosecutorial excuses for delays while indicted former governors and legions of officials are roaming free with impunity and disdain for the system of justice.  We no longer need the national shame of the United Kingdom and other countries successfully prosecuting and jailing our indicted fellows while we stand aside and look. The cynicism of the Nigerian people would be abated and confidence restored in our system of justice. The laws of the land as no respecter of any persons, high or low in society must be proclaimed and visibly enforced for all to see.

  4. A formal declaration of war against all manners of insecurity in the land with a special security session convened to finally end the scourge of Boko Haram and allied terrorist groups. The police, the military and other security agencies must be reminded that they are national institutions answerable only to the needs of the people as proffered by extant laws rather than the governments of the moment.

  5. A focused and sustainable emergency plan to reverse the endemic neglect and decay of critical infrastructure, including roads, rails, bridges, water systems and electricity.Initiate, within sixty days, an aggressive public works program to reduce the staggering unemployment of our population while building and restoring critical public infrastructure.  The leadership initiative must strive for more effective government at federal, state and local levels. The primary focus in each of these broad initiatives of good governance, political leadership, quality of life, and economic development will send a strong positive message to the Nigerian people. This is what is needed to begin to earnestly address the ominous situation of chronic unemployment in our country.

  6. An enabling environment for open communication and national discourse will be a powerful means of motivating and building national morale in the endeavor to build a Nigeria free of the excesses of national security establishment in the muzzling and cowing of freedoms, including speech, assembly and association.

 Muhammadu Buhari must accomplish the rescue of Nigeria from the corrupt mob that held Nigeria and our people down since independence. I have often divided Nigeria’s political periods into three periods as inspired by our most notable transitional federal elections for ease of analysis and civic understanding.  These are the 1959 period which ended with the first military coup on January 15, 1966. The 1979 period ended with the overthrow of President Shehu Shagari in 1983. We are now in the 1999 period with the current civilian dispensation which commenced in 1999. We are straddling the 1999 period and the third time to finally get our act together, by holding free, fair, and violence-free elections. I believe that the outcome of the 2015 elections will be the seminal defining moment in the political history of Nigeria and her evolving democratic culture.  We will get there as the lyrics in the title track album of one of my all time favorite groups, Osibisa’s WOYAYA says “It will be hard we know and the road will be muddy and rough as we get there, heavens know that we will get there and we know we will” Let us put national interest above all other parochial interests.  Yes, we can do it and we will do it. Nigeria has come to stay and we will not go the way of Yugoslavia, Czechoslovakia or the Soviet Union. God bless the Federal Republic of Nigeria. 

 

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