By Bayo Onanuga
We are all victims of Nigeria’s crisis of governance, and we all experience its symptoms: failed schools, failed hospitals, failed roads, failed security, failed power supply, Boko Haram, Ansaru terrorism, Niger Delta militancy, kidnapping, the vanishing opportunities for our youths, the widening gulf between the rich and the poor and worst of all, the receding faith in Nigeria by Nigerians, even as we gleefully marked the centenary of its creation the past few days.
You all must have read or heard about the verdict of many commentators about our country as a failed state and you must have equally read the stout rebuttal of state officials that Nigeria is alive and kicking, working. As members of the jury what is your own verdict? Is Nigeria truly working?
My own verdict is that Nigeria is not working the way it should be. It is failing but has not totally failed. I will liken the fate of Nigeria to a failed road. When we say a road has failed, we do not mean that the entire stretch has collapsed. Such is the fate of Nigeria: truly we experience a lot of disappointments from Nigeria, but the country shows some bright areas.
An example is the telecom sector. From fewer than half a million-phone users in 2001, we now have over 100 million users. My wife woke me up recently with a phone call from the UK. She travelled the previous night and just wanted me to know she was OK. Thirteen years ago, I would have needed to join the queue at NITEL exchange at NECOM House or Ikeja to receive the call. We have also made progress in the deployment of technology in the banking sector, again made possible by the improvement in the telecom sector.
Outside of these bright areas, Nigeria has failed miserably, most especially in meeting the basic needs of our people, in terms of good schools at all levels, affordable education, good hospitals, affordable healthcare service, employment opportunities and the most obvious of all, uninterrupted electricity and fuel supply. Add to this the humongous problem of corruption, such that year in year out, we keep getting opprobrium for being one of the most corrupt nations in the world, in surveys by Transparency International.
In other surveys, such as human development index, done by the UNDP, our country does not fare better. In the last report by the UNDP published last year March, the agency listed Angola, Burundi, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ethiopia, Liberia, Mali, Mozambique, Niger, Rwanda, Sierra Leone and Tanzania as among the African countries that made the greatest strides in HDI improvement since 2000.
According to the report, Nigeria was ranked amongst countries with low development index at 153 out of 186 countries that were ranked. Life expectancy in Nigeria was placed at 52 years old while other health indicators revealed that only 1.9 per cent of the nation’s budget is expended on health. Sixty eight per cent of Nigerians are reckoned to be living below $1.25 daily while adult illiteracy rate for adult (both sexes) was 61.3 per cent.
Last year’s report coincided with another report that said Nigeria recorded a GDP growth rate of 7 per cent in 2012. In a few months time, Nigeria will conclude the rebasing of its economic figures that will show the country’s GDP surpassing South Africa’s, making Nigeria the biggest economy in Africa.
My own worry is on the essence of these statistics, all this chest beating as ‘Giant of Africa’, when our people do not enjoy the basic necessities of life and when more than 80 per cent of us are condemned to a life of squalor and penury.
To discuss this crisis of governance that we face, I begin with the paradox of our nation:
Nigeria is the most governed state in the world, and yet also the most misgoverned with everything falling apart. Nigeria has 774 local councils, 36 state governments, 36 state parliaments, a bicameral legislature at the centre, whose members are paid the highest salaries and allowance in the world, 26 federal ministries, 541 federal agencies, with 263 of them being statutory agencies, backed by law. We operate the presidential system that has proven to be very expensive to run, with state and Federal officials living fat on the resources that ought to be used to develop the country.
With all these structures in place, Nigeria has failed to fulfill the basic needs of her people. Fela sang about this decades ago in Original Sufferhead. In the same song, he spoke about the lack of electricity:
Fela made this album in the 70s and the problems he highlighted then persist.
The second problem that I want to highlight is rather an absurdity: Our governments proclaiming they are serving public interests by building schools and hospitals and even roads. But when officials fall ill, they do not attend the hospitals; their children do not attend our schools even when they call the schools model schools; they are sent abroad for their education.
And lately, our officials do not even drive on our roads for long distances. Because the roads have been made unsafe by the shoddy job of their contractors, with whom they have shared money, the leaders have now chosen to move about in private jets or chartered helicopters, from one Nigerian town to the other. I wonder then, for whom are those schools and hospitals built? Are they for ‘animals called Nigerians’?
The third problem in the crisis of governance I want to highlight is about our padded and skewed budget that really shows why Nigeria will never work. Senator Bukola Saraki pointed out some of the anomalies in the 2014 budget, where several ministries requested for money to buy computers. While one ministry quoted N250, 000 for a computer unit, another quoted N500, 000 and yet another quoted N2million. This lack of streamlining of expenditure can only happen in Nigeria.
The aforementioned is even a lesser worry to me. The one that bothers me more is the increasing hijack of the commonwealth by those we put in government, the politicians and the civil servants. The modern government developed out of the mutual agreement by all that we have a government with all the structures we have today, a parliament, an executive, and the judiciary. The government was created to serve our common interests, the interest of the majority of our people.
But what do we find today? Government is serving its own interests at the people’s expense. And we see this selfish interest manifested in the amount of money government people appropriate for their own welfare. In the 2014 budget alone, the Federal Government voted 78 per cent to itself and 22 per cent to the remaining 160 million Nigerians. We find this skewed allocation of resources all over the country, except in one or two states, where capital expenditure still takes pre-eminence over recurrent expenditure.
When I reflect over this, the conclusion that comes to my mind is that the spirit of governance has been turned upside down in Nigeria. The trustees that we elect into office have appropriated resources to themselves, forgetting that the money belongs to us Nigerians. Like caretakers of an estate, they are entitled to only salaries or commissions, not that they will take almost all the proceeds away. We surely need to address this problem to forge ahead as a nation. And we do not need a team of World Bank economists or IMF specialists to tell us that Nigeria can never make it if we do not reverse the ratio of resource allocation in favour of capital expenditure. Some years ago, I tried to find out how Dubai was able to accomplish so much within a short time and turn itself into a tourist destination for the entire world. What I found was that all through the time Dubai was sowing the seed of high popping infrastructure, it was spending 80 per cent of its income on capital, and 20 per cent on recurrent. Here in Nigeria, we have been doing the reverse, while we continue to delude ourselves that we are transforming our country.
Another problem of this country is the wage structure and the cost of living. When I started working in 1981 as a university trained civil servant, my salary was N360 a month. This money at the time translated into $720, because the exchange rate was N1 to $2. At the time, a Volkswagen Beetle car was about N3, 800 and Peugeot 504 car was less than N6, 000. I rented a four-bedroom flat in Abeokuta at N120 a month, and a three-bedroom in Lagos at N150 a month. Cost of living was bearable and workers could save part of their wages every month. Today, 33 years after, a university graduate in the civil service earns about N40, 000, which is about $250 dollars. Fellow Nigerians, is this progress or regression?
Today, the minimum wage in Nigeria is N18, 000 a month, which translates to $120 dollars or $3 a day. Some states in Nigeria are paying less than this starvation wage to their workers. But the worse news is that many Nigerians, about 80 percent of the work force, whose jobs are not governed by the minimum wage rule are earning between N10, 000 and N12, 000 a month. If they are lucky, they earn N15, 000.
Let me offer some comparisons of minimum wage in others climes for us to appreciate why the low wages are a problem. In the US, it is $7.25 an hour. US President Barack Obama is working hard to increase it to $10.10 cents an hour. In the UK, the minimum wage per hour varies with your age: 21 and over earn six pounds, 31 pence; a person aged between 18-20 earns five pounds three pence, under 18, three pounds 72 pence and apprentices 2 pounds, sixty eight pence.
At a glance, we can see that what a Nigerian worker earns a day is not even up to what a worker earns in one hour either in the UK or the USA. The parlous wage level is one of the fundamental problems of our country, for it breeds a vicious cycle of poverty: families not being able to afford the basics of life, families living far below the poverty line, earning less than a dollar a day, families not being able to send their children to good schools, families not being able to afford good health care and thus putting their faith in faith healers, miracle churches, babalawos and so on. It also does not enhance patriotism and commitment to the cause of the nation by the citizens.
In recent times, we have seen facets of this problem manifested in crucial areas: A Federal police that does not adequately reward its manpower and even more, a Federal police that is gravely underfunded, such that it is unable to pay the approved peanuts. In the face of the recent serial Boko Haram attacks in Nigeria’s northeast, we must have wondered why the Nigerian military forces did not offer resistance. We now know: Our soldiers are not well paid and not well equipped. And because of a combination of these factors, when they see the Boko Haram militants coming their direction they take to their heels, rather than engage them in combat.
Nigeria needs to turn a new leaf in addressing the problems of human development.
We cannot continue to run a presidential system that breeds too much corruption and that is expensive to run. We cannot continue to ignore the development of our education and health sectors. More resources need to be pumped there.
The Government must also widen the scope of opportunities for our youths by creating more jobs. Government needs to jettison the ideology of the World Bank and the IMF that says government has no business getting involved in business. Government needs to be involved in setting up factories that can create thousands of jobs for our people.
Government must also review the wage structure in our country. The disparity in the income level between the rich and the poor is very sickening. A nation of extremely wealthy and extremely poor people is only playing with armed rebellion or a revolution.
–Excerpts of a speech by Bayo Onanuga, editor-in-chief of TheNEWS magazine and P.M.NEWS on 1 March, 2014 at the 6th Anniversary of Pulse Magazine.
First published in TheNEWS magazine