Like the silence which follows the echoes of gunshots after they have long ceased, this period of uneasy calm offers an opportunity for all to do a rethink of our positions, our sentiments, as well as our strategies if we must surmount the hurdles ahead that threaten the existence of our nation and our collective as a people.
It is a period of rethink for all: for the ‘ruling’ elites who live in self-denial that all is well and that the nation can trudge on with this near-tattered construct to convey us to our destination; for the non-ruling, ‘out of power’ elites who believe nothing is too sacred or profane to deploy in the enterprise of power-grabbing; for the ethnic groups and militias who have long advocated violence as means of settling perceived marginalization; for the intelligentsia wing of ethnic associations and various self-styled socio-cultural groups which have until now remained receptive to the idea of violence as a strategy, and kept mute on the violent posture of their militia wings; for religious heads and houses who provided and continue to provide messianic interpretations to endless protests as signs of a ‘new dawn’ they have longed for even as the nation grapples with harrowing consequences; for media houses who peddle fake news for political reasons; and definitely a period of rethink for the youth whose experiential limitations, innocence as well as youthful exuberance are being manipulated for political plots far beyond their comprehension.
There is no doubt that a number of things is wrong with the system we run in Nigeria which requires urgent attention if the tensions threatening to tear us apart must be overcome.
The Political Structure
The first of these problems has to do with the unitary, pseudo-federal system we run where every component part looks up to the center for welfare and security. Many have reiterated the need to re-calibrate the legislative items in our constitution and ‘unbundle’ or devolve substantial part of the items on the Exclusive list to give more space to states for active roles in social and economic development. This will reduce not just the concentration of power and the chronic dependence on the center, but also the inefficiency, wastage, corruption, nepotism, and sleazy political patronage that power concentration breeds. For example, an item like power generation ought to have been devolved in clear terms as to allow unfettered right by states to take up, with little or no recourse to the federal government. This would have assisted in increasing power availability and supply, spread employment and development opportunities far beyond what the center alone can provide, allow states to set developmental priorities, foster regional focus for development akin to the immediate post-independence era, and bring development closer to the grass-root. This is one middle course that can be exploited between this ‘trapped’ state we find ourselves in and the ominous call for secession by groups and individuals disenchanted with the status quo.
Socio-economic Apartheid of the Political Class
Nowhere is this more visible than the emoluments of public office holders (most especially the lawmakers) which have created a divided society between the privileged few and the ever increasing poor. It is economic apartheid when the minimum wage is pegged at N30, 000:00 (Thirty Thousand Naira) and legislators pay themselves N30 Million (Thirty Million Naira) as salaries in the same economy. This invariably means that a lawmaker in Nigeria is worth more than a thousand other Nigerian workers struggling at the lowest rung of the social ladder. The explanation by some of them that their emoluments cover more than their salaries and are meant for other legislative functions does not appeal to anyone because, neither are the impacts of those ‘legislative functions’ seen or felt at the constituencies nor are the content of what they are supposed to cater to made public for all to see and assess: everything is as usual shrouded in secrecy.
Apart from the negative burden of the emoluments on availability of funds for national development, cornering allocations meant for improving the lots of the commoners have become a career to the political class. Some earn humongous pensions as former occupants of political offices in addition to current salaries and allowances. The net effect of this is that distortions are created in the economy as this class of elites not only dwindles available resources but also externalizes their spending in the areas of health, education, nutrition, household items, travels and holidays as well as investments among others – a classical definition of capital flight.
A drastic reduction in the salaries and emoluments of these elites will not only force them to observe moderation in their life-style but will also make them handle genuinely and responsibly, public institutions placed in their trust since foreign alternatives will be ill-affordable to them. It is urgent that the salaries and emolument of public office holders be drastically reviewed downwards.
A lack of Will and Focus to Industrialize
The lack of will by the political class to consider an industrial road map for the country has stalled the proper harnessing and integration of our natural resources for proper internal linkages to aid development. This is one of the minimum signs that foreign investors want to see to get assured that investments made in the country will be viable and can survive.
But, as if by conspiracy, virtually all our developmental efforts are ‘walled’ to disallow the much needed integration that could produce the gravitation of the nation towards sustainable development: oil exploration has been walled from its refining; steel production has either been privatized to foreigners or taken over without a focus to turn their worth into pillars for manufacturing of engine parts and basic locomotives; agriculture has been invested in heavily without connecting it to sustainable social security schemes; roads and infrastructural efforts are carried out through foreign companies with little or no local content, contractors, or synergy with higher institutions; no efforts to raise the capacity of local contractors to take over from foreigners in the nearest future with the massive infrastructural needs ahead; higher institutions have no connection with the market place despite increase in their numbers; graduates are produced in virtually all fields and exported for the betterment of other countries. Such a condition can hardly attract any serious minded investment.
Contracting Economic Space, Expanding Sphere of Political Patronage
Since the structure of the country has failed to attract foreign direct investments and majority of the elites do not trust the viability and safety of their investment in the country and have thus externalized most of them, the economic space has been shrinking and this is directly responsible for mounting unemployment. In futile efforts at mopping up unemployment, the leviathan Nigerian state embarked on creation of a plethora of agencies just to provide jobs to their close allies and their wards. The contradiction produced here is the compulsion to raise government revenue in order to pay a bloated and grossly inefficient workforce by taxing the same downtrodden in their little businesses, and this is why micro, small and medium enterprises (MSME) hardly survive as they face multiple taxes and levies. It is also the reason why ethnicity and religion moved beyond their traditional boundaries of being mere vehicles of group consciousness and are elevated to the ranks of ‘instruments’ for allocation of scarce resources such as job opportunities, government social incentives and employment among competing forces. The net result here is that, apart from becoming battered as scapegoats in acrimony and blame-games, both religion and ethnicity are exploited as tools by this oppressive class to promote ‘solidaristic ties’ across class lines which shield them from proper scrutiny, blur the substances of issues, and provide them an escape route from accountability.
An Anarchical Judicial System
The Anarchical nature of the judicial system is another harrowing reality for Nigerians. Police brutality which generated the ENDSARS protests is only one among other forms of social, economic, political and psychological brutalities aided by a judicial system which prioritizes ‘technicalities’ over substance, and gives justice to the highest bidder. The problem here is with both the structure and content. States Police, States’ independent court system, and several other reforms of the judiciary that have been canvassed but glossed over by the political class are now more than ever needed for the nation’s survival.
While the above pertains to the ruling elites as well as their non-ruling counterparts jostling to hijack the decrepit system for their turn at personal aggrandizement, ethnic jingoists and religious bigots should have seen by now what double-edged sword violence can turn out to be as a strategy.
In the aftermath of the destruction occasioned by so-called hijack of the protests by hoodlums, there have emerged narratives along ethnic lines with ethnic militias and groups in the west pointing accusing fingers in the direction of the east with claims to have discovered the ‘motives’ for the carnage believed by them to have been orchestrated by the self-exiled warlord of the east, Nnamdi Kanu.
Even though both seemed to have an understanding between them to balkanize out of Nigeria, the cry of ‘backstabbing’ has rented the air from the ‘Odu’as’ as the ‘Biafran’ exiled chief was alleged to have masterminded the destruction which left ‘heritages’ of the ‘Odu’as’ in ruins going by the content of a leaked audio allegedly authored by him. In fact, some elements from the ‘Odu’as’ have given a 48 hour ultimatum for the ‘Biafrans’ to leave Lagos and the southwest or risk damage to their lives and property, despite both subscribing to the LNC (Lower Niger Congress) – an umbrella body for pro-secessionist groups of the east and the west.
While most of the socio-cultural groups of the west are now either dumbfounded or angry and incapable of discernible steps at this ‘stab in the back’, one can only pray that a re-enactment of the mutual acrimony between the two is not taken to a new level as Ohanaeze’s effort at distancing itself from IPOB holds neither consolation nor any measure of confidence among the ‘O’duas’. It appears the first shot in the secessionists’ camp has been fired and the damage has been inflicted on a ‘fellow comrade’. Whether the ‘O’duas’ will treat this as an inadvertent ‘friendly fire’ or a declaration of hostilities remains to be seen.
In the meantime, the government must pay attention to this angle of the crisis and ensured that inter-communal violence is nipped in the bud before it rears its ugly head. In the same vein, government must begin to assert its authority promptly and efficiently to safeguard the little that is left of security in the nation. Expectedly, pressure should be mounted on any country harboring Nnamdi Kanu to either exile him or hand him over if the audio attributed to him is true, otherwise, the man standing surety for him should be made to take his place at prosecution.
The media houses and owners too will have to decide whether they are going to be professional and responsible with their duty or continue to lend themselves as tools to all sorts of primordial sentiments and agenda.
Finally, the youth who started this will have to decide whether they genuinely wanted a departure from what we have and assiduously work for a better society or continue to indulge in trivialities that reduce their worth before their oppressors and traducers.
Enough warnings have been given to this nation with the events of the past weeks, how much of a rethink we all bring to bear on the situation will determine how well we survive the challenges ahead.