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*Nigeria - A Country in Crisis
By Folorunso Makinde
When Nigeria got her independence from Britain in 1960, few people if any would have foreseen all or some of the problems facing the country today. A country, which after independence was looked at with great hope and admiration particularly among black people all over the world is now fast becoming something of a nightmare. Recent events in Nigeria may compel many political analysts interested in African politics to wonder what has gone wrong with the self proclaimed `Giant of Africa’, but for those who have been closely following developments in the country since independence, this would not come as a big surprise. If there was any element of surprise at all, it would probably be the speed at which things have been allowed to deteriorate.
Going back in history, Nigeria has had its own share of political upheaval. The first republic did not last for long. Soon after independence, due to lack of tolerance among politicians and their unwillingness to abide by the rule of law and fair play in government, political instability engulfed the country. This led to the fall of the first republic and its government headed by the then Head of State, Nnamdi Azikiwe and Prime Minister Tafawa Balewa, and heralded in the first military regime in Nigeria headed by General Aguiyi Ironsi. The government of Aguiyi Ironsi was soon brought to an abrupt end when a group of Northern army officers carried out a revenge coup resulting in the death of Aguiyi Ironsi and some other notable southern officers. This was followed by the government of Lieutenant Colonel Yakubu Gowon and although improper as it was, the long reign of the Gowon’s regime provided the country with a period of political stability but not without initial political upheaval characterised by the bitter civil war that engulfed the nation when Colonel Ojukwu tried to calve out Biafra out of the former eastern region of Nigeria. This long period of political stability together with the oil boom of the 70s might have tempted early economists and political punters to foresee a brighter future for the country - an emerging black power, a country that would grow so great as to rival world powers like America, Britain and France. However, decades after independence, the main theme now dominating discussion about Nigeria, is whether or not the country will survive. How did we get here? ( Continues below..... )
Photo Above: Map of Nigeria showing some major cities, including the Federal capital (Abuja or FCT)
HOW DID WE GET HERE?
When the never ending Gowon’s regime was finally overthrown by Brigadier Murtala Mohammed in 1975 and the new regime promised a quick return to civilian rule, people in this most populated country in Africa might have thought they were witnessing the dawn of a new era and much more so when the Murtala Mohammed government started to implement measures that hitherto had been unheard of in the history of the country. Past and present government officials who had thought they had got away with their loot of public purse were suddenly asked to return them. All of a sudden, the people saw in their new Head of State, a faithful and just leader, someone that could be trusted. However, the honeymoon was short-lived. On the 13th of February 1976, Lt. Colonel Dimka and his co-conspirators soon cut short the life of the young General and his widely popular regime in a bloody coup that also claimed the life of some notable army officers. When Murtala’s second in command, General Olusegun Obasonjo took over the rein of power and immediately promised to continue the programme started by his predecessor, people’s anxiety and expectation were raised once again.
The 2nd Republic
The political razzmatazz and the enthusiasm shown by the people during the process of returning the country to civilian rule revealed that thirteen years of military rule did little to dampen people’s yearning for political freedom. However, the return to civil rule programme, which started on a high note ended on a sorry tale of the 12²¤3 saga. The 1979 General Elections promised so much but delivered very little. There was no doubt that the National Party of Nigeria (NPN) led by Alhaji Shehu Shagari enjoyed more support than any of the other four registered political parties that contested the 1979 elections and had better chance of gaining victory in the presidential election, but the fact that the whole process ended up in court and the highest court in the land stated in its judgement that the outcome of the case should not be used as a precedent showed that there were much to the whole saga than were revealed to the people. Once again, it showed that corruption and malpractices were still very rampant in high places. The whole outcome of the `return to civil rule programme’ showed that the foundation upon which the second republic was founded was very shaky and with this shadow of a shaky start lingering on the second republic, it was no wonder it didn’t last for long before it finally collapsed.
The 1983 General Election was a child of the 1979 election debacle. Having got their training from their predecessor (military regime), the politicians put everything they had learnt during the 1979 General Elections into practice during the 1983 General Elections. If there was any difference at all, it was probably in the extent at which they put what they had learnt into practice. The issue of the 12²¤3 that marred the 1979 General Elections clearly taught the incoming politicians that those in position of power could afford to ignore the constitution and the will of the people. It taught the politicians that it didn’t really matter finding out what the will of the people were but they can impose their own will as long as they have the control and the support of the judiciary and the nation’s armed elements i.e. the police and the soldiers. In the 1983 General Elections, what the politicians did was just to follow the trend of the 1979 elections and in fact took it a step further. The 1983 General Elections was a complete failure. Never has one witnessed such a large scale electoral malpractices right across the whole country with falsification of election results so widespread. During the poll count, the Federal Electoral Commission (FEDECO) charged with conducting and overseeing the elections were coming out with the kind of figures that made one wonder whether the elections were actually held in Nigeria or in a more populated country than Nigeria. As a matter of fact, many of the election results were contested in the courts and the Ondo State Gubernatorial result was actually overturned by the court. This confirmed the scale of corruption that was prevalent during the 1983 General Elections.
What are the consequences of all these election fiascos? One of the consequences was that knowing that they could disregard public opinion and in fact manipulate election results regardless of the will of the people, politicians did not feel the accountability inherent in the democratic process. Governments at all levels particularly the federal government became reckless, governments’ spending became extravagant and embezzlement of public funds was widespread together with the practices of using arson as a way of covering their tracks even at the cost of innocent lives. The extravagant spending of course brought with it economic problems which resulted in the country tilting on the edge of economic collapse before the military as the so called `saviour’ intervened in December 1983 to `save the country’ from the impending political and economic catastrophe.
Second Period of Military Rule
The coup that brought an end to the second republic and ushered in the Buhari regime was widely felt to be overdue even though some people claimed that the coup was timed to prevent another coup by those who might be more hostile to the outgoing regime. Whichever was the truth, the fact was that once again, the military were back where they do not belong but the people felt the need for a change which was not made possible through the ballot box.
The Buhari regime felt and rightly so that there was widespread indiscipline and the need to instil some discipline into the populace, introduced `War Against Indiscipline’ `WAI’ as it was popularly called. Many new laws some of which were draconian were promulgated. The regime however, didn’t last for long. In 1985 Babangida and his men toppled the regime. At first the Babangida regime appeared to be enjoying popular support as it promised to return the country back to civil rule. However, after a period of time, it soon became clear that the Babangida regime was turning out to be one of the most dishonest regimes of all time. There were many broken promises, corruption was becoming widespread and there were extravagant spending on a level never witnessed before not only in Nigeria but also in the world. As a matter of fact, the World Bank, which hitherto had always tended to be quiet about internal politics of nations could not resist the temptation this time and felt the need to speak out when it criticised the Babangida regime for spending two billion British pounds sterling without budgeting.
The Babangida regime must have taken after the way the Obasanjo regime treated the 1979 General Elections and the way the politicians in the second republic engaged in widespread falsification of results in 1983, when in June 1992, the results of an election which was widely judged to be free and fair was suddenly cancelled - a blatant disrespect for public opinion and the widely expressed wishes of the Nigerian people. Babangida’s action plunged the country into serious political upheaval. In fact, by the time General Babangida left the seat of power, Nigeria as a country was already on her knees facing serious economic and political problems. ( Continues below….. )
Photo Above: General Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida (rtd.)
Reeling under enormous pressure from almost every corner of the country and even from within the Army establishment, President Babangida as he wished to be called was finally forced to quit power but before he left, he installed in the vacuum of power created by his actions, an interim government which most people knew was a toothless bulldog. It was no surprise that after few months into taking over the running of the country, the interim regime of Ernest Shonekan was facing enormous problems and everyone knew it was only a matter of time before the interim government fall and so it did. In 1993, following a court case in which the interim government was declared to be illegal, General Sanni Abacha dismissed the interim government and took over power.
By the time the interim government of Ernest Shonekan was finally sent packing, the country was already crippled by economic and political unrests. There were widespread industrial actions, incessant and frequent closures of schools and colleges, to mention just a few. In fact the entire situation in the country was tense and it was left to the Abacha regime to pick up the pieces.
The Abacha government that came into being following the dismissal of the interim government turned out to be a government most Nigerians would like to forget if they could. Never since the country’s independence in 1960 has anyone witnessed so much corruption and flagrant abuse of power by those in position of authority. Innocent people were disappearing without any trace; false accusations were being trumped up by government as excuse for arrest and trial of opponents with resultant convictions and imprisonment. The judicial arm of government that were supposed to act as a check on executive excesses and protect the public, became more or less a passive bystander. To top it all, General Abacha planned to succeed himself as the next civilian president. During the Abacha regime, Nigerians witnessed atrocities at a level never experienced before in the history of the country. State terrorism was rampant and corruption was blatant. In short Nigeria throughout the Abacha regime went through its darkest era yet.
The role played by successive governments following the Abacha regime were not much to be trumpeted about. Although the Abdulsalam Abubakar government that took power following the sudden death of General Abacha promised to return the country to civilian rule which it did in 1999 but the death in custody of MKO Abiola the person adjudged to have won the June 12 1992 Presidential Election and the allegations of corruption levelled against the regime tainted the Abubakar’s government.
Looking at Nigeria today, to say the country is going through a difficult period sounds like an understatement when one take a critical look at what is actually happening in the country. Politically, Nigeria is in crisis with those in position of authority lacking the know-how on which direction to take the country. Never since the Biafran war has the voice of disunity been heard so loud and so clear and although the authorities in the country realise things are not well with Nigeria, efforts to address the situation have either been lukewarm or in most cases none at all. There is the problem of sectarian and religious killings perpetrated by Boko Haram, there is the problem caused by the sudden removal of oil subsidies to mention but a few.
The sectarian and religious killings being carried out by Boko Haram in many parts of Northern Nigeria was long in coming and shouldn’t have come to anyone as a surprise. Boko Haram was founded in Maiduguri, Northern Nigeria in 2002 by Mohammed Yusuf and has as its political goal - to create an Islamic State. The leader set up a complex made up of a mosque and an Islamic school. The organisation sees western style education as a sin and many poor Muslims from across Nigeria and neighbouring countries sends their children to be educated at the school. Now, considering that Nigeria’s education set-up is largely based on the western style education and the country itself is supposed to be a secular state, it was no rocket science that both the Boko Haram and the Nigeria state were on a collision course and it was only a matter of time before they collide which they did. In 2009 Boko Haram carried out series of attacks on police stations and other state buildings in Maiduguri and the government responded by capturing the headquarters of Boko Haram killing members of Boko Haram and its leader Mohammed Yusuf. The two have been at war since. The emergence of Boko Haram could be traced to the trend in the country which has seen the gradual erosion of the secularity status of the Nigeria constitution. During the Shagari government, there was an attempt to take the country into the Organisation of Islamic Conference (OIC). After much protest from many within the country, the idea was shelved. It later emerged that during the regime of Babangida, in 1986, Nigeria quietly became a member of OIC. This trend continued and during the Fourth Republic some northern states notably Zamfara declared Sharia as the governing law of the state. Now what is the link between this trend of Islamization of Nigeria and the emergence of Boko Haram? If one follows the recent re-emergence of nationalist extremism in Western Europe, one would see similarities and hence the link between the gradual erosion of Nigeria secularity status and the emergence of Boko Haram. Nigerians in Diaspora would remember when the issue of immigration becomes a hot topic within Western Europe and politicians across the political divides started to talk about curbing immigration. Soon, anti-immigration views became widespread and extreme nationalist political parties with anti-immigration views started to emerge like the British National Party in the UK, National Front in France, True Finns party in Finland to mention but a few. These parties started to gain popularity and before long racial attacks became widespread. Looking at the Nigeria situation and Boko Haram, when the Babangida regime took the country into the OIC, it sent a signal to proponents of Islamization of the country that it is possible to disregard the secularity status of the country. Then there is the issue of some northern states during the Fourth Republic declaring Sharia law as the governing law of their respective states without the federal government calling them to order. We should not forget the incident where a member of the Nigerian National Assembly took an underage bride from Saudi Arabia contrary to the law of the country and when some people protested he clearly stated that the only law he recognised was Islamic law which permitted such union. There is also the adoption of Islamic banking by the current governor of Central Bank of Nigeria. It is alarming that a civil servant will take such a mammoth decision without any authorisation from elected authority that exists within the country. This is a direct challenge to the elected authority in the country and no one call him to order. This should have been dealt with as an administrative issue because such decision was well beyond the remit of the powers of any civil servant. ( Continues below..... )
Imagine a situation where every permanent secretaries in the federal ministries decided to run their departments as they think fit or adopt and carry out any policies as they think fit without the permission of the elected representatives of the people to whom they are responsible. We should ask the question what would become of Nigeria in such a situation? Mallam Lamido Sanusi should have been summarily dismissed by President Goodluck Jonathan but the latter did nothing. Therefore, knowingly or unknowingly these actions of politicians were sending a clear signal to proponents of Islamization of Nigeria that the federal constitution of Nigeria is not supreme and can be undermined and even push aside in favour of Islamic law and policies. Consequently there will be those who will think that total Islamization of the country can be achieved even by violent means. It should be noted that no one will start a cause or a movement if there is no support whatsoever for it and no one will support a cause if he or she knows or realise that nothing can be achieved from it. Politicians and successive governments over the years have contributed either actively or passively towards the current situation prevalent in Nigeria today. From Babangida who secretly took Nigeria into OIC, to President Obasanjo who failed to defend the federal constitution and the country’s secularity status in the face of attack from state governments that declared Sharia law, together with other presidents and politicians who failed to take steps to address sectarian and religious issues when they were in power, they are all responsible for the situation Nigeria finds itself in today.
Removal of Subsidy on Oil Products
On the issue of the removal of subsidies from petroleum products by the Federal Government, whilst this is economically desirable it is politically damaging and will be socially catastrophic on the populace. Nigeria is a country where majority of the population live below the poverty line, removing subsidy on what is more or less an essential item for the majority of the populace will without any doubt make worse an already difficult situation for the people. For the presidency to even contemplate such a policy demonstrates lack of proper guidance. It has been said that the issue enjoys the backing of the Finance Minister Dr Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala and the governor of Central Bank of Nigeria Mallam Lamido Sanusi - these are not politicians. They are technocrats and this is what they are paid to do - to give advice to the politicians on what they think would be good for the economy but it is the job of the politicians and in this case the President to balance the economic implication with the political and social implications. Technocrats do not face elections, politicians does and the fact that a policy is economically desirable does not necessarily means it is socially imperative. The government’s argument was that Nigeria spends a third of its expenditure on oil subsidy and this money could be well spent in other areas of the economy like roads, education etc. However, we need to ask ourselves how does the government come to spend a third of its expenditure on oil subsidy or who was responsible for this? In a country where the government failed to make provision for a stable power supply, almost everything depends on oil, ranging from power generators to power individual homes, power generators for businesses including privately owned schools and hospitals. We could go on and on. Therefore, any such move to remove oil subsidy would have a domino effect meaning that every part of the people’s lives will be affected. Transport costs will go up, cost of running businesses will go up, cost of living will go up to mention but a few. The danger of such a situation is that for a people who are very suspicious of the government, such suspicion will grow even further. The government have failed woefully to provide any amenities for the people - education is not free, healthcare has to be paid for by the people, many of the roads are death traps, many communities have to resort to neighbourhood watch to provide security for their neighbourhood. As a matter of fact, Nigeria is a country where it can be categorically stated that the people exists for the government and not that the government exists for the people. Constitution are formulated without consultation with the people and so also are the state creation exercises, and the people have to accept and operate under the constitution. Many and in fact all the constitutions since independence have been the product of military regimes, civilian governments only have to come in and try to amend the provisions within these constitutions if possible. One would wonder what was the thought behind some of the provisions of these constitutions - whether it was people oriented or just for the ruling cabals. Why does the president has to choose a minister from each state of the federation when the administrative set up already make provision for a National Assembly with representatives from each state of the federation. There is no 36 federal ministries and yet each minister appointed has to be paid for together with the advisers and the remunerations that goes with their appointments. Then there is the state creation exercise by successive military governments which have become the Achilles Heel of the country as the country now has too many states which has led to the huge increase in the country’s cost of administration. Nigeria is said to be spending over 80% of its GDP on administrative cost. If one considers that the 1979 Sokoto state is now governed by 3 state governors which means that government departments to administer the previous Sokoto state have thus been trebled. No government have been bold enough to address the issue of the huge increase in administrative costs caused by the creation of too many states, however when the government felt that it needs funding it decides to take away the only benefit (if it can be described as such) in the form of oil subsidy from the people who are already impoverished by corruption and mismanagement of successive governments. ( Continues below….. )
Photo Above: Fuel Protesters Burn Tyres in Lagos
One should not forget the arrangement between the Obasanjo’s government and the family of the late Abacha where it was agreed that the Abacha family would return some of the stolen public money and keep the rest. General Babangida is reported to be richer than many African countries and yet no one has asked him to account for how he came about such huge wealth after all, he was only a civil servant all his working life. There is also the reported payment of 100 million Naira made to the family of the deceased founder of Boko Haram by the Borno state government. This is the founder of an organisation that is responsible for the deaths of many innocent Nigerians. When one considers all these and many more, one can only say that it appears the governments in Nigeria are either detached from the people or are operating on a different planet from the people and doesn’t understand the real situation in the country. In such a situation where there seems to be no social contract between the government and the people and the government decides to take away what seems to be the only thing that they receives from the government, it is a dangerous move by the government, an ill-thought policy. In a country where the people are already sufferings from years of corruption and economic mismanagement from successive governments, the last thing they will countenance is to be squeezed even further.
Nigeria is going through a very critical period in its history and it requires the effort of everyone to address the problems faced by the country. The time to sit back and wish for a Messiah to come and resolve all the problems for us is gone. None but ourselves can emancipate ourselves from years of corruption and misrule. We should not let our situation be like the famous story about four people Everybody, Somebody, Anybody and Nobody. There was an important job to be done. Everybody was sure that Somebody would do it. Anybody could have done it, but Nobody did it. Somebody got angry about that, because it was Everybody’s job. Everybody thought Anybody could do it, but Nobody realized that Everybody would not do it. It ended up that Everybody blamed Somebody when Nobody did what Anybody could have done.
NIGERIANS FOR REFERENDUM (NFR)
We in the NFR believes that each and every effort is useful if we all direct our combined efforts at the appropriate channel. This is why we are advocating for a state organised conference and referendum. There are many ways this could be done - one way is to collect signatures in each state on issues important to the people and hand in the collected signatures to the state authorities and demand for a referendum organised by the state governments. The outcomes will then be used as the basis for negotiations among the constituents/regions that make up the country. We understand that there are 36 states and the federal capital territory but we believe that in the process of demanding for a referendum there will be alignment of views and demands.
Asking the federal government to organise a national conference is a waste of time as this will never happen. The President’s constituency is the whole of Nigeria and as such the President has a balancing job to do. Some people will want one thing, others will not want that thing. However, this is not the case with state governments. We in the NFR believes that each and everyone of us has a vital role to play and every of our effort count if properly channelled. What we must not do is to fold our arms and hope for a better tomorrow when it is within our reach to shape our today and tomorrow not just for the sake of ourselves but also for our children. The current system and set-up in Nigeria is leading us nowhere. We all witnessed the killings of southern youth corpers in the northern part of Nigeria during the last General Elections; there is the continue problems of sectarian and religious killings in the country; none of our politicians have the courage to raise the issue concerning our military where with every change of government many officers are compulsorily retired not because the country no longer require their services but because the government of the day doubt their loyalty. This is a waste as the country have spent so much resources training these officers. The current arrangement in Nigeria is some people’s idea but it has not worked for us as a country. We do not have to accept someone’s idea and in particular when it has not brought our people unity and progress. Demanding for a referendum is our democratic right but a right is only useful if it is exercised. It is important that we realise this now and do something about it.
Nigeria is at a crossroad. Successive governments - both the military and civilian have failed the people of Nigeria. Many of our politicians are rulers and not leaders - they lack the courage to take the necessary step to get us out of our current predicament and take us to the next level but together we can do something. There is a part each and everyone of us can play to make a change in our country and restore our land to the path of glory.
This is why we are urging all progress minded Nigerians to join us in the process of demanding that each state governor organise a state-wide conference and hold a referendum in their individual state to find out what their constituents want in order that we can determine which way forward for our country.
To find out more about NFR, you can contact us using our contact details below.
Facebook: Nigerians For Referendum
Tel. + 44 - 07574342640
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