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Nigeria-President Jonathan and “Fresh air”:Averting a Crisis of Expectations

The 2011 presidential election was a typical Nigerian election,at least in one respect:it was not fought on the basis of any discernible manifesto.In developed democracies,manifestos are key factors in any political contest.Political candidates woo the electorate by publicly declaring the principles and intentions underpinning their candidacy.The electorate responds by choosing the candidates whose manifestos promise the greatest good to the greatest number of people.In contrast,in Nigeria,people prefer candidates for reasons of tribe,zone or religion.People never choose a candidate because of the candidate’s credentials or track record,no.It is always about what tribe,zone,godfather or religion the candidate represents.Every vote is a “balancing-act”,designed to redress zonal,tribal or other  “marginalization”;never about the candidate’s ability to perform in office.

President Goodluck Jonathan won the 2011 presidential election,because many voters wanted an end to the perceived “born-to-rule” mentality of Northern elites or to redress the perceived marginalization of the south in the rulership stakes of the country.I consider the 2011 presidential election a referendum on zoning,and my vote for president Jonathan was a vote against zoning.Zoning is the insidious idea,on the altar of which competence is sacrificed,which facilitates the “peaceful”  rotation political power between Northern and Southern elites.It seeks to bring some sort of “order” to the process of robbing the country blind,the preferred occupation of Nigerian elites.Zoning cuts across all the political parties.It was no coincidence,that of the four major parties,three produced Northerners as their flag-bearers.That tells you there was an understanding among the elites,to “return” power to the North.Thankfully,the masses were having none that,as dramatically demonstrated by South-west voters who rejected the ACN candidate,in favour of Jonathan,thereby reversing the pattern of the parliamentary elections,held a  week earlier.

In all this,there was very little consideration given to what programs president Jonathan had in store for the Nigerian people.You would struggle to find a Jonathan supporter,who voted for him because he was enthused by his proposed programs for the country.Apart from the legend,”i-want-fresh-air-in-Nigeria”,there is really no program of action that one can point to.And for any president,manifestos are important.Massively so.A program of action,with clearly defined items to be executed within strict time-lines,is necessary for the any president to succeed.The president needs such a road-map to motivate not only himself,but his entire team.One of the reasons Nigerian presidents/governors  have always performed poorly,can be attributed to the absence of a program against which,they can judge their progress.A president should have such a program that commits him to certain projects within a certain period,such that the progress made on these projects would act as a proxy,for the progress made by the administration.

Manifestos are also important because they provide the public with a yard-stick against which the president can be judged,realistically.Some may imagine that in the absence of a manifesto,the president gets a free-pass.Wrong.The president still gets judged,only this time,unrealistically.This is where the “crisis of expectation” comes in.The absence of manifestos does not translate into absence of expectation.When there are manifestos,expectations are anchored to the promises made in those manifestos.When there are no manifestos,expectations become “fantastical”: expectations are now unreasonable,unrealistic and in the realm of fantasy.When a party does not govern on the basis of a manifesto,it creates opportunity for members of the public to write their own.Different interest-groups will write different conflicting manifestos to suit their agenda.The inflation of expectations could lead to a crisis.Nigeria has never had a “crisis of expectation”,in this regard.And that is because Nigerians have never really felt betrayed by their presidents.

Nigerians never felt let down by their past  presidents,because they never believed the presidents were their “servants”.Nigerians always felt their presidents were imposed on them.From Shehu Shagari to Umaru Yaradua.As such Nigerians never believed that those guys owed them.Nigerians did not expect much from them,and therefore could not be disappointed by them.It is very different with president Jonathan.For the first time,Nigerians really believe that they,through their votes,put the president in office.And they expect payback.Nigerians,who,as religious people,have discerned God’s hand in Jonathan’s rise to power,expect God’s candidate to perform “miracles”.Otherwise,the president could quickly learn that there is a very thin line between adulation and villification.Infact they are different sides of the same coin.To meet the people’s expectations,the president has to work harder than any president in our history.He can start by publicly declaring a program of action,by which he can benchmark himself,and the public can judge him,realistically.”Fresh air”,being nebulous by nature,tends not to lend itself to definibility.It needs to be ossified,into a measurable road-map.The hard work should start now.Good luck,Mr president.You will need it.

Nigeria-Intelligibility,Education,the Scientist and Enlightened Citizenship

Nigerian School Children

The material universe is intelligible.Intelligible because it can be understood or comprehended.This means the world in which we live,in all it’s aspects,can be known.If the world can be understood,if the world is really knowable,then it can be predicted.If the world is predictable,then it’s behaviour must be driven by certain laws.Whether it is in the area finance,economy,health-care,social harmony,security or politics,there are certain laws at work.The universe is law-ordered.In order to dominate his environment,as is man’s duty and ambition,it is necessary for him to discover these laws and understand their operations.Man is an intelligent being,with the ability to grasp,learn or understand things.Man’s teachability,not only in his ability to learn,but also in his capacity for teaching others,led to the invention of education.

A process for transmitting knowledge,skills and values from one generation to the next,education is man’s great ally,in his task of understanding the world around him.Education is about building predictive capacity.Education is about helping man become scientific:one who believes that the universe can be understood through reason;that it is possible to generate accurate predictions about the world from certain premises and assumptions.Education,through it’s methodology,is designed to promote faith and confidence in the competence of reason.Reason is a faculty that enables man ascribe a causality to physical phenomena,based on his belief that things do not just happen;they are caused.This allows him to describe and understand the world in terms of cause and effect.The ability to exercise reason is a feature of rationality.

Our people(Nigerians) are intelligent,like other human beings.But how rational are we?While intelligence is just a capacity to comprehend,grasp or understand things,rationality goes deeper.Rationality also includes the ability to make decisions on the basis of cost-benefit analysis.This means being able to take decisions that are necessary to achieving goals that are desirable,whether at the individual or group level.The truth is that the Nigeria we have today is no accident.It is the product of the missteps of the yesterday.By the same token,the Nigeria of the future will reflect the decisions we take today, or fail to take.Whether we acknowledge it or not,one plus one will always give two.Facts cannot be changed by denial.A better Nigeria can only result,if we all make good decisions today.We have to learn to plan.There is no free lunch anywhere.As the saying goes,”those who fail to plan,are planning to fail.” Just like houses which deteriorate physically without proper maintenance,nations are subject to the law of entropy: disorder increases with time.This is an idea we have to get hold of.We have to take care of business today,to create a better tomorrow.

In advocating a scientific mindset,i am not saying that everybody should be a rocket scientist.No.I am suggesting that our education system be primed to teach the idea of causality;to emphasize the principle that our interventions today determine our future.At the individual level,we can all be social scientists no matter our profession or discipline.The car driver should understand the connection between car-maintenance and car-breakdowns or accidents.The politician should realize that,by arming unemployed youths  in order to steal an election today,he is creating tomorrow’s class of militants.The policy-maker who helps to create soci-economic conditions that make it “normal”,for school-age children to have to go through early morning wrestling sessions,as they fight to buy water and kerosine daily,before heading to school,should know that he is helping to create a generation of people for whom society is a jungle,where only the fittest survive.

Having had to snatch survival from the jaws of privation,daily,these kids will see society as a continuum of adversarial battles,where you survive only by knocking the other person down.Today’s deprived and abused children will grow up to become tomorrow’s enforcers,thugs,shake-down-artists and robbers,depending on whether they end up in the military,police or “politics” or any of their variants.These are not the people to build a great nation.Only enlightened citizens can do that.Education enhances man’ natural teachability so that he understands why governments exist,why laws are made and why those laws should be obeyed.He also understands that society is an organism,interconnected,and that when one part hurts everybody suffers.This is what we should be seeking to achieve with our education system.The education we are offering our children now is too narrow.Especially for science-inclined students.

Our engineers and technical graduates are some of the most narrow-minded people around,because they never really studied the humanities.When you consider that people with science backgrounds are usually entrusted with running our infrastructure,from power-supply,roads,housing,environment to the health ministry,then you can understand why we are in trouble.Do not misunderstand me.As a developing nation,Nigeria needs all the engineers and technical types she can produce,to build and manage our infrastructure.I am just saying they would do a much better job,if they were sociologically aware.Right now,most of them are sociological illiterates.Education should not only teach how to build “objects”,but also how to build a harmonious society.So that whether we are doctors,engineers,teachers,lawyers or politicians,we understand that it is all about standing together in harmony.This is the sort of education we should aim for.

Nigeria-Attacks on Youth Corpers:Doing Violence to the Idea,and Cause,of National Unity

According to news reports carried by http://punchng.com,”Post-election violence broke out on Sunday in about 10 states in the North shortly after results of the April 16 presidential election indicated that Jonathan would win. The violence which continued in some of the states till Wednesday has left scores of persons dead and properties worth billions of naira destroyed. Among the dead are corps members. As at Thursday, the whereabouts of 27 corps members attacked in Bauchi by some hoodlums were unknown. Four of their colleagues were confirmed dead by the state Commissioner of Police, Mr. Amana Abakasanga.” Heart-rending stuff.Young people who answered the call to  service,of the fatherland so mindlessly slaughtered.What has me worried is that this slaughter may not have been mere happenstance.

There have been too many attacks on Corpers by their hosts,in the last few years,to discount the possibility that corpers have become deliberate targets.Many of these host-communities are ambivalent about the NYSC scheme.While they are quite happy to enjoy the services provided by corpers,as doctors and teachers,they resent what the corpers represent:modernity,westernization,secularism;a world they find so reprehensible they are willing to sacrifice national unity,in its destruction.For the NYSC scheme rests on the idea of promoting national unity,through the interaction of Nigeria’s disparate peoples.Created by the Gowon administration,in 1973,the national youth service corp,NYSC,was envisioned as a vehicle for fostering unity among Nigeria’s many peoples.The idea was that by posting corpers to states other than their states of origin,they would be brought into contact with people of different tribal,social,religious backgrounds.

It was hoped that contact,with people of different cultural and religious persuasions would boost understanding,and the cause of national unity.No one can argue with the theory.The reality,however,engenders much debate,and doubt.Every time corpers are attacked,the idea of fostering unity through the NYSC,comes under siege.More people are forced to question  its value.For members of Nigeria’s middle and upper classes,mainly southerners,the NYSC  scheme is viewed as a way to provide uncompensated skilled-labour for areas where these skills are in short supply,mainly in the north of Nigeria.For these people,it is a wasteful distraction from the business of getting on in life.With all the connections available to people in this category,the one year spent on youth service could have been put to better use,securing some plum job somewhere,or furthering their education,given that  service,especially  in rural areas  offers little in the way of attractive permanent employment.

On the other hand,for corpers from less-privileged homes,the NYSC could be an opportunity.Lacking the necessary connections to enable job-hunting,the service year is a chance to work and get paid.It is also an opportunity to see other parts of the country and to broaden the horizon of their minds.Especially for people without any city-based relations.If job-hunting is tough for those living in the city,imagine the odds against job-seekers who have to commute from their villages.I had school-mates in this position.Every time school closed,they had to go back to their villages.I always wondered how they would secure a job in the city,while living in their villages.For people in this category,the NYSC program provides a useful stop-gap that brings them into contact with corporate Nigeria.Also,the money they make during the service year gives them a level of independence that they have never known,and the savings would come in handy after service.And,not being so choosy,the service job,if it is made permanent, might be attractive enough as well.

So yeah,the NYSC scheme could work,if we make the following improvements.First,we need to provide adequate security for corpers.President Jonathan has charged state governors,to ensure the security of corpers serving in their respective states.We have to go further and accord corpers the same level of security enjoyed by officers in the military.When it becomes clear that an attack on a corper is equivalent to an attack on a military officer,these attacks will stop.Second,call-up waiting time should be a matter of weeks,not months.A situation where people are kept at home for months  or more waiting for call-up,further burdening parents and guardians who have sacrificed everything for them already,is unacceptable.A friend told me how she was forced to squat with an uncle,a taxi-driver with 6 children,for over a year,while waiting for her call-up,in an arrangement where she was somehow expected to provide “breakfast”for the family,being the “big-girl” from the university.Where she was expected to get the money from,only God could have known.

Third,corpers remuneration should be reviewed upwards.Let’s face it,these are qualified professionals.They should be better paid for all their sacrifice.At the end of the service-year,they should receive a healthy bonus,something substantial enough to subsidize their housing,medical and transport costs,for atleast two years.Finally,there should be greater emphasis on orientation.No,not for the corpers.For the host-communities.If the objective of national unity through the NYSC service is to be achieved,then toleration and accomodation must be mutual,between host and guest.While the corpers have to be considerate of the religious sensibilities of their hosts,these communities must come to terms with the secular,modern world in which a huge chunk of Nigeria lives,and of which the corpers are representative.Each must be tolerant of the Other’s otherness.Fro example,attacking corpers for allegedly violating the local dress-code,as happened a couple years ago when a female-corper was repeatedly raped,and then killed,for wearing “trousers”,is simply unacceoptable.What if her religion compelled her to wear “trousers?”Then what?Remember she was forcibly posted to that community;she did not choose to go there.

Nigeria-2011 Presidential Election:A Referendum on Zoning

According to http://wwwpunchng.com,”INEC Chairman, Prof. Attahiru Jega, declared Jonathan of the Peoples Democratic Party winner after the results of the nine states whose results were not taken on Sunday at the National Collation Centre in Abuja had been announced. Jega said that apart from having the highest number of votes cast in the election, the President was also able to meet the constitutional requirement on the spread of votes.According to him, Jonathan scored the mandatory 25 per cent of votes cast in 31 states and the Federal Capital Territory to emerge the winner.” Explaining further,the INEC chairman said, “The constitutional requirement is that parties must be able to score at least 25 per cent in two third of the total number of states and the FCT.Based on this, the positions of the parties are as follows: Ribadu of the ACN scored 25 per cent votes in four states; Buhari of the CPC scored 25 per cent of votes in 16 states and Jonathan of the PDP scored 25 per cent votes in 31 states.” Out of the 38,209,978 total valid votes, Jonathan polled 22,495,187 votes (58.9 per cent) while his closest rival, Maj.-Gen. Muhammadu Buhari of the Congress for Progressive Change came second with 12,214,853 votes or 31. 98 per cent.

Nigerian presidential elections have never been about issues or programmes,they are usually contested along the fault-lines of ethnicity and religion.Victory is usually secured by the incumbent- or for the pro-establishment-party,depending on whether the transition  is civilian-to-civilian or military-to-civilian.Thus political parties do not act as vehicles for aggregating political thought;no,they are more like cartels designed to trade access to power.But in order to avoid “civil war” within the ranks of the ruling elite,it became necessary to establish some sort of order of precedence.Given the emotivity of ethnicity and religion,a zoning formula based on these two had to be instituted.Thus came the PDP,Peoples democratic party,zoning accord of 1999,which allegedly stipulated that power should rotate between the North and South;each zone was to get 8 years.

According to this arrangement,after president Obasanjo‘s 8 year-tenure,power duly returned to the North with the presidency of Yaradua.But death intervened,truncating Yaradua’s presidency and leaving Jonathan,a southerner,as president.When Jonathan decided to run for president,certain segments of the North felt cheated,feeling that it was still the North’s turn,given that Yaradua did not complete his tenure.So the 2011 presidential election was about zoning.It was not only Northern elements who favoured zoning.Plenty of people within the southern elite also supported the zoning principle.In and outside of the PDP.It was no coincidence that of the four established parties,three had Northerners flying their presidential flags:Nuhu Ribadu of the Action congress of Nigeria,ACN;Ibrahim Shekarau of the All Nigeria peoples party,ANPP;Muhammadu Buhari of the Congress for progressive change,CPC.

From this analysis,it is clear that support for zoning cuts across ethnic,religious and party lines.And no surprises there,for it is an elite stitch-up that enables the fleecing of the commonwealth.The reality is that irrespective of your ethnic or religious affiliations,if you are not a member of the elite group,you do not benefit from the zoning of offices.You,in fact,lose.Only members of the elite,those actively involved in the divvying of our wealth,benefit from zoning.And ordinary Nigerians seem to have caught-on.So they trooped out last Saturday to proclaim a loud NO,against zoning.Jonathan’s victory is a clear rejection of the burden of zoning.The South West provides dramatic evidence of this.Having rejected the PDP,in favour of the ACN,during the national assembly elections a week earlier,the people went out and voted for the presidential candidate of the PDP,rejecting the presidential candidate of the ACN,a Northerner.The elite stitch-up might have thrown up a Norherner as presidential candidate,but the masses were having none of it.

Nigerian Elites:A “domestic-diaspora?”

“Many members of the so-called elite group monitored the National Assembly elections on television, from the comfort of their homes or from far away, abroad. It will be a useful exercise to check how many Nigerian CEOs and captains of industry went out to vote on Saturday, April 9. The truth is that as Nigerians go to the polls, many Nigerian “big men and women” have since travelled out of the country. They won’t return until the elections are won and lost and they are sure that there is peace in the country. These are the same people whose businesses will be affected by National Assembly legislations. They would be quick to complain should there be unfavourable legislations affecting their businesses, and yet on election day, they’d rather stay at home, and allow their drivers, house-helps and bricklayers to be the ones to decide how Nigeria votes. In other parts of the world, it is the middle class and the elite that take the driver’s seat in determining the future of the country. In Nigeria, the rich are often too lazy to vote except when the election is like a business enterprise for them, that is a direct source of livelihood.”

The observation,quoted above,was made by Reuben Abati,in an article he published on a Nigerian website,the Nigeriavillagesquare.com.Any keen observer of Nigeria,would have noticed the same thing.The Nigerian elites live in Nigeria,but Nigeria does not live in them.They are like ex-territorial citizens,seemingly above Nigeria’s constraints.They are so detached from Nigeria,they are like expatriates:they do not send their children to Nigerian schools;they do not use Nigerian hospitals when they are stricken by sickness;they would rather bank their money abroad;they only live in Nigeria to make money.A few years ago,an expatriate acquaintance,a Dutchman working for one of the oil-companies in Port-Harcourt,told me a very revealing story.As a member of his company’s negotiation-team,he was privileged to attend meetings between representatives of the government,the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation, NNPC,and those of the oil-companies.He said one of the bitterest complaints made by the NNPC guys was that,”expatriates do not invest in Nigeria;they do not use Nigerian schools or hospitals.” when he finished speaking,he looked at me,and we both started laughing.How funny.

Now,it is right that expatriates invest in Nigeria.But how can you make this point,when the top echelon of the government and the NNPC do not send their children to Nigerian schools or use Nigerian hospitals? Should they not lead by example? Nigerian elites are engaged with Nigeria superficially,and that through their economic activities,only.For them,Nigeria is useful,only for the rent-seeking opportunities it provides.As long as the government remains a captured agency,which exists only to award contracts and share the oil-money,the gravy-train will continue to churn.So why should they worry about which party “captures” power?They know that there is very little difference between our politicians,irrespective of party;these are the same politicians who jump from one party to the other,on the basis of expediency not ideology.They know that whoever wins,regulatory capture will ensure that business continues to be very lucrative,for the connected.

Of course you can argue that this indifference has a cost,as the resulting bad governance has consequences,in poor security;bad schools and hospitals;poor infrastructure and even worse power-supply.A cost that affects everybody,including the elites.Sure,it costs a pretty penny to pay for the foreign schools,medical treatment abroad,24 hour generator-power at home and at work,private security.But this dysfunctional system is contrived to ensure even greater gains for the connected.Far more gain than it’s cost.I recall that when the GSM mobile phone started in Nigeria,one of the companies claimed that,given the poor power-supply  situation in the country,it had to buy 9000 generating sets to power its system,on the basis of which it went on to charge,probably the highest phone rates in the world,with the condonment,if not the connivance of the regulatory authorities.Just a couple of  years down the road,the company had netted billions of Naira in profit.This is a typical business scenario here;in collusion with government regulators,businesses pass the cost of doing business in an uncompetitive business environment,on to the consumers,who are without any form of consumer-protection.

What is sad about this situation is not just the huge amount of money sent out of Nigerian each year,in the shape of medical or school fees,but the human capital-flight involved.Although Nigerians abroad repatriate millions of Dollars each year,most of these Nigerians sending money home are not children of  Nigerian elites.These are people from ordinary homes who are sacrificing so much,in order to send help to those at home.Children of the elites,on the other hand do not send a dime home.They do not need to.Instead,they live on money sent them by their parents,money  creamed from the Nigerian people.And as we all know most of them do not come home to work after concluding their studies,choosing to remain abroad instead;so they repatriate neither money nor skills.As far as Nigeria is concerned,sending them abroad to study is a total loss,a financial as well as a brain drain.

What is most distressing about all this,is that members of the middle class,those on $60000 or less a year,are getting in on the act.Any one in the oil-industry will attest to this fact.It is the rage now for even low-level staff,to plan for a foreign university education for their children. Where they cannot afford to send their children to Europe or America,they opt for Ghana.Imagine how much money Nigeria loses each year as it’s best paid professionals decide to hand the money over to foreigners?Think of the opportunity-cost of such huge sums.Consider how much better off we would be,if we invested such sums in our education system.If we all want a better Nigeria,scrambling for the oil-money,and then handing it all over to foreigners is not the way to go about it.

Nigeria-The Road to “Libya”:Between Functional Democracy and Revolution

Revolution is in the air.Like an ineluctable and irresistible airborne-virus,which infects anyone with whom it makes contact,the revolution bug seems to have bitten us all.Whether on the street or online,it seems people have little else to enthuse about.And Nigerians are no different.And all this,because of the events in the Arab world in the last three months.From one part of the Arab world to the other,street protests have become de rigueur.The list seems endless:Yemen,Iran,Tunisia,Egypt,Algeria,Libya,the Gulf states,Kingdom of Jordan.etc.In all these places,Arab citizens,having tired of the  rule of unelected and unaccountable patriarchs,have taken to the streets to forcefully eject their oppressors.While the situation is still fluid in many of these countries,street protests have already seen off dictators in two countries,Tunisia and Egypt.In a third,Libya,a virtual civil war is in full swing.

Nigerians who have been glued to their Television sets or Laptops,like people everywhere,as these events have unfolded,are wondering if revolution could happen here,too.Naturally.For the great majority of  Nigerians are dissatisfied with the state of the country.People are completely disenchanted with the political class.The feeling here is that something has to give.People wonder when it would be their turn to cast off their oppressors.Everybody is talking about revolution.So topical has revolution become,that one of Nigeria’s top lawmakers found it necessary to reassure a group of visiting German lawmakers,that the sort of  regime-change that took place in Tunisia and Egypt,could not happen here.According to him,this is because Nigeria has a “functional democracy”.Therein lies the concern.Does Nigeria really have functional democracy?

An objective analysis of the events in the Arab world shows though there were social and economic  factors involved,the main reason for the recourse to street protests as a means of changing the leadership,was because constitutional options were nonexistent.All these Arab countries suffer from a lack of functional democracy.As a result,street protests represent the only viable option,for effecting leadership change.In a real democracy,we would likely not see this type of regime-changing protests.This is because democracy provides a safety-valve,by giving citizens an opportunity to take revenge on their oppressors,through regular elections.Thus,voting can be cathartic.It gives you the opportunity to express your support or disapproval of your leaders or their policies,allowing you to vent your frustrations about the direction of your country,and it’ leadership.If Arabs had real democracy,they would have been able to change their leaders,without all this drama.

And i am talking real democracy here,where citizens’ votes count;not sham-democracy,where elections are routinely stolen.Democracy developed as an alternative to absolutism.It empowers citizens by giving them the vote.Through the vote,citizens have the power to hire-and-fire their political leaders as they deem fit.Elections were devised as a tool for sharing and rotating power,among different political parties.By promoting the embrace of peaceful politics they  ensure peace within the realm.When elections are routinely stolen,they become a weapon for monopolizing power,and the political exclusion of those outside the ruling party.This “weapon-isation” perverts the ideal of democracy,taking us back to the alternate model of government:absolutism.Make no mistake about it,the wounds inflicted on the body-polity by vote-stealing are so grievous,they hark back to the violence and banditry of feudalism.

When citizens are disenfranchised and denied the ability to choose their leaders,through election rigging,the resulting conditions approximate the feudal state.History teaches us that the only way to change the leadership in a feudalism,is through violence and bloodshed.You will recall the Russian and French revolutions where citizens rose up,and in an orgy of blood-letting,extirpated the members of the aristocracy.Denied constitutional means of change,the citizens of the Arab world had no choice but to confront tyranny with the only option available to them.The question for our esteemed lawmaker is this:”does Nigeria have real democracy?”.Can he really claim that votes count,that voters wishes are respected?This question is important because,while his view that the Tunisian/Egyptian model cannot be reproduced here is correct,his complacency is worrying.Worrying because a worse scenario could be in store for Nigeria:Libya!!!

Tunisian and Egyptian societies are largely homogeneous.Held together by religion,the Arabic language and ethnicity,these people could act in concert against a common foe.It was impossible to turn anyone tribe against the other,simply because they are largely one tribe.Contrast this with Nigeria,dominated by tree opposed and equal different ethnic groups who subscribe to different religions.The leader would have been able to count on the automatic support of his “brothers”,regardless of the demerits of his cause.Any sustained protest against the president would have been dismissed as a witch-hunt by his people,and the country would have been on the brink of civil war.Just like Libya.Like Nigeria,Libya is a colonial joinery of three provinces following Italian victory in the Italo-Turkish war(1911-1912), Tripolitania in the northwest, Barka(Cyrenaiaca) in the east, and Fezzan in the southwest.

Today,following the protests launched in February by ordinary Libyans,the country is in a virtual civil war,with the eastern part of the country under “rebel” control,the rump Khaddafi government holds Tripoli,while the international community holds the ring.Thousands of people have been killed.Unlike the Tunisians and Egyptians,Libyans are not one people,and so it has been possible to turn one tribe/province against the other.If Nigerians were ever to attempt to forcibly change it’s leadership through popular street protests,the outcome is more likely to be the Libyan scenario,rather than that of Tunisia/Egypt.The thought of the carnage going on in Lbya now,should concentrate minds here.The political class must raise it’s game;it cannot continue to be so complacent.Governance must improve.Make no mistake about it,this is the age of the internet driven protest.Nigerians will rise up against tyranny.Nigerians should be allowed to choose and change their leaders.Henceforth,elections must be free and fair,starting with the 2011 elections.This might be the only to avoid “Libya”.Our esteemed lawmaker should note that the road to “Libya” is paved with complacency.

Nigeria-Credentialism,Presidentialism and Federal character

Nigerian Presidential Seal

Credentialism,the undue and excessive reliance on credentials,especially in the shape of certificates,for securing jobs or positions,is a symptom of a society without a work-ethic.And no wonder.In a trust-fund state,like Nigeria,the only business in town,is the sharing of the “national cake”. Nowhere is this trend more evident,or pernicious,than in the appointment of government ministers.People are given ministerial appointments,just because they possess certificates that purport to relate to the ministries,they are supposed to head.No matter that these people have no ideas,on how these ministries are supposed to provide services to Nigerians,and thus make life better.I am not suggesting that having certificates,should not be factored into decision to appoint people.No.I am saying that,though certificates may be necessary,they are not sufficient.

To secure the necessary performance from our governments,at every level,ministers or commissioners should be men and women of ideas.People who have given some thought to those areas covered by their ministerial portfolio.Consider the health ministry.It is wasteful,to make somebody the health minister just because he is a brilliant professor in some  narrow medical field,if the person has never really given a thought to the idea of health-delivery as a social service.You need someone with a vertical view of the health situation;someone with a grasp of the social,cultural and economic factors,that impede the delivery of health-care services to Nigerians.Brilliance,within the walls of a hospital,will not necessarily translate into competence in  public service.

What is true of the health ministry,also applies to other ministries.We need people who can think outside the box.As an example of this,i remember that the  Brazilian government ran a program,to increase vaccination compliance and school enrollment for it’s Indian  population,using financial incentives.People were financially rewarded,if their children  met a stipulated school attendance rate,and visited a clinic on appointed days.This program could only have been designed by people who are socially and culturally aware.Creative people.Not social illiterates.Take the power sector.The minister’s job is not to design transformers.All the technology needed in the power sector is already out there.Electricity technology is old-school,low-tech and has been around since the nineteenth century.His/her job is to ensure that generation keeps up with  projected demand,and to improve enrollment.

To improve enrollment simply means extending electricity to those without it,as well as ensuring that those using it,pay their bills.So it is about accountability.It is about getting the power sector to become self-sustaining.To do this job well,the minister needs more than a handful of engineering degrees in his tool kit.He needs to be able to think creatively,factoring social realities into his calculations.For example,if people are reluctant to pay their bills,leaving the utility with a considerable short-fall in revenue,which forces it to scale back investment in talent and technology,in a context where law-enforcement is weak,and outside the minister’s authority,then you need original ideas to get around this problem.Only a minister who has thought long and hard about the power sector,and it’s centrality to the Nigerian economy,is capable of unknotting the problem.

Underpinning this situation,is the “federal character” principle,which has been enshrined in the Nigerian constitution since !979.According to section 14 of the constitution,”the composition of the government of the federation or any of its agencies and the conduct of its affairs shall be carried out in such manner as to reflect the federal character of Nigeria and the need to promote national unity, and also to command national loyalty thereby ensuring that there shall be no predominance of persons from a few States or from a few ethnic or other sectional groups in the government or any of its agencies. ” This principle is the reason we have 27 federal ministries,with almost all of them  having one or more junior ministers.You can imagine the duplication,and waste,involved just to satisfy this requirement.

The United States ,the inspiration for our presidential system,at over twice our population,ten times our total area,with 51 states to our 36,and with a GDP of 14 trillion to our 214 billion,has only 15 federal departments.Go figure.Worse than the duplication and waste,is the fact that it is impossible for the president to pick his team,by himself.Because it is impossible for the president to identify qualified people from 36 states,he is forced to rely on the recommendation of “God-fathers” within his party.Of course these people are going to choose nominees,on the basis of loyalty rather than competence and integrity.If you look at the United States,the president does not micro-manage.He chooses people he knows and trusts,and lets them get on with it.The president is like the captain of a ship;he sets the direction,and lets the crew get on with the steering.

If we want progress,the Nigerian president should have the freedom to choose people,whose ideas align with his agenda.If we cannot change the “federal character” principle,then we should insist that,for this purpose,the federating unit should be the geo-political zone.That way,the president needs to pick only six people to be “federal character” principle compliant,and is thereafter free to choose the rest of his team,from any part of the country.If we are to hold the president accountable, for  the performance of his government,equity demands that the president be allowed to choose those people,he believes to be in tune with his agenda.If the ambition of the “federal character” principle,is to secure national unity and loyalty,then we should plump for  efficient governance,which would really serve the Nigerian people.To do this,we have to unbundle governance into “cake-baking” and “cake-sharing”. “cake-baking” must be a meritocratic process,if we want a lot of  “cake” to share.The better the “cooks”, the better and bigger the “cake” to share.Then when it comes time for  “cake-sharing”,we can realise the aims of the “federal character” principle,by ensuring equitable distribution of federal amenities;schools,power stations,hospitals,e.t.c.

Nigeria-“I Pass My Neighbour”:Social Emulation,Lethargic Citizenship and the “Self-Bigotry” of Low Expectations

George W Bush,then president of the United States,used the phrase “soft bigotry of low expectations”, against the democrats in 2004.Clearly,Bush used it as a riposte against the type of racism that masquerades as liberalism.Paternalistic,this type of liberalism views the black man as a child,whose needs are to be met,but who is not to be trusted with any great responsibility.Unlike the “hard” variety,which simply says “to hell with them,nothing good will ever come out of Africa,” soft-bigotry says “it is our duty to take care of these people,they certainly cannot do it themselves.” Both varieties are racist,founded on the idea that the black man is incapable,inferior.If you are black,this must make you angry,and sad.

It is  sadder still that we,Nigerians,seem to agree with this racist assessment,a form of self-racism,self-directed bigotry.How else do you explain our talent for travesty and mediocrity.?We just cannot seem to do anything right.We have an aptitude for adulteration and bastardization.We have set the moral and ethical bar so low,that anything goes.Mediocrity has become our  aspirational norm.We have come to expect so little of ourselves.And all this,because we have such low self-esteem.Such low self-confidence.Typically camouflaged in aggressive posturing,our low self-esteem can be seen in our crab-like acquisition of power and it’s symbols:money,titles and women;we seek validation in the amassing ,and ownership,of “objects”.

We feel bereft,denuded,undeserving and unworthy,unless surrounded by status symbols such as cars,houses,titles and plenty of money.Feeling so innately unworthy,we are willing to accept any condition.We would just “manage”. The worst part of it all,is that any attempt to be different,and insist on your right,makes you a target.You see this everywhere.If you have ever used public transport in Nigeria,then you know that protesting that a cab,with seating for only three passengers,should not try to squeeze in an extra person,makes you “wicked”, in the eyes of fellow passengers.You go to a restaurant that is near-empty,you take a seat at a clean table;the next guy that walks in,would probably  make a bee-line for your table,rather than make an effort to get one of the many free tables cleaned by the steward.You dare not protest.If you do,then you must be very “selfish”.You end up eating with your elbows in each others sides and breathing into each others food.

Nigerians expect you to take “it”. Especially when “it”, is dished out by the government.As someone put it, “if the government tells Nigerians to climb a tree,people would simply comply.” Protesting will make you few friends.Instead,for your trouble,you will get a huge dose of abuse from fellow suffering citizens.I remember a few weeks ago,when Okey Ndibe,a professor and  public commentator,protested about his “treatment” by the Nigerian immigration and security services,he was slated by a section of the comments on Saharareporters,an online newspaper.His critics were miffed that he dared to protest,when other Nigerians  had passed through experiences that were much worse than his .Meaning that for suffering to be legitimate or valid,it must be unknown,novel.So novel that you can take out a patent on it.

So instead of protesting,our people take refuge in social emulation.It is all right as long as there is someone worse off than yourself.As an example,take power supply.Rather than insisting that the government should provide adequate power,our people prefer to take their chances with generators.There is a particular mini-generator,whose claims as a source of power are so feeble,so puny,that Nigerians re-christened it “i-pass-my-neighbour”, in recognition  of the fact that it’s main value is social: it’s ownership differentiates you from your neighbour.This ability to find consolation in the fact that there are people worse off than we are,together with the fact that we think that unless we are “big men”,surrounded by “objects”, we are somehow unworthy,constitute a political anaesthetic,leading to lethargic citizenship.It is this unwillingness to exercise our rights as citizens,that underpins poor governance in this country.

Make no mistake about it,the government you get is the government you deserve.The protests in the middle-east prove that governments listen,and respond,to the messages sent them,by the people.If the people are lethargic or supine,they are sending a loud and clear message,which reads,”we do not care.” And if the people do not care,why should the government?If we want change in Nigeria,we cannot be so passive.We have to demand for it.In economics,demand means desire for a product or service,backed by the ability,and willingness,to pay for it.In other words,sacrifice.Politics is no different.Demand for change will have to be backed-up with willingness to sacrifice.Then the government will hear a different kind of message:”Change”. As things stand now,we have suffered plenty,at the hands our governments.But perhaps our suffering is not novel enough?Is it?

Nigeria-“Who is a Nigerian?”: Identity Politics,Zoning and Compatriotism

Identity politics refers to the sort of politics that is founded ,and limited,to the articulation of self-interest and the perspectives of self-identified groups.The identity may be based on race,religion,ethnicity,class or sexual orientation.For a country like Nigeria,parading more than 250 ethnic groups and boasting over 510 languages,it should not be a surprise,that it’s  politics is hostage to tribalist feeling,as most people identify with,and are loyal to, their ethnic groups,rather than the country.As a result,people are identified by their tribes:you hear,”that is a typical Yoruba man” or “that must be an Igbo woman”,”that ” or “that must be a Fulani” or “that must be a Calabar girl” e.t.c.everybody is first an indigene of an ethnic group,and Nigerian last.

The debate is still ongoing,about “Nigerian-ness”.Who really  is a Nigerian? Make no mistake about it,Nigerians still see Nigeria as a colonial joinery,a mere geographic expression.Unfortunately,this debate about “Nigerian-ness”, is not being conducted with “mere” words,or  intellection.No.Instead,people are using knives,machetes,stones,cudgels,bombs and bullets.Ethnic strifes and sectarian violence,like the recent rival-killings and bombings in Jos and Borno,are expressions of the doubts,and rejection,of the idea of compatriotism,the state of being compatriots,across tribal and religious lines.In other words,people are questioning the idea,that people of different ethnic and religious background can be equal citizens with them.People are still finding it hard to accept other Nigerians as equal citizens and stakeholders,50 years after independence.

This mutual intolerance is paralleled by mutual distrust.Each tribe distrusts the other,believing that if given the opportunity,the other tribe would ride roughshod over it’s claims.Therefore,each tribe strives to outdo the other,in the bid for power or office,in the belief that being in office or power,is the only way to advance and protect it’s interests.Zoning of political offices,the practice whereby offices are rotated among the constituent ethnic groups of the state,is an attempt to resolve or limit this unruly scramble for office,and it’s attendant damages.The idea is that by sharing offices among the various constituent groups or zones,everybody will be given a sense of belonging.Clearly anything,in a multi-ethnic setting,that gives people a sense of belonging,must be a good thing.But at what cost?

Zoning carries too high a cost.Not only because it breeds a culture of entitlement among the general population,as people get used to the idea of aspiring to positions for which they are not personally or professionally qualified,but also,more importantly,it directly hinders development.This is because at the highest levels of government,square pegs are put in round holes, to the detriment of us all.People are given appointments,just because it is their “turn”.No wonder then,that these appointees are not only incompetent,but having been appointed for reasons other than merit,they turn their positions into patronage machines,dispensing favour to associates,friends and family.At the individual level however,every one suffers when a government is inept,including the kinsmen and women of the president,with the exception of  his inner circle of contractors and praise-singers.

In contrast,a competent government,regardless of the provenance of it’s heads,works for the benefit of all,by providing infrastructure and building up the economy.If the government delivers for you,why should you care about the president’s origin? Whether the president is from the North,South or Christian,Muslem or animist should be of no consequence. If we are going to develop as fast as we want,we need to unbundle the governance process into it’s “cake-baking” and “cake-sharing”  parts.And then we should subject the “cake-baking” part to the highest level of meritocracy.We should insist that only the most qualified persons are appointed or elected to the highest offices of government.With an efficient “cake-baking” process in place,there would be  that much more “cake” to go round.

Nigeria-Nollywood,the “Death” of Nigerian Television?

Family watching television together,1958

According to  an article i read,the other day,Nollywood,a metanym for the Nigerian film industry,is responsible for the “death” of Nigerian television.The author seemed to suggest,that Nollywood not only turned people away from watching television,but it also lured away television’s “great” talents.He went on to list the producers and actors/actresses who gravitated towards Nollywood,away from television.The article got me thinking.Is it really true that Nollywood killed television?Is there not room enough for both?Does one have to survive at the expense of the other?

For me,there is enough room for both Nollywood and television to thrive.Television can thrive alongside Nollywood if it’s content,programs,were better.That it is not doing so,can be squarely ascribed to it’s vapid offerings.In the past,70s and 80s,most urbanites watched television,not because it’s programs were so great,with some exceptions,but because it was the only game in town.The Nigerian audience was captive:it had no options.Until the 90s,when the democratization of access to home entertainment,first in the shape of foreign videos and then later,Nollywood,gave Nigerians much needed options.

With the spread of video technology,bringing foreign movies into most people’s homes,television became something you could ignore,until the news at nine.Most people stopped watching television for entertainment.It was in response to this entertainment-vacuum,that Nollywood came into existence.Nollywood came to fill a need,that television could not meet.It is sheer nostalgia to talk about a “golden age” of Nigerian television.There never was a “golden age”.Yes,there was a time,when a captive audience,lacking options,and going by the standard of the day,thought much of Nigerian television.But that audience knows better,and is no longer captive,today.The audience is more sophisticated.So,too, should television be.

The sort of nostalgia on display in that write-up,where people unnecessarily idealize and romanticize the past,is dangerous.It is dangerous because,based on poor analysis,it can lead to poor policy-making.Before you know it,government will start talking about protecting television,by interfering,high-handedly, with somebody’s business.And television is too important,to be left to the ministrations of these “protectors”.Television provides entertainment,information and education.It brings,and helps keep,the family together,at least once a day.It mediates the governance process,by keeping people informed of government activities.And all this,for free.

Unlike cable broadcasting,generally subscription-based,television is defined by the fact that access to it’s broadcast is free.Funding comes from government subvention,where it is government-owned,or advertising.As vendors of news and entertainment,the media is defined by the ability to aggregate an audience.The better and more useful the content,the greater the audience.Access to this audience is then given to producers of goods and services,for a fee.Thus advertising,which enables producers of goods and services to showcase their offerings to the public,is key to the media being able to fulfill it’s role,as mediators of the consumption process.

For television to build,and keep,an audience,and benefit from advertising,programming must become attractive.This will cost money.More money than it can receive from the government,as subvention,where available.The money has to come from advertising.But advertisers will not pay good money,unless there is a sizable audience.And you cannot have a sizable audience,unless you have good programs.This is the vicious circle,in which Nigerian television finds itself.The main obstacle to decent television in this country,is poor power supply.For television to build a sizable following,would require round-the-clock viewership.This is not possible without round-the-clock power supply.Do not put the blame on Nollywood.