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Opinions of Friday, 1 October 2021

Columnist: guardian.ng

Nigeria: Still at sea at 61

President Muhammadu Buhari President Muhammadu Buhari

There are many indicators that Nigeria has remained transfixed in a circle for a greater part of its 61 years of political independence from colonial Britain. One ready pointer to the country’s stagnation could be seen from a song performed by one of the country’s legendary musicians, Sunny Okosun.
  
Twenty-four years after the country’s independence Okosun sang: “Which way Nigeria. Which way to go...I want to know…which way Nigeria is heading to?”
   
Those who were born by 1985, when Okosun released that album know that the issues that the songwriter and multi-instrumentalist agonised about back then are still the bane of the country 36 years after.
  
However, 61 years after Nigeria’s independence, real freedom still seems remote, just as citizens appear to surrender to despair caused by social and economic insecurities. Naira, Nigeria’s currency has continued to tumble in parity with the United States dollar. Things seem to be getting worse every day and a look back at the nation’s history reveals a repeat of the socio-economic scenario of the 80s.
  
Has the country been moving around a circle without knowing it? That reality appears to be staring Nigeria in the face, especially when viewed from the perspectives of economic and political tendencies in the country.

Economy: Bleak/blurry prospects
THE Central Bank (CBN) Governor, Mr. Godwin Emefiele, recently addressed journalists on the apex bank’s efforts aimed at arresting the free fall of the naira in the foreign exchange market.
 
Emefiele complained about the activities of foreign exchange rate manipulators and corrupt bankers that collude with unpatriotic Nigerians to whittle down the value of the Naira. The CBN’s continuing efforts to defend the Naira against its declining worth in the face of other international currencies does not only expose the weakness of the Nigerian economy, but also the interventionist approach of the economic managers.

Speaking after the meeting of the Monetary Policy Committee (MPC) in Abuja, the CBN governor announced the retention of the Cash Reserve and Liquidity Rations at 27.5 per cent and 30 respectively. Emefiele regretted the activities of Bureaux de Change (BDCs) operators, noting that the apex was going ahead to sustain what appeared like a last-ditch attempt to save the Naira - ban on the sale of Forex to BDCs.
 
Justifying the hammer on BDCs, the CBN governor disclosed that BDCs were in the habit of reselling Forex sold to them to criminals and terrorists, who in turn use the facility to purchase arms and wage war on the country.
  
But, despite CBN’s control of the monetary and fiscal policies of the country through its interventionist measures, inflation continues to soar, just as naira maintains its downward spiral.
 
In the about seven years’ stint as CBN governor and defender of Naira, Emefiele has been at his best to keep the currency afloat, whereas it has maintained a continuous slide from N165 to one U.S. dollar when he took office in 2014 to a record high of N414 (official) and about N570 to the dollar in the parallel market.
   
Alarmed by that downward spiral, the CBN has been experimenting with various interventions, including those outside the purview of the apex bank’s monetary policy authority. Emefiele and CBN had toyed with the idea of banning the importation of some 41 commodities, in a bid to curtail citizens’ appetite for foreign goods. In a bid to expand the benefit of such intervention, the apex bank introduced the Anchor Borrowers’ Programme, strategic maize reserve and other targeted credit facilities to enhance local production of essential goods and stem unbridled importation.
  
The CBN also supported the closure of Nigeria’s land borders in an obviously antiquated approach to controlling the influx of smuggled foreign goods into the country. Have all the interventions helped to infuse vitality and arrest the decline in value of the naira? That is debatable. 
  
At a time, the CBN experimented with naira for dollar policy geared towards shoring up the value of the naira through incentivisation of diaspora remittances to boost dollar inflow. The N5 per dollar offering was aimed at ensuring that Nigerians abroad carry out remittances through the licensed International Money Transfer Orders.
    
Nigeria’s economy continues to exhibit structural deficiency, while the business sector remains battered. With the rising unemployment rate, the fear has become acute that rising forex could impact adversely on the country’s imports, particularly prices of refined petroleum products and other essentials like pharmaceuticals.
  
Yet, as Emefiele’s CBN continues to attack unscrupulous bankers and Forex market manipulators, some experts like Prof. Kingsley Moghalu point at the nation’s huge volume of foreign and domestic debts and activities of speculation by traders.
 
There is no doubt that the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, especially with the attendant lockdown, and growing insecurity in the country have combined to exacerbate the bleak economic outlook on Nigeria. But the real danger is provided by the fearful apprehension that oil, Nigeria’s major revenue earner is facing a very bleak future in the international market.
  
Given the increasing emphasis on electric cars and transition to renewables and clean energy, it does not require rocket science to infer that the country’s earnings from petroleum sales is in for a severe hit.
Who would continue to buy Nigeria’s oil is a question that brings cold shivers down the spine of any patriotic citizen. This is more so when India, the country’s major importer of fossil fuel has caught the clean energy bug. India’s ambitious search for alternative energy contrasts with Nigeria’s unwillingness to diversify its economy preparatory to the global rush for life without oil.
  
The picture of what is coming could be seen when viewed against the backdrop that India accounts for the source of Nigeria’s highest oil import for which the country earns close to N13.9trilion.
 
Amid the apprehensions about an imminent slump in the sales of oil, Nigeria’s growing appetite for foreign goods and services creates another source of worry. The amount deployed into servicing the loans denies the country of much-needed funds to pursue social development, particularly infrastructure uplift.  
 
The ongoing spat between governors of Southern Nigeria and their Northern counterparts over the collection of Value Added Tax (VAT) comes as part of the symptoms of the haemorrhaging national economy. It is obvious that things are no longer the way they used to be as such governments that have depended on hand-outs from Abuja now want to examine every neglected source of revenue.

Disorderly, dubious polity
IF the VAT war between the north and south belies the rumble in the economy, it more than any other feature exemplifies the confusion in the nation’s political structure and electoral system. Political leaders toe dubious paths in attending to issues, even as they make strenuous efforts to project and or preserve a lie as far as it guarantees their narrow interests.
   
Apart from the fact that the 36-states structure with the attendant 774 local government councils were creations of the military, subsequent civilian administrations have been unable to address the inherent lop-sidedness in the entire framework.
  
While the politicians recognise that the Constitution is founded on lies, every effort to amend it has always hit the rocks after flushing much money down the drain. The inconsistency among Nigerian politicians is also evident in the disavowal by the governing All Progressives Congress (APC) of its promise to restructure the country and change the way things have been run since 1960.
 
What is more, the political parties have been rendered into mere special purpose vehicles to access political power due to their lack of ideological thrust. This has enabled the frequent crisscrossing by politicians from one political party to another.
  
61 years after the country’s independence, it has not been possible to categorise the ideological leaning of politicians as they have been known to identify with political platforms basically according to what positions of influence a particular platform could offer them.
 
Blinded by political opportunism, the politicians, especially those that found themselves in the legislature, have not been able to put in place legislation that could guarantee credible elections. A ready case in point could be seen in the passage and the different approaches to the PIB and Electoral Act amendment bill. While President Muhammadu Buhari, a former military head of state, declined assent to the Electoral Act amendment bill passed by the eighth plenaries of the National Assembly on the excuse that there were some grey areas, he quickly assented to the PIB only to send a bill for amendment to the Act barely one month after appending his signature.
  
The bottom line is that the masses have continued to be taken for granted by politicians as the political environment remains cloudy. Records show that right from 1999 when Nigeria returned to the path of presidential democracy, virtually all general elections have been characterised by rigging, ballot box snatching, intimidation and outright vote heist.
   
As votes failed to count, voter apathy has grown, thereby giving ample room for politicians to manipulate election outcomes. Attempt at electoral reforms by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) through the introduction of direct data capture of voters, the card readers and Permanent Voter Cards only made politicians to devise further means of circumventing the free expression of the people’s will through the ballot.
  
It is obvious that political leaders have failed to heed Okosun’s declaration that freedom is the answer. To further shackle the electorate, candidates at subsequent elections from 2015 introduced voter inducement and compromise of electoral officers, even as the judiciary opened a new window of opportunity to usurp the people’s right to elect their representatives.
   
The dour outlook of Nigeria’s electoral system is accentuated by the hullaballoo over whether election results should be transmitted electronically or manually. In the exercise of their constitutional responsibility of making legislations for the proper conduct of government activities, the lawmakers’ reluctance to endorse the transmission of ballot outcomes electronically goes further to show that the politicians are not interested in credible elections.
  
As the political leaders become dealers, the situation within political parties is not getting better. Elected members of the executive arm of government have developed a penchant for hijacking the political party structures to exclude competition and inclusion.
  
Although Presidents and Governors had been having a stranglehold on the political parties, the recent development in the governing APC, which for the first time saw an incumbent governor holding sway as national party leader took the doubtful political strategies to a dizzy height.
   
Having been strategically excluded from the decision making in the polity, the citizens seem to be watching helplessly and waiting with the expectation that something gives in the current cloudy polity space.
  
That quiet expectation came to near fulfilment when governors elected on the two major political parties-APC and Peoples Democratic Party (PDP)-divided themselves between North and South to engage in a tug of war over the propriety of rotating the Presidency between two geopolitical divides of the country.
  
The 17 Southern governors had after their meeting in Lagos, declared that in the interest of the peace and unity of the country, a person from Southern Nigeria should succeed President Buhari in 2023. But, their northern counterparts alongside traditional governance institutions disagreed with the notion, stressing that the Constitution should moderate such issues.
   
Rising from their meeting on September 27, 2021, the Northern States Governors’ Forum, in at the Council Chamber Sir, Kashim Ibrahim House, Kaduna, which was attended by Chairmen of Northern States Traditional Councils led by His Eminence the Sultan of Sokoto, the northern governors took a definitive stand on the issue of power rotation.
  
Part of the forum’s resolution read: “Some Northern States Governors had earlier expressed views for a power-shift to three geo-political zones in the South with a view to promoting unity and peace in the Nation.  Notwithstanding their comments, the forum unanimously condemns the statement by the Southern Governors’ Forum that the Presidency must go to the South.
   
“The statement is quite contradictory with the provision of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (1999) as amended that the elected President shall, score the majority votes; score at least 25 per cent of the votes cast in 2/3 states of the Federation. In the case of run-up, simple majority wins the election.”
  
While the northern governors made veiled allusion to the perceived huge voting population of their area, they unwittingly reignited the rationale for the call for restructuring, especially against the background of the argument by the South that most of the population figures were cooked by chefs from the north.
   
For instance, in making the case for numbers to determine the fate of elections in a democracy, the northern governors inadvertently defeated their opposition to electronic transmission of election results or even a proper headcount.
  
But, reacting to the postulations of the Northern governors, the Igbo Socio-cultural group, Ohanaeze Ndigbo, dismissed the governors’ assertion that the Southern Governors’ stance that the Presidency must go to the South in 2023 as being contradictory with the provision of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (1999) as amended.
    
Ohanaeze stated:  “The above remarks by the leaders of the North indicate a bleak future for Nigeria. It is most regrettable that the North are undisturbed that Nigeria is fast collapsing under its leadership.
Let it be made abundantly clear that if Presidency is a panacea to people’s problems, the North would have become the Netherlands of Africa. This is because the North had Abubakar Tafawa Balewa, Yakubu Gowon, Murtala Mohammed, Shehu Shagari, Muhammadu Buhari, Ibrahim Babangida, Sani Abacha, Abdulsalam Abubakar, Musa Yaradua, Muhammadu Buhari, yet the problems of the North are on the increase.
  
“For the avoidance of doubt, there is peace in the progressive societies because men of conscience are more in number. On the other hand, the crises in Nigeria is a product of greed, injustice, religion without sacrifice and impunity.
 
“The position of the Southern Governors is simply restating the obvious. A gentleman’s agreement was reached at the NUC Conference Centre, Abuja in 1998 between the North and the South. The Late Dr. Chuba Okadigbo spoke for the entire South and Alh. Abubakar Rimi, also of blessed memory spoke for the North. It was agreed that after Gen. Abdulsalam Abubakar was the Head of State, that the presidency should shift to the South.
  
“That accounted for the emergence of the presidential flag bearers of the mainstream political parties from the South West. Chief Olusegun Obasanjo respected the agreement and handed over to the North in the person of Musa Yar’Adua. Again, Goodluck Jonathan, a Southerner, respected the gentleman’s agreement and handed over to the North in the person of President Muhammadu Buhari.
  
“Therefore, the least that is expected from the North is a show of profound gratitude to the entire South for their large heart, equanimity and sportsmanship. Furthermore, it is in the interest of every Nigerian that there should be a paradigm shift to governance techniques. Ohanaeze Ndigbo Worldwide unequivocally stands with the 17 Southern Governors and any black leg among them will incur the wrath of history.”
 
With the emerging scenario, Nigeria’s current political leaders have unwittingly created a two nations in one dimension to the country’s political progression just as exists between China and Hong Kong.
  
The South maintains that it has endured much of the imposed military leadership of northern heads of states as well as bearing the burden of slow socio-economic development in the north. With the strong points of structural imbalance being introduced in the national conversation, only the future could tell what would become of Nigeria.
  
Insecurity and secessionist agitations amid allegation of lopsided appointments against the government of the day, Nigeria’s 61st independence anniversary amounts to a celebration of an old future.