Problems and Prospects | THISDAYLIVE


The Horizon BY Kayode Komolafe

It should be more than a ritual at the end of the year to reflect on the problems defining the past and also think deeply about how to turn prospects into reality in the future. This is not only a job for futurologists and other experts adept at making forecasts and interpreting trends and loads of statistics.

At least, for those who have elected to be incurable optimists about the future of Nigeria, it is actually a matter of national duty. Their focus is always on the rays of hope, however grim the situation may appear.

To win over the compatriots, who are understandably pessimistic based what they see on the national horizon, the approach ought to be making the message of hope concrete while not denying the multi-sectoral problems. The issues should be debated with facts rather than merely spewing hate and prejudice as some are wont to do in the public sphere.

Yes, if there is any ringing message of this year that would be heard in the new year, it is the fact of the multi-dimensional problems with which the nation is bedevilled. But it is also almost imperceptible that the idea of prospects in the immediate future also resonates among the various forces contending in the society- the political elite (in and out of power); the private sector, social entrepreneurs, the civil society and indeed the people. It is the resonating prospects that makes the government to say, for instance, that there is still hope to stem insecurity before 2023 while the opposition tells the people not to despair because help is one way. Both parties are raising hope that the problem could be solved soon. It’s quite is healthy for the socio-economic and political health of Nigeria to keep this tendency alive. This underlying hopeful streak is manifest in the words and actions of actors on the national stage and beyond.

Take a sample.

Despite the obvious climate of insecurity enwrapping the country, the political stage promises to be vibrant in 2022. Political meetings and rallies would be held. Politicians would move round the country with all the attendant risks. The tinge of irony in this situation is often missed by observers. There are political office holders (executive and legislative) who could hardly visit their local government areas due to the violent activities of terrorists, kidnappers and other criminal elements. Foreign experts (who have turned gloomy predictions about Nigeria into a virile industry) and their local epigones keep on working hard on their binary analysis of north versus south and Christians versus Muslims. Yet, politicians are busy strategising on how to take over power.

Unfortunately, there is hardly a systematic focus on the increasing horizontal contradictions between the rich and the poor. The story of Nigeria is not only about the vertical marginalisation of some ethnic or geo-political groups. The central socio-economic problem is the widening inequality and the increasing immiseration of the vast majority of the people. This majority is located in all geo- political zones. All ethnic groups are well represented in this majority and those in the group profess different faiths. To help in finding solution, attention must be given to this area of the problem. Besides, a lot of assumptions are made which are patently false. Some repeated statements in the public sphere are largely myths. So the definition of the problem is not sometimes deep enough. This deficit in the heated political discussions in the land is often down played.

That is why it is important to think deeply about the future.

A few other issues could be used to further illustrate this point.

The year is ending without the Electoral (Amendment) Bill 2021 becoming law. There is, however, substantial hope that when members of the National Assembly resume legislative business early next year, the contentious issue of making the conduct of direct primaries compulsory for political parties would be resolved. Some would probably argue that the controversy is avoidable since the subsisting law already gives parties the option of direct primaries. Whatever happens, the more fundamental question of the legitimacy (as different from the legality) of the whole is seemingly ignored by the different sides in the debate. The fundamental issue is the worsening trend of low voter turnout. Millions are reportedly registered for election by the electoral commission. Hundreds of billions of naira are spent on elections. Services of tens of thousands policemen, soldiers and other security men are employed. Yet a few thousands votes are counted to declare the winner of the election. Elections are deemed to be the democratic expressions of the people’s will. In recent elections, about one in five of those registered to express this will only bother to be at the polling booths on the election day. This negative trend has been variously explained. The failure of governments to fulfil promises made the previous elections has been isolated as a factor responsible for low turnout on the election day. Parties have abandoned their roles of political mobilisation. It takes

an organic party to mobilise around ideas and programmes. Ironically, the threat posed by this trend of voter apathy to the integrity of the electoral process is hardly appreciated even by pundits. Unfortunately, unlike items such as electronic voting or conduct of party primaries, you cannot easily legislate on low voter turnout. It’s a civic duty to vote, but it can hardly be an electoral offence to stay away from the polling centre on the day of election. After all, implicit in the freedom to vote and be voted for is also the freedom not to vote or seek to be voted for during elections. So it is not a legal issue, but a dep-seated political problems. Those who are interested in the credibility of the electoral process should also think about this problematic trend. There is a limit to the rationalisation of an electoral process in which two million eligible voters register in an area and only two hundred thousand persons actually vote during the election.

Another issue is the vertical restructuring of the Nigerian federation. It is no good news that another year is ending without the restructuring taking place despite decades of advocacy for that purpose. Yet the problems which restructuring is expected to solve persist. Already, some agitators have gone beyond restructuring to demand outright secession. National unity is, therefore, being put to severe test. To achieve the purpose of restructuring ultimately constitutional changes would be required to devolve more powers to the federating units.

But the problem is deeper than the present ineffectual politics of restructuring. Advocates of restructuring insist that there is nothing good in the 1999 Constitution which was drawn up during the brief military regime of General Abdulsalami Abubakar.

The movement for restructuring demands a new people’s constitution.

Perhaps, a greater progress could have been made on the road to a restructured Nigeria if most defective aspects of the constitution had been amended 22 years after Abubakar left power. There are certainly anti-federalist provisions in the constitution that should be amended. There are also pro-people sections that should not only be retained, but they should also be strengthened.

For instance, the only problem with the Chapter II of the 1999 Constitution is the non-justiciability of its provisions. This is the section that deals with the items of health, education, social housing, mass transit, environment, social security and other elements of socio-economic justice for the people. This is the express anti-poverty section of the constitution. Yet it doesn’t feature in the heated debate on restructuring. If the “fundamental objectives and directive principles of state policy” spelt out in Chapter II had been made justiciable in the last 22 years for policy implementation, the definition of governance could have been different and the Nigerian dream might have been significantly realised. With socio-economic justice, the prospects of a more united country could have been brighter. Every political party ought to have been informed by this chapter of the constitution in drawing up its programme.

As a matter of fact, Nigeria began making socio-economic rights part of its constitution way back in 1979. That was decades before the United Nations proclaimed the Social Development Goals (SDGs). If Nigeria had been implementing that aspect of its constitution, this country could have been a model of SDGs.

The attitude of the otherwise well intentioned restructuring movement to Chapter II of the constitution, for instance, is worrisome.

Two mutually reinforcing theses for history to prove could be proposed in this respect. The first proposition is that the restructuring the federation can take place with the social structure of poverty and inequality maintained in the new structured.

The second thesis is that the vertical restructuring of Nigeria in geo-political terms with devolution of powers and resource control would not automatically tackle mass poverty and inequality without confronting the horizontally the social structure.

So is a rethink of the strategy and tactic of restructuring possible next year? This question is pertinent because of the fact that some credible, consistent and strong voices for restructuring are putting forward the remaking of the Nigerian federation as a condition for the 2023 election.

Other issues are also worthy examination.

There are certainly prospects that some knotty questions of the polity, economy and society could be resolved before 2023 if enough thoughts are put into fashioning the solution.


Brain Drain: Is the Govt Really Helpless?

A British agency reported recently that about 805 Nigerian doctors got licence in the last six months to practise in the United Kingdom. With this addition to the discomforting register of brain drain, there are at least 9,189 Nigerian -trained doctors practicing in the United Kingdom.

To start with, the emigration of doctors and other members of the medical workforce is a bitter consequence of the cumulative neglect of the social sector – health and education. Like doctors, Nigerian academics have also massively emigrated to America, Europe, Middle East and other places.

Meanwhile, Nigerian hospitals especially in the countryside lack the adequate number of doctors to attend to the poor patients.

The workforce in the social sector is poorly paid like it happens in some other sectors of the economy. The professionals lack the equipment and suitable atmosphere to practise and be fulfilled. Hence strikes have become endemic to an otherwise sensitive sector.

The social sector ought to be immune to disruptions by putting things right for the workforce to perform its duty.

But this not case.

The fact is that 9,186 Nigerians doctors in Britain were trained at the expense of the Nigerian education system despite its structural problems. The tuition-free education policy in Nigeria is primarily meant to encourage the production of adequate manpower in the various sectors.

In relative terms, it would, of course, cost the emigrated doctors a fortune to be trained in Britain.

After training them, Nigeria is now “exporting” the manpower sorely needed at home.

If government had made working conditions in health and education institutions attractive enough to keep most professionals at home, it could have been on a moral high ground to stem the tide of emigration with a policy based on justice.

So the government is not really helpless. What it should do is to prioritise the social sector and human development by funding healthcare and education adequately. The welfare of those who work to sustain the sectors would, of course, be central to this policy step in the right direction. At the larger level, the material and social conditions in the country should be such that a doctor’s first option would be to practise in Nigeria.

Given good working conditions, professionals benefiting from public education should then be placed bonds for a fixed period to render services to the country in return for the cost of their education.

Unfortunately, that would be a difficult policy to implement now.

But emigration of doctors is a serious issue of development that Nigeria will have to come to terms with sooner or later.

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