Nigerians are agreed that President Goodluck Jonathan should focus on the most crucial aspects of the country’s problems, advising that success in such areas will also impact on others
Ado-Ekiti, the Ekiti State capital, witnessed a scene straight from the Nollywood world of razzmatazz last Tuesday, as armed robbers invaded a commercial bank within the city centre, and carted away an undisclosed amount of money, after a brazen display of first rate weaponry in an attack that left four dead and 10 others injured. The bandits were said to have destroyed the bank’s main entrance gate with a dynamite and propelled rocket launcher to gain entry into the bank’s hall. The robbers, 20 in number, including two ladies said to be in their 20s, spent nearly an hour to execute the robbery. While they held the town hostage, the state police command, located about 10 minutes drive from the scene, ducked with the excuse that its men were not properly armed to challenge the robbers’ fire power.
On the eve of the Ado-Ekiti incident, pandemonium was let loose at Ibadan, the Oyo State capital, when factions of the National Union of Road Transport Workers, NURTW, clashed at the Iwo Road area of the city. No fewer than two persons were reportedly killed during the clash, which left 15 others injured and scores of vehicles burnt by rampaging hoodlums who wielded guns, machetes, clubs and broken bottles.
These are happening even as the dust is yet to settle on reports of explosions in Abuja, Maiduguri, capital of Borno State and Bauchi, in Bauchi State.
The growing incidents of attacks by extremists of different shades and the scaring helplessness of the authorities to curb the rate of violence have become a source of concern to Nigerians and foreigners alike. That is why many people believe that President Goodluck Jonathan should take urgent steps to stem the dangerous slide to anarchy.
Nigerians at home and abroad are pleased that the country has witnessed a relatively free and fair election, which for the first time in history brought a minority from an obscure background onto the saddle. “But this would not necessarily translate to dividends of democracy for the teeming millions of Nigerians that voted for President Jonathan,” an economist who does not want to be quoted told the magazine. In his view, though Jonathan has enumerated five major areas he wants to focus on for the next four years, the first challenge facing the newly inaugurated President is to tackle the issue of security squarely, as this would determine how far he would go in attracting investors in the power sector, which is the one-point agenda that is dear to the heart of every Nigerian, because no one would like to invest in an unsafe environment. “The fact that bombers would go to an army barracks to commit their atrocities sends a dangerous signal to the international community about the security situation in the country,” he noted.
Some believe that it has reached a point where the President should stop relying on good luck and take proactive measures to take the country away from the maze of problems that have prevented it from fully realising its potential. The starting point, they say, is the cabinet. For instance, Richard Obire, management expert and chief executive officer, Iris Consulting Limited, and Adebisi Ayodeji, a former bank manager, believe Jonathan needs to put quality first in terms of the people he appoints into his cabinet. “He needs highly qualified people who will help him actualise his vision with competence and commitment,” Obire explained.
The argument is that with a competent and dedicated team, he can now go on to fashion a holistic plan that would start yielding results in the immediate and medium term. Victor Ogene, who was elected on the platform of the All Progressive Grand Alliance, APGA, to represent Ogbaru Federal Constituency, Anambra State, in the House of Representatives, maintains that there is need to tackle the problems in such a way that the most urgent ones are addressed before others. Indeed, Henry Boyo, an economist and industrialist, believes one of the reasons the late President Umaru Yar’Adua failed to make an impact during the almost three years that he was at the helm of affairs was because his seven-point agenda did not have a plan of action, nor were the issues prioritised.
Given the current state of affairs in the country, observers are in agreement that the President should face the challenges boldly. Tanko Yakassai, elder statesman and former adviser to former President Shehu Shagari, puts the implication of the security issue very succinctly: “As long as people are not sure that they are safe when they are in the country, they would not bring their money to Nigeria. Even Nigerians who have money would equally prefer to take their money out because there is no security,” he argued. To overcome the security challenge, the Second Republic politician wants the President to expand the security services by recruiting more persons into the system, giving them proper training and arming them effectively. “Compared with what (obtains) in other countries, the ratio of policemen to the population of the country is ridiculous. It looks like one policeman to about half a million Nigerians; it is impossible in such a situation to properly police the country,” he explained. That is scandalous, in a situation where the ratio of police to population in the United States, US, comes to about two to three officers per thousand residents, according to the US Law Enforcement Management and Administrative Statistics. Yakassai added that the growing insecurity being witnessed in the country at the moment is not so much a failure of the police, but that of the intelligence unit, which has the responsibility of infiltrating the civilian population and gathering intelligence about what is going on in the society. “In England, when there is trouble, policemen would be there quite alright to protect the citizens, but the bulk of the work would be done by intelligence officers, who would mingle with the people and within a short period of time, fish out those fomenting trouble and deal with them,” he observed.
Jiti Ogunye, a legal practitioner, called for radical measures such as installing closed circuit television in volatile areas to assist in checkmating hoodlums who plant bombs and destroy lives and properties. Joe Okei-Odumakin, president, Campaign for Democracy, on the other hand, wants the security set up to be boosted with state-of-the-art equipment and better training, so that they can adequately respond to security challenges. “What we have right now is not adequate at all, the weapons criminals brandish are more sophiscated than the ones our security agencies carry,” she told the magazine. That perhaps was why the police could not dare the armed robbers in Ado-Ekiti. Okei-Odumakin also said that there is the need to review the welfare package of security personnel to curb infiltration and betrayal of trust.
Good enough Jonathan would not have to look for solution afresh. A 2008 Presidential Committee on Police Reform, headed by MD Yusuf, former inspector-general of police, IGP, already provided the way forward. The committee produced a comprehensive report that examined the systemic problems within the Nigeria Police Force, including police corruption. It called on the Nigerian government to reform the budgetary process and financial oversight of the police, create a credible public complaint mechanism, prosecute abusive police officers, and revamp the Police Service Commission. The committee also recommended that the police leadership overhaul the anti-corruption X-Squad, create effective monitoring mechanisms, and establish functional forensic laboratories. The report also defined new guidelines for the appointment, removal, and tenure of the IGP to insulate the police from political manipulation.
Before it closed for the last legislative year, the Senate last Tuesday deliberated on the matter. At the end of the day, the upper legislative chamber called on security agencies to rise up to the occasion and expose those perpetrating violence in the country. David Mark, Senate president, expressed worry about the implication of frequent explosions in the country, saying: "We are asking investors to come and we do not want a situation where they think that Nigeria is unsafe for businessmen to come and invest. But what is even more important is that we do not want to be classified alongside Pakistan and Afghanistan."
Some Nigerians seem to be impressed with the relative peace the Niger Delta is enjoying at the moment, but they want the crisis to be addressed on a permanent basis, by the implementation of the Niger Delta Master Plan, which took the Olusegun Obasanjo administration five years to put together. “What is left for government to do is to provide basic infrastructure in that region, just as it is expected to do in other regions,” Yakassai argued.
As it gives priority attention to security, the government is also expected to continue to prosecute its programme on power. Against the background of the strategic importance of the power sector and its multiplier effect on the rest of the economy, Nigerians are unanimous in their view that this is one area that the government must treat as top priority. Oye Ibidapo-Obe, president, Nigerian Academy of Science, insists that a lot of time has been wasted over the power issue, and so the Jonathan administration should fast-track the reforms, to give Nigerians something to cheer about soon. He also wants the government to intensify its efforts to expand the grid system, as well as explore alternative energy sources.
Paul Akinola, an engineer in-charge of one of the National Integrated Power Projects, NIPPs, in the Niger Delta, believes that the framework currently in place to tackle the problem is good and that Jonathan who brought the power reform back on track, with the roadmap, has shown the desire to finish what he started. “All the government needs to do is to try as much as possible to stick to the implementation of that framework, which was enunciated last August when Jonathan unveiled the power roadmap. Once he fixes power, all other things would fall into place,” he told the magazine. So how does he do that? Okei-Odumakin is of the view that the first thing to do is to appoint a technical person, who possesses a robust technical knowledge base of the power sector into a ministerial position. Apart from that, the President should also demonstrate enough political will to run the power plan to its logical conclusion.
The hope they have is that so far, the government has stuck to the timetable for privatisation of the sector as spelt out in the planned reform. It is believed that if the government tackles security challenges adequately, foreigners will be encouraged to invest in the power sector. This is because private participation may be negligible if there is no foreign content. Under the privatisation programme, private investors are required to raise $35 billion over 10 years, to develop power generation, distribution and transmission capacities, sufficient to meet the country’s energy needs. Last week, the Bureau of Public Enterprises said it has shortlisted 525 bids from prospective investors for the next stage in the privatisation. Of the shortlisted companies approved by Namadi Sambo, the vice president and chairman, National Council on Privatisation, NCP, 253 have been pre-qualified for the distribution firms, while 272 bids are for the generating companies, out of a total of 929 bids for individual successor companies harvested from 331 expressions of interest, from prospective investors.
Akinola said it is the finance involved that scares people from investing in the power sector. He explains: “We are talking about something in the region of $350 million to build a power plant; the industry is very capital intensive and on the other hand it is an investment that requires a long period of gestation. You know Nigerians; we believe in short-term investment. But this is due to the unstable policy environment we have witnessed so far. Since charity begins at home, we can encourage some wealthy Nigerians to invest in the industry.” This, he added, would send a signal to foreign investors that it is time to come in, because it would turn out to be a very lucrative investment at the end of the day.
The consensus is that once security and power are adequately taken care of, investment would be attracted to the country. The country’s population of over 140 million makes it an attractive market for investors interested in making inroads into Africa. This development will boost employment, from which poverty will be reduced and the economy will also get a boost. Indeed, following the election, which was adjudged to be free and fair by both local and international observers, the country’s profile has risen internationally. A diplomatic source disclosed that Nigerian embassies abroad have been inundated with requests of people seeking to do business in the country. The corollary to the above is that the country’s business environment must be made more investment-friendly if it wants to compete for foreign investment with other emerging economies.
The country may also need to offer some incentives to woo investors to the country. A recent report commissioned by the World Bank makes it clear that multiple taxation stifles the growth and development of Nigerian businesses. Thus, it is imperative for government to harmonise taxes across the country, and where necessary offer incentives to investors in areas on which the government wants to focus more. Many countries of the world have long used tax incentives to attract foreign direct investment. That is why people say the new administration must adopt this strategy. After all, it had yielded good results in the past. They recall that it was used successfully during the Obasanjo era, when a five-year tax holiday was granted to telecoms companies to encourage them to invest in the country. In addition, the government relaxed import duties on telecoms equipment brought into the country at the time. The result was a great leap in employment, particularly in telecoms-related businesses.
To solve the issue of rebuilding infrastructure, Boyo has suggested that the country resort to what he describes as “other people’s money, OPM, and experience.
What the economist is advocating for is more popularly known as public, private partnership, PPP, which, he says, is in line with 21st century’s best practices in investment strategies, “particularly for economies with abundant growth opportunities such as ours.” What the country budgets annually for infrastructure is like a drop of water in the ocean. Thus, if the country were to rely solely on public sector for the provision of infrastructure for the citizenry, it would take as long as 10 years to build a single highway, for instance. In this way, the responsibility of fixing major highways in the country would be taken off the shoulders of the federal government.
Princewill Akpakpan, head, Legal Unit, Civil Liberties Organisation, CLO, thinks PPP is a good strategy to rebuild the country’s infrastructure, as long as beneficiaries of the projects are not selected based on their allegiance to the ruling party. His words: “President Jonathan should ensure that there is transparency and sincerity of purpose. The right people should be made to handle the projects; as long as they are qualified, it does not matter where the individual comes from. What matters is that he is using the right people to work for the growth of the country.”
But Ibilola Amao, principal consultant, Lonadek Oil & Gas Consultants, insists that Nigeria must convince investors that it has the mechanism for business to be done in a fair, equitable and transparent manner. This implies that there must be adherence to the rule of law, respect for contractual obligations, stable and consistent policies, as well as appropriate legislative and regulatory frameworks to make the economy attractive to investors. “Systems, structures, processes and procedures must be put in place with commensurate sanctions, penalties and consequences for anyone in breach of the best practices of honesty, transparency and integrity in the delivery of quality goods and services,” he observed.
With the strategy of employing PPP to cater for infrastructure, experts say a lot of resources would be freed up for government to tackle other sectors, particularly education and health. The belief is that this will correct the default in the budgetary allocations to these sectors every year. Besides, there is also the issue of corruption and leakages within the system. For instance, Obire said there is an urgent need to reduce the cost of governance, saying, “that is how we can take the money out and put it in areas of genuine needs.” That should be a part of the culture of financial discipline that Nigerians are clamouring for. They also want to get value for money on various projects. With the signing of the Freedom of Information bill into law, the management expert believes that Nigerians should be able to know the amount paid for all projects. “Such information should be in the public domain so that we can track and stop leakages,” he added.
Over the years, the nation has toyed unsuccessfully, with some educational policies, such as Nomadic Education, Universal Primary Education, UPE, and the Universal Basic Education, UBE. They mostly, have served as conduits for corrupt public officers and their cronies to transfer money from government coffers. However, not long after the last scheme was introduced, the federal government reported that the falling standard of education is caused by "acute shortage of qualified teachers in the primary school level."
To make any headway, experts say the President must be ready to step on toes. For instance, Alfred Ilenre, a social commentator and activist, would want the President to address the issue of true federalism for the country. According to him, Nigeria has been ungovernable for the past 50 years and the economy has been on the decline. While commenting on the state of infrastructure, Ilenre said infrastructure such as the railway network, the waterways, the airlines, and the road networks, which are symbols of the nation, have all collapsed. He is of the opinion that for Jonathan to get things right, and to really run the country, Nigerians should return to the drawing board and revisit the issue of what he called the ‘Independent Constitution.’ According to him, an independent constitution lays emphasis on the federal arrangement where the federating units are autonomous. That is why the late Obafemi Awolowo, premier of the defunct Western Region, could do much for the region, while the role of the federal government is limited.
Not everyone, however, believes that the issue of security and power should take precedent in Jonathan’s administration. For Bamidele Aturu, a barrister and civil rights activist, the first step Jonathan should take is to address the issue of corruption. “If we can fight corruption, every other thing would fall into place,” he said. He wants anti-corruption agencies overhauled, and credible persons appointed to man them. “The present anti-corruption agencies we have are gradually becoming a joke!” he argued. He is right, but while handling the issues of power and security, the authorities must know that whatever it makes its priority, the battle against corruption is integral to the success of the programmes that will yield the desired result.
Additional reports by STELLA SAWYERR, JULIANA EZEOKE, FOLASHADE ADEBAYO and AYODEJI ADEYEMI