It is just a week away to Christmas, yet there is no festivity in the air. Nigerians seem to have withdrawn into their shell, because violence is walking on four legs on the nation’s highways and in every nook and cranny. For instance, in many cities in the South, banks only maintain skeletal services currently. These days, bankers put their ears to the ground waiting for the slightest information that some strange faces, usually well dressed, have been seen in a part of town. The hasty conclusion is that they are robbers about to strike. In many cases the “rumour” turns out to be true. Since late November, armed robbers have unleashed terror on banks in Shagamu, Ijebu-Ode, Abeokuta, Ondo and several other towns. They come in large numbers and most of the time they do not wear masks. Their mode of operation is that of a group which has declared war on society. Or what do we make of young men and women who in broad daylight use dynamite to gain entry into banking halls and who are not averse to gunning down anyone perceived as hostile to their mission? And even after a hefty haul, they engage in a shooting spree as they flee the scenes of their operations. Many are the casualties they leave in their wake. So while Boko Haram holds the nation by the jugular in the North, robbers and kidnappers are about castrating it in the South. Thus the regime of fear is all over the nation and the overwhelming feeling that criminals are about taking over the running of government.
Viewed against the grave security situation, that the security sector got the lion share in the 2012 fiscal budget, seems a welcome development. However, the issue of securing the nation, as many Nigerians would say, goes beyond throwing money at the problem. There is something seriously amiss in policing the nation. And until the fundamental issues are addressed, even if we devote a whole year’s budget to tackling the problem, it would not go away. Those who should know argue that internal security is the business of the police. But what has become the practice for many years now is to deploy soldiers, whose main assignment is containing external aggression, to rout kidnappers, armed robbers and of late Boko Haram militants. Over the years the rising crime wave has been an indication that something is not right about the way we police the nation. The major headache has been the idea of Federal Police whose state commands take their final directive from Abuja. Thus the case has been made on the need for state police, especially now that the states devote substantial sums of their security votes to supporting the respective police commands. However, many argue that this will be abused by politicians, as if the police, as currently constituted, are free from abuse. President Goodluck Jonathan shares this mindset. What is not in doubt is that we are in this bind because we do not run a true federal system. Were we to run a true federation, even local governments and towns with the means can have their own security arrangements. Even today, many towns and communities have set up vigilante services so as to put night marauders in check. Many of these communities are reaping the dividends of such investment. Abuja is free to continue to hallucinate about how state police will be abused. What is certain is that not until the nation takes a more creative approach to policing, the billions devoted to security will not yield any meaningful harvest.
We are still talking budget. Can the N79.98 billion devoted to agriculture in next year’s budget yield more food for the nation? It is doubtful. The sum is less than two per cent of the estimates, compared to the about 20 per cent for security. And it is not just solely for agriculture, part of the sum will be devoted to rural development. Yet, the federal government has touted the agricultural sector as the fulcrum of its transformation agenda. In a situation where imported rice and wheat are likely to cost more, it is doubtful whether what has been devoted to agriculture can lead to the desired revolution in the large-scale cultivation of rice and cassava. The latter has been “reinvented” as a possible core element in bread baking. Talk of going round in circles. Cassava bread was a much-debated issue under the military. That was when moves were made to grow wheat locally.
Many states got federal grants for wheat cultivation, a substantial part of which went into private pockets. Cassava cultivation may end up as the next conduit for sharing the national cake. That is in spite of the enthusiasm and purposefulness with which Akinwunmi Adesina, minister of agriculture and rural development, is addressing the challenges of the sector. He means well, but will he get the tools needed to drive the necessary reforms? Methinks this budget, as far as the sector is concerned, is a dampener. This allocation cannot create millions of jobs envisaged in the agriculture sector. So next year may not herald a new dawn.
As we wait a few more days to embrace 2012, what is the final say on fuel subsidy? President Jonathan was silent on it in his budget presentation to the National Assembly. Do not be deceived, however. He is determined to block the leakages in the economy. And fuel subsidy is one of the “leakages” his administration has identified. Thus pleas from Nigerians from all walks of life may not dissuade him from this chosen course. Jonathan seems determined for a showdown with both organised labour and civil society groups. We may witness a rash of strikes early in the New Year, even as the strike by members of the Academic Staff Union of Universities enters its third week. If the nation begins the new year by laying down tools, Lagos promises to be very hot. One, the Lagos State University has been shut down for more than a month over the astronomical increase in school fees. The increase is as high as 700 per cent. And it was announced after admissions had been done. In other civilised climes, such increases are announced when the process of admitting new students is about to commence. Thus a prospective applicant and the parents will be well informed in advance whether the new fees are affordable. Not a few of those who got admitted this year will find it difficult to pick up the offer. Many of them will be on the streets in January protesting fuel subsidy removal. Another aggrieved group are the commercial motorcycle riders. They have been declared persona non grata on Lagos streets. Some 7,000 motorcycles have been confiscated because the riders violate traffic laws at will. The intention of the authorities of the Lagos State Ministry of Transport is to crush these motorcycles. That is a lot of money down the drain. Driving the riders off the streets seems extreme. The bikes have become, for thousands, a source of livelihood. Governor Babatunde Raji Fashola could not have endorsed that extreme step if 2012 were to be an election year. Rather than banning them, their operation should be restricted to certain areas because they fill a huge void in public transportation. To deny them of this livelihood is pulling the tiger by the tail and fuelling the anger that will come in the wake of fuel subsidy removal. As the removal and the looming strike become a fait accompli, it is surely not a fine start to a new year for a nation raring to go, especially when the government hopes to grow the economy by about seven per cent. Well we are used to the flaunting of such figures these many years. They inform us about growth without corresponding development. That is the ironic tragedy of our nation.