Tuesday 27 November 2012

A Case For Abolishing Nigeria’s “Democracy” By Okey Ndibe

Three sobering reports released last week afforded graphic illustrations of Nigeria’s utterly awful state. One report, by the international audit firm KPMG, declared Nigeria the most fraudulent address in Africa. In a report carried on saharareporters.com and widely circulated on the Internet, KPMG concluded that “the cost of fraud [in Nigeria] during the first half of 2012 [was] estimated at N225 billion ($1.5 billion).”
Nigeria claimed the dubious distinction in the inaugural year of KPMG’s “Africa Fraud Barometer,” an initiative that “measures fraud on the [African] continent and assesses the fraud risk that confronts companies in their operations.” The firm’s report “identified Nigeria, Kenya and South Africa as accounting for 74% of the total number of cases on the African continent, with Nigeria recording the highest overall value of fraud in the first half of the2012.” KPMG’s data was compiled “by analyzing available news articles and reviewing fraud cases from designated databases.”
Another equally unflattering report named Nigeria the worst place in the world for a baby to be born in 2013. According to a report in the Premium Times, the ranking was done by the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU), an affiliate of the Economist magazine. The group looked at data from 80 countries, and concluded that Nigeria earned a score of 4.74 to place 80th out of 80. Nigeria’s closest competitor, Kenya, scored 4.91. South Africa emerged the best placed African country with a score of 5.89 – and the 53rd position overall.
According to Premium Times, the study measured what countries would “provide the best environment for the healthiest, safest, and most prosperous life in the coming years.” The paper continued: “The quality-of-life index used in the survey was measured around key areas like crime, trust in public institutions, health of family life and government policies.” The report “examined how happy citizens say they are as well other variables such as a forecast of income per head.”

The third report came from a domestic source, The Punch newspaper. It reported that $31 billion had been stolen under President Goodluck Jonathan’s watch. In an opening paragraph, the paper wrote: “Over N5 trillion in government funds have been stolen through fraud, embezzlement and theft since President Goodluck Jonathan assumed office on May 6, 2010.” The paper’s correspondents arrived at the stolen sum through a simple arithmetic exercise: they pored over government documents, found various figures of looted funds, and then added them up. Most of the looting took place in the oil and gas sectors.
Citing the recent Nuhu Ribadu report on the oil sector, the reporters wrote: “The Ribadu report on the oil and gas sector put daily crude oil theft at a high 250,000 barrels daily at a cost of $6.3bn (N1.2trn) a year. This puts the total amount lost through oil theft in the two years of Jonathan’s government at over $12.6bn (N2trn).” The paper noted that oil theft was “common in the Nigerian oil and gas sector. In June, a special naval team impounded a French ship, MT Vanessa, at Brass Loading Terminal, Bayelsa State, for allegedly stealing 500,000 barrels of crude oil per day from the country.” According to the Punch, the suspects in that audacious heist had implicated “some political office holders, many fuel marketers and some officials of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation and Department of Petroleum Resources.”
Then the paper used the words of top government officials to buttress the saddening situation. Last month, Minister of Trade and Investment, Olusegun Aganga, wrote to Mr. Jonathan to report that “24 million barrels of oil worth $1.6 billion (N252 billion) was stolen between July and September.” Mr. Aganga stated that “his signature was forged on the Export Clearance Permit that was used to export the crude oil from Nigeria.” In May, 2012, Nigeria’s Finance Minister, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, revealed that “”the government lost a fifth of its oil revenues to theft in April.”
Let’s underline one or two points. First, it is not altogether unreasonable to approach western group’s damning reports on Nigeria with a tinge of skepticism. In their haste to portray Nigeria as a failed, or failing, state, many of these international groups fail to indict powerful foreign corporations and nations for their role in the tragedy-in-progress.
It’s also important to make a concession to Mr. Jonathan. It is this: Nigeria’s reputation as the poster-country for dysfunction did not start with his administration. Mr. Jonathan inherited an abysmal country and has kept it in an abysmal state. One’s hunch is that those who shape events in Nigeria – a coalition that includes former President Olusegun Obasanjo and his cohorts – selected Mr. Jonathan to rule based on their confidence that he can’t (or won’t) do a thing to significantly change the country for the better. Nigeria’s current ruler is both subject to dismal circumstances and a victim of his own severe limitations.
Government apologists are quick to argue that corruption exists in other societies, including the home bases of the western groups that tag Nigeria corrupt. Yes, corruption exists elsewhere. But when a country loses $31 billion to thieves, or as much as one-fifth of its oil revenue, then we’re in a wholly different league. Nigeria’s trouble is that corruption has become a creed, that fraud is elevated to the stature of a religion, and that many office holders Incorporated. Perhaps it’s time Nigerians demanded the immediate dismantling of this charade that pretends to be a democracy. One is aware that many Nigerians are so frustrated that they fantasize about a military take-over. That’s not what I’m prescribing. In fact, any Nigerian with a sense of history should know that the military option is a risky gamble. Why exchange one location in hell for another location?
What I’d like to see is a long overdue declaration of a state of emergency in Nigeria. This move calls for Nigeria to be put in a kind of receivership, with enlightened technocrats selected to run the country for many years. The alternative is chaos, terrible chaos, and an unchecked descent into anarchy.
Nigerians have worked awfully hard for more than fifty years to achieve expertise in sheer badness. Even if we discounted the reports that ranked Nigeria as the most fraudulent place in Africa or the worst address for a new-born baby, we can hardly deny that Nigeria is a shadow, an inhuman space. We have lifted mediocrity to an art.
Name any sector of life in Nigeria and it’s infected by a malignant disease. Each year, Nigerian universities, private as well as public, churn out hundreds of thousands of unemployed and mostly unemployable illiterates. Too many academics sell grades for sex or cash. The Nigerian police strike fear in the heart not of criminals, but those without the cash to offer bribes. Too many Nigerian bishops, priests, pastors and imams are embedded with the politicians who daily wreck their country. For a bag or two of naira, these ostensible servants of God are willing to venerate any form of evil. The Nigerian president’s only formula for tackling serious crises is, one, to issue a hollow speech or, two, to form a committee. With either approach, the goal is to buy time for people to forget how messy the particular problem was. Most members of the president’s cabinet are in it for what they can steal and put away. Nigeria’s legislators, whether in Abuja or the state capitals, don’t have the foggiest idea how to use the legislative process to improve their environments.
Nigeria is worse and more dangerous than many other failed states. Its failure is both comprehensive and deep. It’s in a state of suspension, waiting for something to give, for an inevitable explosion to take place. Unless we act now, the roof is bound to fall on all our heads.
The crisis is not simply that Mr. Jonathan has no clue how to lead a people. Even if he were a certified genius, he would still be thwarted by a culture that celebrates money over values, that measures success in looted funds, and reaps without sowing. Nigeria is a failed state that maintains the façade of being alive and dynamic.
Nigerians seem bemused that members of the National Assembly are running all over the place in the name of amending the constitution. The legislators need not bother. Nigeria’s comatose condition is unlikely to be helped by constitutional tinkering. Rather than waste time and resources there, the legislators should think along drastic lines. Nigerians can’t afford a “democracy” that enables a few notoriously unproductive people to cart away scandalous chunks of the country’s wealth. There should be a conversation about recruiting enlightened and committed people to run every sector of the country. Nigeria’s president, legislators and governors should be prepared to get out of the way. At best, they should operate as mere figureheads. And they as well as the rest of us must hope that Nigeria is not too far gone to be retrieved.

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