BT COLUMNIST: Cold Facts With Abbiba Ivy Princewill
Corruption is one of Nigeria’s major problems. It is an impediment to growth and development. However, curbing corruption even to the barest minimum will not make Nigeria a functional or a prosperous nation. Therein lies the paradox of modern Nigeria. Our leaders and the citizens constantly harp on corruption. As if fighting corruption is the silver bullet/antidote to the failures of post-Colonial Nigeria. The honest truth is corruption is a symptom rather than the cause of under- development in Nigeria. The root cause of our under-development lies in our over-dependence on oil to the exclusion of all other natural and human resources.
The problem with depending on a commodity as valuable as oil to the exclusion of all others is three fold. First, It gave Nigerians the false impression that Nigeria was rich, ‘we have oil’. If we can recall a former head of state once said Nigeria is rich. The problem we have is what to do with the money. This erroneous belief in our ‘supposed wealth’ has prevented us from looking beyond oil. Nigeria is by far the country with the largest population in OPEC. To put this into context, Saudi Arabia produces 10 million barrels of oil a day for a population of 28million. Nigeria produces 2.1 million barrels a day for a population of 170million. Do the math even if there was no corruption we would still be a very poor country.
Suggestion – We must get rid of the false belief that we are rich because we have oil.
Secondly, this dependence resulted in an over concentration of powers at the center as a means to control this valuable resource. Also, this concentration of power in Abuja led to the creation of a predatory elite class. This elite class swarms over Abuja to rent seek- get licenses for, oil blocks, importation of refined fuel and to get massively inflated contracts. This results in a situation where the government needs to contain the agency and creativity of its citizens in order to be able to perpetuate this dysfunction.
Thirdly, oil has disrupted the link between those who govern and the governed. Since the land use decree of 1978, all resources under the ground is owned by the government – meaning the oil and gas deposits in the Niger Delta is not owned by the local community but by the government of Nigeria. Hence, the government can afford to treat its citizens as optional because it has no need for them. It does not need their taxes for government revenue and so it owes them no duty to provide basic services. Their duty is to the deposits on the ground, as it is the proceeds from the ground that provides the revenue for the Government. It is hardly surprising that oil pipelines are more valuable than a Nigerian citizen. The voices of International oil companies are more legitimate than the voices of Nigerian citizens.
This dysfunction can be seen and felt in every area of national life. Basic services that are present in poorer African countries are all but, non-existent in Nigeria. The Nigerian middle class has been able to provide a corner to thrive in spite of the government. So Public schools are dysfunctional, they send their kids to private schools or better still send them abroad, Public hospitals are terrible, they go to private hospitals, public transportation is non-existent, they buy 3 or 4 cars, no water supply from government, you build boreholes, no electricity, you buy a generator, no security, you put a gate and get a security man. This is the life experience of the Nigerian middle class but is this frontier private buccaneer spirit sustainable? The answer is an emphatic, No! Do not be fooled this is a very fragile middle class – that is literally one illness/death away from poverty.
However, the Hardest hit by this state dysfunction has been the poor and working class who have been abandoned to their own fate. They are the 64% of Nigerians, who live in grinding poverty and have to eke out a living, daily. Furthermore, our recent experience with violent insurgencies in various parts of the country particularly the North East, should give us a huge cause for concern that the path we have been treading for over 4 decades is simply unsustainable. You can’t run a country where the government does not provide any basic services to citizens.
This total lack of basic service delivery is the reason for Boko Haram, militancy, armed robbery and kidnapping. Nigeria has so brutalized the bodies of the poor and marginalized – we’ve boxed them into such a corner that many of the poor in our country have not only lost their dignity but their humanity as well. This is why in 2015 Nigeria, an otherwise sane human being can kidnap school -girls, from their boarding school.
Suggestions – We must DEVOLVE powers to the states and local government. The powers concentrated in Abuja must be decentralized. The best technocrats must be sent to the state level to build the capacity of the states to raise their own revenue through direct taxation. Advice and empower States to create an enabling environment to attract investments into their states and together with the Local Government DELIVER basic services to their people- health, education, housing, water, roads, etc.
Lastly, I have never understood governors who spend so much tax -payers money on media hype and propaganda praising their Phantom achievements. If you have been governor of a state for 8 years and yet the streets of your state are dirty because you have no proper waste disposal system – you are a disgrace. If slum dwellers in your state have to defecate in buckets or bags because they have no access to toilets – you are a disgrace. If poor people in your state have to spend from their meager income to buy water from Meruwa’s for bathing, cooking, and washing – you are a disgrace. If the kids in rural areas in your state have to trek for hours to get to school and girls in rural areas have to stay home for a week every month because they have no access to sanitary facilities – you sir, are a disgrace!
About Abbiba Ivy Princewill:
She has an LLB from King’s College London and is currently studying for an LLM in Securities Regulation at University of California, Los Angeles. She has deep interest in Finance, African Politics and the state of STEM education in Nigeria. Connect with her on Twitter here.
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