Nigeria in distress: Is there a way forward to a great future? (4)
In this concluding instalment of his discourse, Chief Asiodu dwells on current calls for restructuring and disagrees with the bid for a return to regionalism
By Philip Asiodu
IF it is intended to go through the processes of Constitutional Amendment within the next years, I would urge the following:
Unity and Structure of Nigeria
1.Nigeria however restructured should remain one sovereign entity.
2.Nigeria should be organised as an effective Federation.
3.The Exclusive Federal List, may be revised to include only subjects essential to the functioning of an effective Federation. Such a List should include: External Affairs, International Agreements, Defence, The Armed Forces, Immigration and Emigration, Currency and Monetary Policy, Customs and Excise, International and Inter-State Trade and Investment, Aviation, Oil, Gas and Solid Minerals, Inter-State Railways and Highways, Inland Waterways, Ports, Federal Police, Interpol Affairs. Posts and Telecommunications, Supreme Court and Federal Judiciary.
4. It is not practicable to regroup States so as to make the six (6) zones the federating units in lieu of States. Zones should remain fora for consultations and the basis for applying the principle of rotation in selection of the President and other office holders by political parties which adopt the principle.
Form of Government
5. The Presidential System should be retained with some modifications.
The Post of Prime Minister should be created III addition to the Post of Vice-President.
15.The President will nominate the Cabinet comprising the Prime Minister and Ministers to specifically designated posts, who must be approved by the Senate before they can assume office. The President may change his cabinet subject to the approval of the Senate.
16. The Prime Minister will be charged with day-to-day coordination of the work of the Ministers under the direction of the President and will lead the Ministers in parliamentary debates on government bills and policies.
17.The Prime Minister and Cabinet must resign if they lose a vote-of-confidence in the National Assembly.
18. Any political party which chooses may adopt the principle of rotation for the office of President amongst the 6 zones recommended for a transitional period of 48 years.
19. No person who has served two terms under any Constitution is eligible to present himself as a candidate for the Office of President ofthe Federal Republic, or Governor of a State.
Reducing the Cost of Government
20.The size of the Federal Executive Council should be reduced to not more than eighteen (18) and Ministries, and eighteen Cabinet Ministers.
21. The provision in the Constitution that at least one Minister must be appointed from each State should be removed and replaced by a better definition of the Federal Character Principle based on zonal representation.
22.The State Executive Council should be reduced to comprise The Governor, The Deputy Governor and not more than 9 Commissioners. Special Advisers and Assistants should not exceed a total number of 14. Political Parties
23.No political party will be registered which is formed to pursue ethnic, religious or anti- democratic causes.
24. Except for the restriction in section 15 above, any group of persons is free to form and register a political party and there will be no statutory limit to the number of parties.
The Electoral System
22. The method of appointment of members of the National Electoral Commission should be reviewed to involve the National Judicial Service Commission.
23. Prompt and adequate funding of the National Electoral Commission should be guaranteed.
24. Elections should be staggered to make it easier for the National Electoral Commission to organize free, transparent and fair elections.
25. Nigeria should adopt the system ofthe 2nd (Run-off) Ballot as practised by the French.
Provision for Independent Candidates
26. There should be provision enabling independent candidates to contest elections at all levels.
Cost of Elections
27. Legislation should be introduced setting limits to donations which an individual can make in anyone year for political purposes and to amounts which can be expended in electoral campaigns by political parties, and to amounts which a political party can charge a candidate for the party ticket.
Universal Compulsory Good Quality Education For All Citizens Up To The Age Of 18
This is absolutely necessary for the future progress of Nigeria, for international competitiveness and economic development, the welfare of all citizens and for national harmony and cohesiveness. The available funds must be re-allocated to guarantee good quality free education for all citizens of both sexes up to the end of SS3 or its technical equivalent. It should also be made much easier for any capable student to have tertiary education. Within 15 years of efficient implementation of this policy, there should be no idle unemployable youth available for recruitment into criminal and terror gangs which account for the country’s current poor image in international media.
More important, there will be no so-called “disadvantaged states” and therefore no need for the type of “Federal Character Affirmative Action” which prevents us from employing the best man for the job and which has impeded national development and growth, apart from breeding otherwise unnecessary inter-state and inter-tribal tensions.
A Language Policy To Promote National Integration
I had hoped following up on the early successes of the National Youth Service Scheme that we would be able to persuade the Government to introduce a Language Policy to foster national integration. People like me would have urged the policy on the patriotic, nation- building, listening leadership which we had then, before the termination of the Gowon Administration by the Coup of July 1975. Such a policy would require each child to learn to read and write the local language where he or she begins schooling.
By the age of 10, the child begins to receive his instructions in English as is the practice now. The new policy would be that by the age of 12 or 13 when he or she enters a secondary school, he/she has to make a choice. If he is in the North, he must choose one Southern Language which he will be taught to speak, read and write.
The chances are that the child will choose either Ibo or Y oruba. In the South, the child will likely choose Hausa as the Northern Language which he will be taught to speak, read and write. All secondary schools will have the necessary language departments.
The upshot of this policy will be that within 15 to 20 years, all educated Nigerians (like the Swiss today) will, apart from their local language and English, be able to communicate in one or more Nigerian languages. With the ongoing inter-action and cultural exchanges and the pressures of globalization, you can imagine the situation among our children and grandchildren twenty years hence especially as they would have received similar good quality education.
Ethnic differences will mean much less to them. Such a policy should be initiated within the next two years after careful detailed consultations and preparation. The maintenance of Nigeria as a Secular State, and guaranteeing freedom of religion to every individual, as well as the maintenance of Nigeria as a Democratic State require no elaboration. They are already entrenched in the Constitution.
Good quality education
All we require is that politicians, religious and other leaders should be honest and law-abiding and strive to promote justice, equity, peace and love amongst their followers and that the ruling Authorities must be ever vigilant.
Eradication Of Corruption In All Facets Of National Life And Adoption Of Realistic Personal Incomes Policy
The Buhari Administration has been battling with corruption for two years since it assumed power. Hundredsof suspects
have been arrested and interrogated and some have been arraigned in courts. Regrettably, no high-level convictions have been made in Nigeria, and all the proceeds of corruption seized to send the badly needed signals to all and sundry that the national blight is near ending.
There is no doubt that corruption, the insensate voracious greed of people in key positions, and rent-seeking and demands for corrupt enrichment in all levels of bureaucracy have greatly impeded investment, local and foreign, and put us back several decades; greatly increased the vast numbers of our citizens living in abject poverty and available for recruitment into terror and criminal gangs and has led inexorably to greater insecurity throughout the country. In only pursuing those who have corruptly enriched themselves, we appear to be only waiting to treat the disease when the symptoms appear, rather than dealing with the root cause of the disease. It is good that President Buhari has launched the slogan “Change Begins With Me”.
The current epidemic of competitive corruption and excessive greed amongst the political class and our elites in appropriating national resources to themselves must be stopped now. The President should lead the nation to adopt and live with more realistic remuneration scales for all those paid from the public purse. Minimum wage in Nigeria is still N18,000.00 per month or N216,000.00 per annum.
The new scale could be:
•President – N35 million per annum gross i.e. salary and allowances, Governors, President of Senate, Speaker of house of Representatives, Chief Justice – N30 million per annum, Federal Ministers – N28 million per annum;
•Proportionate adjustment of these figures down the various hierarchies;
•Enhancement of present relative positions of certain groups like teachers. Increase of minimum wage to N50,000.00 per month.
In most of the richer, more developed countries in the world, the ratio of the lowest paid worker’s salary to that of the highest paid from the public purse is about 1: 20 or less. Compare this with Nigeria where a Senator’s current salary and allowances is about N212 million per annum compared with the minimum wage of N216,000 per annum giving a comparative ratio of 1: 981.5 approx. Even the new proposed figures of N600,000 to N35,000,000 gives a ratio of 1: 58.3. The US President’s salary and allowances is $450,000; the minimum wage is $25,000. The US Senator earns $174,000. Thus equivalent US ratios are: President 1: 18 and Senator 1: 7.
At the same time, legislation must be introduced limiting as in older democracies the amount an individual may contribute per year to political parties, the amount political parties may demand as fees from candidates for elections, the total expenditures by political parties for elections.
Thus, we must drastically reduce the cost of seeking elective or political office. We must also amend our laws to allow for independent non-party atnliated candidates. By both reducing the lawful, permissible rewards and remunerations from political or legislative office as well as the cost of seeking such office, the pressures leading many people to sell their assets and borrow to seek office will be less as it will no longer be a profitable proposition.
Then we may have more candidates who genuinely wish to serve and make history and less of would-be looters of the public treasury. The country must return to the old values of patient, disciplined life-time career progression as opposed to the current craze to achieve US billionaire status before the age of 35. The cost of governance must also be drastically reduced. Above all, a far reaching rationalization of Ministries and Agencies of Government building on what the current Buhari Administration has done so far. Let us recall that the Federal Government of USA is run with 12 Departments (our equivalent of Ministries) and that no American State has more than 6 persons of the status of our State Commissioners. Here, some States have more than 24 Commissioners and scores of Special Advisers and Special Assistants.
If above suggestions are strictly implemented, we would be aiming for target resources allocation of at least Recurrent to Capital ratio of 45 Recurrent, 55 Capital, compared with the ratio of 74 Recurrent, 26 Capital in the Federal Budget of recent years. Considerable resources will then be freed to be invested in Education, Power, Transportation, Health and other priority sectors. For the current legislators and the younger generations, we must recall the example of Prime Minister, Balewa, the Regional Premiers and all the Ministers in all the political parties, who in 1962 at the launching of the 1962 – 68 National Plan took 10 per cent cut in their salaries to signal the need for national savings to help finance the Plan. That measure brought the salary of a Federal Minister below that of a Permanent Secretary!
I should add that in the First Republic, the salaries of a Professor, Federal Permanent Secretary and Federal Minister were about equal. A Federal Legislator, who was part time then earned about one third of the Minister’s figure. Compare the position today! The Private Sector in Nigeria also needs to improve corporate governance and to rein in excessive Executive Greed. Some of the charges in court against some bank managers, for example, make one extremely sad.
Which Way Forward
In order to launch and begin implementation of the new National Vision and Agenda 2040, there is need to pass new laws and even a few amendments to the 1999 Constitution. The National Assembly is composed entirely of members of the various political parties and this presents great difficulties which must be overcome. The present post – 1998 political parties formed even more hastily than those in 1979 have no roots in past political parties and usages.
They have not articulated long-term party visions for Nigerian Society or the Federal Country which they seek to administer. Most of our new politicians are not aware of the self-sacrifice, the patriotism, the idealism, the promise and commitment of the pre-independence politicians to improving the welfare of the broad masses after Independence nor do they know about the discipline and self-restraint required in managing the lean resources of pre-oil Nigeria. No fault of theirs. Most of the comments on the past in Nigerian media since 1966 have been self-denigrating and abusive of the national psyche.
The political parties and the party system have to be re-invented and re-engineered to become patriotic responsive vehicles for promoting the general welfare of all citizens and national greatness. They must adopt and believe in clear manifestos and programmes to promote national progress. Indeed, it will be desirable for all of them to base their programmes on the new National Vision and Agenda 2040 and let partisan competition and differences be on how best to achieve Vision 2040 and loftier goals beyond. They must become effective organs for selecting and disciplining candidates for positions in the executive and legislature all of them subscribing to the same policies and programmes for moving the nation forward.
Only such re-engineered political parties can help the President and leadership, and the country to achieve National Vision and Agenda 2040, and good governance.
There is still room for hope. The least traumatic way of saving Nigeria from the threatening disaster of a failed state and violent anarchy is for President Buhari as the elected President to get a group of capable patriotic people to elaborate a new “Vision and National Agenda 2040″, embracing all the main goals and objectives described above and to require all who love Nigeria to identify with him. He must discharge all ministers and political appointees who do not accept the concept of the New Vision.
Meanwhile he should initiate a vigorous campaign for the New Vision. He must begin to implement all the aspects of good governance and the preliminary work required for the elaboration of the major elements envisaged for the new Vision and National Agenda 2040. He must use all his executive powers to implement the necessary reforms of the Executive especially the new Incomes Policy, and challenge the National Assembly to enact the necessary laws and conform to the new Incomes Policy and new pro-people patriotic and honest governance.
To overcome legislative delays and obstruction, he must be willing to take the campaign to the electorate in the various constituencies. The great majority of Nigerians will rally round the President. Two years of honest vigorous pursuit of the right policies as briefly outlined above will put Nigeria irreversibly back on the path of growth, development and greatness, bringing back in great numbers our very competent and accomplished technocrats, investors, innovators and managers now in diaspora.
The doleful catalogue with which we started this paper will begin to disappear. Nigeria will then play the vanguard role in African Renaissance and win back for the Black race the respect of the rest of the world which was lost with the imposition of the Atlantic Slave Trade in the 16th Century.
•Chief Asiodu, CFR, CON lives in Lagos
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