A professor in the Faculty of Law, Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria, Yusuf Dankofa, explains the reasons the economy is experiencing downturn and the way forward as well as the effect of “self-interests” exhibited by politicians, among other issues,
What is your impression of the current state of the nation?
The nation is in a quandary, a state of political confusion and economic mess. We are sliding backward. The United Nations has declared us as the poverty capital of the world where the majority of our people are facing multi-dimensional poverty. This is painfully true because its leaders have refused to industrialise the nation, rather what is happening is de-industrialisation. Companies are folding up and moving to better climes because of the state of insecurity and the collapse of infrastructure in the nation which is grave. The nation is no longer productive as it used to be when we had industrial hubs in Onitsha, Aba, Ikeja, Agbara, Kano, Kaduna, Funtua and a host of others. We have shamefully become a nation of consumers that imports virtually everything. Our leaders have been thoroughly selfish because of their proclivities
Development had never been in their agenda, rather enjoying the spoils of office, using public funds had all along defined their political thrust. It is, therefore, no wonder that the country has drifted into the present abysmal conditions. Nigeria state is a big fat cow for them to milk, which they have been doing for the past five decades. They even call it a national cake exclusively meant for them, our predatory leadership elites who do nothing other than appropriate the national treasury for themselves, families and girlfriends, both local and imported, and their cronies. All opportunities have been made to be privileged for them and the masses have been excluded from benefiting from the humongous resources of their nation. Nigeria has remained a conquered enclave where the leaders are now its slave masters and the vast majority has become downtrodden.
The economy, both formal and informal, has been structured to benefit them only, because 70 per cent of national and state budgets are used in satisfying the wild but exotic lifestyles of the leadership class and their elite collaborators called the private sector who in alliance with each other steal our commonwealth and warehouse same into global destinations for their benefits and those of western capital. This is the sad reality of the true state of the nation. The nation is entirely dysfunctional, an occasion deliberately foisted on us by a bankrupt leadership. The welfare and security of the people have been abandoned and we now have a government of the few cabals by the cabal. Only the conservative right-wing irresponsible leadership class enjoys the nation. Eighty per cent of the populace is in pernicious penury. State institutions have collapsed and the masses are like herds of cows that are malnourished and kept in the abattoir to be slaughtered and feasted upon. It is a sad story of a nation with great potentials that has become a pariah, an outcast in the comity of nations.
Do you think the President Muhammadu Buhari-led administration is capable of bringing Nigeria out of the woods?
I hope so, but the reality on the ground does not suggest so. This administration is so deficient in terms of critical thinking that it does not know what to do. Five years in the saddle and what we have is a blame game and unnecessary sloganeering. The leadership is slow and imbued with a docile mentality. It is not business-minded. Under him, the security infrastructure has collapsed and bandits and other criminal elements are having a field day. Insecurity has become so palpable that criminals are now very daring. The spate of kidnappings in the county is so alarming that no foreign investor will see Nigeria as a potential investment destination or terrain. Some major highways and other flashpoints have even been ceded to criminals and it is as if the government does not even have the solution. Some examples are the Kaduna-Abuja, Lagos-Ibadan, Sagamu-Benin and Birnin Gwari highways. Coupled with the menace of insecurity is the collapse of power generation and distribution in this country. Electricity supply is at its lowest and one begins to question the capacity of our leaders in stimulating development ideas.
The modern world has gone far beyond using an anachronistic model of power generation. Why is the government not thinking of alternatives like solar and nuclear? It takes a strong political will to break the shackles of using the present hydroelectric generation that is old fashioned especially in a country that uses old equipment. It is, therefore, unpardonable for the government not being able to think out of the box but to always use the same worn-out solutions to problems that the digital age has long found solutions to. See also the issue of crude oil refining, for five years the government has remained laid back on this issue. The Dangote Group is the only establishment that is trying to establish a refinery.
The amount of money being spent to import petrol and also pay subsidy is so alarming that one would have thought that government would have long ago established a high powered economic experts to advise her on how to resolve this logjam that is unclear to all and has remained a conduit pipe to siphon huge and enormous capital from our resources. Also, this government does not even have any pragmatic policy outlays on how to develop infrastructure, especially roads. Human capital has also been abandoned. Beyond the rhetoric of school feeding in which we were told of how billions of naira have been used in feeding pupils, we are yet to see how new public schools would be created to cater for the demands that come with a surge in population and how far the existing ones are being refurbished, which means we are not planning. A serious country plans for many years ahead. It is, therefore, a sad commentary on our lives, that public schools have collapsed and this government is unable to do anything about it. The collapse of public schools means that the poor cannot educate his children since the only alternative to public schools in the private ones and any country that accept the proliferation of private schools over and above public schools has wittingly or unwittingly made education a commodity to be purchased by those with capital. In this respect, education will be delisted as a right for all irrespective of social stratification and by these millions of the masses will not be able to afford education for their wards and we could see it from the UN and other civil society groups analysis that more than 13 million school-age children are out of school despite the fact that education has been proclaimed a human right and the Universal Basic Education Law in Nigeria has made primary and secondary education compulsory in Nigeria.
The Tradermoni scheme of this administration as an intervention for the empowerment of market women is also poorly thought out. Giving market women N10,000 is a selfish act of tokenism, when what government should do is to empower our Banks of Commerce and Enterprises, Industry, Agriculture to provide soft loans from N100,000 and above as a form of economic safety nets for the poor, which will trigger or boost commerce at the informal level and create wealth. So, from how it confronts the reform of the infrastructural layout of Nigeria from roads to agriculture and health meandering to human capital, the government has shown that it is bereft of ideas and also most of those appointed to assist government drive its agenda for growth have become so fatigued because they are recycled politicians that they are unable to induce fresh ideas or perspectives towards nation-building.
Do you think that the pursuit of self-interest and self-aggrandizement are the driving forces of Nigerian politicians
That is correct. We do not need any soothsayer to tell us this. Politics is one huge industry in Nigeria and the political establishment as political merchants have entrenched themselves as great beneficiaries. In other climes, politics is seen and used as a vehicle of development but in Nigeria, it is seen as a platform to acquire wealth and power for enjoyment and allocation of favour to cronies and well-wishers. The leadership class depends on the national treasury to drive their lifestyles and are therefore dependent on the public purse. They use it to educate their children abroad, to marry foreign wives or to maintain a harem of foreign girlfriends. They use the proceeds from our income to buy houses in exotic capitals of the world and some of them within four years as governors expend as much as $10m to charter aircraft for the domestic junket. I just read a tabloid that explains that President Buhari spent N4bn on 52 trips in 51 months. How on earth this has impacted on Nigeria positively is what I will never understand.
Also, from the pattern of appropriation of huge funds on recurrent expenditures for our political office holders to the detriment of capital funding, it is very clear that the resources of this country are meant to cater to the privileged class. Of recent about N5bn was said to have been earmarked for the purchase of vehicles for just 109 senators, while the paltry sum of N30,000 minimum wage is yet to see the light of the day. So, it is very clear that the leadership class does not have any intention of growing the economy beyond the superficial and rhetoric of beautiful speeches. What they relish in is to engage in racketeering with their foreign business partners by pilfering our resources to enable them sustain their rapacious lifestyle and to maintain their grip on this they must ensure that the vast majority are alienated and excluded from the benefits and resources of their state so that they would be too hungry to demand accountability from them. They know that a hungry man does not understand anything except the language of food and that simply explains the concept of stomach infrastructure.
It is a deliberate political strategy used in keeping the masses under check and control. They allow poverty to ravage the majority and during elections give them crumbs. With as little as N200, the masses will vote them back and the leadership will continue for another four years of massive plunder of the commonwealth of the people and nobody will talk. They would be too hungry, too sick and exploited to protest. They must depend on their traducers to exist. The nation, therefore, exists for its leaders. The poor are never in the equation if they were basic amenities like water and medicine would have been provided. As far as the Nigerian leadership class is concerned, the huge gap between them and the poor masses is not an aberration, but the system of dominance where the poor will not have the strength or intellect to challenge the leadership class. They must as of necessity even sing the praises of their slave masters.
Over the years, you have not hidden your feelings that some politicians have an inordinate ambition to hold on to power indefinitely, how is this affecting our democracy?
Negatively of course, because it perpetuates a few bands of politicians in power and also recirculated tired and expired brains as people who will drive development processes. It excludes fresh ideas from government and entrenches mediocrity. Allowing a few bands of opportunists is to deepen a patronage system that can only reward loyalists whose only interests will be to be extremely grateful to their godfathers rather than allegiance to the nation. So, holding on to power inordinately by a leadership class that feed fat on the economy is destructive because these people would have so destroyed the nation and at the end of the day will work against the emergence of visionary people who will re characterise the nation. They will also create a caste hegemony that will allow for family succession to advance the interest of such families rather than the nation.
In essence, what this portends is that the oligarchs and plutocrats (wealthy in business) will be the dominant face of our political development which will be for the pleasure of man. That is what we call the rule of man as encapsulated in the Hobbesian theory where the state will be for the leaders and the followers will remain as dregs and underdogs without participating in the political system of their country. The few plutocrats will lord it over since there will be nothing for the masses in the political economy. Brain drain and migration to other nations are good examples of the consequences of allowing a few oligarchs and political maximalists cornered power for their interest for so long a time.
What hopes are there for the children of the poor who are used as political thugs?
The progressive elites must come to their rescue and that of other Nigerians. Leaving the without education remains an advantage to the irresponsible political class. While their own children are in Ivy League colleges mainly abroad, they have allowed the children of the poor to remain their cannon fodder, the lubricant that fuels their political violence. When you analyse the structure of the manpower for political thuggery, you hardly find the children of politicians. They are so wicked that it becomes so easy and convenient to turn the children of the poor into junkies to be used as political thugs while theirs would return home as graduates of Oxford, Cambridge, and Harvard universities to continue with the culture of plunder that the conservative right wing political elites of Nigeria are known for. To address this malaise, the progressive elites in alliance with the intellectual class and other dynamic civil society groups must come together, engage the populace at the level of intellectual revolution and promote a pragmatic political evangelism that will enlightened the oppressed masses which will lead to voting our these predatory and vicious political establishment who are leeches unto the economy of the state and also an extension of western capital and imperialist who assist then in the expropriation of our resources to western countries.
Northern leaders have held more on to power since independence, is it commensurate with the level of development in the region?
The northern political establishment is the most irresponsible of all the political class in Nigeria. The southern political leadership class is even decent because they promote merit and enhance the emergence of intellectuals and scholars into the political space. The northern leaders will never promote intellectuals, rather they will promote the inferiors who have nothing to offer but to bootlick and wash the clothes of their slave masters and their wives. Look at the quality of representation from the north and you will shed tears at the low level exposure, experience, and understanding. The northern leadership elite will never advance regional or community interest but their own personal interests. They have no business in curbing the almajiri syndrome while their children attend formal Islamic schools. They have adopted the feudal system to cow their people into submissions and with the massive population that is not educated and a region that does not have industries, little wonder that crime has become a very attractive and flourishing industry.
The northern leaders have not only abandoned their people, but they have also even allowed their people not to see any incentive in education and that is the bane of the north. Its leaders have been successful in brainwashing their people that education does not have value. They only pay lip service to education. They do not want the people to have an education because with education the people will discover their voices and resist the tyranny and fascism that the northern leadership elites represent. It is a shame that with their long foray in political leadership, the north remains the sick baby of the nation. Poverty, despondency, maternal mortality, banditry, terrorism and other criminal activities now defined the lot and identity of the north. This is very unfortunate. The late Sardauna of Sokoto, Sir Ahmadu Bello, and other first-generation of northern leaders, if peradventure would be allowed to come back to life, would be embarrassed to discover that the north they put on a sound pedestal of moral, economic and political development has been destroyed and its people betrayed by a successive generation of parochial and selfish leadership corps, who do not see beyond their pockets.
How can we address the problem of poverty in Nigeria?
It is very simple. If government at all levels can curb wastage, if they can become Spartan in their way of living and also if 80 per cent of the national and state budgets would be targeted at capital projects, then the foundation for growth would have been laid. The resources of the state have a history of being stolen and wasted, if such profligacy can stop and the monies channelled into massive infrastructural development at all levels, then millions will come of poverty. Added to this will also be in industrialisation in agriculture and other sectors which will allow industries to employ millions of people and Nigeria will move away from being a consumerist country to a productive one. It is only when foreign investors see these foundations being laid coupled with a secure environment and a functional judiciary and democracy that they will develop confidence in the system.
Also, development banks and microfinance institutions must play a critical role in making credits available to both the formal and informal sectors of the economy, which if properly done will trigger massive commercial activities that will create wealth. Our borders must be closed to all imports to allow local industries to grow. We have both the human and natural resources to do this. The problem has always been a selfish political class which wants Nigeria to remain underdeveloped so that it can continue to maintain its grip on power without any corresponding commitments to nation-building
The recent massive migration to Europe and other parts of the world has been linked to poor infrastructure and high level of unemployment, do you think our leaders can address this?
The absence of social justice and the promotion of cronyism and patronage as a social system will continue to make people feel disconnect, because they are not given any opportunity nor the chance to showcase their God-given talent in pursuit of success. Nigeria having foreclosed opportunities for many have triggered a mass exodus of her talents. A lot of Nigerian professionals have found refuge in other serious countries that appreciate human capital. Even non-professionals have become migrants in other countries because there is no dignity of labour in Nigeria. Nigeria is being run on “who I know” syndrome and not on what I can contribute. The recruitment system is based on “connections” and not on capacity.
There is no attempt at putting in place an egalitarian principle where equality or equity will determine the appropriation of benefits and rights. The worst of the people are in the position of authority while the brightest are frustrated. In such situations, brain drain will flourish. The only solution to this is for the progressives to regroup and form a formidable alliance in promoting the ideals of democratic socialism, where merit and honour will be reignited as our right values. It is not going to be easy, but until the progressives take up the gauntlet and trigger mass education and enlightenment programmes for the people to see the danger of maintaining the status quo as it is and vote out the present leadership structure at all levels, the future will remain bleak.
How would you describe the recent enophobic attacks on Nigerians in South Africa?
To be fair to the South Africans, no country will tolerate the kind of indiscipline and rascality that most Nigerians exhibit in other countries. Most Nigerians take the hospitality of other countries for granted. Maybe South Africans are not civil about it. Countries like Saudi Arabia, Indonesia, and Malaysia apply the supreme punishment. So, many Nigerians are also languishing in various prison cells across the world. This can only point to one thing, many Nigerians are living a life of crime in other countries and those countries will naturally react through sanctions. In South Africa, people adopt self-help and this is where I disagree with them. They must reform their justice system to enable it to punish offenders and not mass killings.
This also is a pointer to Nigerians; you must live within the parameters of law in other countries. No nation will accept the kind of rascality that defines Nigeria as a country. We are used to not living with the realms of the law. We like to act with impunity and that is why the country is retrogressing. No nation will accept this Nigerian mentality. I believe that Nigerians living within the ambit of the law in South Africa and other nations do not face harassment. If that be the case, then largely I will blame our people as the reasons for all these attacks.
Youths participation in politics in Nigeria is still at its lowest ebb, how can we reverse this trend?
Youth participation is low because the elders do not want to leave the scene. The benefits of holding political office are very attractive and sweet to them since there is no demand by the people on them to give account. It is only in Nigeria that politicians are not subjected to public accountability and they don’t also retire because of the lucre of those positions. The youth also have not imbibed the right political culture because there is no political training and education or them. They become leaders either by accident or by being promoted by godfathers.
That simply explains the abysmal performances of the few youths that have been given the privilege to hold public office. The old and the new are therefore birds of the same feathers because they are being guided by a warped political system that is not only monetised but promotes the most indolent practitioners who are bereft of critical thinking and only see public office as a medium to acquire wealth and waste sane on frivolities and inanities. – Culled from Punch.