By Gabriel Akinadewo
I want to thank the management of Integrity Reporters for this opportunity to address these eminent personalities. We are here today to discuss Nigeria. As patriotic Nigerians, we must always ask ourselves: is Nigeria working? Why is our politics different from the way it is played in other countries? Why are we too religious and not Godly? Why do we have ‘individual business giants’ and not strong economic institutions?
Why are we doing the same thing every time and expecting a different result?
As you know, Nigeria is rich. There is no state that cannot sustain itself. That was why in the First Republic, Western Region workers under the late Premier, Chief Obafemi Awolowo, were earning higher wages in Ibadan than federal workers in Lagos. So, what changed that some of our sons and daughters in Nigeria have been turned to beggars, even in a democracy?
How do we strengthen our democracy when we don’t want to follow rule of law? Why do leaders hide under religion to justify their inaction and inefficiency?
The greatest disservice anybody can do is to continue to deceive himself. Nigerian leaders are deceiving themselves and this is the time to say ‘enough is enough’.
Now, what is democracy? It is very simple. Government of the people, by the people and for the people.
Have we followed this principle since 1999? I will say no.
Democracy is a different game in this country because how do Nigerians show responsibility and credibility in a system that is obviously deadly, dictatorial, authoritarian and despotic?
We copied our presidential system of government from the United States (U.S.) but do we allow Nigerians to have a say in the way they are being governed?
The greatest challenge confronting our politics is that it is not participatory.
To convince you that our type of democracy is not working, I will tell you a story of what happened in Alaska, the United States (U.S.), in 1976.
If we operate a similar system in Nigeria, the agitation all over the country would have been taken care of.
For your information, Alaska is the largest state in the U.S.
It is almost three times larger than Texas, the second largest state, and almost five times larger than California, the third largest state.
The population of Alaska is 741,204.
A major crisis almost happened in Alaska in 1976 when pipelines were laid in the state for the Trans-Alaska Pipeline System.
How was it resolved?
Governor Jay Hammond invited lawmakers, the rich, the poor, the young, the old, policemen, soldiers, the jobless, clerics, teachers, civil servants and others to a meeting and they decided that 25 per cent of proceeds of this oil boom must be shared by people of Alaska through the Alaska Permanent Fund.
In fact, the Alaska Constitution was amended to accommodate this new arrangement with the U.S. Government.
And since 1982 when the law came into force, because the attitude is right, everybody gets a cheque from the government every year.
This payment is made to residents who have lived within the state for a full calendar year.
For you to qualify, it is like leaving Ogun, Oyo, Ondo, Ekiti, Delta, Zamfara, Enugu states for Lagos State. Once you live in Ikeja, Lagos Island, Badagry, Ikorodu, Epe and other towns in Lagos State for one year, you will get this cheque. And the details are made public. Everybody is entitled to the same amount.
It might interest you to know how much was collected by each resident of Alaska since 1982, that is 36 years ago.
2008: $2,069.00 + $1,200 Alaska Resource Rebate $3,269.00
That of 2017 was paid on October 5.
In 2016, more than $657 million (about N236 billion) was paid to 643,000 eligible Alaskans.
In 2017, the population of Alaska increased to 741,204 and $815,324,400 (about N293 billion) was paid.
Because people use this money to boost their businesses, unemployment rate in Alaska is just 7.3 per cent.
Because of this democratic arrangement, people of Alaska are ready to protect the pipelines with their lives.
The lesson from this is that anything done outside the people will never work. If the attitude of leaders is wrong, attitude of followers will automatically be wrong.
In Nigeria, the government is working outside the people. That is why we have political challenges everyday and it is affecting our economy.
Let me give you another example why our politics is not working.
Today, there is the Not-Too-Young-To-Rule OR Not-Too-Old-To-Govern agitation in the country. To me, it is diversionary because the average Nigerian wants a decent living, job security, infrastructure, good healthcare system, education, not the age of the man or woman who will provide all these.
Nigerians are agitating because we don’t have a political system in the country. If our political system is strictly followed, this type of agitation will not even see the light of the day.
Why did I say this?
There is a man in the U.S. political system who has been involved in electioneering campaign for years. His name is Edmund Gerald Brown (Jr). A lawyer and author, he is the 39th Governor of California. Brown has been the governor of California since 2011. He also served as governor from 1975 to 1983. Today, he is the longest serving governor of the state.
And you know California has the sixth largest economy in the world, only behind the U.S., China, Japan, Germany and Britain.
Before becoming the governor, Brown was the Attorney-General.
As at yesterday, the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of California is $2.4 trillion.
The GDP of Nigeria is close to $500 billion.
So, California’s GDP is five times bigger than that of Nigeria but California is governed by Brown who is 80 years old. In fact, he is the oldest governor in the U.S.
He was first elected governor when he was 37 years. He returned as governor when he was 73 years in 2011.
No voter in California will ever say he is too old to run or govern because the system is working.
It is not about age but how sincere public officers are. The young people who have been ruling in Nigeria, what have they done? The old people ruling, what have they done?
Has anything changed? The people who snatched mace in the National Assembly on Wednesday, are they old people?
Another leg of the political dilemma Nigerians are facing is the election sequence drama.
The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) fixed Presidential and National Assembly (NASS) elections for Saturday, February 16, 2019, and Governorship and State Assembly elections for Saturday, March 2, 2019.
The National Assembly, however, changed the arrangement, demanding that the National Assembly elections come first and the presidential poll last.
Why is the presidency fighting NASS over the sequence of election? Why is the National Assembly also fighting the presidency? In fact, for supporting President Muhammadu Buhari, the Chairman of Northern Senators’ Caucus, Adamu Abdullahi, was removed. Even the Omo-Agege saga can be traced to this.
The two entities are fighting because of a plot to rig or manipulate the voting pattern. In a sincere process, does it matter which election comes first? Although the House of Representatives said on Wednesday it is going to drop the Bill, the lawmakers are still looking for a way to ‘deal’ with the presidency.
Politicians dwell on inanities and this is the bane of our democracy.
Let me give you a summary of election sequence in Nigeria since the Second Republic.
In 1979, Senatorial election was held on July 7, 1979, House of Representatives on July 14, 1979 and Presidential on August 11, 1979.
In 1983, the sequence changed as Presidential election was held on August 6, 1983, Senatorial on August 20, 1983 and House of Representatives on August 27, 1983.
In the Third Republic, the sequence changed again as Senatorial and House of Representatives elections were held together for the first time on July 4, 1992 and presidential held on June 12, 1993.
In 1999, elections into House of Assembly, House of Representatives and Senate were held on February 2, 1999 while Governorship and Presidential elections were held on February 27, 1999.
In 2003, elections into House of Assembly, House of Representatives and Senate were held on April 4, 2003 while Governorship and Presidential elections were held on April 19, 2003.
In 2007, the sequence changed. House of Assembly and Governorship elections were held on April 14, 2007 while National Assembly and Presidential elections were held on April 21, 2007.
In 2011, it changed again. House of Assembly, House of Representatives and Senatorial elections were held on April 9, 2011 while Governorship and Presidential elections held on April 16, 2011.
Expectedly, it changed again in 2015 as House of Representatives, Senate and Presidential elections were held on March 28, 2015 while House of Assembly and Governorship elections held on April 11, 2015.
Even with all these, have Nigerians really benefitted from sequence of election in terms of good governance? Has election sequence improved our standard of living? And, directly or indirectly, Nigerians are being forced to take sides in the battle between the presidency and National Assembly. The implication of the latest controversy is that politically, nothing has changed in Nigeria.
Another challenge facing our politics is credibility. Leaders just talk to impress and this will continue to affect our democracy and economy because investors will not take them too serious.
That is why Nigerians don’t believe in the credibility of elections anymore. Look at the Kano State Governor, Abdullahi Ganduje, who promised President Muhammadu Buhari five million votes in 2019. This is a state in which he is not firmly in control. In fact, he had to use security agencies to stop his former boss, Senator Rabiu Kwankwaso, from coming to the state about three months ago.
He promised Buhari five million votes but during the 2015 election, Kano State posted 2,172,447 votes and Buhari, the APC presidential candidate, got 1,903,999 votes. So, where will Ganduje get the five million votes for Buhari in 2019?
No research, no statistics, just a mere propaganda tool by a politician.
Later, he will turn around to blame reporters for ‘fabricating stories’.
When it comes to religion, it is a different ball game entirely.
I am a Christian but I strongly believe that everyday, our country is sinking into religiosity to the detriment of godliness.
Every Friday and Sunday, you see people in mosques and churches but their hearts are far from God.
That is why the economy is retrogressing because anything you do outside the laws of God will never work.
Some Nigerians also use the name of God for evil. Nigeria, probably, must have the highest number of people going to Mecca and Jerusalem every year as if prayers are not answered in Nigeria and the tragedy is that some Christians and Muslims smuggle drugs in the name of God. When they are arrested at the airport, they will now claim that it is the work of the devil. So, it is obvious they were not going to the Holy Land to pray for our democracy.
Many people do not even know that Israel is not a Christian nation. The population of Israel is eight million. Christians represent two per cent of this population (about 160,000). Muslims are even more in Israel because they represent 16.9 per cent. Jewish constitute about 76 per cent. Then, we have others like Samaritanism, Baha’iism, Druze, Paganism. Despite all these, the state of Israel comes first because the government is ever ready to use instrumentality of state to defend and protect an average Israeli anywhere in the world. Whether you are a Christian, Muslim or Judaist, an average Israeli believes in one God. I am sure you also know that Israel does not have a written Constitution.
Despite our written Constitution, what do we have in Nigeria? We claim to be close to God but many Nigerians observe this in the breach.
I will narrate an incident of how religion is being used to perpetrate evil and fraud in this country which ultimately affects our democracy.
Nothing can be more horrifying that the confession of the former Executive Secretary of Plateau State Muslim Pilgrims Board, Alhaji Salisu Mohammed, before a Judicial Commission of Inquiry set up by the state government on November 22, 2016.
He admitted diverting N94 million from funds paid by 131 intending pilgrims.
He said: “The 131 intending pilgrims were disqualified from participating in the pilgrimage because I was instructed, verbally, by the then Secretary to State Government (SSG), Prof. Shadrach Best, (a Christian instructed a Muslim to defraud pilgrims) to do so and use the money to sponsor some political VIPs.
“The funds were diverted from no fewer than 131 intending pilgrims, who paid for slots to travel to Saudi Arabia for the 2013 Hajj. The VIPs and I sponsored ourselves, with the fund collected from the pilgrims, to attend the World Islamic Conference in the United Kingdom and to the Hajj itself”.
Mohammed revealed that the intending pilgrims had neither gone on the pilgrimage nor had their monies refunded to them.
In fact, the Chairman of the commission, Justice Stephen Adah, was so furious he described Mohammed and others as engaging in “an unholy action”.
John 8:32 says: “And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free”.
Obviously, it is not only the truth we know that will set Nigeria free democratically but “the truth we do”.
One thing is very clear. If Nigeria does not become an economic giant, there is no way we will have an enduring democracy. This is where restructuring comes in.
I want us to reflect on what I am going to say now.
Cocoa House in Ibadan was called Cocoa House because Chief Obafemi Awolowo and Chief Samuel Ladoke Akintola did not use oil money to build it. It was opened in 1965, 53 years ago but how come since 1965, no other structure is taller than Cocoa House in the defunct Western Region of Ogun, Oyo, Osun, Ondo and Ekiti states today? That means the zone has not really moved forward economically.
The NITEL Building in Lagos was opened in 1979, a 32-storey building. That was 39 years ago when Lagos was the capital of Nigeria. How come no other structure is taller than this building in the whole of Lagos State since then?
Look at Dubai. The first skyscrapper in that country was opened in 1979, a 32-storey building surrounded by miles of empty desert. Between 1979 and now, Dubai has built 911 skyscrappers, and the tallest, Burj Khalifa, contains 161 floors.
So, if you really look at it, Nigeria has not really moved forward economically.
Are we really handling the economy the way it should be done? How do we get the economy right without restructuring?
For example, why do we have bad roads in Nigeria? It is very simple and if we don’t do something about the lopsided system we operate, we will continue to have bad roads.
Nigeria has about 200,000 kilometers of road network, of which the Federal Government is credited with 18 per cent, the 36 states 16 per cent, and local governments 66 per cent.
But look at our revenue allocation formula. The current revenue allocation formula by which the Federal Government takes as much as 52.68% of centrally-collected revenues in the Federation Account, leaving States and Local Governments with 26.72% and 20.60% respectively has created a glaring and unacceptable imbalance in the financial resources of the three tiers of government.
Like it or not, we will continue to have bad roads in Nigeria. The solution is simple. To fix Nigerian roads, we must fix the way our revenues are distributed. Let me use the January allocation as an example. The Federal Government got N105.76 billion, states N53.64 billion, and local governments, N41.35 billion. I want to tell you that the Federal Government has no population. There are no federal citizens. It is the putting together of the population of Ogun, Abia, Lagos, Edo, Zamfara, Niger, Enugu and other states that we now have close to 180 million population. If Nigeria is going to be developed, it will come from states and local governments. For example, where is the Federal Government farmer? All farmers belong to states and local governments but billions of naira are allocated to the Federal Ministry of Agriculture every year. Of course, the Federal Government can help to improve agriculture but more resources should be allocated to states and councils.
Another leg of the economic challenge is that we don’t consume what we produce and this will continue to affect our democracy. Now, everybody is talking about dollar rate. If I may ask, is dollar our currency? What is our business with dollar if not because of the mono and import-driven economy we run in Nigeria?
Let me give some statistics by looking at the exchange rate of the dollar to some countries’ currencies.
South Korea is the fourth largest economy in Asia and the 11th largest in the world. Nigeria is the 26th largest economy in the world.
Today, Naira is 360 to the U.S. dollar.
The South Korean currency – Won – is 1,091 to $1 but have you ever seen a South Korean complaining about the exchange rate?
Many South Koreans don’t even touch the dollar because they have no business with the U.S. currency.
Japan is the second largest economy in Asia and third largest economy in the world but the Japanese Yen is 112 to $1. And Japanese don’t complain.
Russia has the ninth biggest economy but the Russian Ruble is 60 to $1.
India is third biggest economy in Asia and 10th in the world and the Indian Rupee is 66 to $1
Indonesia is among the biggest 20 but its currency, Rupiah, is 13,807 to $1. And you will agree with me that Indonesia has a very robust economy.
In Iran, it is 42,004 Rial to $1.
In Vietnam, it is 22,779 Dong to $1.
Whether the exchange rate goes up or down is not the solution to the economic challenges Nigeria is facing.
To jump-start our economy, we must focus on what the Naira can buy at home.
The best economy is not determined by exchange rate but by GDP and how local businesses thrive. So, without an economic independence, our political independence is nothing.
It is not only democracy that our economy is affecting. It is also affecting the media. I say this because I am a journalist.
Japan has a population of 127 million but in world media, a newpaper called Yomiuri Shimbun in Japan sells 10 million copies daily. Asahi Shimbun sells eight million copies daily. Mainichi Shimbun sells three million copies daily.
That is 21 million copies.
Nigeria has a population of about 180 million. All the newspapers in the country do not sell 100,000 copies daily.
Why? The system we are operating is not working and it is affecting the economy. How can somebody stay in Abuja and be controlling the Gold in Ilesa, the Coal in Enugu and Gum Arabic in Zamfara? Why are we operating a federal system when the Federal Government controls everything?
That is why the value of our GDP to world economy is just 0.65 per cent because the Federal Government is the ‘General Overseer’ of all the mineral resources in the country. What we contribute to the world is less than 1 per cent and Nigeria is the seventh most-populous country.
Whether you like it or not, the retrogressive economic system in Nigeria is affecting our democracy.
How do we explain a situation in which Nigeria, for 57 years, only generated about 5000 megawatts? And we want the economy to grow?
The Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO) generates 62,824 megawatts and supplies power to more than 30 million Japanese. And it is one of the nine electric companies in Japan. So, what are they doing in Japan that we cannot do in Nigeria?
Now, the 2019 race has started. For our democracy to survive, are we checking the background of these people aspiring to lead us? Are we checking the background of those already campaigning for presidency? If you cannot manage a supermarket, how will you govern a country like Nigeria?
Nigeria is one of the few countries where anybody will just emerge with enough cash and people will start voting for him.
Nigerians must be alert and not be afraid to ask questions on matters bordering on politics, religion and economy.
If our democracy is to survive, Nigeria must be restructured.
In Genesis 1, God created Heaven and Earth. Suddenly, darkness came and you will agree with me that darkness is a satanic agent.
Immediately, God proclaimed a state of restructuring: ‘Let there be light’.
And there was light. It was an order from God. Our Creator also separated the light from darkness.
In Nigeria of today, there is political, religious and economic darkness affecting our democracy.
It is only restructuring that can remove this darkness.
And the time to remove it is now.
I thank you for listening.