Reflections One Year After — Prof. Pat Utomi

A year ago today our country went through yet another transition. It was celebrated as a Civilian to Civilian transition, without precedent. Even though the transition was marked by disputed elections and crisis of legitimacy, we embarked on a journey of hope. The question today is how well we have walked the path of hope this last one year.

Even if a review of press reports and street commentary suggest despondency, informed critique and responsible opposition ethos require that our reflection be sober, fair minded, and focused on nation building, especially on our desperate need to ensure the ascendancy of progress-sustaining values and the building of institutions which set boundaries for acceptable conduct. Our view on the state of the nation this May 29th includes reviews of progress or lack thereof in the Power Sector, Petroleum Resources, Infrastructure, Rule of Law Security, Education, Health Care, Niger Delta, Urban Development, Electoral Reforms and the Economy.

We shall begin with the state of opposition politics and Civil Society. The continuing state of weakness of opposition politics confirms the point about the crisis of performance not being limited to the government in Abuja. On the part of the Yar’adua government his public profession of respect for the idea of opposition is one of the more comforting developments of the last year. The practice remains to be seen. Certainly there is an easing of the tense state of the nation from in the years before May 29th, 2007 when the government was in a state of war even with the idea of organized opposition and used methods within and outside the books to decapitate opposition and pressure Nigerians into a state of surrender and feeling powerless. Approach to elections by PDP during the last year persists in reflecting little regard for the electorate and the idea of a loyal opposition meaning loyalty to the cause of the Nigerian people, and so not a sabotage of those serving their interest, in position’s of Authority, yet distinctively different from current corporatist tradition of settling opposition chieftains.

Opposition efforts, where they have not succumbed to material lure of being in bed with the party in power, have generally not shown much depth of understanding of issues and evidence based suggestions of options to drive the common good. Where we have made effort it has been at very teething stages. Fortunately we are able to announce today a series of developments that should elevate the quality of opposition just as we commend the Common Wealth Secretariat for scheduling a workshop on opposition politics for West Africa to hold in Abuja in June.

Several months ago we announced the institution of shadow team to serve the Nigerian people to provide competing views of policy at the federal level. Drawn from a coalition of willing political parties outside of the PDP. Today the web portal of the shadow team will be up life. Citizens can be part of a participatory e-government from the opposition side. The build up of the portal will continue until its final formal unveiling on October 1st when it will allow many kinds of governance initiatives not thought of till now.

Even though the pending cases at tribunals have delayed the announcement of the full complement of the shadow team we must pay tribute participants of the inaugural meeting with Adams Oshiomole, Jimi Agbaje and Dr. Kayode Fayemi and the work of the shadow team’s economic working group that has been a mix of hot young economists from academia and older troopers like Dr. Kalu I. Kalu. We must also acknowledge the health team that will have Dr. Leke Pitan as Spokesperson; the Transport and Aviation spokesperson Engineer Ibrahim Usman, and the many others who have worked hard at this project without public praise. Other Ministerial teams with spokespersons in the main federal shadow team include Education; Health, Infrastructure; Employment, Entrepreneurship and Poverty Alleviation, and Cabinet Ombudsman and Citizen Participation. Further ministerial departments include International Trade and Industry (MITI) which will be assigned the enterprise of developing six factor endowments based industrial parks and new cities to emerge around them; Labour and Management and Budget Monitoring; Finance; Energy; Niger Delta and Special Projects; Defence, Water Resources; Foreign Affairs, Police Affairs and Law and Order; Women Empowerment and Gateway Cities designed to make Lagos, Port Harcourt, Abuja and Kano dual responsibilities urban centres with federal involvement. Youth Empowerment, Niger Delta and Special Projects also constitute areas of special attention. We are also recruiting from Nigerians around the World into a start up team of a Think Tank, we hope will grow to the stature of the Brookings Institution.

The Power Sector remains a national embarrassment, to use the words of Vice-President Goodluck Jonathan. We have enough evidence that low political will slow decision-making processes and the failure of project management has allowed it to degenerate into
National emergency before the government could study it enough to declare its proposed state of emergency, one year after. This emergency, even as diesel prices have gone past N140 per a litre is reducing the recently re-emerging middle class to penury, preventing artisans from practicing their trade, and deepening poverty in a country earning unprecedented revenues from unprecedented highs in crude Oil prices.

We urge the setting up an emergency task force, the deployment of top project management team from anywhere in the world with mandate to lease power stations on barges to bring short term alleviation while putting in place medium term and long term strategies drawn from the pool of studies that have been commissioned and executed by government on these issues.

The mantra of Rule of Law that has been the great anchor o the Yar’adua government is a great idea. Ordinarily it should help with institution-building and property rights necessary for economic advance and a just society.

Unfortunately the mode of implementation has left a public impression that the phenomenon was a ruse to allow those who have violated the commonwealth, raped the sensibilities of Nigerians from their positions in Public Office to now act as victims rather than victimizers, in some cases carrying on in a manner suggesting they were robbing it in as clearly stated by respected discussants on the NTA Network News programme Tuesday Night Live just a few hours ago. This perception must be changed quickly or it can spell the doom of our democracy.

It will be uncharitable to suggest that the economy is comatose as common parlance tends to indicate. The truth is that significant economic growth is taking pace. It probably could be much bigger than nearly 9 percent (9%) of GDP that is expected but more important is that the benefits are far from reaching the people. What is the point of growth if the quality of life like recent infant and maternal mortality ratio’s of UN agencies suggested, is one of the worst in the World. What is the point of this growth driven, not by outcome of policy ideas but by Oil prices, when some women in the Niger Delta will need to travel half a day by canoe, bicycles and motorcycles to reach a maternity ward.

The worsening Gini index, measure of the gap in income distribution, is a time bomb that requires concerted citizen-government collaboration and action so we may rescue tomorrow.

Revitalization of agriculture and industrialization is so central to the process that activities should be seen on the front burner. This is not the case today. The global food crisis should be a wake up call not only for our food security strategy but also for coming alternatives to fossil Fuels and future Crude Oil pricing. We seem to carry on oblivious of the need for saving from today’s crude Oil rents for the future, as the Saudis and others are doing.

More troubling for the economy is the sense that there is no clear direction. We must eliminate that now. How can there be security if majorities feel alienated and cheated by the system in addition to being poor and hungry.

We welcome filtering news about the restructuring of the Petroleum sector especially in the hope that is will truly make NNPC an autonomous, profitable global Oil concern like PETRONAS. We however urge that we pressure and provide incentives for Nigerian content to be deepen to prevent the Oil sector from continuing as an enclave sector, unable to bring the gains of that sector to stimulate growth of the rest of the economy.

When Transport Minister Deziani Alison-Madueke cried as she was shown some roads in Nigeria, people’s hopes were raised for some dramatic turn around in that sector. Today it seems that the most unfortunate symbol of Nigeria’s misplaced priorities is that while the country’s single most important commercial artery, the Lagos –Benin – Port Harcourt Highway is in near total collapse fancy new ring roads are emerging everyday in Abuja. While it is desirable for Abuja to have those road networks the priorities seem bizarre in logic.

Inspite of all of these we must hold out hope. That hope must be that Nigerians can reject non-performing governments, providing politicians a lesson that the key to public life is service to the people. So far the electoral process makes that not plausible. The setting up of the Mohammed Uwais Electoral Reforms committee is supposed to address that. We continue to give it the benefit of the doubt and hope for Nigeria’s sake that it produces outcomes that will advance the need for good governance.

When a health care sector that is so absent that surveys suggest the neighbourhood Chemist is the anchor of Nigerian’s healthcare system and as much as four hundred million can be unspent in the Federal Ministry of Health in one budget year, with consciences so limited in sensitivity that people can agree to pocket such public funds in the ministry, the crisis we face are very obviously monumental. We cannot blame the Yaradua’s regime for it all. But the buck must stop at the desk in Aso Rock. The need to act before the cup boils over is the imperative of the moment.

PS. I’m excited that is now live, though it’s what you may call Version 1.0 for now — towards the October 1, 2008 launch!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *