Aug. 12, 2013
Stunted Potentials Hobble Our Nation By Nasir Ahmad El-Rufai
Our country is in the news these days often for the wrong reasons. Nigeria is a country devastated by poverty, insecurity, corruption and terrorism. The governance challenges are immense, while much of public policies now deliver poor outcomes. The budgeting process is a fictographic art, featuring much drama and a growing disconnect from the imperatives of development and the needs of the majority. True to that tradition, the 2013 budget is by August still a matter of unsettled contention between the executive and legislative branches of government. In spite of this, the nation’s savings account – the Excess Crude Account is being rapidly drawn down, probably unlawfully, such that it is likely to fall from about $11 billion in February to zero by October 2013!
Yet this sorry impasse, governmental incompetence and impunity do not define Nigeria. Our diverse peoples are an energetic, often optimistic lot trying to build our lives despite the trammels imposed by governmental incompetence and paralysis. Ours is Africa’s largest country and second largest economy. It could easily be the continent’s largest economy and market if a congruence should emerge between politics, government action and national aspirations.
Such congruence was in the works from 2004-2007, when a variety of reform measures began to improve government finances, shrink the participation of the state in business by privatizing many state-owned enterprises, create a modern national identity system, strengthen the banking system and getting the ports to be more efficient. Our nation was even poised to launch a national mortgage system to reverse its embarrassing 17 million units housing deficit. A series of gas-based thermal plants were contracted to improve the patchy electric power generation levels. For the first time, a coherent roadmap for a potential boom in the solid mineral sector emerged alongside efforts to reduce the cost of governance through right-sizing and monetization of fringe benefits. The personnel cost of the entire executive arm of the federal government was about N600bn, while the maximum running cost of 469 members of the national assembly used to be less than N50bn annually. The pay-as-you-go pension system was reformed and transitional roadmap to a fully-funded contributory pension scheme legislated.
The success of our foreign debt relief campaign reflected the international community’s confidence in the soundness of the economic programme then being feverishly pursued. Nigeria did not suddenly become an Eldorado. But it was clearly beginning to get to grips with its problems using solutions that were pragmatic and largely market driven; propelled by a vision that the government should provide the infrastructure, security and the guaranty of law and order that can give people confidence to invest, grow and unleash their talents.
The vision of that Obasanjo administration was to make this the last generation to merely speak of Nigeria’s potentials. We were determined to realize those potentials, confident that we had the talents to create wealth from the vast natural and human resource endowments of the country, leveraging the energies of its young people and latent assets in the Diaspora.
Why then the stasis since late 2007? We will attempt an explanation.
Political power must always be tied to national purpose. The inheritors of power post-2007 were strangers to that conception, and did not feel obliged to uphold the reforms they inherited, and where they did, did not demonstrate sufficient political will to see them through. Even conceding to the ever changing dynamics of life, the broad thrust of the programmes our governments need to implement is obvious: the 2004-2007 reforms are unfinished. They should constitute a new starting point for development- focused governance and the agenda for the next government.
Perhaps that will be the single agenda item for the All Progressives Congress in post-Jonathanian Nigeria, as it is clear that the current leadership is unwilling to proceed on that road less travelled. We will nevertheless outline what obviously needs doing. It is not rocket science but requires a competent team led by a president that has been tested and transparently honest. The next president must possess unquestionable personal integrity, character and will, propelled by the anger to change our currently-unacceptable conditions – qualities that appear to be in great deficit in the current leadership across the board not only at the top but even at the levels of ministries, departments and agencies.
On a macroeconomic level, the government has to both shrink and become more efficient. The public service is in many ways unfit for purpose, with a mismatch between the skills required and the excess personnel it carries. A set of incentives needs to be arranged to once again make the public service an attractive career for our most talented. Certain sectors of the service also need to grow. Nigeria needs more police officers, health workers, teachers and judges and the infrastructure to support them. But the share of national income consumed by government has to reduce. The monetization policy has to be revisited and strictly implemented so that securing a public service job, or getting elected to a post stops being a license to live like a monarch, well above the austere circumstances of ordinary Nigerians.
The expense on human capital has to both grow and be more efficiently allocated. The failure rates in the final secondary level exams show that we are not equipping our youth with the skills needed for the 21st century.
Our tertiary education is also mired in mediocrity, and the emergence of private universities merely glosses over, rather than addressing the problem. Access to basic healthcare is also problematic, and we continue to record scandalous rates of maternal and infant mortality. The vote of no confidence in the healthcare system is seen not merely in the N4 billion Nigerians spent in 2010 on medical tourism, but also in the fact that the government makes provisions to send its top officials abroad for healthcare services.
Spending priorities and the allocation of resources have to be calibrated to reflect the urgent necessity to build infrastructure and capacity in Nigeria. The personnel and overhead cost of governments should no longer dominate budgeting; which must begin to prioritize about 70% of budgets for capital expenditure in national and subnational appropriation acts. Having a healthy and well-educated population that is able to compete in today’s global village is more important than the perks that seem to occupy and distract many public officers.
The abandoned efforts at developing a national mortgage system should be revived to create a source of sustainable, long-term financing and a basis for a veritable housing revolution. This would help create better planned neighborhoods in addition to the civic pride, social stability and sense of security that home ownership fosters.
Unleashing entrepreneurial energy also requires that strong regulatory competencies be developed across the board. As our banking system so notoriously demonstrated, effective supervision and enforcement of rules and regulations are critical to the overall performance of the nation’s economy. The culture of corruption and impunity must be confronted no matter whose oxen are gored. The ambivalent and highly politicized efforts to tackle insecurity and terrorism must be reassessed and redesigned, and then implemented with all seriousness to end the kidnapping, crude oil theft, armed robberies and the Boko haram insurgency that plague our country. The commendable clean-up of the judiciary initiated by the current illustrious Chief Justice must be intensified and sustained.
None of these is easy but we have little choice if our 170 million people are to have a future. If we continue to make at least 6 million babies per annum, by 2050 Nigeria will be amongst the three most populous nations on earth. We have a duty to do what is necessary to avoid short-term anarchy or sate failure in the medium term when the oil prices are driven down by discoveries all over Africa, and improvement in fracking technologies producing more and more shale oil and gas in Europe and the Americas. We have only a small window to get things right, and we can. Indeed, we must!
When we do, Nigeria has room for an economic explosion, a revolution in development with tectonic consequences for Africa and the Black Race. While we concede that even today, enterprising investors can still make money from the chaos that is the Nigerian economy given the reservoirs of unmet needs across many sectors, real progress that creates jobs and opportunities on a sustainable basis are possible only within the framework of leadership qualities and policies described above. But all these depend on getting the politics right by ensuring we have clean elections between now and 2015. Anything sort of that is sounding the death knell of Nigeria’s progress, and Africa’s emancipation, and that will be very sad indeed.
President Jonathan Is Above Ethnic And Religious Politics
August 11, 2013
My attention has been drawn to comments made by a former Minister of the Federal Capital Territory, FCT, and now chieftain of the All Progressives Congress, APC, Mallam Nasir El-Rufai, published in several newspapers where he made wild allegations against the person of President Goodluck Jonathan.
This most recent interview, like others he gave in the past only shows that El-Rufai is a serial liar and the facts of history bear me witness. El-Rufai accused President Goodluck Jonathan of playing ethnic and religious politics, however, any objective watcher of the President knows that this is untrue.
For instance, the Muslim Ummah just emerged from the Ramadan fast and the President, though a Christian, joined them in fasting and severally broke the fast with Muslims at the Presidential Villa.
Also, in the history of the existence of Nigeria as a nation, no leader has spent the quantum of funds that President Jonathan has spent on education specifically tailored for Islamic itinerant scholars known as the almajiri. In the composition of his cabinet, the President has appointed Muslims into sensitive positions and ensured a balance that has been commended by many in the Islamic fold.
But it is most curious that this allegation is coming from Nasir El-Rufai, a man who profaned the name of Jesus Christ on Twitter by tweeting a joke which is too indecent to mention in the presence of civilized persons. This same El-Rufai is the same man who in June of last year claimed that Christians were behind the bombings of their own churches rather than terrorists and were doing this to further a Christian agenda.
It is only a measure of his inconsistency that El-Rufai is today accusing the Presidency of being afraid of General Muhammadu Buhari whom the same El-Rufai said was “perpetually unelectable”. In fact, the accusation El-Rufai is now making against the President is precisely the same accusation he made against General Muhammadu Buhari on October 4 2010 when he said Buhari’s “insensitivity to Nigeria’s diversity and his parochial focus are already well-known”. Today, El-Rufai is serving this same Buhari.
That El-Rufai is not above lying to the media to achieve his political objective was proven in Segun Adeniyi’s book, ‘Power, Politics and Death’ when El-Rufai was quoted to have confessed in the presence of multiple witnesses who are still alive today that “There was no cabal, we created the myth to neutralise Turai”. El-Rufai sold Nigerians the dummy of a Turai cabal which was a lie used to further his own political ends.
In any case, we have a record of what El-Rufai truly thinks of President Jonathan from the leaked secret diplomatic memo from the U.S. embassy in Abuja which revealed that just before the April 2007 Presidential election El-Rufai had told the then U.S. ambassador to Nigeria that the then Vice Presidential candidate, Dr. Goodluck Jonathan, was “clean and honest”.
Mallam El-Rufai’s comment on the Vice President is also unfortunate. The report quoted him as describing the administration of Arc Mohammed Namadi Sambo in Kaduna state as a disaster, purporting that the vice president as a former governor of Kaduna state incurred a huge debt profile that compelled his successor to complain. At no time did the late Governor Yakowa ever accuse the Vice President of incurring any huge debt during his tenure as Governor of Kaduna State.
For the records, when the Vice President was in charge as Governor of Kaduna state, the state never borrowed a penny from any quarters. The efforts to generate cheap funds for development, which he applied for were just recently approved by the Islamic Development Bank for the state.
It is on record also that the Vice President made judicious use of the state’s resources in reviving the already comatose railway sector, construction of a 150-million litres per day Zaria water treatment plant, the construction of a 300-bed specialist hospital and 5,000 kg grain silos for each of the three senatorial districts, the building of a games centre at the Murtala Mohammed Square and the Ahmadu Bello Stadium in Kaduna; the construction of a brand new Governor’s office at the Sir Kashim Ibrahim House; the establishment of a mobile and effective security outfit codenamed Operation Yaki and the deployment of 27% of the State’s budget to education amongst other achievements.
Since El-Rufai has a history of saying the truth privately and the lie publicly it suffices to warn his current fellow co-travelers that a man who can betray those who brought him up in politics is capable of anything. Nigerians should consequently take his words with not just a pinch of salt, but a spoonful because a double-minded man is unstable in all his ways.
We are not the least surprised with such vituperations from Nasir El-Rufai. His public record of treachery and slander is still very fresh in the minds of Nigerians. His verbal assault on his original benefactors for worldly gain, his record of double standards and his treatment of the late Justice Bashir Sambo speak volumes of his character.
The false accounts he rendered in his recent collection of half-truths and outright lies which he accidentally titled The Accidental Public Servant further define his public image as an ungrateful, self-serving and loquacious personality.
Via Rueben Abati, Presidential Adviser on Media