By ANIEBO NWAMU
It has taken covid-19 for everyone to know that Nigeria is a failed state. In a matter of three or four months ahead, those who have been living in denial will have no cause to doubt what we’ve been saying for years. The nation’s economy has, for decades, been sustained by the informal sector. Now, the sector that is totally independent of government has been suppressed by covid-19 lockdown.
There are several indicators of a failed state, and they unarguably include these: absence of a functional government, bankruptcy, lawlessness, a weak or unstable currency, lack of jobs, unfair distribution of income, lack of security, and existence of porous borders. Let’s examine these as they relate to Nigeria at this time. I will elaborate on them, starting from the last.
Our borders were officially closed a few months ago. Yet foreign rice has not lacked in the markets. Ditto foreign clothing items and vehicles. For a nation to claim sovereignty it must have secure borders; it must not open its flanks to foreigners entering or leaving it illegally. In this light, Nigeria with almost 1, 500 porous borders cannot be rightly described as a sovereign nation. This conviction is behind U.S. President Donald Trump’s quest to build a wall at his country’s borders with Mexico. You just can’t give drug lords and other criminals enough room to operate and still claim to be protecting your country and its citizens. At election times, we see Nigeriens, Chadians and even Malians “voting” in Nigeria. This porosity gives terrorists an advantage. When covid-19 emerged, the aristocrats were perhaps waiting for their members and their children to return before closing the borders.
No Nigerian needs to be told they’re on their own. I’ve been robbed several times and, on each occasion, I called police hotlines. They called back after an hour or two to ask useless questions. At daybreak they came to “arrest” me and take me to their station to write a statement. No robbers arrested, no stolen property returned. Police and other security operatives use their rifles to protect themselves and their families alone.
Now we’re battling a more dangerous form of insecurity: stomach insecurity. It pained me to hear tales of woe from helpless young women who were seized and detained at police stations until they were bailed with N10, 000, because they sold petty articles of trade during lockdown hours. America pays its citizens the equivalent of N400, 000 every fortnight to stay at home. Nigeria pays nobody or maybe ghosts; you just have to stay idle, stay hungry and stay at home with your family. Yet, the majority of the people depend on daily income. Is it any wonder that some who can’t cope resort to stealing and robbery even in day time? Security agents have killed more Nigerians than covid-19.
Unfair distribution of income
We hear that the Revenue Mobilisation Allocation and Fiscal Allocation Commission (RMAFC) now wants to review the salaries and emoluments of public officeholders. Why now? We’ve been shouting since 1999 but RMAFC was either deaf or toothless. Sometime ago, we calculated that fewer than 1, 700 officeholders shared a third of the total earnings of all public and civil servants in a nation of 200million. This rapacious elite includes lawmakers who determine their own incomes by shouting “aye” and “nay” perhaps twice a month. Does RMAFC need memoranda? Lawmaking is a part-time job. Our legislators should receive sitting allowances only. Each at the federal, state and local levels should get no more than N50, 000, N35, 000 and N25, 000 respectively per sitting. Absentees should be paid nothing.
There should be a uniform salary structure for all civil/public service workers in ministries, departments and agencies. Accordingly, the GMD of NNPC or a permanent secretary or a minister should be placed on grade level 17 and their take-home per month must not exceed N750, 000 in this country that still can’t pay N30, 000 as minimum wage.
This one doesn’t need elaboration. But suffice it to say that about 90% of Nigerians are either unemployed or underemployed. It’s the reason Nigeria was described as the poverty capital of the world. I don’t think we have dollar backing for more than three months’ imports. Therefore, with the low price or non-sale of crude oil, our major foreign exchange earner, the government may not be able to pay salaries from August. That will mean instant joblessness for some 3million government employees, while many jobs in the informal sector will have been wiped out.
Weak and unstable naira
In March, the Central Bank devalued the naira further from N305 to N360 per dollar. The Nigerian currency however trades at N450 per dollar at the parallel market. As recently as 2015, N160 could fetch a dollar. The naira will continue its inexorable slide as soon as our appetite for foreign goods returns post-coronavirus. The alternative? Famine or nothing.
Again, nobody should seek clarification on this, because nobody has been spared the pangs of terrorism, armed robbery and kidnapping for ransom. Voters have no power to elect their leaders; that duty now falls on INEC and the judiciary. And because disobedience to law starts from those who should keep it, the commoners don’t obey it either. Every Nigerian is now a government – they provide their own security, clean water, power, and even roads.
The cloud of economic bankruptcy has been building up for years. Although the country exited a debt trap in 2005 with “debt forgiveness” by the Paris Club of creditors, it’s back to the trap. President Buhari last November sought a fresh National Assembly’s nod to borrow $29.96billion. Buhari’s request came before covid-19 and oil glut. Nigeria’s debt stock is now in the region of $90 billion. It will need 60% of its revenue to service its debts by 2021. Moral: the economy is set to collapse. We don’t get the truth from government megaphones.
Absence of a functional government
We watch President Trump and other world leaders briefing their compatriots and taking questions from journalists every day. Whither the Nigerian president? We only see his image on TV while he presents pre-recorded speeches fortnightly. Many Nigerians take statements from presidential aides with a cupful of salt.
We’ve just mourned former chief of staff to the president Mallam Abba Kyari as if he was the president. Yet, holders of the same office in previous regimes were little known. Was Kyari doing the job of the president? The current tussle for that same position – a personal appointment of the president not recognized by the constitution – suggests that whoever wins becomes president without contesting an election. On a good day, we shall know what really goes on inside Aso Villa, the seat of the federal government. For now there are mainly questions and doubtful answers.
What to do
Nigeria is not working. The leadership can make it work by restructuring both its economy and its politics. The starting point is for government to build trust. Nigerians don’t trust their government. Likely they will trust their government when they see transparency and honesty in the management of scarce resources.
It’s of no use pretending that we’re fighting covid-19. The capacity to fight it is simply not there. So, while we remain helpless, we should intensify prayers to God. We don’t even know the nature or origins of the virus: did it evolve or was it man-made? And why? Perhaps we should compel China to forgo its loans, as a compensation for the damage done by the virus allegedly created on Chinese soil.
Taxes may help, but only when taxpayers are willing and able to pay. Government, for instance, shouldn’t expect compliance from citizens who watch as N37billion is voted for the renovation of the National Assembly Complex. Nor would anyone willingly pay tax into the coffers of a government that fails to protect them from terrorists, provide for their health needs or offer them palliatives when they’re starving.
The National Assembly will this Tuesday be considering approval of N500bn for boosting the economy. That’s laughable. What can $1billion do for us, when America that we like to copy is deploying $2.2trillion? Now that a failed-state status is within the horizon, it’s time to face reality: No jumbo pay. No overinflated contracts. No stealing of public funds. No nepotism or tribalism – let the most qualified be hired to work.
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