Attorney Chuma Uwechia reflects on our Nigerian experiment and the choices we must make now as a nation to become truly great.

When Cicero, an orator and politician in ancient Rome noted that “thieves are never rogues amongst themselves,” he probably never contemplated there would be a nation like Nigeria where the unimaginable happens with impunity.

Nigeria is afloat with capable hands that can provide effective and efficient solutions to the border security issue and governance generally, if merit devoid of tribalism were to take its proper place in the scheme of things.

Chuma Uwechia

Nigeria has become a country where public funds stashed in America and Europe, are repatriated and swiftly re-looted and moved to Dubai and other parts of the world. It has become a country where stolen goods recovered by the nation’s anti-corruption agencies are allegedly re-stolen by the officials; a country where resources meant for the Niger Delta people are hijacked by their own kin; a country where funds meant for fighting terrorism, Boko Haram insurgency and the like, are pilfered by military top brass.

Nigeria has become a country where police and military officers retire stupendously rich; a nation where the peoples’ representatives swipe their constituency funds and allocate all manner of unearned allowances to themselves.

Nigeria now borders on a huge criminal enterprise with little vestige of responsible government. There is no longer honour even among thieves.

Nigeria currently ranks as the fourth most corrupt country in West Africa and 146 out of 180 countries in the world corruption index. Researchers found that a corruption perception ranking such as Nigeria’s hinders foreign investment, long-term economic growth and the country’s GDP.
Nigeria is also the third most impacted by terrorism in the world; and ranks the third poorest with the unsavory tag as the poverty capital of the world. All these negatives feed the invidious ethnic rivalry that is tearing the country apart and deprive the nation of a transformational and inclusive leadership.

Our Nigerian experiment and choices we make as a nation. According to a Financial Times, December 22, 2020, Editorial, “Nigeria is at risk of becoming a failed state.” The Editorial noted that a failed state is one where the government is no longer in control and concluded that by this yardstick, Africa’s most populous country is teetering on the brink. Long before now, however, there was little sign of government in the nation as public service utilities like pipe borne water, steady electricity supply, road network, public schools, good healthcare infrastructure and security were skeletal. Majority of Nigerians rely on private bore holes and unhygienic sources like streams and rivers for water supply because the public waterworks no longer exist.

Due to epileptic supply of electricity from the national grid, Nigerians make do with personal diesel generators or solar batteries and panels for power. Since, the public educational system is near comatose, children of the wealthy now attend private schools or travel abroad for their education. The less privileged have their children consigned to ill-equipped public schools that are perennially on teachers’ strike due to funding and salary payment issues. As a result of poor quality healthcare system, medical tourism to America, Europe and Asia is now the norm for the wealthy. The few fully functional hospitals are for the elite, while the largely poor populace suffer their health afflictions in silence leading to high incidents of preventable deaths.

Our Nigerian experiment and choices we make as a nation. In the area of security, ineffective policing has led most communities to cobble ragtag vigilante outfits to provide a semblance of sanity and peace of mind from criminals. This is the lamentable state of the nation. It was therefore not surprising as much as it was embarrassing that on December 23, 2020, the President’s Special Adviser on Media and Publicity, Femi Adesina, released a statement declaring that only God could effectively supervise Nigeria’s border with Niger Republic. That was an astonishing admission of not just helplessness but hopelessness. The ill-advised statement symbolizes the decrepit approach to governance in the country that needs to be urgently fixed. It reinforces the perception that government is a rudderless ship.

Unfortunately, that statement does not reflect the reality as Nigeria is afloat with capable hands that can provide effective and efficient solutions to the border security issue and governance generally, if merit devoid of tribalism were to take its proper place in the scheme of things and the most qualified technocrats appointed to positions of leadership. Besides, we have learned from the controversy surrounding the construction of the USA border wall with Mexico that technology is the smarter and less costly way to secure national borders. A barrier made up of a patchwork of tools like drones and sensors to help surveil and identify unauthorized crossings, specifically in remote stretches of land, will be the most effective solution for Nigeria at this time. It will only require a well-equipped triumvirate of the Customs, Immigration and Military forces to effectively supervise and secure our northern border.
Nigeria have structural as well as numerous fundamental leadership issues such as the periodic census that was last conducted in 2006. In 2012, Mr. Festus Odimegwu, former Managing Director/CEO Nigerian Breweries and former Chairman, National Population Commission planned to conduct a credible and proper census for Nigeria using technology. The plan called for a digital imaging of 200,000 localities in Nigeria with clear frames. This was to be followed by physical verification of every building inside the 200,000 localities. All the houses would be numbered and the households inside the residential buildings identified. A household register will be established together with a zip code for the country. Two million trained enumerators with biometric machines were to be engaged to conduct the biometric census of Nigerians, all at a cost of N600 billion which Mr. Odimegwu planned to raise through donors. This would have effectively resolved the recurring controversy surrounding the constant manipulation of census figures in Nigeria.
There is no doubt that authentic demographic data is the bedrock of democracy because representation is based on population. It is the primary tool used for equitable distribution of public resources as federal and state funding for things like educational programs, healthcare, law enforcement and highways is allocated in part based on population. Government cannot effectively coordinate the economy and ensure productivity and economic allocation of resources without reliable demographic data. Evidently, national planning and solving security problems have become nightmares. We require the census to interrogate how best to achieve the ideal police-to-population ratio of 1:500, which is needed for effective policing and to check the infiltration of criminal elements from neighboring countries. Odimegwu’s plan was, of course, a pipe dream that was never allowed to materialize.

As a result of these leadership failures, the obvious solution to Nigeria’s problem is to adopt true States-based federalism that allows a level of autonomy, protected by the constitution. It will enthrone good governance, manage inter-ethnic tensions generated by our territorially segregated multiple ethnicities and engender peaceful coexistence. It will move the country away from the never-ending ethnic conflicts that is likely to lead eventually to disintegration if left unchecked. It will obviate demands for regional autonomy, lead to a nation of equal citizens and stimulate economic growth that would alleviate poverty for the majority of rural and tribal communities. It is the ultimate political compromise and sacrifice worth making.

True federalism will transfer to the States most of the powers currently residing with the Federal Government save for the armed forces, customs and immigration, regulation of interstate and foreign commerce, foreign affairs, post office, banking and currency, shipping and aviation. The powers not reserved to the Federal Government by the Constitution, not prohibited to the States, will be given to the States. Concurrent powers of the federal and states will remain in areas like police, power generation, taxation, etc.

A careful separation and blending of powers between the federal and state governments will effectively resolve the failure of the 1999 constitution to reflect the yearnings of the various ethnic nationalities in the country. It will ensure resource control. It will guard against federal tyranny and make for more participation of citizens in government. It will reduce the ethnic schism that is threatening the country’s corporate unity and enable the country to cope with ethnicity in ways compatible with democracy.
Thus, the federal government will concentrate on the few reserved areas and become more efficient with a trimmed federal workforce. Likewise, the States will be better positioned to do those things that best falls within their jurisdiction at their own pace. A restructured Nigeria is the smart way to repair Nigeria but we have to move fast. The choices we make as a nation now will determine the fate of the Nigerian experiment.

Attorney Chuma Uwechia reflects on our Nigerian experiment and the choices we must make now as a nation to become a truly great nation