Nigeria kicked off as a country of high promise with great expectations at independence from Britain in October 1960. That was eons ago. The imperialist British parliamentary system soon whirled the young nation on its axis from tumult to civil war in just the first seven years. Since then, the American presidential system has proved unwieldy in the hands of vacuous Nigerian politicians.
The merging of three major impossible ethnic nations with 350 other ethnic minorities has continued to dog the national spirit. The primordial regional lines have today become burning fault lines, with Boko Haram savages scorching the North, separatist movements in the SouthEast broiling the federation on the Biafra grill, self destruct militias ruthlessly torching the restive crude oil laden deltaic swamps of the SouthSouth and relentless cacophony for regional autonomy sweltering in the SouthWest. Fifty six years later, Nigeria is chin deep in the quicksand of self-determination. Nothing works, as the country continues to dangle precipitously from one cliff to another, on bated breath.
Members of the American Republican Party would go into seizures at the sight of government size in Nigeria. In spite of its high population density, the Nigerian political structure has become thoughtlessly over-engineered going from four regions at independence to now 36 states and a federal capital territory. A puny country about the size of Texas runs the world most expensive political system with 36 state governors plus staff and full cabinet of about 40 state commissioners and special advisers in each state, varying number of parastatals (government institutions) on top of the ministries in each of 36 states (Lagos state has 89 parastatals) plus staff, 36 state deputy governors plus staff, some 35-member lawmakers assembly in each of 36 states plus staff, 360 federal house of representatives plus staff, 109 federal senators plus staff, 774 local government chairmen plus staff, one executive president plus staff and cabinet of about 50 federal ministers and special advisers, one executive vice president plus staff, one US Washington DC type federal capital territory with its staff and institutions, ad infinitum.
Outside of this senseless administrative pyramid are millions of village heads, hundreds of thousands of district heads and thousands of city kings, all equally biting a good slice off of the GDP in annual salaries but functioning as lame duck subordinates in running the nation state. Village heads, district heads and kings used to be the administrators of our system before the Europeans came to Africa. Somehow, we missed incorporating them into our post colonial systems at flag independence. Now, they just exist as rudiments of past civilizations within a new order. The results are systemic waste, incompetence and arrested development.
Oil is only 13 percent of Nigeria’s GDP, but it accounts for 70 percent of government revenue and 95 percent of export income. The remaining 87 percent of the GDP which is more stable and under local control remains treacherously abandoned and non-contributory to national income. It is worse than that. Nigeria did not make hay while the sun shone. When crude was $110 a barrel, Nigeria did not save, Nigeria borrowed. When the crude drum tanked to $28, Nigeria plunged into a $7 billion budget deficit and borrowed more.
The Federal Government (FG) takes 52 percent of total national revenue and shares the remaining 48 percent among the states. Beyond that, there is no synergy between the two levels of government. Governance is typically a one man show by whims and caprices of the governor in the state, but the FG has neither oversight nor control over how the monthly disbursements to the states are spent.
The Nigerian political leaderships in both the federal and state governments recklessly spend majority of the country’s national revenue on recurrent expenditures (salaries, allowances, traveling, training, food, etc,) which consume. They spend less than 10 percent on capital infrastructures (roads, power, rail, housing, etc) which actually create jobs and grow the economy. Now in the second year of its first 4-year term, the elected government of former military dictator Muhammadu Buhari struggles to raise capital spending to 30 percent. Ethiopia rebounded its economy with 60 percent.
Most of the states are not viable. A total of 27 of the 36 states are unable to pay salaries, leading to arrears of up to 14 months in some. Even the FG spends upwards of N165 billion on payroll every month. Both FG and state governments borrow and sell junk bonds just to pay salaries.
As expected, the civil service work force is mindlessly over bloated. In a country that imports everything from crayon to refined petrol, government is the number one employer. The private sector is primarily floated and fed by largess from corrupt government patronage, so its work force is largely yo-yo and unreliably a dot com economic sector. In August, the Nigerian central bank suspended nine “commercial” banks from the weekly foreign currency trading for withholding a total of $2.1b belonging to the government.
The concept of ‘ministry’ as a unit of governance is, like most other concepts, ill-understood and bastardized in Nigeria. Most of 32 federal ministries are unintelligently replicated in all the 36 states. Some ministries are created just to bypass a problem, as with the federal ministry of Niger Delta which functions more as a sink hole of public funds than as a good harbor for Niger Delta anger. Borno in the Boko Haram Northeast region even has the ‘Ministry of Poverty Alleviation!’
Every level of government has thousands of ghost workers in its payroll, involving regular payments of salaries to ‘employees’ in the names of long retired, dead or simply made up civil servants. The state governors legislate and collect monthly pensions worth millions of dollars in cash and properties, for life, after just a 4-year stint in office. So the national payrolls also get overdrawn due to double takes by the same governors who become elected senators after leaving office, thereby collecting another tranche of outrageous emoluments from the same national GDP. Meanwhile, regular retiree citizens drop dead in the queues for pension payments that are never made. In Kwara state, over 1,005 pensioners have died since April 2105 as a result of inability to get needed health care due to unpaid pensions.
The solutions to state governments’ inability to pay their workers vary from absurd to the ridiculous. Some governors have proposed reduction in salaries in exchange for payments of 3 of 10 months backlog salaries. The Imo state governor reduced the work day week from 5 to 3 days on full pay for a block of his civil servants to promote agriculture. The same governor reportedly spent N600 million on Christmas decorations for the state last year. In Ekiti, when the state workers went on strike to protest nonpayment of their salaries, their governor too went on strike saying he did so in solidarity with his civil servants. Nigeria is an unmitigated mess.
Citizens remain permanently wedged between an adulterated concept of governance and the ravages of their barbarous political leaderships. No one knows the exact take-home of the Nigerian legislators, but the total compensation package for each marauding Nigerian lawmaker is insane. The Economist called them “the world’s highest paid legislators.” Nigerian politicians collect incomes in elephant weight for doing the work of a mouse. In their immediate legislative year which ended on June 9, 2016, the Nigerian National Assembly (NASS) sat for 104 (Senate) and 96 (House) days against the 181 days mandated by the country’s constitution, compared to the annual work days of 250 days for the average Nigerian worker or sitting days in 2015 of 157 days, 130 days and 148 days for the 114th U.S. Congress, Canadian Parliament and United Kingdom Westminster, respectively. In other words, the dishonorable Nigerian lawmakers received full pay for clocking roughly 55 percent of sitting quota.
So, Nigeria ambulates in a profound state of confusion that makes it impossible to secure a good and lasting solution to any problem. The nation is mercilessly stretched at its extremities by Biafra, Delta militants, Boko Haram, dissatisfied citizens at large and AK47 carrying killer herdsmen who would rather graze their cattle shooting and trampling lives and crops to death than ranch their cows. The legislature is mulling over creating a swathe of land along the entire length of the country as a national grazing reserve for the rampaging herdsmen, but land owners are vowing the reserve will be over their dead bodies.
As Nigeria throws monthly payments of N65,000 to each of 30,000 slimy militants in the oily swamps, new crops of warring juveniles spring up blowing up more pipelines. So, successive presidents simply default to throwing blackmail payments at youths who should have been in schools receiving unavailable quality education.
Education, the main plank for development is in shambles. Pupils in elementary schools sit on the bare floor of classrooms, students in high school stand and those in the universities sit on window sills, to hear the teacher. The street unemployment figure hovers near 90 percent. Access to good health care is near zero to most citizens, even to the tomato which recently got nicked by the tuta absoluta pest causing a 400 percent jump in price. Of 60 million world malnourished children, 10.9 million are in Nigeria. It is projected that over 2.4 million Nigerian children will be malnourished by the year 2020.
Nigeria as we got it is not working out. It has proved incapable of exploiting the enormous assets of its rich diversity, it is sinking carrying the weight of its variety and unable to make genuine progress.No component ethnic nationality lives in modernity. The rapacious political class is hanging unto Nigeria, as is, for selfish benefits. They have not a clue on how to advance Nigeria to benefit the largest number of its citizens. It is time we the people started forcing the hand of our feckless fascist leaderships and initiated an era of serious national conversations.
Is it time to renegotiate Nigeria? Which nationalities want to stay, which ones want to leave the union? Should Nigeria let those who want out go? What new arrangement is best for a new socio-techno-economic order for the new union? These are questions that we need to talk through and answer ourselves. Nigerians, let the national conversation begin! In town halls, on the radio and okada, in the newspapers, bus, bars, classrooms, markets, offices and streets.
By Dr. Qansy Salako
Dr. Salako writes from Boston, MA. USA. He is a frontline social critic and commentator on Nigeria and Africa. He may be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org