Elections will come and go but …
We need to ask ourselves some serious questions as a generation if we will not fall into the same trap that our fathers fell into. Once the winner of the elections are announced this time next week, will we have to wait for another four years before we get the chance to begin to build the kind of country that we desire? You already know my thoughts on the major contenders for the Presidency next weekend and I’ll share it again, Irrespective of the person who wins the election, our country is in for tougher times.
I might sound like a broken record, but for the first time in our history, our population increase is a threat to our sustainability as a nation. We no longer have enough oil revenues to meet our recurrent budget talk less of the basic provision of services that ensures that citizens can go about their lawful duties. It’s why we now have an increase in the number of people living in extreme poverty more than any time in the history of our nation.
I told you the last time about the need organise for the reform that we need to guarantee before we can begin a total u-turn away from this impending doom. Irrespective of who wins, four fundamental issues require reform and this is what I want to call your attention to and ask that you join us for the next four years in demanding from those who get elected.
ONE! Our constitution still guarantees that our president is the most powerful president in any democracy in the world with discretionary powers that only the military could have fashioned for themselves. Of course, this begins to make sense when we consider that our constitution was handed over to us by the military powers that was and still is. Our laws still give powers to the ministers and the president to ensure unfair dealings in the administration of our country, from granting wavers, to donating oil blocs to duplicating patents that you would have worked hard for to fundamental human rights established in the constitution that are not justiciable.. Our constitution is not a people’s constitution and it needs to change. Nigeria is not working for the average Nigerian today, but Nigeria is working perfectly well according to the design of those who handed us this constitution. I am not the first person to say this and won’t be the last person to do so, but we can choose as a people to start demanding a brand new constitution, that is put together by the people, on the parameters set by the people in a way that benefits Nigerian citizens and not just a select few.
TWO! Our country is falsely called the Federal Republic of Nigeria when in reality, it should be called the Central Republic of Nigeria. Only two states in Nigeria – Lagos and Rivers state are economically viable and can pay salaries without allocation from the centre. This is not because of the leadership they have enjoyed since 1999 but because of the proximity to ports and the commercial nature of the states. Nothing more! Our governors continue to await allocation from Abuja every month ending without which they cannot even secure their states talk less of usher in prosperity for the people. In a democracy like ours, we can no longer afford powers concentrated at the centre and this is the basis for a truly federal structure that we must demand irrespective of who wins the elections. We must as a movement demand that this be done! Nigeria has to be restructured! It is the only way forward out of this poverty that we are now the world capital of. It doesn’t make sense that every decision that will be made about every nook and cranny of this nation will be made from Abuja. How for example is Abuja supposed to secure the people of Ughelli all the way from Abuja when the commissioner of police does not even report to the Governor of the state? It is ridiculous!
THREE! Over and over again, we have as a country paid lip service to justice reforms. As you listen to this, up to about 70% of people jailed in Nigerian prisons have not been charged for an offence or brought before a judge, some numbering up to 8 years, some up to 12! What kind of country are we when we limit access to justice to only those who can afford it? How do we expect that the universe be fair to us when we lock up innocent people for up to a decade without a trial! And this is just about the poor who can not afford a lawyer to defend them in court or don’t have family members that can insist on the rights of their loved ones. How can 7 out of 10 inmates be awaiting trial? What kind of judiciary or law enforcement system do we run that imprisons 7 out of 10 people without trial? In the cases where trials are done, the archaic system that is being run from the lowest court to the highest court of the land ensures that you can wait up to 10 years or 12 years before justice is served. How is justice delayed not justice denied in these cases? If we can’t trust that the courts will do justice to our disagreements or disputes, what kind of society will we be building? Irrespective of who wins in the next elections, this core issue will still need urgent reform
FOUR! So much talk about fighting corruption and killing corruption before corruption kills Nigeria, but little action. Recent figures from Transparency International show that Nigeria has not improved in our perception on corruption in the last 10 years. How can we talk so much about fighting corruption and the only times we witness movements in the rankings is when other countries actually do worse than us in corruption. The civil service is corrupt, the judiciary is corrupt, the police is corrupt, the private sector is corrupt, corruption has become a national institution and how things get done! This is not just unacceptable. What is also unacceptable is the inability to be able to move the needle on the decisions that stamp out corruption once and for all. Corruption thrives in darkness and opaque systems. When citizens have no access to information about public procurement bids, then overseers can use that to favour companies belonging to them. If there is no database of how many workers the civil service has, what their names are, where they live and which agency they work, we will continue to have ghost workers and ghost head of departments. Without an open government that is radically transparent and inclusive, we cannot move forward irrespective of what anyone tells us. The way to stamp out corruption is an open government true and through.
These four reform issues will form what our movement will be organizing on. As I speak to you, we have members in more than 27 states and in more than 77 LGAs in Nigeria and we won’t stop demanding for reform on these issues until the next elections cycle. These fundamental issues are the foundational problems facing our nation today such that no matter how brilliant or how well intentioned an elected officer is, if these issues are not addressed, their brilliance and good intentions will be choked in what we now call the system. If those elected mean what they say when they say they want to move Nigeria forward, these reform issues are a must.
So, this coming Saturday, pick up your PVC, go out to your polling unit and vote for any candidate of your choice, but bear it in mind that these four reform issues are the issues we will be demanding from any of the candidates that win both at the Presidency and at the National Assembly. Also remember to stay away from violence. Nigeria is worth living for.
God bless you and May God bless the Federal Republic of Nigeria.