Not since the political manifestos of the Action Group, AG, led by the Chief Obafemi Awolowo and that of the Northern Elements Progressive Union, NEPU, led by Mallam Aminu Kano in the 1960s, has one seen a manifesto of serious socialist bent than that recently released by the All Progressive Congress, APC.
Tagged “ The Roadmap to a New Nigeria”, the 31-page manifesto was launched during the week at the Party’s national summit in Abuja. The document has all the strappings of the welfare state, that is a combination of welfare, capitalism and democracy. If you like add socialism to the mix. Given its promise to dole out free cash to the “poorest and most vulnerable citizens,” provide free education and free quality comprehensive health care, the APC manifesto is clearly that of the welfare state.
The Party must necessarily predicate its funding of its welfare plans and projects on redistributionist taxation. It has not said so, but it must be driving to seriously tax the wealthy, just as is the case in welfare states like Sweden and Britain. It will be a matter of larger income tax for higher incomes. This is interesting because Nigerian “big men” do not pay taxes.
Also intriguing is that few if any of the prime movers of the APC are anything close to being socialist or panderers to the philosophy of the welfare state. They are mostly cast in the hue of die-hard capitalists with assets and cash worth billions of naira to their personal names. Few of these billionaires I dare say pay full income taxes to the state. So one is hardly surprised that the manifesto made no mention of the huge national revenue leakages from tax evasion or non-payment by Nigeria’s “big boys” and their corporate entities.
Even then it is refreshing to see a modern Nigerian political party install the common man as the centrepiece of its manifesto. The plight of the common man, and by this, I mean the poorest of the poor, the rural farmers and army of jobless youths tend to be represented by stop gap interventionist programmes with high-falutin epithets as DFRRI, MAMSER, Green Revolution, Better Life for Rural Women, NDE, YouWin and SURE-P which for the time they exist execute some projects and offer jobs that are in the main, minuscule compared to the humongous challenges of infrastructural decay, poverty and unemployment in the nation. The federal government of Nigeria has never had a clear umbrella policy that is focussed on poverty and unemployment. So the APC initiative should be deemed innovative.
Still I am sceptical. One cannot but ask if the All Progressive Congress is not merely flying a white kite for votes? It may be too hasty to reach conclusions. But if the Aminu Kanos of Nigeria, people who are emotionally attached to the “Talakawas,” were in charge of the APC, there would be no doubts. Rather many of the men in charge of the APC are capitalist sharks who, like the counterparts they left in the Peoples Democratic Party, cannot wait to lay their itching fingers on the national treasury. I am of the opinion that like me, many Nigerians will take the APC’s common man philosophy with a strong dose of scepticism.
A few indicators from their newly minted manifesto are giveaways. Given the very destructive impact of rampant corruption raging across the country, the APC roadmap or response to fighting corruption is at best lame and without bite. What does it mean by zero tolerance for corruption, by plans to pursue legislation expanding forfeiture and seizure of assets laws and guarantee the independence of anti corruption and financial crimes agencies by legislation? We have heard all of these before. It is nothing more than political pussyfooting.
The key reason corruption thrives in Nigeria is that perpetuators suffer little or no penalties. Apart from forfeiting assets, it would help to know that convicted persons will get no less than life imprisonment or go to the gallows. For by acts of corruption in high places, the “common man” is condemned to disease, poverty, unemployment and death. Those who crush the “most vulnerable” of society deserve no better fate. Perhaps the APC will up the ante in its action plan to fight corruption. Furthermore, fighting corruption is not just a legal matter, it is a moral and integrity issue. A long term, sustainable strategy to cure the corruption culture from family, primary school and community levels is key. Nigeria must return to its traditional culture that abhors stealing and dupes.
The promise of the APC on devolution of power is long in coming. The grand political deception that masquerades a unitary system of government as a federal system has contributed significantly to the debilitating consequences of abuse of absolute power in government, lack of respect for rule of law, inefficient social services delivery and pillaging of taxpayers money.
So it is welcome news that the APC manifesto boldly states that it plans to amend the constitution with a view to devolving powers, duties and responsibilities to states and local governments in order to entrench true federalism and the federal spirit. The Party seeks also to enable states to have their own local police forces to address the special needs of each community and community policing initiatives. Brilliant.
This is not new thought though. Many Nigerians have passionately canvassed for true federalism including even the conservative, power mongering, former military dictator, General Ibrahim Babangida, aka Maradona, who recently had thrown his considerable weight behind true federalism.
Still I worry. If true federalism refers to significant political and economic independence from the stranglehold of the political center, why is the APC manifesto silent on fiscal federalism and what does it mean when it says oil and gas belongs to all Nigerians? The fixation on oil and gas as a resource belonging to all made it easy for the federal government to grab the resource and to dispense the revenue therefrom at its whim. It has also fostered the neglect of the areas and environment where mineral exploitation takes place. The people of the Niger Delta will be watching the APC closely.
Other concomitant impact of the federal government as “Father Christmas” has included military coup plotting, disdain for rule of law, battles for unearned rent, inefficient bureaucracy, massive political patronage, deepening corruption, inefficient social services delivery and deepening poverty among the greater number of the people. The system stifles creative competitiveness and innovation among regions and peoples using the resources leading to poor productivity.
Fiscal federalism should therefore underscore the devolution or decentralisation of power and resources to regions, states or locations of resources. The federal government’s functions should be limited and specific while vesting wider rights including mining and mineral rights not to the states as the APC has stated but to communities or land owners where resources are located.
It is for the federal government to be sustained with federal income tax from across the country. It is not for the federal government and indeed state governments to own, micromanage and collect the revenues from resources in local areas for onward distribution to the states. It is a tortuous and inefficient management that breeds corruption and unearned rent.
The Chairman of the All Progressives Congress, Chief Bisi Akande recalls that in just 50 years after independence, Nigeria has suffered seven coups resulting in 28 years of military rule. He adds: “Trapped in a vicious cycle of political crises, social upheavals and economic under-development, Nigeria has become, not only one of the most unstable countries in the world, it is also, regrettably, one of the poorest despite its huge human and material resources. The result is that the nation and its citizenry continue to exist in a state of near permanent trauma.”
I cannot agree more. But still I am sceptical about APC’s claim as agent of change. Its manifesto is populist yet one is reminded of the biblical statement: The voice of Jacob and the hands of Esau. The manifesto has the right sound bites but it falls short of hitting the holy anger required to deal with the terrors of the land – brigandage in high places, massive corruption, impunity, lawlessness, grinding poverty and huge unemployment. The Party has much more work to do to build credibility before the Nigerian electorate.