NASS and the Paradox of Democracy in Nigeria By Adagbo Onoja

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Can the NASS checkmate this paradox of an elected government surrendering its power to surrogates on errand for blood sucking IFIs? Can the NASS complete a work it has started? The Senate has already started this with its resolutions on the Bureau of Public Enterprises, the HOR(House of Reps) has extended it with its attack on the community of easy money via its report on the fuel subsidy scam. Speaker Tambuwal personally added to it on the day he was sworn-in by insisting on a manufacturing economy. Although he has not sustained the advocacy, that first day intervention remains historical. Senate President challenged IMF boss, Christine Lagarde on market access inequality last December in an interesting way. But, could there be more decisive confrontation with terminologies, concepts, frameworks, institutional safe heavens and tactics of taking an economy hostage, starting with this budget?  The 2013 budget speech is full of them and, therefore, provides the NASS an excellent opportunity to be a test case by subjecting the 2013 budget proposals to the tests of national interest rather the killing semantics of hostage takers of African national economies, whose semantics look innocuous and sensible to the eye but carry deadly ideological baggage.

In fact, the soul of personality of the 2013 budget speech makes anyone wonder why President Jonathan accepted to read that as budget speech to a country that is basically at war. Of course, Nigeria is at war, at two levels. One level is the various forms of violence arising from a society where everything has been liberalized and everything, including violence, is finding its own level. Two is the economic crisis which is deepening because successive governments have, very unpatriotically, been administering wrong prescriptions since 1986.

The tragedy of the 2013 budget speech of President Jonathan is that it did not speak to a country at war. Instead of admitting the level to which the country is sinking, a reality to which he has contributed, politically, he saw his duty as painting a glossy picture. It is the manifestation of an unbelievable fixation with actors that have absolutely no knowledge of the Nigerian economy and its dynamics beyond the whims and caprices of its surrogates in government.

Compare this to just one sentence in Tambuwal’s own ‘budget’ speech during the Vote of thanks: The stakes are certainly high and as representatives of the people we know exactly how bad things are”. For goodness sake, this is what the president of Nigeria should have opened his budget speech with because that is exactly the position of things. And because, the president, more than even the senators and the honourables, can claim to be a better representative of the people, his constituency being the entire Nigeria. He alone has that constituency in the country and he must have the basic honesty and political sense to feel free with that unique constituency.

There are unpardonable assertions in the speech that it could only have been read by a president truly under siege from both its foreign patrons and a justifiably hostile national audience. Otherwise, what are sentences, phrases and expressions such “we have created new jobs”, “impressive growth”, “increasing investor confidence”, “prudent management of available resources”, “our people have started enjoying rail service again” doing in the budget speech?

Let us just take one of these. The World Bank says there are 40 million unemployed Nigerians. The highest number of jobs that might have been created by 2015 when the president will be bowing out will still be no reasonable percentage of this figure. So, the budget did not speak to the crisis of job creation because, even if miraculously, the government is able to create five million jobs between now and then, it remains very, very cosmetic.

For me, however, job creation per se is not as important as urgently resolving the crisis of the quality of training of our graduates. If they are properly educated, they can survive in creative manners as to respond to the unemployment crisis substantially outside of jobs created by governments. The quality of education across Nigeria, however, is that the graduates cannot think and there is no way an unthinking mob can be productively creative. The environment of education in Nigeria can destroy any and every genius that passes through it, no matter his or her background. Anybody who doubts this should have the courage to read Niyi Osundare’s 2005 Valedictory Lecture at the University of Ibadan.

As Aminu Kano is reported to have said, Nigeria can tire anybody. In President Jonathan’s case, however, he has not exerted himself to a level where he can complain of Nigeria tiring him.  Neither has he been asked to do any so impossible things. He is finding things difficult because he simply hasn’t allowed himself a more powerful explanatory model of the country called Nigeria, its locale in the global context and the major reality in which any president of Nigeria automatically finds himself thereto.

In this context, the more useful point in Tambuwal’s ‘budget’ speech may be where he said that “We believe that this country can only benefit if we all work together to deliver our mandates. The National Assembly has no other motive than this”. I wouldn’t know President Jonathan’s consultative politics but it already seems obvious that the bitterness from the 2011 presidential contest has robbed him of aggregate inputs from the basement. It is either that or he is held too tightly by mean hostage takers that he has no rooms for maneuvers. If I am right, then Tambuwal’s point about the NASS having no other motive than working together to deliver the democratic mandate is critical. That should re-assure the president that there is a domestic support base to sustain him if he can cast off the foreign spell compelling him to prescribe well known expired drugs for an economy in coma.

Nigeria is in need of a capitalist revolution. What is most urgent is an economy that produces. Brazil, India, China and the classical tigers are the reference points. But Nigeria cannot achieve this through the crude and unregulated capitalism eternalized by 2013 budget vision as well as the dwarfism and technicism of our economic philosophy, particularly under this president. Through some utterances of its leaders and the certain sense of urgency in its deliberations, the NASS which is though seen as the headquarters of corruption and money guzzling is in a position to check this by inject turning point provisions into the next budget. The heavens will not fall. The budget is a political instrument, not a ritual.

In the words of Tambuwal, the stakes are high. He is more than right. Nigeria is sinking because the Nigerian State has come under very stressful challenge to it. And hence the virtual breakdown of law and order. Even on the short run, the answer to insecurity is reversing this trend of an unproductive economy. An economy that does not produce leaves too many people high and dry. And they will fight back. In the North, this will most likely continue to assume a religious face. In the South, it will most likely continue to assume individualistic crimes save for resource nationalism or peculiar forms of ethnicity such as the reformed Biafra movement.

And we cannot solve the problem by throwing money after insurgency and hope to sleep well. Even if we succeed in suppressing Boko Haram, we may be confronted by another manifestation of a society where anybody can do what he or she wants irrespective of what the law says, including carting away government money and then turn round to show off.

But even if there is no lawlessness and corruption is not in the present magnitude, we would still have problem if we have an economy based on external rents and financial speculation. It is an unproductive economy and such an economy leaves the internal capacities of the society undeveloped. It means no section of that society can ever make any sustainable statement in global competitiveness except when magic happens, like in the case of the Paralympics. But we can’t build a nation on magic in the 21st Century.

…The Speech writer and the president

Did anyone notice the element of ‘possessive individualism’ in the president’s budget speech? ‘My ministers’, ‘my administration’, ‘my goal’. It reminded one of the story of a former Secretary to the Government of the Federation, (whatever the office was called then) under General Gowon. According to the story teller in one of the sessions in the now rested New Nigeria Parley series, General Gowon was fond of referring to the chief of cabinet as my secretary. That was until the SGF snapped, retorting that he was not Gowon’s secretary but the secretary to the government. I call on the permanent secretaries of those years to come to my help in the spelling of that SGF’s name but it is something like Mister Euyijeutche.


Well, the story teller did not say that anything happened to the man. Jack did not even scold, not to talk of sacking him. Instead, the military head of state apologized and the business of government continued. But that was in those days. In those days, the public domain was never confused with the private domain and any infraction was challenged.

This situation changed when some people felt that the bureaucracy as an instrument of the Nigerian State had become too powerful. They then descended on it and since then, the privatisation and personalization of power has gone on full throttle. Who can, therefore, blame President Jonathan for his own share of that current, post modernism or no post modernism. But Mister President can check himself against that. He loses nothing by doing so.

Meanwhile, I picked up Professor Isawa Elaigwu’s Gowon last week to see if it could be the basis of a deconstruction of General Gowon as he turns 78. I have seen a number of interesting entry points there already. I have also seen where Elaigwu noted the paradox of endless desire for a strong man president even when Nigerians resist the strong man in practice. We keep it in view.



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