Friday, June 11, 2010

Weak Judicial System is a threat to Nigeria Future

What future does a society have where a relationship between the judicial system, police force, army, public and politicians is fragmented? Each one of the above groups has some form of impeccable record of involvement in ‘dirty dealing’. The biggest threat to the future of Nigeria is the first group. Without a strong judicial system and a good framework for law and order; the other groups are open to operate in a lawless society with endless corruption.

Is Nigeria going backwards or perhaps stagnated in development as a society? Over the past 50 years, Nigeria has only managed to developed just two cities (Abuja and Lagos). With Abuja built at the expense of the rest of the country and only there you can really feel we are making progress. The fundamental problem I think is the obsession with money. This obsession has changed our values, discipline and integrity. Everyone is dealing with each other with high degree of distrust. The relationship between father and son, business and employees, teachers and students and government and citizen are not with mutual interest. Each one fighting for his/her own selfish motive. There is simply no cooperation and cohesion among us.

Nigeria is one of the few countries in the world with large numbers of first degree and PhD holders. So what is the essence of these qualifications when there is no avenue in which to put this knowledge into practice? Perhaps this is the reason why so many graduates are fleeing the country for greener pasture. Some of whom have found that life is even tougher in the foreign country especially for those that are not willing to be re-educated on foreign soil.

Fundamental Change
We have highly qualified people in key positions in the country, some of whom I strongly believe want to make a difference and change Nigeria for the good, especially those who have acquired their discipline outside the country. Those who have lived abroad or studied abroad know how comforting it is to live in a well functioning society where the rule of law is upheld with high degree of confidence. But in Nigeria, there is one big obstacle, the readiness of the people for change. Are Nigerian people (the populace) really ready for change? If so, in what ways do they expect these changes to be? These two fundamental questions are essential if those we elected are to implement changes that will move Nigeria forward. It is going to be very difficult to implement changes that will affect the livelihood of the masses, if populace is not ready and willing to abide by law and order. Well they say ‘it takes two to tango’. Therefore, all stakeholders (public, government officials and other groups) need to be singing from the same hymnbook. We need to ask ourselves as a citizen; what are we ready to compromise if changes are to be enforced? What part of our lifestyles are we ready to compromise to ensure that Nigeria moves forward? Below are few examples:

Business and Taxation
Income and business taxation is an important source of government revenue, the Nigerian government receives little income from this source. Currently, only a small percentage of large corporations pay taxes. There are thousands of small businesses operating in the country and the government is receiving little or nothing. Some employers failed to register their employees and remit taxes to relevant authorities. To address this, in 2002 the government amended the 1993 Personal Income Tax (PIT) Act to make non-compliant employers liable to penalties up to N25,000 (Twenty-five thousand Naira – approximately £100), as well as liable for the payment of all tax arrears. Therefore, it is financially sensible for small and medium size companies to pay a fine rather than report taxes due. We need to help our government to help us. Reliance on oil money as the main source of federal revenue and to cater for every need of the country is simply ineffective. This is evidential as only two cities in the country can boast of infrastructures to encourage business development.

We simply believe we can buy our way through everything with ‘Oil money’; we stopped being a productive nation and became a consuming nation. Nigeria import more goods into the country than export – a process that leads to national deficit (debt). Import duties are not properly accounted for, with Custom officials raking millions of Naira daily into private pockets. We are so obsessed with money that some of us go to any length to have it.

Contractual Obligations
In any civilised society the contempt of Court is a serious crime. A large percentage of companies and individuals will fail to honor their side of obligations believing that the other party to the deal cannot file a law suit. If the other party does, the party with the big bank balance or most influential in the society wins the court case. Lack of reliance on court order is a genuine threat to domestic and foreign business that wants to conduct business in the country.

As a Nation perhaps the biggest obstacle in the development of Nigeria is oil discovery. Since Nigeria discovered Oil, we have simply lost our ways as a country. Our ability to be creative ceased as we found easy and fast ways of making money. The same attitude and approached is cultivated by most of us living at home and abroad. No one is really patient; It is all about quick bucks. Nigeria and other sub-Saharan countries were predominantly farmers but not any more. Everyone wants to live in the City and get a quick share of the oil money. There have been mass exodus from rural areas to the cities (Lagos especially). The tiny Lagos State inhabits 18million people today. This is twice the entire population of three States (Oyo, Ondo and Ogun States) combined in 1973 according to figures released for the abortive 1973 census. At the time Lagos State population was 2.5 million, a staggering 620% increase over 37years.

Nigeria sell up to 2m barrels of oil daily, current price of crude oil at $70.00 a barrel. This is a whopping $140m daily revenue ($3.2bn a month - with average 23 business days per month), albeit this would be shared between the foreign Oil Companies and NNPC. It has been reported in the past that NNPC failed to pay up their part of the deal for oil exploration leaving the burden to foreign oil companies. Dispute between Richard Branson and the Nigerian government over Virgin Nigeria is another case in point for not respecting contract.

Despite this huge amount of revenue, most infrastructures in the country are below standard and some are still the same as were left by Colonial government when Nigeria population were not as large as it is today. You can imagine a transformer installed to supply electricity to 20 houses; the same transformer is still in use today to supply more than 500 houses.

There are various aspects of our lives that will make changes difficult to implement. Nigerian government has never been short of good programs and policies to improve living conditions in the country. What are preventing these changes to happen are implementation, greed and obsession of all stakeholders with money. Until the Nigerian government creates an environment where people can be brought to justice for reckless greed, corruption and other criminal activities, we have no way forward. Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) is a start to moving Nigeria forward. Our judicial system must be stronger than ever and free of bias and influenced by powerful politicians. Everyone should be able to account for the source of their wealth; focus should not be on the politicians and government officials alone but on all stakeholders. Lawyers, bankers, students, civil servants and those in the Diaspora should all be able to explain their source of wealth.

Africa has been growing at a fast pace in the last decade with African commodities and equities in high demand from the developed nations as well as the BRIC countries. Africa currently holds approximately 10% of world oil reserves and there are still many untapped natural resources. Nigeria needs to take a leading position in making Africa stronger by utilizing its resources in an efficient manner. To get to the level where Nigeria fulfills its potential; our leaders needs to provide a safer environment and promote good governance culture at all levels to encourage and attract business into the country.

These are the areas where policy should be focused. Our judicial system must fully support EFCC effort to clean up our society. Also a strong and robust financial regulation is required to stop our financial institutions being used as a conduit for money laundering.

There is no point in having individuals richer than the entire United Nations when millions of people are suffering at their expenses. A clean society may not happen during my generation, but at least the country have started the process now.

Ajibade Yusuf
Gradient Consulting

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Visionaries or Moneymen?

Visionaries or Money Men: Has Nigeria lost political visionaries and leaders?

When Nigeria returned to civilian rule just over 11 years ago, I thought that there was glimmer of hope that things will start to get better in the country. Though there have been some changes since then, but it has been a very slow progress indeed. There are some politicians who sincerely have the love of their people at heart notably Gov. Fashola of Lagos State, who in recent times had make rapid progress in returning Lagos State to its glorious days.

To make this country a great nation, Nigeria needs visionaries’ not “hungry” moneymen and women so called politicians. Some people may wonder why am I writing on such subject. Like most Nigerian living abroad, I cannot stop wondering when our country will be as organised as in the Western countries. It is not all perfect in Europe and America, but the fact is that the Europeans and Americans forefathers had vision, and were able to make provisions for generations to come. They fought battles to protect the interest of their people, built great cities, created good social systems and societies that live together in harmony.

When I was growing up in the 70’s in Ibadan, we learnt about Nigerian great leaders who fought for our independence from colonial rule. Nnamdi Azikwe, Chief Obafemi Awolowo (Awo), Chief Akintola (who was never given credit for his hard work) just to name the few. Under these leaders Nigeria prospered and was a good place to live. In the Western Nigeria under the leadership of Awo, we had one of the first Radio and TV station in Africa, Liberty stadium was built and many other landmarks across Ibadan and Lagos cities. Without prejudice, my preference to talk about Awo, as an example of the type of leaders this country currently lacks is that some of his achievements and legacy are still there to be seen. The current crop of politicians make those of the 60s look like virtuous leaders, as these new breed of politicians are nothing but a joke.

Awo and his party UPN (now AG), at least ensured that every child is this country have the opportunity to receive free education up to secondary school level. I am a product of free education and I am grateful to have benefited from such policy. It took Awo and UPN four years (1979 – 1983) to provide free education this despite not been elected as the president of Nigeria. Thousand of families today would have been unable to educate their children beyond elementary school stage. What notable legacy has the present administration done for Nigerians? Electric Power supply has gone worse since I left for Europe in late 1980’s. What happen to Nigeria Water Corporation and Nigerian Works and Housing? None of these government departments functions or provides any meaningful service to the public hence there is annual budget allocation that is shared among few senior civil servants.

So what vision does the present crop of politicians have for the people of Nigeria? I hate to judge this people but to me they are nothing but bunch of moneymen who invested so much in election “bribery,” buying local leaders, influential dignitaries, and mobilising thugs to win mandate. When their time in office starts, moneymen go on rampage looting government purse to recover all monies spent during campaign. They believe it is imperative to recover all the wastages spent during the election campaign and more importantly to secure the future of their immediate families and friends. This means stealing three times what they initially spent during campaign. There is something fundamentally wrong with the perception of these people in power. They simply lack vision, awareness, and wisdom. Some of these people in power cannot successfully run a small business let alone running a complex society full of highly educated and hardworking people. Some of these politicians simply do not have any ideas. I understand that competent and experienced people from all occupations in Europe and North America have approached the politicians to be turned away due to greed and lack of emotional empathy for the people they are to govern.

They only thing they offered in return for their lavish campaign is repairing damaged roads to pacify people. I wonder how many jobs this sort of project creates. Nigeria is producing graduates and PhD holders’ year on year with no real job prospect. I have travelled around Europe and I am always proud to see some Nigerians working very hard in every corner of Europe and North America from cleaners, to lawyers, business analyst, scientists, accountants and many more. Why are these people remained overseas? The answer is simply lack of opportunity at home. In the last few years, I read about (HSMV) highly skilled immigrant visa. Countries that issue such visa are looking for talents and productive people to build their economy and in return offer a better living standard. So what is wrong in Nigeria government offering a better living standard for her citizen? What exactly are the current politicians doing to encourage people to return home?

Perhaps there is more than eyes can see within the political circus. Something is fundamentally wrong with the selection of people we choose to represent us. Obasanjo and Atiku both built universities at the expense of ordinary Nigerians. I said at the expense of ordinary Nigerians because State and Federal Universities have been left under funded for years. Are Nigerians going to sit down and let this country go to the ground? We cannot continue to look after the interest of our immediate family and neglect our cousins and neighbours. Each time I have visited Nigeria in the last few years, my heart bled seeing people suffering due to the incompetence of our politicians. Most of which live in lavish houses and driving around in bulletproof jeep. What sort of conscience do this people have, driving past dead bodies on filthy highways in their N70 million Naira jeep while ordinary people on the street cannot afford to feed their family. They simply believe they have no obligations to serve their own people. After all, they used their own money to fight for election. I think ways in which political party is funded in Nigeria needs reviewing. That is a debate for another day.

Due to lack of job opportunities and poor infrastructure in Nigeria, both educated and uneducated Nigerians have left the country flooding the cities in Europe and North America. Nigeria is producing fraudsters and drug baron at an alarming rate. Though there is no justification for such criminal behaviour, but I see this has a desperate approach by some people to feed their family who simply have no opportunity to leave the country. Nigeria is become irrelevant in the World as other States such as Angola, Ghana are taking the lead in providing a stable and viable economy for their citizen. For Nigeria to become relevant in the World, we need a visionary, a strong leader and good people in the government that will address the economic issues in the country wholeheartedly and prevent the continue exodus of many Nigerians going abroad.

Ajibade Yusuf