By Michael Oluwagbemi
It is almost six months, half a year, since your administration assumed the mantle of office we’ve waited in bated breath for change that we were promised, and have watched as change have died deaths by many strokes of accommodations. First we got platitudes of how bad it was and how short a period you had to understand your new job (discounting the fact that you badly wanted it for twelve years, and held the same job before); then we got feedback that you were looking for angels or that your body language did the magic that woke moribund refineries, convinced crazed kleptomaniacs to return looted funds and perhaps even rejuvenated national industries! Then it was the ministerial wait. But alas, the latest pronouncement from you that we’re broke is becoming quite to say the least unbecoming.
Sir, as an undying Buharist even before it became fashionable (and I still think you’re miles better than the incompetent and clueless ruler that we jettisoned for your person by miles), we expect and still expect better from a General, a Strategist and above all- a leader.
Leadership is first and foremost an inspiration game. You cannot go to the three and half moribund refineries to engineer them back to life; your honorable person cannot possibly get fitted into yellow suits as one thief of yore did and inspect or facilitate the completion of Lagos-Ibadan, Benin-Ore, Coastal Roads or the realization of high speed rail connecting Lagos to Ibadan & Abuja, Second Niger Bridge or Fourth Mainland Bridge. What your Excellency can do is to inspire Nigerians to rise above the current morass of mono-economy, develop an attitude of revolutionaries and kick poverty in the butt!
Oil may be broke, but Nigeria is not broke. We are proud people with over 170 million of us “in-country” alone, and millions outside excelling in various fields of our expertise. There is very little evidence to support your claim that in this country where billions are generated daily, and where dreams are made as well broken, that you cannot find the capacity to regenerate our society. If Nigeria can emerge as Africa’s largest economy despite the chains of rabid corruption and insecurity, mere 3,000 MW of grid produced electricity, and inadequacies in legal structure and infrastructure, then fixing merely those things can easily quintuple our GDP freeing you ever from the worry of finance.
But this will not be possible with the spirit of the people broken, talked down by their leader and/or a paucity of vision driven by the perception of lack rather than the untapped wealth that can be realized. The only body language that Nigerians are reading right now is a seeming lack of direction or communication from their leader either on security or anti-corruption (both regarded your strong suits), and most especially the economy in which you clearly need some modern help. Here are five things Mr. President can do quickly to restore our flailing confidence, there have been various forms of it, but it doesn’t hurt to reiterate:
1. Lose the oil. It goes without saying that your administration is falling into the trap of oil like your many predecessors. Instead of an insane focus on what oil price is, and how you can’t finance the budget with easy oil money, what we elected you for was CHANGE. By November, we expected that the Petroleum Industry Bill technical committee would have finished work on unbundling the bill and removing the PDP clauses, unbundling and divesting from the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation while bringing the shining light of the international stock market on it. At the minimum, we expected that by the end of 2015, you would have split up this mammoth of a drain on the national purse, preparing it for eventual divestment and regulation. Look no further than communist nations of China and Russia, as to how to get the job done. Rosneft, Gazprom and Lukoil – all once full state companies are now listed, some still partially owned but pay billions in taxes even as they expand globally. The same is true of CNOOC, Sinopec and PetroChina. We just need to copy and paste! Once sold in 24-36 months, we can remove subsidy. You can’t subsidize what you don’t own.
2. Lets build it. Nigeria needs a building attitude, not a contracting one. Our roads are complete shame, so are our ports, railways, waterways, airports and critical infrastructure including power. Your new ministers of Energy, Transport and Works have their work cut out for them, and the least should be managing NNPC and crude oil sales. It is not enough to declare an emergency on our roads; it must be backed up with action followed up with eagle-eyed monitoring for outcomes and zero-tolerance for corruption. Mr. President should also be a habitual road user not just in Abuja but also across states. He should fly to capitals or nearby cities -drive hinterland, and feel our pain. Please cut the fleet, and ask your Ministers and Customs Chief to fly commercial. The airports and railways can be jump started with private partners, why are we broke when we have the largest economy in Africa?
Our Army Corp of Engineers, civil servants and youth corp members can build most of the roads we are today contracting at ridiculous prices starting from using GIS Maps to catalogue every pothole on Nigerian roads, to design as well as supervision and procuring supplies from the private sector. If need be, please draft prisoners to be day laborers to build our roads back again. It is time to prioritize in-house building, over the contracting jamboree. For what it is worth, complete the privatization of the power sector, and attach building new power plants as pre-condition for renewing any oil bloc license which should immediately revoked for all IOCs. Watch as power plants and pipelines go up fast.
3. Clean up fast. Your body language is no longer sufficient; it is time to really start prosecuting corruption, and catching new thieves. Start with the enforcers- the police and judiciary. It is time to devolve the police and make them truly local, removing them from barracks and sending them to their state of origin alone will bring down crime and terrorism by half. Police are not occupiers; they should live among us. Extend the current systemic cleansing ongoing in the Customs to the Nigeria Police, introduce sting operations designed to jail more officers – prisoners that we can apply to road, port and rail construction: a positive feedback loop.
The judiciary is another place where reforms have to be immediate and swift, even as stings are stepped up, current unexplained wealth need to be critically looked into and bad judges fired: fast! Only when this is done, will all the new and old cases EFCC has in the works make their way out in a whole. In the mean time, the Sagay committee must stop working in Camera and leverage foreign courts to recover looted funds and prosecute criminals, especially in our petroleum and defense industries. This external infrastructure, will minimize distraction and blow back, and maximize possibility of recovery.
It is time to stop giving excuses; it is time to deliver the change you promised. Keep it simple – lose the oil, build it and clean up fast; and every other things shall be added unto you.
Michael Oluwagbemi writes from Houston, Texas