The frightful consequences of lack and the hopelessness it brings are already here with us. With well over 12 million children who should be in school but are everywhere else but school, mostly roaming the streets and looking for trouble they can inherit and dispense as they like, and the despicable toga of the poverty headquarters on planet earth now covering our country, it does appear that the days of sleeping and snoring away are numbered. And this is not an exercise in amateur doomsday prophesy. It is actually an honest evaluation of things as they turn out. These developments, together with others closely related to them, such as insecurity and petty crimes, are evidence that all is not well with our socio-political system. They are the main reasons for the attention we have given this topic, over the past few weeks.
They are also the good reasons we cannot overemphasize the need to eradicate extreme or abject poverty from among us. Accordingly, we have, for the third week now running, been discussing poverty in the context of prosperity that is not shared, governance that has failed the critical tests for its being and, institutions that do not deliver on their mandates. We render the final part of this effort today, which centres on institutional failure and its contribution to the current sad predicament of Nigeria.
It has been said in high places that the future of Africa and indeed, the black world depends on Nigeria. The proponents of this thesis argue very forcefully that as soon as Nigeria makes its way out of underdevelopment, Africa and all the failing nations of the black world will equally succeed. Some have even put it more metaphorically by saying that going by its shape, and slightly rotated clockwise about 45 degrees, Africa assumes the shape of a gun (not the rampant AK 47 causing mayhem all over the continent) whose trigger is in Nigeria. Brilliant thought, apparently supported by Mother Nature that gave Africa its shape. Well, all guns have triggers but not all guns go cracking when their triggers are pulled. The only guns that crack on the pulling of the trigger are those that are properly loaded. If Africa is to be a gun and Nigeria the trigger, then what is inside Africa becomes an important issue. It is the gunpowder and the bolls or high calibre live bullets that will do a good job when the trigger of a primed gun is pulled So even Dane guns that use gunpowder must have sufficient bolls that do the damage when fired. A Dane gun filled with gunpowder and groundnut may crack a loud sound but may not hit the target. The groundnuts will melt before the gun actually booms. Nigeria and the rest of Africa will therefore need to do more than hosting the oldest leaders in the world, and generating the largest number of extremely poor people, if the trigger and reversed gun thesis is to come to reality.
It has also been said in many places that the presidential system is curse on Nigeria, and that more and more Nigerians will join the ranks of the terminally poor, while more children will be out of school, for as long as we continue this system of government. This system guarantees too much power and discretion to whoever wins the contest for public office, in an environment in which laws are obeyed more in breach than otherwise; where those entrusted with the job of protecting the sovereignty we all surrendered to the state make deals with our sovereignty and also make sure we have no power to correct them either by recall or removal for non-performance. This system handicaps institutions and projects personalities. It may mean well and work well elsewhere but as long as we have laws that are not meant to be invoked and individuals that are stronger than the institutions they run, the Presidential System ensures that poverty continues to run wild.
If the story coming out of many departments and agencies of government, as well as some states, where ordinary people become emperors in four years of leading institutions and states, and establish dynasties of stupendously rich kids and relatives, are true then today is still early morning in our journey to the poverty of the masses and affluence of the few. The consequences are as yet indeterminate.
The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) propose zero tolerance of poverty, among its 17 headings. Luckily, Nigeria has been honest enough to give a warning that it may not meet the targets. But did anybody really and truly believe Nigeria was going to meet the goals? For the avoidance of doubt, the true definition of poverty is the absence of a sensible disposable income. When a country pays its civil servants a monthly minimum wage of N18,000 naira (often disputed by states and rejected), which is less than $50, then there is no need to discuss some of the SDGs. This is more so when the private sector, as though to spite those leaving school, has joined and even exceeded the public sector in paying subsistent wages to their workers. Graduates are paid N15000 a month in many private establishments in Nigeria, and one wonders how these people cope with inflation and the high cost of living in Nigeria. Is there any wonder why prostitution and internet fraud have become second nature for many otherwise well-raised Nigerian youths. The Presidential system ensures that institutions do not work and that there is never enough money to do anything after paying for the frills of office it generates.
To whom do we apportion the blame? The private entrepreneurs who have been stripped of their most important role in the economy – job creation – through anti-production policies of governments are only managing to survive. The absence of sensible disposable income among the people ensures that companies have low sales and high inventories. Even illiterate traders understand that a contracting economy (income) spells disaster on their sales. Governments do not create jobs; the private sector does.
The failure of our institutions has meant disaster for Nigeria. It has heightened the division among us as powerful ethnic groups marginalize the weak in everything of benefit in the country. It is the failure of institutions that makes INEC threaten electoral offenders, as if we have no law enforcement agencies and a criminal justice system. Some institutions like the Federal Character Commission have become laughable as the executives at all levels ride roughshod over them. Some no longer exist beyond the paper on which their names are written. As Nigeria suffers growth deficit due to unbridled population growth, and six of us get extremely poor every minute, the need has become urgent to take another look at our development and poverty reduction strategies. Doing the same thing all the time and expecting a different result is less than idiotic – apologies to late Minister of Transport (including bicycle transport) Ojo Maduekwe.