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Editorial Comment

Despite a succesful election, Nigeria has a tough journey to make

Last month, Nigeria clocked 20 in its latest attempt at constitutional democracy. President Muhammadu Buhari was returned to office. Although his opponent, Atiku Abubakar, a former vice- president, is challenging the results of the elections, there is relief that the country has crossed another milestone in one piece. 

There is always apprehension whenever Nigeria gets close to elections. In the past, post-electoral crisis were the undoing of the country, resulting in civil unrest and military coups. However, since 1999, Nigeria has put that sordid history behind it. Elections are still acrimonious but the political class recognises that stepping outside the constitutionally prescribed routes for redress is not in anybody’s interest. There are still issues of rigging, abuse of the security services and vote-buying. The phrase ‘generally free and fair’ has come to qualify the outcome of the exercise. 

Nigeria’s problems go beyond the politics, albeit it is the lot of the political leadership to address it. There are problems of security, structure, the economy and social cohesion. These problems are all intertwined.

First, the structure. Nigeria is meant to be a federation but years of military rule succeeded in bastardising the spirit of the arrangement, making the country a quasi unitary state. Let us make no mistake about this. There are semblance of federalism. The states have their political aparati, run their budgets and have governors and deputies who, like the president and deputy, have constitutional immunity. When it is recognised that not even the president of the Senate (the leader of the legislative arm and the country’s No. 3 citizen) enjoys that immunity, the depth of the arrangement can be appreciated. 

Beyond these, the states need federal approval to carry out tasks which are fundamental to their ability to chart independent economic directions. A coastal state like Akwa Ibom needs federal approval to build a seaport in its territory. Compare this with Dubai, one of the federating units of the United Arab Emirate (UAE) that is attempting to turn Dubai into a global commercial centre, and the limitations of the Nigerian structure becomes apparent. 

Revenue is appropriated by the federal government and shared out to the federating units instead of the other way round. The state have no security units of their own. This leaves them at the mercy of the political forces at the centre. Where the state is run by an opposition party, the constitutional designation of the governor as state’s chief security officer becomes a hollow provision. 

The country is also grappling with security issues. In the northeast, Boko Haram is still attacking communities at will. In the northwest, armed bandits kidnap and steal at will. It has gotten so bad that the governor of Zamfara begged the federal government to declare a state of emergency, a development that will  limit his own powers. 

In the central region, herdsmen are wiping out entire communities with such brutality that they resemble war zones like Yemen. The herdsmen have become sovereigns. Despite killing close to 5,000 of their countrymen in the past four years, not a single one of them has been arrested and put on trial. A state governor even confessed to paying them to stop the killings. The country now needs to address this apparent helplessness. Then there is the matter of social cohesion. It does not help a country if segments of the population feel excluded. President Buhari needs to consciously work on making every segment of the population feel they belong. 

Finally, the President has the economy to deal with. that is the subject of our cover story by Martins Azuwike, an economist who has acquited himself as a journalist. If the president can fix the economy (and other issues) within his second and final tenure, he will leave the scene a national hero.

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