Inauguration: Issues Yar’Adua must reflect on

By Casmir Igbokwe

Published: Sunday, 27 May 2007

Dr. Deji Adejobi seems to be getting frustrated with Nigeria. At present, he is on forced holiday because of the current strike by the Academic Staff Union of Universities. In a recent email to me, the lecturer in the department of Agricultural Economics, Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife, said, “It is unfortunate that the President of the country is so ignorant, or rather put, is misinformed about a vital issue that is going on in the country. And he has actually betrayed his inordinate plans of making only the private universities in Nigeria thrive (maybe because he owns one.) You know what, the most annoying part of it is that he feels that the (ASUU) strike is all about increase in salaries. Casmir, as I am sending you this mail, the air conditioner in my office is not working, not to talk about the obsolete equipment we rely upon in teaching our students…”

I had received other similar mails from lecturers and students regretting the systemic rot in Nigerian universities. I do not intend to bore you again with the gulf between the UK and the Nigeria educational systems. But it is a fact that sound education is one of the major foundations for the success of any nation. If Prof. Chukwuma Soludo had not passed through good public schools, he would not have become the Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria today.

This is why what is going on in our ivory towers is annoying every rational mind. Frequently, ASUU goes on strike to press home some demands. Stubbornly, the Federal Government has refused to accede to most of its demands. The result is that the rot continues. And innocent students are the ultimate losers. The incoming President, Alhaji Umar Yar’Adua, must resolve to put a stop to this ASUU/FG face-off. Let the court’s judgement on this issue, especially with regard to the sacked University of Ilorin lecturers, be his guide.

On Tuesday, 29 May, the President-elect will, hopefully, be inaugurated. As soon as he moves to Aso Rock, he must be very careful with political jobbers, hangers-on and bad advisers. Such advisers may have even started working on him. Or how does one explain the fact that the dance is yet to begin, but Yar’Adua has already assumed the character of a young antelope dancing his legs to pieces. He had toured some countries even when he has not been inaugurated. What could be the motive of the visit? To drum support, or to corner investors?

President Olusegun Obasanjo also globe trotted soon after he assumed power under the guise of attracting foreign investors. But will investors come when the environment is not right? In the Niger Delta, for instance, militants kidnap expatriates almost on a daily basis. This has continued in spite of the deployment of soldiers in that region. The crisis has drastically affected oil production and the revenue that should have accrued to the FG.

Nigeria is not the only country in transition. In Britain, Gordon Brown will take over from Prime Minister Tony Blair in June. He has not started globetrotting to show that he is the prime minister in waiting. Rather, it is Blair that has embarked on farewell tours mostly in his country. Even this has attracted scathing criticisms from some quarters. Last week, for instance, the leader of the Conservatives, David Cameron, said there was no room for farewell tours in the UK. Blair, he reportedly said, was elected to be prime minister, not a pop star.

Yar’Adua must resolve not to make himself a foreign pop star. He should stay at home and concentrate on fixing our poor infrastructure, which contribute in scaring potential investors away. On assuming office in 1999, the incumbent government promised to improve the power situation in the country. Today, power generation has declined drastically from about 3, 800 megawatts attained in 2006. The former Minister of Finance, Dr Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, amplified this problem in a keynote address at the World Bank Spring Meetings in April 2005. According to her, infrastructure is the most problematic factor in doing business in Nigeria.

Regrettably, the money that should have been used to fix this problem is frittered away on unimportant ventures. Sequel to the forthcoming inauguration, rumours gained ground that billions of naira had been mapped out for that purpose. The Minister of Information and Communications, Mr Frank Nweke Jnr., has reportedly denied this, saying it is a little over N820m that was approved. It’s good that some companies are said to be sponsoring some aspects of the programme. Otherwise, the FG would have spent more than the amount Nweke mentioned.

The question is: What will this money be used for? To entertain foreign dignitaries, perhaps. When they go, our problems remain as they are. Blair is leaving as the British Prime Minister in June. The government has not committed this kind of money to usher in his successor. Granted that transiting from one civilian government to another is an achievement in Nigeria; but it will make more meaning if our celebration, for instance, has to do with first one year of uninterrupted power supply.

Yar’Adua must avoid this type of profligacy. He must make fiscal discipline his cardinal principle. Every government agency must be made to account for every kobo it spends. This is why I am happy with the recent steps taken by the Revenue Mobilisation Allocation and Fiscal Commission. The commission, it was reported last week, took the FG to court. The move is to stop the government from making further deductions from the Federation Account, outside the stipulations of the constitution. The commission also wants the FG to refund over $90bn allegedly deducted from the account.

The incoming President should not only refund this money if proved, he must strengthen the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission to go after this kind of fraud. The EFCC has made some inroads into tackling corruption in the country. But the outgoing regime manipulated some of its actions. If the government gives the body a free hand, I believe it will achieve more.

In all, Yar’Adua must look for ways to tackle unemployment in the country. The outgoing government promised to create millions of jobs when it came to power. So far, it has created millions of migrants who leave our shores to escape the harsh economic realities at home. Some of those who cannot check out engage in all sorts of criminal activities. Creating employment, fixing our poor infrastructure and giving priority attention to our health and educational institutions are the things that will make Adejobi and the majority of other Nigerians happy. Happy inauguration.

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