We, Nigerians are naturally impatient people. We want it now, not later than by 7am, today. That’s why we don’t stop at traffic lights; why we invented the art of 419; why we yell on the phone in a cramped elevator; why we throw owambe parties and block entire streets; and why our danfo drivers are wrecking crews. The Buhari administration is slowly coming to a realisation of the implication of this our natural impatience, as the pendulum of friendship on mass and social media is slowly swinging against them after just four weeks. Don’t blame us, we want salvation from the madness that is our daily existence, and we want it now! Unfortunately, the solutions are not immediate and will only happen over the medium to long term because what is required are deep structural changes.
Here are a few simple but radical steps to force changes to the very fabric of our society:
1) Eradicate civil service corruption and indeed public sector corruption at the federal and state levels. There are two types of these corruption. The low level type where civil servants don’t let your file leave their tables until you drop N2000 and the multi billion naira scandals, like the recent massive pension scandal. The funny thing about civil service corruption is that everyone in the ministry or parastatal is at least partly aware of each corrupt transaction and this leads to the solution; make it worthwhile for the staff of each ministry to report such transactions by establishing a culture of whistle blowing. The president announces that for each case of whistle blowing where a civil servant reports a corrupt transaction to a public ombudsman secretly, the person reporting will receive 1 percent of the entire value of the money recovered. For example, in the pension scandal case worth N6billion, the whistle blower would receive N60 million for reporting the case after the ombudsman has reported to EFCC/ICPC and the case is successfully prosecuted or even before. That’s a significant incentive to report any and all corrupt transactions and it makes it worthwhile for civil servants to report their bosses when they steal money.
2) Tax the political class on total income and not just salaries. Once elected to public office, the Federal Inland Revenue Service (FIRS) should be empowered to investigate each political office holder and make him/her pay taxes based on his/her estimated total possessions. Houses, cars, businesses and business partnerships should all be accounted for, and like in the private sector where people pay about 30 percent of their income as tax, public officials and each of their wives/husband and dependents should be made to pay 30 percent on all income, whether official or private.
3) Reduction of the cost of governance. The cost of running government in Nigeria is ridiculously high, both for the legislatures and executives at the federal and state levels. The Seventh National Assembly passed a grand total of 108 bills during its four-year tenure, while expending about N600b on its 469 members. The federal executive owns the second largest fleet of aeroplanes in the country at 13 planes, maintained and paid for by the public, while the president can only use one plane at a time. Ministers collect estacodes for travelling and have all their expenses taken care of by the government. All these should be reduced. The presidential fleet needs to be reduced to two aeroplanes; national assembly members should be reduced to half of their present number in both the red and green chambers; the number of ministers and their aides have to be cut down by 50 percent. Equally, the security votes of the president and governors should be reduced by half. Any member of the executive who fails to comply to this should have his or her security vote expenditure investigated by the EFCC. We should also abolish or merge several federal parastatals like the Oronsaye committee report suggests. For example, why do we have the Nigerian Export Promotion Council (NEPC) and the Nigerian Investment Promotion Commission (NIPC) as separate bodies when they do the same things? Or the Nigerian Communications Commission, the Nigerian Broadcasting Commission and the Nigerian Postal Service — all focused on communication, whether via telecommunications or television or by post. By some estimates, the FG would save N128b per annum from agencies to be abolished and N100b from agencies to be merged!
4) Plug revenue leakages by doing three things. The president should work with the national assembly to set up special courts to expedite corruption cases with appeals going directly to and stopping at the Court of Appeal; the impunity of governors and the president should be removed and the independence of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) entrenched by tying its funding to the federation account and not the presidency, thereby forcing thieves to be very careful and imaginative.
5) Visit India and China. The president should put state visits to China and India on his list of priorities. This is for a simple reason. Crude oil is Nigeria’s largest source of income. These two mentioned largest economies are no longer buying as much crude oil from us as before due to the high availability of shale oil from the US and the preference for heavy crude in China. Our number one market for crude oil is Europe, but with a stagnating economic growth rate (the Greek crisis inclusive), there won’t be any increase in purchases. The situation is so bad that Nigeria has actually had to reduce the price of its Bonny Light and Ibue Qua crude recently. To survive, we need to find new markets for our crude oil. The countries with the fastest growth rates are india and China and we need to increase our sales to them. Therefore, the president should visit and negotiate long term crude purchase agreements on these trips. Angola, which is in a similar strait as we are, recently negotiated a deal with Chile after losing the American market, and they are doing better than we are in finding new markets.
6) Block customs income leakages. The Nigerian customs is the largest revenue earner in the Nigerian public sector after the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC). However a huge amount of that revenue is lost before it comes into the Federation Account. We need to plug that and make the service more accountable by forcing it to account for all its earnings and incomes.
The real point of all the above, about the issues really affecting Nigeria, is that all the country’s institutions have been perverted by the people working in them. Civil servants are billionaires and politicians own private jets, while jobs-creating businessmen are forced to beg for space at the table, and the citizens responsible for voting politicians in are reduced to beggars for scraps from the tables of the same politicians they voted into office.
We need to make politics and the civil service unattractive by removing every incentive to steal therein, and then only true patriots would ever think of working in those places.
Oluwafemi Akinfolarin, a lawyer, writes from Lagos