Memo to President-elect Buhari, By Orji Uzor kalu
In the first part of this memo two weeks ago, I raised a number of issues that included such critical areas as security, corruption and elections. I had planned to publish the second and concluding part of the series last week when a matter of urgent importance cropped up and displaced it. I sincerely apologise if you had looked forward to seeing the second part.
This week I hope to raise new issues in the second and concluding part of the memo and, at the same time, treat some of the issues I had raised two weeks ago elaborately.
First, I humbly request we take a cursory look at the Petroleum industry where you once held sway. As a one-time Federal Commissioner for Petroleum Resources, during which period various reforms were implemented, Nigerians expect more from you. The sharp practices in the sector, which have caused the nation enormous losses in revenue, should be addressed swiftly to create a new impetus for global best practices to thrive in the sector. We expect brand new refineries and the resort to the old system of Nigeria refining its crude locally for consumption and export.
It does not make sense at all for a nation renowned for its rich oil deposits to import petroleum products when such nations as Angola and Venezuela produce sufficient quantity for local consumption and export.
My position does not necessarily mean calling for a probe of the sector. Rather what I advocate is the sanitization of the oil sector and the streamlining of its operations to make it more result-oriented.
You should pay special attention to vandalization of oil pipelines, which has been a big obstacle to the effort by the government to maximize opportunities in the sector. Nigeria currently loses a sizeable chunk of its revenue from oil to thefts and other forms of sharp practices.
I wish to place on record your wisdom in undertaking the construction of oil pipelines during your tenure as Oil Minister. I look forward to similar or, even, better innovations in the sector under your aegis.
Permit me Your Excellency to go back briefly to our electoral system. The 2015 elections have proved that conducting free and fair (and credible) elections in Nigeria is possible. The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) demonstrated rare courage in introducing far-reaching measures that helped greatly in making the elections the success they have become. The open expression of satisfaction over the conduct of the elections by foreign monitors and Nigerians is an attestation to the new vista that has opened in our national life. It would not have been possible for INEC to succeed if its chairman, Prof Attahiru Jega, and his team were not creative, bold and patriotic.
The success of the card-readers and the deployment of top-class academics as electoral officers (despite the misbehavior of a few of them) went a long way in contributing to the success of the elections. I think there is still an urgent need to go a step further in fine-tuning the process in order to deal with the issue of rigging and violence. Despite the card-readers politicians still engaged in rigging, using willing INEC officials and, in some cases, security agents, who threw caution to the wind, to meet the expectations of their paymasters.
The situation in my home state, Abia, was quite unfortunate. The rigging, masterminded by the state governor and some of his aides, was mindboggling. Today, he parades himself as a Senator-elect when deep in his heart, he knows he did not win the election. He was roundly beaten, yet he was the person to whom the certificate of return for Umuahia Central Senatorial Zone was presented. Such a charade should not be allowed to stand under your watch.
I am aware what happened in Abia State took place in different places across the country. To achieve near-perfect elections, as INEC has striven over the years to accomplish, is possible. But we need the will power and patriotism to do so. This is where your wealth of experience, courage and candour come to play.
For me, there is nothing absolutely wrong with electronic voting. It is possible to accredit a voter with the card-reader and he or she goes ahead to vote electronically at the same time. What the process needs is diligent planning and sufficient voter-education.
The importance of getting it right at elections is a serious matter. Apart from helping voters to choose leaders of their choice it also elevates the stature of our country before the international community. We cannot isolate ourselves from the global best practices and expect the world to respect us. We must demonstrate a strong commitment to make our nation better.
I am glad that you assumed office at the right time in the history of our country. I state without any equivocation that no other person would have been more morally and mentally equipped to tackle the rot in our electoral system now than you. I expect you to commence the reform of our electoral system as soon as you are sworn in. The 2019 elections may appear still far away, but they are around the corner. The independence of INEC as implied in its name must be made to count. It is absurd for the commission that is deemed to be independent to go cap in hand begging for funding.
What Nigerians need is a transparent, functional and credible system for election conduct and management. Anything short of it is a total negation of the objective for which many Nigerians voted you into power.
Now enter our security forces. This is directly under your purview as a retired general. The politicization of our security agencies is something of great worry. You should as a matter of national emergency introduce serious reforms to restore the prestige of our security agencies. The Military has contributed immensely to the institutionalization of our democratic process and the consolidation thereof. If I am asked, the Military should be made to face squarely its constitutional role of defending the territorial integrity of Nigeria, while the police and ancillary security agencies should be strengthened to perform their duties without undue influence.
In tune with modern demands there is an urgent need to assess the military to know the areas to reequip it. I did not find the allegation by the opposition during the campaigns that your government between 1983 and 1985 did not equip the military funny. You must prove everybody wrong by making it a top priority of your government. When the military is adequately equipped it boosts their morale and fighting capacity. You should not underestimate the strength of our neighbours’ military as the world has gone sophisticated. The ongoing fight against Boko Haram has exposed the weaknesses of our military and brought to the fore the need to be prepared at all times against enemy incursion.
You should take another look at the motivation package for the military and the police to see areas of improvement. Our security men and women cannot perform impressively if poorly equipped or motivated. Some of the barracks in which they live are an eyesore. Despite that many of them are dilapidated they also lack functional amenities to make life pleasurable for their occupants.
What about our fallen heroes? Their dependants suffer all kinds of humiliation and avoidable neglect. It is not good to forget the families of those who lost their lives in the service of our fatherland. Rather government should devise a means of paying them adequate compensations as soon as they are due, while making further arrangements to cater to the other needs of the families they left behind.
This is the only way to convince their colleagues still alive to make the same sacrifices whenever the need arises, and give their best to the service of the nation.
Agriculture is another vital sector you should pencil down as a priority sector. The Jonathan Administration has made a bold statement with agriculture as part of its transformation agenda. Though the impact of the reform in agriculture is yet to take root there is significant improvement in the way farmers approach their business. In addition, many corporate organizations have resorted to mechanized agriculture to boost food production and provide materials for their industries.
What I expect your government to do is to study what President Jonathan’s administration has done, see areas of strength, and integrate it into your own master plan. Continuity in government programmes and policies is of paramount importance at this time of global recession.
Then education: Our educational system has been adjudged as one of the worst in Africa. The ranking of our tertiary institutions in the comity of universities has been of great concern to stakeholders in the sector. Despite the huge resources committed to education very little has been achieved. The licensing of more universities has not helped much in advancing the performance of the sector. The quality of graduates produced by our tertiary institutions is still an issue. Many of the graduates are not employable, because they lack the basic skills their vocations demand.
I expect your government to do a surgical operation of the sector to cure it of the debilitating malaise that has troubled it over the years. Education remains the bedrock of any nation’s economy, and Nigeria is not an exception. Therefore, it must be accorded its rightful place in national development. To further achieve this objective your government should appoint a renowned, sound and passionate educationist to head the Ministry of Education. Appointing somebody who lacks the pedigree is like putting a square peg in a round hole.
Introducing a new national policy on education has become imperative, considering the fact that the last time such a policy was formulated has been quite long. A review of the entire curriculum is of great necessity too.
Nigeria’s foreign image has received some knocks of recent, especially during civilian administrations. To correct the erroneous impressions created about Nigeria there is an urgent need to review our foreign policy framework to strengthen our resolve to remain the giant of Africa. Our peace-keeping initiatives and other humanitarian activities should be reviewed to attract more benefits to our country and boost our image abroad.
I expect your administration to take a more dispassionate look at the welfare of Nigerians abroad. Recent feelers reaching me show that many Nigerians are languishing in prisons in foreign countries. Some of them are innocent of the crimes for which they are being persecuted, while a few of them have been killed unjustly in the past for the simple reason that nobody was there to speak for them. This is why I think your Foreign Affairs minister (s), whosoever they may be, should work harder to reposition Nigeria before the global community and enthrone a more methodical process of laundering our image abroad.
As a ruling party you should ensure justice is done in the distribution of the national cake. Every part of this country is an integral part of the Nigerian nation and should not be treated shabbily. The wealth of the country is the wealth of all irrespective of party, religious or ethnic affiliation. I have seen how your party plans to distribute key political offices. By accommodating the South East and South-South, though many of their states did not vote for you has shown the large-heartedness of your person. I urge you to do more justice when you appoint ministers. Cutting down on the number of ministries is not a bad idea. The current large number of ministers is not good for our economy.
I was elated when I read what you wrote that your administration would encourage the cutting down on the costs of running government. What we have at present is simply bloated and not sustainable. How could we allocate 80% of our annual budget to recurrent expenditure instead of capital? It is ludicrous. We need to make those holding political offices realise that their choice to hold such offices is a privilege, and not a right. As such they should be selfless and demonstrate more care in the discharge of their duties.
I have concentrated on a few of the issues because there is no need listing the issues I know your administration may not have all the time to address. What I would want you to do is choose specifically the key areas your government can handle and concentrate on them. There is no need biting more than you can chew. I understand the pressure on you to perform will be very high. But I am confident you have the wisdom and moral capacity to tackle the myriads of problems facing this nation the much your strength can carry you.
I am also confident Nigerians will give you all the cooperation you may require to deliver on your mandate. What is left is for you to do what is right at every point to take our nation to a new height of development.
In my view, the challenges before you are just three: security, electricity and job and wealth creation. If you can succeed in achieving these then you have scored a pass mark, and whoever will succeed you will embark on the other areas of need.
I wish you God’s speed as you take over the mantle of leadership from our amiable President Goodluck Jonathan in a few weeks from now.