October 2, 2022
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Nigeria After Buhari: Healing a Divided and Traumatised Nation (3) – THISDAY Newspapers

  • November 10, 2021
  • 10 min read
Nigeria After Buhari: Healing a Divided and Traumatised Nation (3) – THISDAY Newspapers

Discourse

Noah Udoffia

As Nigeria teeters on the verge of collapse, the next president should consider the following foundational agenda to address the two most pressing issues needed to heal this broken country: (1) rebuild and stabilize the nation and (2) restore dignity to all citizens. Below, I expound on several policy changes that could be used to begin this healing and rebuilding process for the nation and her people.
Rebuild national trust. The next president must begin by restoring trust and legitimacy to a discredited presidency. As a divided and traumatized nation, Nigerians need a nonpartisan president for all Nigerians, not just for a region or tribe or religion—a president who will act in accordance with the principles of One Nigeria, operating under the strict rule of law. The president should earn the people’s confidence and trust early by properly vetting and selecting a trustworthy and talented Vice President, and appoint a diverse and competent cabinet. As exemplified in functioning democracies, the president must travel the country to share a unifying vision for the nation and hold townhall meetings to hear the voices of ordinary Nigerians.
Rebuild trust in the judiciary. Our legal systems are so tainted by politics, corruption and religious influence that their decisions carry little weight or legitimacy outside the courtrooms. We demand equality before the law, fair and transparent justice in all local jurisdictions, independent of wealth, ethnicity, gender, political affiliation, or religious sect. Further, the next president should terminate the unfettered power of the police to whisk citizens off to detention dungeons for years without trial while collecting bribes from relatives. For ordinary Nigerians, the wheel of the justice delivery system is too slow and costly.
Outlaw nativist policies. The next government should eliminate four facets of destructive nativism:
(1) Economic nativism, focused on the concept that economic opportunities should be reserved for native citizens of a state or region. (2) Employment nativism, based on the notion that native citizens of states or regions should be accorded absolute priority when it comes to federal and state jobs, no matter their qualifications. (3) Political nativism, advancing the notion that government should do everything to defend the political or religious ideology of a particular segment of the Nigerian society. (4) Herderphobic nativism, based on the notion that every herdsman is a killer and thus unwelcome in some regions of the country.
Require domiciliary as the only criteria for state residency. Millions of Nigerians live outside their state of origin. Where you’ve resided for many years, have a home and paid taxes in Nigeria, should be your state of residence. You should be granted equal opportunity, rights and privileges as indigenes, including the right to vote, the right to run for public office, the ability to practice a profession, opportunity to seek state and federal employment, and the ability to receive public assistance. The new administration should amend the constitution to define rights and privileges of state residency strictly in terms of domicile rather than current identity based on indigeneity.
Develop and implement smart counterinsurgency and counter-separatist strategies. The next president should demand a new counterinsurgency and counterseparatist thinking and policies to understand the tactical, operational, and strategic approaches required to win the asymmetric war against insurgency and separatist movements. The ongoing political-military actions to achieve success have proved expensive, ineffective and dawdling. The incoming administration should integrate political, economic, social, and military resources to persuade the insurgent and separatist political decisionmakers to reach a negotiated settlement. Importantly, sponsors and financers of insurgents and separatists should be traced and brought to justice. As we’ve learned from other asymmetric wars, it’s ultimately about winning hearts and minds, not battles. Therefore, the new government should work collaboratively with states, local government areas, traditional rulers, and religious organizations to alleviate poverty and unemployment, especially among the youth, and implement social welfare policies and training programs to dissuade young people from joining insurgent networks and separatist movements.
Implement a policy of ethnic amalgamation. The new administration should adopt a national policy of Ethnic Amalgamation as a viable and preferred alternative to structural amalgamation devised by the colonizers to exploit and rule Nigeria. Ethnic Amalgamation refers to the intermixing of ethnic groups that occur through interethnic marriage and procreation. Such amalgamation ensures different ethnic groups gradually melt together, making ethnic boundaries less distinct. Our new president should work with the national assembly to craft a new law to offer new interethnic married couples monetary incentives, such as child tax credits or direct cash payments and tuition waivers. However, legal, and economic incentives can only go so far. We need institutional reforms in education, religion, and culture to change pre-existing bias against interethnic marriages and gene transfer. With ethnic amalgamation, over time, all the ethnic differences will pale into insignificance.
Amend the immunity clause. Constitutional amendments have shielded political elites from proper accountability. Serious crimes committed by politicians, including looting public funds, extra-judicial killings, illegal importation of arms, sponsoring militant groups and other grievous offenses against countless and defenceless citizens have gone unchallenged. Any politician who commits these crimes should be arrested, tried, and charged with felony against the welfare of the people. The doctrine of equality before the law, enshrined in the constitution, and under which every citizen, no matter how highly placed, is subject to the authority of the same law, must take precedent over the tradition of immunity for the political class.
Fight corruption in real estate money laundering. It’s long been known that luxury and commercial real estate investing are the core methods used by corrupt officials to launder the proceeds of corruption. Corrupt officials convert their illicit proceeds into clean funds by buying real estate properties. Under our existing laws, registration of real estate does not require information regarding the identity of beneficial ownership. The law must be amended to mandate collection of beneficial ownership information at the time of company formation and real estate transactions. As for existing real estate assets, all real estate owners—corporate and individual—should be required to declare and reregister their assets and affirm terminal ownership—direct or equity-wise. Beneficial owners must show proof of source of income used in acquiring the property. The income declaration must match income reported in their tax returns.
Shift the economy’s foundation from oil to entrepreneurship. To diversify the economy away from a reliance on oil, a new policy of entrepreneurial economy should focus on creating an enabling environment for entrepreneurs and new ventures to succeed. Such policies should include investments in applied research in universities and research centres. In addition, investments are needed to improve the general level of education, including advanced technical specialties, and skill upgrading for current workers. Further, investments should be made in infrastructure to build a reliable and cost-efficient supply of electricity, water and transportation networks to provide a stable foundation for new ventures to thrive. To finance new ventures, privately-run venture capital (VC) firms should be jointly seeded by investors and the government to provide loan finance and equity capital to entrepreneurs. The new president must also excise onerous regulations constraining the formation of new ventures and the freedom of firms to operate efficiently. The new industrial policy should also specify and enforce strict intellectual capital protection and technology transfer rules, and demand technology transfer in return for market access.
Provide federal youth unemployment benefit (FYUB). There are about 10 million unemployed youth aged 15-34 years in the country (NBS estimate). The next administration should establish a federally-funded youth unemployment insurance benefit. Each unemployed youth will receive a monthly benefit of N50,000 for a limit of five months while actively looking for a job. The FYUB will be fully funded from a wealth tax. The wealthiest Nigerians with at least $100 million (USD) in net worth (including pastors and imams) will pay tax on the unrealized capital gain in assets they currently hold. Thereafter, they would be taxed each year on the increase in the assessed value of their assets. The next administration should enact a new Federal Unrealized Capital Gain Tax Act (FUCGTA) with a tax rate of 10%. Roughly, the capital gain accumulation by the top five wealthiest Nigerians alone is estimated to be $30 billion (USD). This alone generates $3 billion from unrealized capital gain tax which would be paid over three years.
Separate politics and religion. Our politicians, imams and pastors have too much money and power and use both to keep ordinary citizens fighting each other instead of doing what needs to be done to make Nigeria work for everyone. They purposefully divide us to weaken us. The poor Fulani herdsman is not your enemy. The Igbo street hawker is not your enemy. The Yoruba taxi driver is not your enemy. The Efik home service provider is not your enemy. The Muslim is not your enemy. The Christian is not your enemy. The Nonbeliever is not your enemy. Your enemy is the politician and the religionist who divide us into them versus us. Religion and government cannot mix.
Ignore restructuralists until Nigeria is ready. Although the potential advantages of restructuring far exceed its drawbacks, and there is emerging consensus that restructuring is inevitable, Nigeria at a tipping point is the wrong time to engage in such a complex and messy process of devolution of powers, resources, and responsibilities from the federal centre to the states and local governments. Any attempt to restructure at this perilous time of insecurity, political instability and social discontent risks making our situation worse. There’s no do-over once devolved. Devolution paralysis or a failed devolution is a slippery slope to disunity, and ultimately, secession. Case studies from other multi-ethnic nations (e.g., Indonesia, Brazil, India) show that the success of a devolved system of governance is dependent on various factors which are lacking in all 36 states. Most salient is the state’s competency to carry out the devolved powers, resources, and responsibilities efficiently and effectively. Majority of the states are under-institutionalized, with extremely weak legal, political, fiscal, and economic management infrastructure. They lack the technical knowledge and administrative expertise required to stand on their own. The next president should bring some rationality and clarity to these issues before committing the nation to a nuanced restructuring agenda.
Rebuild incrementally. Nigeria is the outcome of a structural amalgamation of different peoples, cultures, and religions into a toxic stew of federalism for self-interested ends by the colonists. Nigeria was not designed for us at all; nor were we designed for it. We must build a more united country design by us and for us. We don’t need a massive and traumatic change as some politicians have proposed. The rebuilding must be incremental. We don’t need a wholesale constitutional replacement. We need to build on the constitution we already have. We must start from first principles and rebuild and strengthen.
Nation-building is our collective endeavour. We have work to do to build the great nation we all desire. We begin by electing a moral and effective president who is supported by a competent and diverse cabinet, talented advisers and policymakers. Nigeria is poised on the precipice of rebirth and unprecedented prosperity for all. Yes, it will not be easy. Ultimately, it will be morning again in Nigeria.

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