Saturday, December 12, 2009

Nigeria needs a revolution now -- Umeagbasi

Emeka Umeagbasi is the Chairman, Board of Trustees, International Society for Civil Liberties and the Rule of Law (INTER-SOCIETY). He spoke with TONY OKAFOR and a few other journalists on the state of the nation.

Nigerian Compass


What is your take on Nigeria’s budget since 1999?

It was Edwin H. Sutherland, a famous American criminologist, who in his 1940 book, “White Collar Criminality,” defined criminality as illegal acts committed by middle or upper-class persons in conjunction with their ordinary occupational pursuits.” He listed such illegal acts as fraud, embezzlement, price-fixing, antitrust violations, income tax evasion, and misuse of public funds, contract inflation/abandonment and abuse of public and legal powers. The foregoing, in addition to fiscal irresponsibility or recklessness, have marred our budget regimes since 1999. The stark truth is that what science is to philosophy, logic to philosophy/mathematics, reasoning and argumentation to science of logic is what white-collar criminality is to corruption in Nigeria and corruption to our electoral and budgeting system. Since 1999, budgets worth trillions of naira had been made, yet meaningful and verifiable, tangible and intangible benefits have eluded the over 140 million Nigerians, whom the budgets are traditionally meant for. Our unemployed graduates might have exceeded 25 million. In 2000, according to the Federal Office of Statistics, there were 20 million unemployed Nigerians. Out of this figure, five million and six hundred thousand were graduates of our tertiary institutions. Despite the multi-billion dollar or multi- trillion naira budgets, Nigeria, with a population of over 140 million, is still grappling with 103 public and private universities, in addition to dozens of polytechnics and colleges of education, while the USA, with a population of about 300 million is having over 5,700 universities and Japan with a population of about 127 million, has over 1,200 universities. Out of over one million candidates that sat for the universities entrance examinations yearly in recent times, only about 300,000 were offered admission yearly by the universities and about 50 per cent of this figure graduate on annual basis with poverty/unemployment passports issued to them. Our health sector is also nothing to write home about. Tens of millions of Nigerians are still drinking acidic water from unprotected sources. Our agriculture is steadily drifting towards pre-subsistence level. The Malaysians and Indonesians, who came to us in the 1960s and 1970s, so as to be taught the secrets of palm tree cultivation, weeding and harvesting, have not only mastered them, but also they have mechanised the palm industry, which now earns them billions of dollars annually and feeds millions of their skilled and unskilled nationals. As at 2002, the government of Indonesia was earning about $5 billion from her mechanised palm produce.

Do you have the statistics to buttress your points?

From the 2008 to 2010 budget regimes, Nigeria had budgeted a total of over N10.9 trillion. In 2008, it was N3.3 trillion (main and supplementary budgets). In 2009, it was N3.55 trillion and another sum of N4.0079 trillion, excluding the expected supplementary appropriation, has been budgeted for the 2010 fiscal year. Over N1 trillion had also been channeled into the foreign and domestic debts servicing, while over N500 billion was supposedly channeled into transportation, with road transport taking the lion share. Till date, the true positions of Nigeria’s foreign and domestic debts have remained sketchy. Also, the microscopic view of the three budget regimes showed that the recurrent expenditures, which are funds meant for about 17,500 Nigeria’s political office holders and some 500,000-man federal civil service had continued to take a lead over the capital expenditures, funds for the infrastructural developments and other welfares of over 140 million Nigerians, including the beneficiaries of the recurrent expenditures. For instance, in the proposed budget of N4.0079 trillion for 2010, over N2.2 trillion is set aside for recurrent expenditures, while about N1.2 trillion is for capital expenditures.

For want of time, we shall only enquire into the state of federal roads in Nigeria with respect to over N500 billion budgeted for transportation in the last three budget regimes. Reliable statistics showed that there are 195,000 kilometres of Trunk A (federal), B (states) and C (local governments/ communities) road network in Nigeria. The Federal Government’s share of this road network is 65,000 kilometres. In Anambra State, for instance, there are about 14 federal roads. Statistically, among the three tiers of road network in Nigeria, federal roads are the most failed and deplorable. States’ roads or Trunk B roads are the most asphalted and most motorable. Presently, Anambra State has the best Trunk B road network in the entire South-East, thanks to the illegal regime of Dr. Chris Ngige, which unevenly started it, and that of Mr. Peter Obi, which silently, but evenly, revolutionalised same. On the other hand, Trunk C road network across the federation is far better than Trunk A (Federal) roads. Though Trunk C roads are least asphalted, but they are very motorable and passable because they receive constant attention from communities’ and local council authorities. Furthermore, it is a known fact that a good number of federal roads in Nigeria have either been rehabilitated or reconstructed or are being rehabilitated or reconstructed by the various state governments. In Anambra State, for instance, Ngige rehabilitated the Onitsha-Niger Bridge-Upper-Iweka portion of the all-important Onitsha-Enugu Dual Carriage Way. The failed portions of the said road, until recently, had also been rehabilitated by the Obi administration. Presently, the Government of Anambra State, under Obi is reconstructing Onitsha-Nnewi Old Road and Onitsha-Enugu Old Road, which are all federal roads. Ngige and Obi jointly reconstructed the all-important Igbo-Ukwu-Ezinifite-Uga-Umuchu- Umunze federal road, with a spur to the Enugu- Port Harcourt Dual Carriage Way. Also, the all-important Atani-Ogwuikpere-Ndoni federal road is being reconstructed by the Obi administration, though the quality of work being delivered on the road by the Inter-Bua Construction Company is very horrible. These federal roads as mentioned are few of such roads being reconstructed by the present government of Anambra State. Apart from the foregoing, most of the busiest and uttermost important federal roads in Nigeria are acutely deplorable. Some of them are: Benin-Ore Road, Onitsha-Enugu Dual Carriage Way, Enugu-Port Harcourt Dual Carriage Way, Ninth Mile-Nsukka-Benue Road, Owerri-Port Harcourt Road, Agbor-Ekpoma-Auchi-Lokoja-Abuja Road, to mention but a few. The horrible state of federal roads in Nigeria is worst in the South-East, followed by the South-West, then the South-South and then the North-Central.

Our questions now are: where did the over N500 billion budgeted for transportation since 2008 go? And where did all the trillions budgeted at least since 2008 go?

If we are to hazard an answer, then choice properties magically springing up in some alleged corrupt foreign capitals such as Dubai may be the answer. Such choice properties are also springing up in some of the Nigeria’s rich capital cities, in addition to privately-owned refineries in foreign lands. Nigerian traders who transact businesses in Dubai, the United Arab Emirate, have been giving first hand accounts of sudden flooding of the kingdom with high cost boutiques and other shopping malls possibly by Nigerian white-collar criminals. We are not surprised at the ongoing baptism of criminality through budgeting. What do you expect in a country where a senator reportedly receives N15 million monthly or N180 million yearly in the form of constituency project? What do you expect where a Rep reportedly receives N156 million yearly for constituency project? What do you expect where the House of Reps allegedly squandered a whopping N52 billion on foreign trips in the past two years and “attracted” $1 billion or N150 billion foreign investments from the Republic of Turkey? Till date, the Federal Republic of Nigeria does not have a 100 per cent-owned functional commercial airline industry. This is unlike Air Italia for Italy, Air I for Israel, KLM for Holland, British Airways for Great Britain, PAN American Airline for USA, etc. The corruption termites had eaten up the Nigerian Airways more than 10 years ago. The N52 billion allegedly wasted on foreign trips, which the House Speaker had admitted and later denied, can comfortably build five to 10 sound conventional universities in Nigeria, going by experts’ opinion. Can we ever expect anything good from our leaders, more so when our foreign reserves had depreciated steadily from over $60 billion in 2007 to about $42 billion in 2009 and our excess crude oil sales reserves dried up? Whereas China’s foreign reserves had increased from about $700 billion in 2006 to $2.3 trillion in 2009, despite the global economic recession. Our currency, the Naira, has further been devalued from N142 per dollar in January 2009 to N150 per dollar in November 2009, a difference of N8 in a period of just 10 months.

By the way, how much is Nigeria’s investments abroad? Do we have any?

China is now the highest foreign investor in the USA Bond Market. The condition of this country is acutely pitiable. White-collar criminals with beastly idiosyncrasies are on rampage. They have run riot in the sacred altar of our commonwealth. Whenever a N5 billion road contract is awarded in their zone, they will ambush the contractor with utter alacrity, muzzle N4.5 billion out of his or her hands and leave him or her with paltry N500 million. With this, the contractor now settles by the roadside where he or she burns bitumen in a drum with charcoal and settles for work with shovels, diggers, measuring tapes and head pans, in company with his or her “Ogbo-mmanu” labourers. This explains why most of the federal roads rehabilitation projects such as the Onitsha-Enugu Dual Carriage Way, Onitsha-Oba-Nnewi-Okigwe federal road have been reportedly hijacked by “10 percenters” and white-collar criminals.

What is the way out of this?

If a revolution truly means “an abrupt political change not within the contemplation of the existing constitution, but with fundamental political changes and a new legal order,” then its imminence in Nigeria’s polity is a matter of time. Angelic democrats, wherever they are in Nigeria, must buckle up to effect a peaceful or quiet revolution before the patience of the angered elapses. Lagos, Edo and Anambra States must sustain their quiet revolutions. We also see a similar revolution coming the way of Imo State very soon. Nigeria must be saved from the hands of the buccaneers, the mentally deformed and the white-collar criminals, otherwise we will be doomed irreparably. It is deeply sad that the three tiers of government in Nigeria (federal, states and local government areas) have nothing to show for a whopping N32 trillion received and shared since 1999, out of which the Niger Delta region got a whopping N8 trillion, most of which were ferried away to foreign safety vaults by their leaders with utter impunity.

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