Getting Nigeria out of the woods: Day ideas clashed at 7th News Express Anniversary Lecture

Posted by Chima Nwafo | 24 November 2019 | 640 times

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A peculiar feature of the event is that there was no unanimity among the speakers as to what exactly took Nigeria into the woods and whether a new thinking is required to take her out. The reason is not far-fetched. Given the intellectual bent and socio-political perspectives of the speakers, they were not unanimous on any of the vices that left the country prostrate. But one thing was certain: Nigeria is deeply in the woods and no effort should be spared in taking the country out of the woods.

Such slew of views headlined the 7th News Express Anniversary lecture at the Main Hall of the Sheraton Hotels and Towers, Ikeja, Lagos, on Thursday November 14. The theme was “Getting Nigeria out of the woods – A new thinking”. On hand to interrogate this timely topic were four professional big shots: The Special Guest of Honour who addressed the anniversary topic, former Anambra State Governor and Vice-Presidential Candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in the 2019 general election, Peter Obi; Keynote Speaker, Lawyer/Activist Ebu-olu Adegboruwa, SAN;  Founder of Women Arise, Dr Joe Okei-Odumakin, who chaired the occasion and, to balance the equation, from Borno State came the Special Adviser to the Governor on Infrastructure, Bashir Maidugu, a lawyer, who presented a special paper on “AfCFTA: Prospects and Inhibitions for Nigeria”.

Obi, a widely travelled businessman/politician, averred that he has been to so many countries in the world. There is no where you cannot find corruption, he noted, adding that that the difference is that in Nigeria, we celebrate corruption. He cited the instance of Mexico, where a local council chairman was thrown into the gutter. Being there at the time, he said he asked why such a treatment? They said that that is where the man belongs.

In her introduction, the host of the event, Helen Onma Odeleye, immediate past general manager of NTA 10, had given kudos to the chair, even as she recalled her courage and commitment to the struggle, having spent decades in the trench despite the risks and threats to her life and family. The broadcaster described Dr Joe Okei-Odumakin as the “most awarded Nigerian woman.” She may well be the most decorated Nigerian, even though her smart appearance and agility betrays her age.

Chair of the occasion, Okei-Odumakin, had stated that you only need to spend a few days in Nigeria before you begin to feel the air of corruption at every layer of the society: from individuals and institutions, without exemption. She lamented the impact as it has led to absence of equipment in hospitals and educational institutions even as she berated the government for low budget for education which has led to millions of children being out of school, while privileged individuals are stacking billions in their bank accounts, building estates and mansions, at the expense of the masses. She regretted that it is not power that corrupts Nigerians but Nigerians are corrupting power; and that corruption fights back through blackmail, religion and ethnicism.

She expressed the view that Nigeria is poor because of corruption. Tracing the link between corruption and the social ills, the change agent warned that the children of corrupt leaders educated abroad will return home to meet the under-privileged ones who had either become area boys or criminals, being a threat to their lives. And that even the wealthy are no longer safe despite the high walls protecting their homes. Hence, she stressed the need for all to join hands to kill corruption before it kills Nigeria.

But Adegboruwa disagreed vehemently with Okei-Odumakin on why Nigeria is poor. He posited that if Nigeria is actually poor, that it is not because of corruption, but due to poor leadership, impunity and abuse of the rule of law. He wondered how much each Nigerian will receive if the moneys recovered so far from past corrupt leaders were to be shared! “Thank God for those whose graves are yielding money!”

The Senior Advocate touched on specific issues of law. First, “the review of the National Broadcasting Code and extant broadcasting laws will now reflect the review of fines to be paid by erring broadcasting stations – from N500,000.oo to N5 million – for breaches relating to hate speeches, inciting comments and indecency.”

For same reason of ousting the jurisdiction of the law or tribunal established by law, as provided for in the constitution. In reference to same amendment on the AMCON Act, he said:

“It was not surprising that a high Court in Lagos State has rightly declared the AMCON Act as unconstitutional, having regard to the express provisions of section 4 (8) of the constitution. This should be the fate of any amendment of the National Broadcasting Code, wherever it purports to transfer the powers of the courts to the executive to impose fines and determine what constitutes hate speech or fake news. The government cannot be allowed to muzzle the media – whether the traditional or social media, under the guise of regulation, lest we slip into some kind of civilian dictatorship. We expect the courts to rise to this occasion to defend the constitution from any infraction upon the freedom of the press generally and the freedom of expression by all citizens, specifically.”

Adegboruwa, SAN, noted that arbitration cases are always held outside the country, even in countries like Cyprus, but never in Nigeria because they know our system.

He threw a challenge: “WE” – the civil society organizations, the social and traditional media and activists, etc – brought President Muhammadu Buhari’s administration into power. We must say no to the Social Media Bill, and wait for four years to vote him out.

With the same passion he called on the media to rise and hold our leaders and elected representatives accountable.

“Although the Nigerian media has done so well in the area of media activism, there is room for improvement, especially in the area of active engagement of the ruling class through direct participation in the process of lawmaking by attending public hearings in respect of proposed bills as a way of holding the legislature accountable.”

On his part, Bashir Maidugu was concerned about intra-African trade and how Nigeria can benefit from such trade. In his presentation, AfCFTA: Prospects and Inhibitions for Nigeria, the SA said that trans-Africa trade antedates the colonial administration of Africa. According to Economic Commission for Africa (ECA) sources, the continent currently boasts eight regional active economic communities recognised as building blocks of the AfCFTA, including ECOWAS.

He said: “Along these regional economic groupings is the Single African Air Transport Market (SAATM), a project of the Addis Ababa-based African Union. It was set to create a single market for air transport in Africa, advancing AU’s agenda 2063. Similarly, there are several bilateral and multilateral treaties and agreements with respect to agricultural commodities and other natural resources signed by African countries across the continent, all aimed at enhancing economic relationships among them.”

He believes that Nigeria has prospects in the AfCFTA, if not from oil which sells on the international market, but on other locally made goods which are in demand in other African countries. He cited the example of the ECOWAS countries.

Ironically, he supported the closure of borders by the Federal Government.

Maidugu’s words: “The recent border closure by Nigeria has exposed a lot of untoward atrocities being inflicted on our country by our selfish neighbours. It clearly confirms that the economies of Niger and Benin Republics flourish at the expense of Nigeria, courtesy of the loose ECOWAS protocol. We must, therefore, remain firm and act decisively. But, Nigeria’s borders cannot remain permanently shut.”

Drawing from his experience as ex-governor, Obi disagreed totally that corruption per se is to blame for our woes. He recalled that during his eight-year-tenure, he noticed that it is the people that celebrate corruption, noting how the local leaders and community representatives would rather seek personal rewards than developments for their areas. That there was a village he visited during his second term. They were busy celebrating his visit without mentioning one need of the community till three pupils came to him and greeted him. On asking if they knew him, they answered in the affirmative, and one pointed to their school and told him that the roof was leaking. He went down and found the decrepit state of the school after which he took immediate action. He regretted that the major road in the area he awarded the contract for its expansion and tar was abandoned after he left office. He confirmed the complicity of local leaders in corruption with another incidence in which he gave his phone number to principals of secondary schools, and got no feedback. But when he gave the line to school prefects, he began to receive information on the dilapidated state of schools which helped him increase votes to transform schools. That was another case of proving that poor leadership across board is core to Nigeria’s problem.

Obi, who has proved self as a moving encyclopaedia, dished out figures to show that the government is not doing enough to either raise revenue or fight unemployment and insecurity, citing suitable statistics to show that the government is not doing much about financial inclusion. Insisting poor people however pushed cannot pay taxes, he said out of N15.5 trillion loan from the banks last year, only N500 million was allotted to SMEs, that is about 3 per cent of the total; as against China’s $30 trillion out of which $7.5 trillion went to the SMEs. He recalled how he entered a British bank as a young man and walked out with a 10,000 pounds sterling loan; that all they did was to ask some questions about his educational background, which he answered satisfactorily. What was his collateral? What they call “Intellectual capital.”

He continued, saying that while Nigeria earned $18 billion from oil in 2018, China’s leading e-commerce company, Alibaba, earns that figure in a day; that Vietnam earns over $200 million from export of mainly phones. And when you deduct the 30 per cent loan-service charge from the N10 trillion 2020 budget, its dollar value is less than Facebook’s yearly earning; noting that Brazil with 200 million population budgets $800 billion per annum. Stressing that manufacturing is no rocket science, he recounted that countries like South Africa, Indonesia, Brazil, etc, have left Nigeria behind in manufacturing and power generation, among other economic indices.       

He said the problem was that of implementation of policies and international agreements, and not new thinking, insisting that Nigeria’s problem was more of waste due to lack of creative thinking by leaders which increases the cost of governance. He said as a former state governor who has travelled wide, he can boldly say the cost of governance in Nigeria is very high. And that he proved this in his eight-year tenure after which he left millions of dollars and naira in the bank without any debt, not even local contractors.

He insisted that Nigeria is not poor and that the problem is not that of low revenue, unless something is swallowing the money.

•PHOTO: L-R; Umunna, Obi, Okei-Odumakin, Maidugu and Adegboruwa, SAN, during 7th News Express Anniversary Lecture . . .  on Thursday, November 14, 2019 at Ikeja Sheraton Hotel, Lagos


Source: News Express

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