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For a happy New Year -Tribune Editorial

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In listing  President Muhammadu  Buhari’s achievements in the year 2017, the Presidency noted the administration’s imprints in such diverse areas as reduction in the cost of rice, higher Customs-generated revenue and the whistle-blower policy, among others. It noted: “Despite global economic challenges and initial outlook of slow or unlikely, recovery, the Nigerian economy trumped predictions and witnessed some remarkable changes in 2017, which include exiting from the worst recession in decades and a gradual stabilisation of the naira. In our review of the economy based on facts and figures from the National Bureau of Statistics, we are pleased to note that the economy has been on the path of steady growth since the second quarter, after contracting for five consecutive quarters.” Unfortunately, however, the realities that Nigerians are faced with negate the obvious optimism in the Presidency. Without prejudice to the wisdom in listing exit from a recession caused substantially by its own economic policies as a major achievement, it is troubling that the administration, for instance, did not factor in the price of a bag of rice in 2015 when it exulted in the fact that “the price of a 50kg bag of rice – a staple in our country – has fallen by about 30 per cent since the beginning of 2017, as local production continues to rise.”

Quite sadly, Nigerians have not  experienced such a New Year Day as this in a very long time. For most families, it is a tale of want, deprivation and anguish. Workers in many states are being owed months of salary arrears, both in the public and private sectors, and they and their families can hardly give themselves the much deserved treat after 12 months of labour. As on Christmas Day, the movement of Nigerians is today being impeded by the scarcity of Premium Motor Spirit, together with the associated problems. In most states of the federation, petrol stations remain theatres of war where drivers are stretched to the limit trying to obtain fuel. Rather than abating, the queues at petrol stations that virtually crippled Christmas have become even longer, with some motorists parking their vehicles in the middle of the road and impeding the free movement of those lucky enough to have fuel. It is in recording proven successes in the battle against existential threats such as those experienced today that governments at all levels can make Nigerians truly happy in 2018.

In the outgone year, government expenditure at state and federal levels did not reflect the country’s dire economic situation. Governance was defined by huge overhead costs and government officials exuded extravagance. They maintained their long queues and retinues of aides and hangers-on in the corridors of power that essentially made governance a superstructure erected on the agonies of the people. Nor did corruption abate. For instance, even though crude oil prices rallied steadily, rising above $60 per barrel in November 2017, the above-the-benchmark revenue was largely unaccounted for, with the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) being forced to pay N30 billion into the Federation Account following the boycott of the September 2017 meeting of the Federation Account Allocation Committee (FAAC) by state Finance Commissioners. This was aside the $26 billion allegedly misappropriated by the NNPC leadership.

It is clear that government has to shelve the culture of waste and corruption if it intends to make life enjoyable and meaningful for the people in this New Year. At all levels, the government must evolve a culture of innovative ideas and creativity in governance, charting the country away from such paths as creating a Ministry of Happiness while owing workers months of salary arrears. In our view, however, the best path that the government can chart in the New Year is the path of federalism. As we have said time and again, the present governance structure in the country is iniquitous and self-defeating. A multi-ethnic entity like Nigeria can only work well when the component units have the freedom to take charge of their own affairs and develop at their own pace. As presently constituted, the central government is too overbearing, corrupt and unproductive to make a real impact in the lives of Nigerians. The states, on the other hand, are mere appendages of the centre.  Yet ideally in a federal state, the states, not the centre, ought to be at the heart of the country’s development. They ought to be sites of innovative ideas, creative experimentations and robust implementations of life-changing programmes.

A paternalistic central government entrusted with too much money and handling too many issues for its own good, no matter how talented it considers itself to be and no matter how fervent its zeal, can never bring about the change that Nigerians want in their everyday lives. In this connection, we insist on the implementation of the report of the 2014 National Conference as the surest path to Nigeria’s prosperity. This is the pathway to a happy New Year.


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