STATE OF THE NATION


By August 1985 when General Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida assumed leadership of the country, the nation had got close to the verge and tether of collapse. The social foundations were evidently weak, enfeebled and dithering; general morale was low and national leadership was less than credible. While the major problems underlying this state of the nation may have manifested themselves immediately preceding the fall of the Second Republic in December 1983, the history, were it to be told, would be copiously long and tortuous.

Like in most Third World nations, the path to democratic nation building, political stability and economic development in Nigeria have been most difficult. Nigeria’s colonial history, its contending ethnic and regional narcissism and the acuteness of its under-development are some of the fundamental factors constraining the evolution of stable democracy and economic development. The British colonial policy of divide and rule led to the regionalisation of politics during the colonial era and also provided the basis for the post-independence politics of the First and Second Republic. Politics of the First Republic (1960-66) was an extension of the ethnic-based politics of the colonial period. The three major political parties of the time — the Northern Peoples Congress (NPC), the National Council of Nigeria and Cameroons (NCNC), later changed to the National convention of the Nigerian Citizen, and the Action Group (AG) consolidated their ethnic bases and held sway in their respective regions of Origin. Apart from deep ethnic cleavages, oilier factors that contributed to the collapse of the First Republic included various constitutional and political crises such as the intense controversy over national census, party factionalism, electoral fraud, political violence, corruption and alienation. In the process, the Federal Government was unable to hold together, and thus provided the welcome opportunity for the military coup d’etat of January 1966.

The country was returned to democratic rule in 1979 after a prolonged period of 13 years of military regime. Politics of the Second Republic (1979-83) — Nigeria’s second democratic experiment — was essentially in many ways, a rehash of that of the First Republic. The defunct major political parties of the First Republic re-emerged in new garments as the National Party of Nigeria (NPN), Nigerian Peoples Party (NPP) and Unity Party of Nigeria (UPN) respectively. The politics of regionalism and ethnicity was re-introduced in spite of certain measures introduced by the presidential system of government to develop political norms, practices and culture that could be national in outlook.

The Murtala/Obasanjo Administration had introduced certain fundamental structural innovations in the political system. It had replaced the parliamentary system of government inherited from the colonial administration with an executive presidential structure at the federal level and their equivalent at the state level. Also, to ensure that whoever was elected as a President had his mandate from the entire nation, it was stipulated in the 1979 Constitution that presidential candidates should not have less than one-third of the votes cast at elections in all the states of the federation as well as have a majority of such votes. This provision also had its state equivalent. Furthermore, the recognised and registered parties were enjoined to maintain a presence in all states of the federation.

With hindsight, it can be argued now that the innovations of the Second Republic, though laudable, were not far-reaching enough to rectify the failures of the past and to develop and sustain an enduring democratic culture. A major defect of the Murtala/Obasanjo Administration’s transition to civil rule program was that no deliberate attempt was made to generate desirable social conduct to complement its structural and institutional reforms. In other words, greater emphasis was placed on formal legal change over institutional and psycho-cultural development. Consequently, little attention was paid to mass mobilisation and political education. The failure to create a new political man whose values and attitudes were in consonance with the demands of democracy was partly responsible for the collapse of our second democratic experiment. Perhaps, another equally important defect of the political transition program of that regime was its rather hurried approach to transition to civil rule. A phased long-drawn approach to military disengagement would have afforded the society the benefit of a learning process as well as enabled the military to supervise and direct the political transition program.

As already mentioned, politics of the Second Republic did not differ markedly from that of the First. The various political formations adopted a zero-sum game and winner-takes-all approach to politics. Each of the political parties sought to control and consolidate its power largely within its socio-cultural base, while seeking to break into the political domain of its opponents. In the North, the NPN was the dominant party, while in the Igbo and Yoruba states the NPP and UPN held sway, respectively. The 1979 federal election expectedly did not produce any dominant and national party at the federal level. Like the NPC and NCNC in the First Republic, the NPN and NPP formed a coalition government, and like the AG in the First Republic, the UPN became the official opposition party. This fragile alliance collapsed after some time and contributed to a new realignment of political forces in preparation for the 1983 elections. The alliance formation in Nigerian politics along a two-party system was resurrected. During the First Republic, it was the Nigerian National Alliance versus the United Progressive Grand Alliance. In the Second Republic, there was a growing attempt by various parties to come under the umbrella of the Progressive Peoples Alliance in order to challenge the seemingly political dominance of the ruling National Party of Nigeria. This tendency did not materialize as a result of the military coup of 1983.

What became obvious in the Second Republic was that a national leader could not emerge to galvanize and inspire the entire Nigerian populace for democratic development. The vices of the First Republic such as political intrigues, manipulation of ethnic and regional sentiments, electoral malpractices, corruption, violence, deceit and the pillaging of the national resources by the political class continued and were, in fact, accentuated to an unprecedented level. On December 31, 1983, the Second Republic was toppled and replaced by a Military Administration.

The coup d’etat of December 1983 was in many respects redemptive. The irresponsible attitude of the political class to governance had threatened the very survival of the Nigerian state. For, apart from the political debilitation experienced by the political process, the economy was in a complete mess. As at the time the military withdrew from the political process on October 1, 1979, the national treasury was said to have had a reserve of 8 billion Naira. Within the first two years of the Second Republic, a barrel of crude petroleum was selling at about forty dollars and the daily production quota was around two million barrels. Annual revenue from crude petroleum stood at around 26 billion dollars. The leadership of Nigeria’s Second Republic prodigally spent the reserve by left the Obasanjo Administration together with all the foreign exchange earnings from crude oil which accrued during the Second Republic, and proceeded to pile up a debt of over 20 billion Naira.

The effects of gross mismanagement of the national economy included a chronic balance of payments deficit, an over-valued Naira, increasing national debts, inability of certain arms of the public sector to pay salaries and wages, collapse of social services, increasing food import bills, and abandonment of various uncompleted public projects. The state was, indeed, on the brink of paralysis when the military intervened.

The Buhari Administration came to power as a result of the military coup of December 31, 1983. The regime’s initial overriding objective was to find solutions to the foregoing political and economic problems. Also, the regime sought to redress the general social malaise and indiscipline that beset the nation. The nation was very receptive to the regime and hailed the coup as timely and a patriotic act. But the Buhari Administration squandered the overwhelming goodwill in no time because of its despotic, ruthless and arrogant style of governance. Soon the detention and security places were full to the brim with various persons, especially politicians, public office holders and their accomplices who were alleged to have looted the national treasury. However, an ugly part of this exercise was the incarceration of numerous ordinary citizens who had not breached the law. Moreover, those alleged guilty of one crime or the other stayed in prison for months without trial. A cloud of repression hung over the entire nation, and Nigerians noted globally for their love of outspokenness and freedom, suddenly appeared to lose confidence in themselves.

The Buhari regime identified indiscipline as the bane of the nation and therefore sought to instill discipline into Nigerians. It introduced the War Against Indiscipline (WAI) program which covered diverse areas in which Nigerians manifested indiscipline such as lack of patriotism, corrupt practices, filthy habits, poor attitude to work, impatience, dependence on drugs, noisy and uncouth behaviour, etc. Nigerians initially showed tremendous enthusiasm towards the WAI program. But the approach adopted by the regime in implementing this program was rather crude and highhanded. Apart from television and radio jingles directed to the public in pursuit of the goals of WAI, the methods used in persuasion and mass mobilisation as means of social engineering and attitudinal reconstruction were harsh and unbearable. The WAI program, in fact, became a veritable instrument of intimidation and brutalisation of the psyche of the Nigerian man. It was small wonder, therefore, that the program collapsed without yielding dividends commensurate with the resources spent upon it.

Another major failing of the Buhari regime was its relationship with the media. Upon the regime’s ascendance to power, the media had wholeheartedly hailed it as the great redeemer and guardian of the national interest. The media had shown enormous zeal in supporting the regime’s Programs and in giving them adequate coverage. No sooner had the

Administration settled down than it passed an ill-judged decree against the media. Decree No. 4 of 1984 was enacted to punish publications that allegedly brought or tended to bring government and its functions into disrepute, or which embarrassed government or its officials. The truth of any matter in connection with the decree was no longer considered sacred and worthy as a defence, once government or its agents were involved. This draconian decree was most unpalatable to Nigerians, especially coming from a regime that purported to have overthrown its predecessor in order to cleanse the society of its various afflictions.

Perhaps, an era in which the Buhari Administration’s tendency towards despotism would have had the most serious implication for our national survival was in its relationship with the military. The Supreme Military Council — the ruling organ which at its inception had provided collective leadership — got hijacked by the then Head of State, retired Major-General Buhari and his Chief of Staff, retired Major-General Tunde Idiagbon. Decisions taken collectively were increasingly manipulated to suit the whims of the duo-rulers. Consequently, the esprit de corps within the military faced serious threat. The only veritable and united national body that was in a position to give direction and succor to the embattled state of the nation was itself under severe stress. The timely intervention of General Ibrahim Babangida saved the nation from a potential civil unrest and disintegration.

The coup d’etat of August 27, 1985 ushered in a period of renewed commitment to national survival, freedom and development. The first major preoccupation of the new Babangida Administration was understandably the restoration of the battered confidence of our people in themselves and in the government. Four years of maladministration by the Shagari government and the suffocating autocracy of the Buhari Administration hand engendered a culture of cynicism among Nigerians. The Babangida regime unlocked the prison gates, reintroduced the rule of law and repealed the obnoxious Decree No. 4 of 1984. Various tribunals were set up to hasten the trial of persons incarcerated for long period without trial. The Buhari Administration had been at war with various pressure groups and professional bodies. Students had been barred from student unionism; trade unions were denied the right to collective bargaining; the Nigerian Medical Association was disbanded; and the Nigerian Bar Association boycotted appearances before the tribunals.

The Babangida Administration had to grapple with these multifarious problems. Its initial move was the sincere desire and effort to reach out to these diverse groups whose existence had been undermined by its predecessor. The new approach was to re-constitute the society as one, united and indivisible national constituency, galvanised and fully mobilised for genuine national development. The response of Nigerians to this effort was expectedly warm and positive. The mood of the nation was, indeed, ebullient.

The Babangida Administration inherited several structural and normative defects which constrained the evolution of development and democracy. First, was a dependent, underdeveloped and unintegrated urban-rural economic base. The starting point of understanding Nigeria’s underdevelopment is the period in which the country began to be progressively integrated into a permanent relationship with the global capitalist economy as a satellite state. The initial phase of this incorporation began in pre-colonial times which witnessed simple plunder and extortion by European invaders. The structure of dependence was consolidated during the colonial period.

The Nigerian economy has been characterised by several aspects of dependence. First, there exists a high ratio of imports to domestic products. The modern industrial sector of the economy is dependent upon imports for its expansion and operation. Second, capital import represents a high proportion of gross fixed capital formation. Third, foreign trade is dependent on a limited number of countries whose economies are significantly larger and much more developed than that of Nigeria. Fourth, the source of foreign investment is concentrated. Fifth, there is a relatively low ratio of net official, or officially controllable external reserves to imports. This constrains the ability of the economy to shake off the shackles of imperialism and to reduce the effects of international trade fluctuations or foreign capital inflow interruptions. Sixth, Nigeria possesses relatively limited public sector revenues and low domestic private savings which constrain the ability to finance investment in sectors neglected by foreign companies. Furthermore, economic dependence encourages a consumption pattern that is not related to the national level of development and which does not reflect productivity. What obtained in the past was a gross culture of ostentation and the emulation of the life-styles of North America and Europe, especially amongst the Westernised elites of the Nigerian society. Finally, Nigeria’s economy has been basically mono-cultural and dependent upon crude petroleum for financing economic development and thereby susceptible to the fluctuations of the international economic environment.

The extent and limitations of this structure of dependence was not fully appreciated by the predecessors of the Babangida Administration. The economic policies adopted by them were either ill-conceived or implemented half-heartedly, or were downright inadequate to redress the serious structural economic deformities caused by decades of mismanagement and dependence on international economic forces. There had been a lack of the requisite political will, foresight and doggedness to undertake and sustain a fundamental restructuring of the economic base and the socio-political superstructure.

Following the outcome of a nation-wide debate on the wisdom or otherwise of Nigeria taking a package of loan facility from the International Monetary Fund, the Babangida regime introduced a home-grown economic structural adjustment program, otherwise popularly known by its acronym, SAP, in 1986. SAP was imperative in order to undermine, curb or completely eliminate the constraints on national development. The national economy had been characterised by a serious balance of payments deficit, recurrent budget deficit, low productivity, a debilitating culture of consumption, critically low external reserve, a bloated public service sector, an unrealistic Naira exchange rate and a high import component in the production processes. SAP was therefore designed to redress several constraints on economic growth and national development. To permanently check the serious disruptions caused by the fluctuations in the international oil market, the Babangida Administration intensified effort to diversify the national economy. Government deregulated the production and export of agricultural products such as cocoa, palm-oil, groundnut, etc. The effect of this policy was the reactivation of cash crop farms previously abandoned by farmers as a result of low prices paid to them. The policy of deregulation also led to increased production of foodstuff, higher returns to farmers and the opening up of the hitherto neglected rural areas.

Perhaps the most revolutionary economic policy of the Babangida Administration was its decision to subject the Naira to relatively free forces of supply and demand in order to find a realistic exchange rate for the currency. The value of the Naira was previously pegged and consequently highly subsidised. The beneficiaries of this subsidy were the Nigerian business and political elites. By removing the subsidy, substantial funds became released to government for undertaking development projects, especially at the rural grassroots level. The bulk of the activities of the Directorate of Food, Roads and Rural Infrastructure (DFRRI) has been financed with funds realised from the removal of subsidy on the Naira. A corollary of finding a realistic exchange rate for the Naira was the abolition of the import licence regime. The import licence regime was the means through which foreign exchange was previously allocated to the various sectors of the national economy. Apart from the negative effects of the subsidised Naira on the economy, the import licence regime encouraged gross corruption, misallocation of resources and serious bureaucratic constraints on development.

A primary goal of the structural adjustment program is self-reliance. SAP places great emphasis on local sourcing of factors of production. The establishment of a realistic exchange rate for the Naira helps to make the cost of production higher for industries whose factor inputs depend heavily on foreign sources. The current emphasis on self-reliance has contributed to a maintenance culture and an adjustment of the bloated life-styles of most Nigerians. Another major component of the structural adjustment program is the removal of subsidies on such items as petroleum products, air fares and social services. Also certain bloated fringe benefits such as free electricity, telephone and transportation have been reduced or eliminated in keeping with the depressed economic situation. The goal is to keep the cost of governance down.

One other aspect of SAP which has had considerable impact on the national economy is the ban placed on importation of food items. In the past, importation of food had consumed a large portion of the country’s foreign exchange earnings and, in fact, made the country dependent upon foreign sources for such grains as rice, flour, malt and barley. The ban on food importation has encouraged domestic production and self-sufficiency in most of these items. Finally, trade liberalisation is an important aspect of SAP. It is intended to encourage the development of a more virile economic system which participates actively in international trade.

The structural weaknesses which beset the country are not limited to the economic realm. The structural defects in the political environment have been equally devastating. As mentioned earlier, Nigeria inherited an unstable and divided political system from the British colonialists. The British colonial administration had intentionally adopted a divide and rule policy and encouraged the regionalization of politics. The system of multiple political parties introduced during the colonial period deepened political and ethnic cleavages among the various Nigerian nationalities. This political structure was inherited by the political class who, in turn, used the policy of divide and rule to cause a disharmony of interests among the Nigerian masses in order to subjugate them. And within the political class, there was equally deep cleavages as each regional or ethnic elites sought to entrench their dominance on the people of their regional and ethnic bases while seeking to destabilize the control which their competitors had on their own respective regions and ethnic groups. In this type of setting, politics took on a zero-sum game and winner-takes-all characteristic. The victims of this political arrangement were, of course, democracy and the ordinary people. The erosion of democracy had adverse effects on national economic activities. The intervention of the military in the political process, albeit redemptive in nature, exacerbated the negative conception of Nigeria within the international political system as an unstable and risky country for investment.

The Political Bureau set up by the Babangida Administration in January 1986 was charged with conducting a national debate on the political future of the nation in order to ‘establish a viable and enduring people-oriented political system devoid of perennial disruptions.’ The historic Report of the Political Bureau recommended fundamental political, economic and social reconstruction. The recommendations were adopted by government, and have provided the basis for the current efforts to develop a virile and stable Third Republic.

More specifically, the Political Bureau called for the introduction of a Political Transition Program – a phased and cautious program of military disengagement from the political process. The transition is to serve as a period of learning in democracy. The transition is also to afford the military the opportunity to supervise and monitor the process of the return to civilian rule in order to ensure the development of a solid and enduring democratic system. Secondly a two-party system was recommended by the Political Bureau as a means of domesticating competition and rectifying the instability inherent in a multiple party system which hitherto had promoted ethnic, regional and religious cleavages. Thirdly, the Bureau advised government on the need to have a reformed local government system with enlarged powers and resources as the base and focus of our democratic experimentation. Local government is now a truly third-tier of government, unlike in the past when state governments usurped their constitutional roles and appropriated a substantial portion of their resources. As a result of this unhealthy situation local government areas were rapidly converted to the economic backveld of the Nigerian society, exposed to the ravages of penury and desolation. A major structural reform undertaken by the Babangida Administration was the increase in the number of local government units by 149 new Local Government Areas, bringing the total to 449. Also the number of the component states of the federation was increased from 19 to 21. These structural changes were effected to further democratise governance by bringing government closer to the people, and allowing the people to have close knowledge and grip of those who rule them.

Another institutional reform undertaken to promote and sustain democracy was the promulgation of a new Constitution after an elaborate review and amendment of the 1979 Constitution by the Constitution Review Committee and subsequent deliberation by the Constituent Assembly. Other reformed institutions created to ensure a smooth transition to democratic rule include the National Electoral Commission, the National Population Commission, the National Revenue Mobilisation Commission, the Code of Conduct Bureau and a professionalised Civil Service.

Various normative weaknesses had, in the past, constrained national development and democratic political processes. Our political culture — ‘the cluster of distinctively shared political values, attitudes, beliefs and orientations’ — was influenced by such factors as our colonial experience, traditional history, socio-economic structures consisting of contending traditional and modern values and mores, and political socialisation processes which stressed the exploitation of the instrumentalities of state power for personal aggrandisement. Our political culture had tended to emphasise conflict, ethnic and regional chauvinism, and political intolerance. Politics centred on personalities rather than issues. Although our society was constituted as a federation, we lacked values and orientation such as political toleration, belief in peaceful coexistence, respect for the supremacy of the constitution, mutual respect among the three branches of government (executive, legislative and judiciary) and among the three levels of government (federal, state and local), which sustain and promote federalism.

The existence of certain economic and social values and norms is essential for the development of a virile nation. Although the Nigerian society has, since the colonial period adopted the modern capitalist path to development, the existing value systems have been very often inconsistent with the capitalist ethic. Max Webber had aptly explained in one of his works how certain ethical values such as the development of the spirit of industry, hard work, honesty, progress, ascetic existence and frugality, punctuality, obligation to one’s duty or calling, and the curbing of traditionalism were responsible for the early development of capitalism in some parts of Europe vis-a-vis the other areas.

In contrast, our values constrain the development and promotion of modern capitalism. There exist tremendous ostentation, avarice, dishonesty, a chronic lack of the spirit of industry, ascetism, hard work, frugality, punctuality and obligation to one’s duty. Rather than recede, the forces of traditionalism and fatalism appeared to have gained grounds and have become more deeply entrenched. Modern capitalism in our society has been trivialised to the simple act of buying and selling, without any serious attempt to produce and to encourage capital accumulation.

The state of the nation has improved markedly since the inception of the Babangida Administration. There is now leadership which actually leads, and leads with vision, conviction, credibility and righteousness. Taken as a whole, the various Programs of the Federal Military Government, though demanding enormous sacrifices from all and sundry, are the most viable options for laying the foundations for a new Nigeria.