The change we need (2)

Leadership must be by example; it should be “do as I do and not do as I say”. It should by now be clear that the average Nigerian is not ready to sacrifice anything for our rampaging elite to continue their unsustainable lifestyle. In this direction, the repositioning of the public procurement policy is imperative as this will reflect on the lifestyle of the leadership. The Spartan lifestyle of the President-elect, Muhammadu Buhari, should be mainstreamed for everyone who seeks to serve in his government because it is sufficient for a servant to be like his master.

The new administration can start with a proper implementation of the “Buy Nigeria” policy. The government can dispose of the limousines that dot its garage and in turn change them with assembled or Made in Nigeria vehicles that are not limousines. All new procurement of official vehicles can start the compulsory patronage of the local assembly plants unless there is no Nigerian version of what is needed. This will not only enhance the success of the objectives of the Nigerian Auto Policy, but also create local jobs, increase value addition and make the companies more profitable to pay company income tax to the treasury. Of course, it will be insensitive for the administration to think of adding to the existing fleet of presidential jets.

The result of the declaration of assets by all cadres of government officials should be available to the public for review. There should be a website or blog where all of them will be posted. It is not just enough for a public official to state that he is worth naira X, the details of what makes up his worth should be available to the public for scrutiny and verification. Considering the massive corruption over the years, there is incontrovertible evidence that the body charged with receiving and verifying these declarations is not only derelict in the discharge of its duties but has contributed in no small measure to the economic and social degeneration of Nigeria. The change we need also demands that the results of a multiplicity of probes against corrupt acts be made public. As the Holy Book affirms, no one lights a lamp and hides it under a bushel and so, Nigerians need to be informed about the outcome of all the probes in the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation till date.

Next is the pressing need for campaign finance reform. This is imperative because campaign finance corruption sets the ball rolling for the manifestation of other corrupt acts during governance. The propositions for reform include: the restructuring of the Independent National Electoral Commission to perform the task of campaign finance tracking or the establishment of a new body; a paper trail for all expenses of candidates through a dedicated bank account; review of the expenditure limits to make them realistic; providing for reporting obligations for candidates in the body of the law; ensuring timely reporting by candidates and parties; the removal of the limits from the Electoral Act and vesting the power for their periodic review in the election management body; proper sanctions stated in the law against violations and mustering the political will to prosecute offenders. Having been involved in tracking campaign finance in over seven Nigerian elections, it is clear that candidates have been spending above the legal ceiling and are getting away with it. The March 28 presidential election was not different as the leading candidates spent money like it was going out of fashion.

Corruption at the micro level is mostly fuelled by lack of opportunities for the majority to satisfy their basic needs and rights. For instance, the rights to adequate housing, health and education have been more observed in the breach in Nigeria leading to a lot of stultified potential. To ensure adequate housing particularly from the affordability perspective is not a difficult assignment if there is official honesty of purpose. This will involve the reform of the National Housing and Land Use Acts and their implementation; and getting the right persons with knowledge, passion and zeal to run the apex mortgage finance institutions. Mortgages can be made available at single digit rates and the money can come from the pension fund in the first 18 months of the administration. The full enforcement of the 2.5 per cent deduction as envisaged under the National Housing Fund will create a pool of funds that will revolve over the decades to guarantee affordable housing. That the organised labour and some state government were opposed to the continuation of the 2.5 per cent deduction was based on the fact that deductions were no guarantee to getting a mortgage loan.

In health, the full implementation of the National Health Act will contribute to improvement in health outcomes. The Act provides for setting aside not less than one per cent to fund primary health care; nothing stops the administration from providing for three to five per cent every year since one per cent is just the minimum. The idea that the budget does not include or recognise the massive amount of funds pumped into government agencies by donors is fundamentally wrong and this should be corrected from the beginning. This leads to a scenario where government makes a financial provision for an activity already fully funded by a donor and the money simply goes into a black hole. The idea of universal health coverage through health insurance where everyone is covered after payment of a premium (even if it is a token by the lower income groups) should be implemented. Our health indicators would have improved if all the resources available for health have been prudently garnered and utilised.

There can be no national rebirth if the judiciary and the legal profession continue with business as usual. The implication is that court cases will continue to suffer undue delays; criminals will be acquitted and justice will be perverted. The legal profession sets the tone of public morality and the sense of what is right and wrong in a society, no wonder it is said that law is what the judges declare to be the law. A situation where anachronistic rules and practices are still used to delay and subvert justice is no longer acceptable to the average Nigerian. The President-elect needs to have a serious dialogue with the leadership of the Bench and Bar and agree on the resources, logistics and timelines for reform. But this should not take forever. The law should move with the times rather than being a drag on society’s evolution.

From the results so far announced, the President-elect’s party has the majority in the Senate and House of Representatives. Therefore, there should be no excuse for reform bills not to scale through within a reasonable time. All that is needed is the internal discipline to ensure that the vote of members of the governing party and a few others in opposition leads to progressive legislative action. The fact that the Peoples Democratic Party squandered the legislative resources available through its control of both chambers of the National Assembly contributed in no small measure to its electoral failure. The President and the National Assembly worked at cross purposes even though they were elected from the same party.

So much on prescriptions, the central message is that expectations are high and the clock has started ticking. The electorate has done their part: Mr. President-elect, we are waiting as you start the race.


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