By S. Okey Mbonu
Nigeria has teetered on a precipice in the past one year, under Muhammadu Buhari. I first met Muhammadu Buhari in Washington in July 2015, during his first official post-election visit to the United States, on President Obama’s invitation. Meeting President Buhari and his aides, at the White House guest house- Blair House, and at a US Chamber of Commerce dinner in DC, provided neutral grounds for brief personal interactions, without the excessive layers of handlers. While I liked Buhari’s amiable demeanor, I left with apprehensions, pursuant to my awareness of the huge security challenges and strife that Nigeria faces.
However, these meetings now feel like ages ago; considering that Nigeria under Buhari has continued to witness serious security concerns, and a severe economic crisis. Nigeria is currently either facing bleak political and economic crossroads, or on the verge of a huge opportunity for a “rebirth” and reemergence as a truly stable country.
Two things that grab major attention about Nigeria these days are insecurity and mega corruption. We will discuss insecurity and get back to corruption later. Insecurity, whether driven by Boko Haram’s new tactics of suicide-bombing of soft targets; or attacks on Nigerian communities by Fulani Cattle-Herders; or attacks on energy infrastructure with new vigor by Niger Delta Militants; or agitations by the neo Biafra-movements, Indigenous Peoples of Biafra (IPOB) and Movement for the Actualization of Sovereign State of Biafra (MASSOB); Nigeria is on the edge.
All the above causes of insecurity resonate the same way outside Nigeria-they drive away investors. President Buhari must handle the above threats delicately; because though “one” of them at a time may fray Nigeria but not decimate the country; nevertheless, “all” of them at the “same time” could destroy the African giant.
President Buhari’s policies as president may not have caused Boko Haram, or the Niger Delta militancy, given that he served briefly as Commander-in-Chief about 32 (thirty Two) years ago, before the complete rise of full militancy. However, Buhari’s manner of handling all these delicate issues, will either mark him as a formidable African Statesman, or inadvertently create the pathway for the demise of the giant of Africa.
It is my considered opinion so far, that Buhari is not doing enough to calm the frayed nerves of southern Nigerians, pursuant to the several vicious attacks of the Fulani Herdsmen rampaging southward in Nigeria. Some recent attacks in Plateau state, Benue state, Delta state, and Enugu state signal vastly emboldened ferocity by the Fulani Herdsmen. There are insinuations that Fulani Herdsmen are the mobile-wing of Boko Haram.
Security, The Economy, Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) & Nigeria’s 37th State
No sane investor will invest in a place where they will not only lose their investment, but also suffer the potential peril of loss of life or limb, not even the Nigerian Diaspora. The Diasporas are the only “foreigners” who also happen to have total allegiance, when it comes to investing in Nigeria ($82 billion in 2012). It is my considered opinion that the Nigerian Diaspora is Nigeria’s 37th state. At a population of between 4 and 5 million worldwide, the Diaspora should now be classified as Nigeria’s 37th state; especially given that the Diaspora contributes more to Nigeria, than it benefits from Nigeria.
The Diaspora provides “direct-aide” to Nigeria ($21 billion in 2014), carrying substantial burdens in education for kith and kin; medical care for an aging population; and augmenting the entire hospitality industry in middle and southern Nigeria. In-fact, the only reason why multiple Boko Haram insurgencies do not exist in Nigeria, is precisely because the Diaspora is bridging the gap between government services or the lack of, and citizen’s needs.
President Buhari must learn to court this 37th state in a manner that reflects the material value they bring into Nigeria. Meanwhile, what many “Politically Exposed Person’s (PEP’s)” in Nigeria do on the other hand is pretty obvious; they prefer to take resources out, to offshore havens.
As stated earlier, the bulk of Nigeria’s FDI assistance comes directly, or is facilitated by the Nigerian Diaspora, especially from the US and Europe. However, when Buhari sought to appoint an Advisor for Foreign Affairs and the Diaspora, Buhari appointed Abike Dabiri-Erewa, as Senior Special Assistant. Abike Dabiri-Erewa has never lived or worked outside Nigeria, except for visiting the US for a 4 to 6 weeks course years ago; thus Abike Dabiri-Erewa has insufficient experience and network to liaise with the Diaspora.
Appointing Dabiri-Erewa as Senior Special Assistant on Foreign Affairs and Diaspora brings the presidents overall judgment into question. How can Abike Dabiri-Erewa understand a people she has never lived or worked amongst, most of whom have lived outside Nigeria for 20 years or more? This appointment is a recipe for failure in the administration’s Diaspora policy.
The US Nigerian Diaspora alone number approximately 2 million; many among these have achieved substantially in their host countries and are among the best in their professions; not tapping these persons is either a matter of poor judgment, or something far more sinister-a fear of excellence and embrace of mediocrity??
The Anti-Corruption Campaign and the Race for a Legacy
The world is following the anti-corruption fight in Nigeria with substantial interest. It is evident that corruption of a very serious and reckless nature ran amok in Nigeria, in the past 20 years.
President Buhari must stay resolute on corruption, since the clampdown on corruption may become the cornerstone of his legacy. There is nothing normal about a clique, or cabal cornering public funds in the billions of USD, and sharing such funds among themselves, their political associates, and their family members. News reports of ongoing trials are rife with Defense officials, including the office of the National Security Adviser, service chiefs, and other officials cornering funds in the neighborhood of $15 billion dollars (USD)!!
The same looted funds could have provided robust infrastructure in Energy, Petroleum Refining, Internet connectivity; and youth training, thereby preparing Nigeria for 21st century productivity. In-fact, the United States should be wary about releasing remaining trapped funds, which were seized from corrupt regimes in the past, until a program that requires sufficient hybrid oversight can be ascertained. Previously returned funds were re-looted in the recent past.
Many hapless Nigerians, including the Diaspora, and the rest of the world, will stand with a government with an anti-corruption agenda. Therefore this anti-corruption campaign must be followed to its logical conclusion. Refunding embezzled funds is really not enough, an environment that fosters sanctions must be established, otherwise, the country will just be recycling corruption.
None of the people facing corruption allegations; from defense officials, to ex-ministers, to ex-governors, and billionaire public servants, are above Nigeria. They may cry fake cries of ethnic marginalization, or rent crowds of fake supporters, or attempt to compromise judges, to derail their trials. But eventually, Nigerians will learn that these people are truly dispensable, and that heavens will not fall when they are convicted and jailed.
On Sovereign National Conference
Given the strife and resentments arising from various Nigeria regions, I believe that a “sober” Sovereign National Conference is imperative in Nigeria, given perceived injustice in many quarters. In-fact, political wisdom and statesmanship dictates that Buhari should be visiting regions of Nigeria that perceive marginalization, to reassure them that it is not the intention of his government. Unfortunately, we are seeing the opposite, an aloof haughtiness that threatens alienation for this government.
State Internal Revenues and Other Matters
The 36 states of Nigeria have opportunities to pursue serious economic independence from the federal government; they should do this by seeking avenues for diverse internal revenue, including investments into their various states. A movement in this direction could lead to a gradual devolution of economic power to the regions, leading to reduced inter-community and inter-ethnic strife and resentment, and local youth discontent.
Many state governors with high youth populations in Nigeria do not seem to realize they are sitting on gunpowder that could explode anytime. The federal and state governments need proactive youth development programs, with the federal government working closely with the states, to execute and implement these programs. A steady delegation of responsibilities for development, to state and local governments, should become the mantra in Nigeria.
Each Nigerian state is reasonably endowed, and the states should be encouraged to go forth and generate their own internal revenues for their sustenance. Nigeria’s economy stands a much better chance of growing from within, in the exchange of goods and services among the states, amid the local production of goods.
Nigeria’s Unspoken Assets
It is not obvious that this government realizes that some of Nigeria’s richest endowments are in her intellectual property-think “Nollywood” and the burgeoning music and entertainment industry. The bright-light of Nigeria’s recognition worldwide over the past 20 years, is her entertainment industry, which is now a bona fide export to all Africa, the Caribbean, and increasingly the entire black world. Nigerian entertainers are already raking in millions performing in other African countries. They deserve attention and recognition that we have not seen from this government.
Intellectual property (arts & entertainment), are a huge untapped reservoir of foreign exchange for Nigeria. It is noteworthy that an entertainment group from Sweden “Abba” was generating more foreign exchange for Sweden during their prime, than the Swedish auto giant “Volvo”.
President Buhari should bear in mind that every country or region have their own issues to deal with; therefore, the sooner Nigeria starts looking inwards, and cutting their coats down to size, the sooner Nigeria begins to arise as a truly stable nation. Hoping to sell finite resources under the ground for posterity, in order to fund development is dangerous economics.
Appointing Envoys and the Rise of a New Nigeria
Soon President Buhari will begin the process of appointing foreign emissaries/Ambassadors. It is very important that Mr. Buhari appoints capable hands with international exposure to represent him while he concentrates on the huge domestic problems the country faces right now.
Nigeria is lucky to have very capable hands in various countries, these people have sufficient backgrounds in the countries they live in, to guide Nigeria in engaging with foreign nations. President Buhari should be watchful to appoint Ambassadors who can interact sufficiently with their host countries; there is no time to learn in ambassadorial roles; ambassadors should hit the ground running.
Also, appointing the right people will enable Buhari to have confidence on Nigeria’s emissaries, and provide opportunities for a new Nigeria to emerge. Anything less will amount to wasted opportunities, and keep the country revolving in a vicious cycle of underdevelopment.
Either-way, Buhari must carry Nigerians along on this epic journey; soliciting the vast Nigerian population and winning their empathy and trust is job number one for Muhammadu Buhari.
(Mbonu is the Executive Director of Washington DC-based NAL Council (Nigerian-American Leadership Council )