$1bn, governance and our misplaced priorities

$1bn, governance and our misplaced priorities

For me, questions about the $1bn Excess Crude Account money recently approved by the National Economic Council is not so much about whether it was truly meant for the purpose we were told, to fight the already “technically degraded” Boko Haram insurgents, but about the procedures as well as the expediency of the expenditure.

From my understanding of the laws of Nigeria, monies belonging to the three tiers of government as the one under discussion can only be appropriated for any purpose after the executive arm of government would have presented a proposal to and received the concurrence of the National Assembly.

The appropriate procedure should therefore have been the institution of rigorous debates of this national need in legislative chambers across the 36 states. The acquiesce of the representatives of the people at this level should have come before the press conference addressed by Governor Godwin Obaseki last week.

For a country determined to repent from its legendary romance with impunity and commit to the entrenchment of the rule of law, nothing other than observing extant procedures, no matter how tedious they are, edifies the soul of the nation. But our leaders, once again, have put the cart before the horse the way they are wont to do and that, to my mind, indicates that we are not far away from our point of departure.

But I have a more exigent concern about this monetary release.

Can we say that our leaders are spending money on the most auspicious challenges that we have? I do agree that Nigeria needs peace and that no sum of money properly appropriated for the cause of peace can be said to be too much but I worry about our priorities. I worry about what success we hope to achieve with this expenditure when just three years ago, the immediate past administration took out $2bn for the same purpose without bringing the insurgency to the expected station, at least from what we now hear. I am also wondering whether our leaders are considering more creative ways of dealing with this insurgency from its roots such that we reduce the risk that they bear for the future.

Not just for the intractability that we have seen in Nigeria but from the history of insurgencies from across the world, it should be clear to us that unless we address the factors which motivate people to assist criminal elements in their angst against the state, we would only be throwing money at this issue without being able to terminate it.

For instance, it is about this time last year when the Minister of Information, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, declared that the Boko Haram group, which has shaken Nigeria to its foundation for almost one decade, had been technically defeated. But records as of December 3, 2017 from a report published by Daily Trust on Sunday suggest that about 1,101 people had died from attacks from the insurgency in 2017, a number which is three times more than the 379 deaths recorded in 2016.

Government’s default alibi in defence of the increasing number of casualties is that, like the snake whose head has been smashed, the insurgents are currently writhing from fatal pains, which informs their anger and incessant aiming at soft targets. And this is why it is legitimate to ask our government whether the purchase of more hardware eliminates the prospects of attack on helpless Nigerians? Have we engaged in any rigorous interrogation of the situation or just generally arrived at the conclusion that throwing money at it would save us?

I am not against the deployment of funds to deal with the insurgency. This intervention is about considering more productive uses of our already scare resources on this issue. One of those critical factors is in the education of children in the North-East zone where this insurgency is most biting in particular and across Nigeria in general.

Although statistics generally assume that Nigeria has the burden of about 11 million out-of-school children as of date, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria, Mr Femi Falana, suggested that this may be a gross estimate.

Speaking at the launch of teenager Nkechi Chidi-Ogbolu’s “Tales of a Uber Minor” on Tuesday, Falana opined that the figure would currently be in the 16 million range. The Lagos-based lawyer also promised a commitment to taking on the Nigerian government on the unconstitutionality of neglecting the education of the Nigerian child from next month. Indeed, such neglect puts a huge question mark on the competence of those who run the country at all levels. When a country has such a huge number of children unable to attain primary education, how does it hope to ever get free from social ills like insurgencies and other violent crimes?

This is even scarier when we consider that this number does not include close to one million young adults who fail to get admitted into higher institutions annually without any consideration from the states. These ones roam the streets, exploring all sorts of tendencies.

Things are so bad in Nigeria these days that government officials, including those whose duties revolve around the formulation of educational policies send their children and wards to study overseas and are unashamed about it.

The poor and their children are not oblivious of the fact that the same ruling class, which superintended over the destruction of public institutions to which they had access, now flaunt the affluent options they have chosen before the deprived people.

When injustice is so palpable in societies as in Nigeria, the anger of the under-class manifests in so many ways and one of such is insurgency. The situation becomes more lethal when this lack of access is accompanied by ignorance and hunger. This combination makes people susceptible to all sorts of manipulations and temptations. And it explains the alleged willingness of some parents to “donate” their children as suicide bombers who aid the murderous plans of the Boko Haram. That is usually for a token that should feed the remainder of the usually large family for a while.

So, if these governors who should plan for the primary and secondary education of children in Nigeria chose to withdraw $1bn to improve the quality of and access to education in their states, wouldn’t we be taking thousands of children off the waiting claws of insurgent and criminal groups in the country? Wouldn’t we be forestalling chances of the upcoming rebellion of 16 million children and counting against a negligent country? Wouldn’t our elite be providing a safe country for everyone, including their children who would be at the mercy of the untrained and despondent multitude that we are breeding?

Rather than consider some emergency expenditure capable of turning the fortunes of our educational sector around, the National Economic Council is leading Nigeria into spending monies on tentative projects which even if it is able to save us now, does not assure us of a peaceful and progressive future that all countries should aspire for. That is if we close our eyes to prospects that these funds do not develop legs and crawl into the wardrobes and septic tanks of today’s men of power.

Each waking day in Nigeria, I get more convinced by the utterances and disposition of our leaders that we may have not even properly diagnosed the problems that set this country back. The singsong about corruption is just an escapist cloak with which our leaders veil their rabid incompetence, lack of vision and disrespect for the people they govern. Unfortunately, even the people do not get it!

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