The Issues, the 2023 Election and the Candidates

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Fundamentally, 2 factors are responsible for wealth creation in a country — the People and natural resources. There is something to be said about technology as it directly impacts the level of productivity of the People and how efficiently natural resources can be harnessed. The output and value of technology companies such as Apple, Microsoft, and Facebook, indicate the indispensability of technology but this article is an attempt to highlight the fundamental causes of the challenges Nigeria faces concerning the presidential candidates in simple and relatable terms, so I’ll progress with just People and natural resources.

Natural resources, where present, depend on policies made by the People to create any meaningful value, therefore, it is reasonable to regard the People as the paramount factor for nation building — Japan exemplifies this point. This takes us to the Humanities — “Man is at the centre of it all”. Let me now analyse “the People” in the context of Nigeria based on quantity and quality.

First, quantity. We are about 218 million people out of which approximately 54% fall within the age range of 15 to 64 years. That is about 117 million people of working age. To put this in context, this is more than three times the population of Ghana. In a sense, youthfulness can be an index of quality but since there is no such thing as “improving age” from an individual’s perspective, the mention of age under quantity will do.

Now let us look at quality. There are three main indicators of the quality of a human being. Health status; literacy (skill) level; and values — a combination of these determine the level of productivity and impact an individual makes in society. I dare state that any microeconomic policy that fails to trace its effectiveness to improve the productivity of an individual on any of these indicators might end up being off course.

The basic theory of microeconomics is the theory of demand and supply but then supply goes mostly to where there is demand. Demand is only “true” demand when it is backed by the ability to pay. The ability to pay is a direct function of what One earns directly or indirectly from a productive endeavour, which is partly determined by the health and level of skill of the individual. In the face of limited resources, what guides the choice between spending on hard drugs or catering for family needs such as school fees for children is Values. This is the extent of granularity I can afford. OK, back to unpacking the three fundamentals — Health care, Education, and Values.

It is no coincidence that the wealthiest countries in the world have or compete to have the best health and educational institutions. This is not a chicken and egg scenario by any stretch of the imagination — without the right investments in education and health care, a society will lack the capacity to create wealth. The fact that our Universities have been shut for about 7 months screams in our faces. Health care? I am sure the assessment of the majority will converge to agree that much is to be desired in this index too — unfortunately, education and health care are “public goods”. Why is this unfortunate? Well, look at where we are and follow the trend of our budgeting as a nation. In my estimation, we are fast approaching hopelessness on these fronts — I hope I am proven wrong.

I will now attempt a landing on Values. Definition — abstract orientation — like a map, it is our decision-making guide on interaction with Self, Others, and the universe. In my estimation, this ranks higher than education (if not regarded as part of education) and health care. Why? Think of Adolf Hitler. Now that we have that picture in mind, we must ask ourselves, “where does value emanate from?” I will say Culture. Religion (spirituality) appears to me to be an integral component of culture. In Nigeria, following colonialism, things fall apart, and we stripped and adopted Western religion to our way of life. Anyways, our National Orientation Agency (NOA) going by the name, One would expect is saddled with the responsibility to Orient Nigerians, so I did a quick check to see what set of values if any, we have adopted as a nation. The vision statement attempted to list a set of values:

to develop a Nigerian society that is orderly, responsible, and disciplined, where citizens demonstrate core values of honesty, hard work and patriotism…”

Considering the “orienting” definition of value, we can agree that Honesty is a value but whether it is exemplified as a national value is a different matter. Hard work doesn’t quite fit because it is not orienting. It is possible to work hard at impoverishing people. Patriotism is closer to being a responsibility rather than a value. Abstracting “how” One could be a patriot could lead us there, but patriotism in itself is not a value. It appears this set of “values” were not thoroughly thought through by the guys at the NOA. An indication that this is likely the case can be deduced from the objectives of the NOA as published on the agency’s website:

“the main objectives of the agency, as provided in Decree 100 of 1993, are to ensure that government programmes and policies are better understood by the general public…”

I have a couple of issues with this; understanding government programmes and policies are not themselves orienting. Secondly, why should the objectives of the NOA continue to stem from a decree when we are no longer under a military regime? Let us just hold on to “Honesty” as one national value and see whether the Federal Ministry of Information and Culture (FMIC) has anything to offer:

“Vision: To build a dynamic and participatory public information system that fosters national unity, growth and development as well as sustain the positive values of the culture of the Nigerian people”

“Mission: To establish and maintain a robust information dissemination mechanism that promotes our tourism potentials and enhances our cultural values”

All we have is a mention of “cultural values” without an indication of what those are. So far, there is no indication that we have a common set of values that we are consciously upholding and promoting as a country. Nonetheless, I found the definition of culture on the FMIC’s website interesting:

The national cultural policy of 1988 defined culture as, “ the totality of the way of life evolved by a people in their attempt to meet challenges in their environment which gives order and meaning to their social, political, economic, aesthetic and religious norms and modes of organization…”

We can paraphrase the above to state that value (culture) is that that brings order and without which there will be chaos and meaninglessness in social, political, economic, and other aspects of human endeavour. Let us keep this thought and get back to it later.

When we look at the scorecard of the Nigerian state, we find a combination of poor education and health institutions with vague values which all have a negative effect on the quality index we have explored in previous paragraphs. Perhaps we can simplify further — on one hand, since education and health are determinants of productivity and the level of productivity, all things being equal, is reflective of competence, I would say that it is reasonable to tag education and health care as Competence. On the other hand, in the final analysis, Values are embodied and acted out as Character. Therefore, it follows that the quality of the People is evident in their competence and character.

Before I get to social organization and politics, let me elaborate on what should be an obvious subject. The security of the individual is paramount because without life everything comes to dust. We were exactly right by defining the primary purpose of government as being the security of and welfare of the People, but Chapter IV (fundamental rights) section 33 of our 1999 constitution is in significant conflict with this principle:

33(1) “Everyone’s right to life shall be protected by law” [deleted].Every person has a right to life, and no one shall be deprived intentionally of his life, save in execution of the sentence of a court “following his conviction of a crime for which this penalty is provided by law” [deleted] in respect of a criminal offence of which he has been found guilty in Nigeria.[included]

(2) “Deprivation of life shall not be regarded as inflicted in contravention of this article when it results from the use of force which is no more than absolutely necessary” [deleted]; A person shall not be regarded as having been deprived of his life in contravention of this section if he dies as a result of the use extent and in such circumstances, as are permitted by law, of such force as is reasonably necessary [included]:

(a) For the defence of any person from unlawful violence or for the defence of property [included]

(b) In order to effect a lawful arrest or to prevent the escape of a person lawfully detained; or

(c ) “In action lawfully taken” [deleted] for the purpose of suppressing a riot, insurrection, or mutiny [Included]

Don’t freak out on the bold fronts with or without inverted commas — I’ll explain. This “fundamental rights” section in our constitution, originated from a 1958 Willink commission, appointed to enquire into the fears of minorities and recommend constitutional safeguards upon Nigeria’s independence. The commission, in its recommendation for fundamental rights, gave particular attention to the Convention on Human Rights to which the Queen, at the time, had adhered on behalf of the Nigerian government. Unsurprisingly, I found that the provisions of the Convention on Human Rights were the same as the recommendation of the commission which was transferred to our 1999 constitution but with some worrying edits. The bold fonts indicate inclusions to the original text while the bold fonts within inverted commas indicate original texts that were deleted.

A lot here is subjective but I’ll take a shot at making some import. Firstly, the explicit — property, although insurable, ranks higher than the Nigerian life and fatal violence in defence of property is lawful. This scarily tuned my mind to slavery.

Next, a couple of implied interpretations. One is that it is lawful to kill a Nigerian at a point of arrest by applying “reasonable” force, even though no case of criminality has been established. Could it be that police brutality in Nigeria is rooted in our constitution? A popular influencer tagged the #EndSARS an insurrection — I wonder — was that an attempt to legitimize the sort of killing of defenceless Nigerians demanding to be treated with dignity at the Lekki toll gate? The edits suggest a malicious intention by the drafters to increase the leeway for which a Nigerian life can be cut short, diminish accountability, and remove legal protection of the right to life. To be bald, these provisions are indicative of how the political class have consciously derated Nigerian life and are worthy of deep reflection.

Another implied import: regardless of the knowledge that our court (judicial system) like every other institution on this earth, is imperfect and subject to corruption, our constitution still allows for an unintentional/mistaken order of the execution of a Nigerian. I’ll quickly point to a case from history — politicians discharged of corrupt charges in Nigeria but indicted abroad. What if that order of discharge was an order to take a life?

I believe firmly in the sanctity of human life. This notion is encapsulated in the psychological and philosophical interpretation of the narrative of Cain and Abel as documented by the predominant religions in Nigeria — Christianity and Islam. After Cain killed his brother Abel, he feared for his life and God cursed but put a mark on him so that his life was spared. Most of the world has acted out this proposition by expunging the death penalty from their laws. “Innocent until proven guilty” is the forerunner to “preservation of life regardless of guilt” — that’s a good way to look at it.

Let me now delve into the social organization and the formation of governments. I will attempt this by creating a hypothetical representation of how governments come about. Recall that we had categorized health care and education as public goods. What are public goods? Imagine we have a few people living without an organized social structure — all man for himself — with each having to provide his security, water, electricity, build his school, hospital, roads, airport etc. This is not only inefficient but chaotic and mostly impossible regardless of the wealth each of them has. Where possible, that will be a private good and whichever individual financed it can make it inaccessible to others or demand to be paid for use. Ultimately, it makes sense to construct roads and airports, and build electrical infrastructure that they can all use. This infrastructure for common use is what is referred to as public goods. There are a couple of puzzles to solve — who will pay for them? They decide to contribute to a common purse. In the face of limited resources and competing needs, who would manage this common purse, prioritize, and decide what should be spent at each point in time? You have it — they would elect people among ourselves to do this on our behalf. This entire arrangement is a simple representation of the social contract theory. For ease of representation and understanding, I’ll refer to elected officials and governance set up as the State.

In terms of composition, here is an assessment of what this common Nigerian purse has evolved to. Everyone pays taxes on what is earned (income tax, capital gain tax), bought (VAT, customs, and excise tariff etc.), used (stamp duty, tolls, air ticket charges etc.), owned (recurrent vehicle license registration, land use charge etc.) and left behind upon death (10% goes to the government). For firms — corporate income tax, capital gain tax, education tax, business premises tax, VAT, Nigeria Social Insurance Trust Fund, Nigerian Content Development Fund, Cabotage, Industry development tax, various permits, licences etc. Depending on the industry, a combination of these taxes will be applicable. What are we assured of in exchange for paying these taxes into the common purse? In the case of Nigeria, Nothing! Unbelievable right? Why? The answer to this is embedded in the definition of “tax” in the Nigerian tax policy:

For the purpose of this policy, “tax” is any compulsory payment to the government imposed by law without direct benefit or return of value or service whether it is called a tax or not.

This is clearly against the concept of the social contract, but we will return to this point. It does not end at taxes; by the land use Act — a 1978 military decree than crept into an Act, “all land comprised in the territory of each state (except land vested in the Federal Government or its agencies) vests solely in the Governor of the state, who would hold such land in trust for the People…”

I will not delve into the details of this but just know that all land is vested in the state and the People are “tenants” at best, regardless of documentation and this is significantly economically limiting.

In addition to the taxes and land, the state also controls and administers our collective natural resources — that is a gigantic common purse — an absolute monster!

Now let me bring it all together: the Nigerian people cannot own (full meaning of ownership considered) land in Nigeria yet have an obligation to pay imposed taxes without direct benefit or return of value, worst of all, a Nigerian life could be cut short for several “legal” reasons, including while reciting the national anthem and waving the Nigerian flag — this is tough! Therefore, it is reasonable to suppose that our constitution/laws promote the sovereignty of the State over the People. This is the reason why an ex-Governor, without any other known source of income outside government, will publicly declare to be richer than a state in Nigeria. It is an anomaly. Other areas of our society suffer from this imbalance. For example, a study on policing, police and feasibility of police reform in Nigeria by Dr Chris M A Kwaja published by Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung in collaboration with the Civil society legislative advocacy centre and co-founded by the European Union among other findings reported that “ the policies and strategies of the central police have failed to achieve the desired security outcomes because the sovereignty of the Nigerian state appears to be prioritised over the individual or collective security and welfare needs of the citizens

I do not see how a functional government of the People for the People and by the People can emerge from this imbalance — the land use act must be abolished for starters. Correcting this inverted ranking of sovereignty should transcend the call for restructuring because what restructuring will achieve under this current State versus People arrangement is the devolution of oppression from the Centre to the regions. Simply put, the 1999 constitution is corrupt and not practicable for a new Nigeria.

One main takeaway from the book — why nations fail: the origins of power, prosperity and poverty is the demonstration that if politics does not work, economics will not work. I believe this to be the case and there is a historical consensus on this point. A government’s role is to impose order in the face of chaos, we know we are in trouble when the government becomes the source of chaos. Without fixing our politics, societal degeneration into chaos is imminent.

While we pray for Nigeria, it is instructive to point out that the narrative of the original sin and fall of man indicates a transition from the divine to human responsibility for life on earth. Sadly, no Messiah can emerge from the 2023 general elections for reasons already highlighted. We would be choosing our poison on election day, but this is an important first step to bring about the death of the old by voting and protecting our votes and then a voluntary descent to hell to force a new constitution that will be based on the sovereignty of the People — this is the only path to redemption.

On the options — which of the three front-line candidates cut competence and character? To set the stage, let me streamline the criteria further. A former U.S army general, Norman Schwarzkopf, was quoted to have stated that, “ leadership is a potent combination of strategy (competence) and character but if you must be without one, be without the strategy”. I agree. So which candidate has lived by principles that indicate exemplary character? Amid all the facts and allegations of fraud, drug dealing, land grabbing, bribery, nepotism and many other forms of corruption, Nigerians do not need to look far to make a judgement. The place to look is within — ourselves — our perception of corruption is by our standard of values. We all have an intrinsic value structure in admiration or contempt for another individual. In the real sense, the 2023 elections will be a value vote. Disguise by ethnicity and religion only speaks to the periphery — at the core, it is your values! Nigerians will queue up behind the candidate that best represents their ideals.

There is a strange phenomenon that we are currently witnessing in the country that distinguishes these candidates at a fundamental level that is worthy of note. It would usually be the candidates and their cronies “sponsoring” their campaign. Everyone waits for them to dole out the cash — the primaries of the APC and PDP is a pointer — a representation of the State trumping the People. But for the so-called “Obidient movement” it is the exact opposite and rightly so. People are spending their resources to sponsor a campaign and there is a noteworthy case of a young man that rejected a Delta state government’s appointment to stay true to the course. It is in keeping with the truism and principle of sacrifice. It is the offeror of sacrifice that reaps the yield and for the first time, the people are making this sacrifice. This is a sure way to bargain with the future. Who knows, just like Abraham who was willing to give up his only son and then became the father of many nations, what the People have given up and are willing to sacrifice towards this 2023 elections might just be the divine intervention necessary to restore Nigeria to her rightful place in the world.

In summary, while we prepare for the 2023 elections, let us not forget that the long-term long-lasting goal is predicated on electing the right character who will unite the country around a common set of values, protect, preserve and support the common Nigerian to become the most he/she could be and lead the discussion for the birthing of a new Nigeria in which the sovereignty of the People will triumph and at the same time orient the People towards the protection and preservation of the State. Eyes on the ball!