COVID-19 and the People: Rethinking the Focus of Nigerian Laws and Policies

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As the spread of COVID-19 continues across Nigerian states, and preventive lockdown measure heightens, the dreadful challenge again presents a case to rethink, re-evaluate and assess how effective the Nigerian laws, policies and frameworks are to effectively cater for her teeming population in this trying time, and in the future. 

As at today, Nigeria’s crude oil price sells between $12/$13 per barrel; these figures may go down until after the COVID-19 pandemic when human activities return to normalcy. Until then, Nigerians should continue to expect a fast-shrinking of its revenue, and the continued inability to meet up with basic public expenditures such as food production, power supply, job creation, security and other utilities. We must be courageous to look backwards, learn from our mistakes and make the hard choices today to minimize or avert the impending chaos we are already sensing today. 

Nigeria is broke and there is no money to steal; unfortunately, this does not sink into a lot of political blockheads and bigot executive officers who see the deprivation of the masses as their gains. We have failed to put the interest of the Nigerian masses at the centre of our policies; we have put corruption; nepotism, favouritism and tribalism, before merit. Our politicians and executives have refused a simple open competitive market system, but support capitalist monopolies and oligarchy across sectors; a system that creates supply shortages and empowers economic and political godfathers. As citizens, we have remained dormant and inactive, watching our politicians and executives sabotage and sell off our public utilities to political comrades and sponsors all in the name of “the government has no business in business”.

We have starved the Nigerian educational system of innovation and improvements; become adamant to change and holding fast to aged colonial educational systems that have outlived its usefulness such that we now roll out more unproductive graduates from inexpert and impracticable learning facilitators. We are today having copy and paste sector policies i.e policies and frameworks that seem to promote the businesses of foreign corporations; using chemicals and engineered inputs that have promoted food market capture, pollution of soil, water, air and making our farmers poorer than our ancestors. We have agricultural credit schemes that are not accessible to simple smallholder farmers. We have top policy experts in the government and private sectors who will rather have policies that make household names like Dangote richer, rather than expand opportunities that make many poor market women in local markets and young entrepreneurs richer.

To bridge the housing deficits, government schemes seem to be shifting towards a new oligarchy; where only the rich can access mortgage schemes; get the houses and sublet at ridiculous rates to the average Nigerian. Housing for the poor, aka low-income housing, is nothing but mere talk without well-meaning action. After elections, States and federal government are quick to compensate the poor for their votes with demolition and evacuation with zero compensation or public resettlement plans for poor and informal settlements dwellers.

Accessing reliable electricity is impossible for Nigerian communities, as the entire country is at the mercy of regional monopoly DISCOs; another outcome of a sector policy action and framework that have given exclusive rights to electricity distribution companies, depriving consumers the right to access alternative power at their will (without permission and increased tariff to compensate DISCOs). With over 80% of Nigerians lacking access to reliable electricity, and close to 50% not having access to grid electricity, it is ridiculous to continually protect and inject public funds into private electricity companies that leave Nigerians in darkness, and without access to alternatives. This cannot continue. Pray-tell; how will poor communities get access to water or stay indoors without electricity in a COVID19 period when government-protected electricity distribution companies cannot provide electricity for this people, or allow alternative energy providers operate in these communities at affordable tariffs simply because the regulations do not permit them to do so without permission from DISCOs. 

Most state governments have over the years reduced themselves to beggars, waiting for federal allocation, lacking ingenuity and remain blocked to sustainable ideas without self-gains. Governors cannot think of alternative ways to grow internal revenues without land grabbing, or bullying Local Governments to steal and control local government finances. More shame!

To get Nigeria on a path of growth, transparency is key and corruption should not continue to be fuelled by the existing system of none-disclosure and shady summaries on public expenses and revenue. From time immemorial, no Nigerian Ministry at Federal or State level has a functional and well-updated website where all expenses and audit reports, awarded contracts and procurements are published. Public data are impossible to access, and when asked, government secrecy code is quickly thrown to request, did I hear you say FOI?, true this has helped in some levels but the complaint rate is low and ideally citizens do not need to invoke the FOI act for information that should be in the public domain. No audit reports in the public domain at all government levels; no statutory framework to make openness and disclosure of public expenses the norm or standard practice. We have overtime seen government shameful reluctance to adopt information communication technology (ICT) at all arms and levels of government in Nigeria (hopefully this pandemic re-engineer our approach to work).

This is an obvious effort to continuous loot and leaves Nigerians in the dark. Every public enquiry on the management of public funds and disbursement seem to attract a fire outbreak in government secretariat if not a mysterious animal swallows the funds. Politicians, top government executive officers, ministers, permanent secretaries, directors and legislatures, need to grow some sense of shame or pretend to have some self-esteem, and national goodwill to rethink our existing framework and strive towards innovative change towards efficiency, compulsory openness and people-centred policies. 

When political leaders and government officers fail to love, respect and care for their people, soon and very soon, they will learn to fear their people. Let us not wait until the rich and their children become an endangered species in Nigeria. Let us not wait until the death of an elite (the political class), becomes a cause of celebration on our streets. Every Nation of the World is striving to outpace the others at all means. Nations will exploit and enslave other nationalities if given the opportunity, in as much as Nigeria chooses not to be like that, we must protect Nigerians and find our originality; protect all Nigerians big and small; young and old; men and women; rich and poor; formal or informal. We are a Nation of communities and beautiful tradition. We must not let our political ideologies and systems be written and determined by foreign agenda and methods that make our people poorer; without an identity and purpose.

COVID19 has made it clear, Nigeria is where we all belong, not outside the borders; hence, we must all put hands together to protect and help Nigeria and Nigerians to grow the Nigerian way. In the end, it is just you and me; my Nigerian family.

 

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