• Friday, July 19, 2024
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A gradual descent into autocracy (2): Destroying institutions to salvage the country  

One of the enduring tragedies of post-colonies, especially in Africa, is the tendency to destroy or sideline established institutions in the quest for accelerated development. Early independent leaders, who claimed to be so much in a hurry to develop their countries, were impatient with the workings of the institutions bequeathed by the colonialists and in most cases sidelined or altogether destroyed these institutions and personalised power. Over fifty years down the line, none of these countries has developed. Rather, they have been turned to virtual wastelands, ravaged, as it were, by tyranny, bad and disastrous governance, impunity, mindless orgies of crime and death, poverty, hunger and diseases. Yes, these countries now have the worst socio-economic indices in the entire world!
One lesson these African countries and leaders ought to have learnt by now is that strong institutions are the best guarantees for sustainable growth and development and not strongmen. Strong institutions are enduring and guarantee societal progress no matter the people inhabiting them. Personal rule, however, is subject to the whims and caprices of rulers and tends to fizzle out when the ruler departs.
President Buhari does not appear to have learnt any lessons from sub-Saharan Africa’s misadventure with strongmen. He was once a strongman himself. In 1984/85, as military dictator, he attempted to eliminate corruption from Nigeria with military zeal and ruthlessness. But after he was shoved aside by his army chief, he watched helplessly from behind bars as all his efforts or plans were rolled back and the new government continued with ‘business as usual’, as the Nigerian cliché goes.
Now, under the pretext of salvaging the country from ruins and propelled by a messianic complex, Buhari has set about his task in an autocratic manner by disregarding and sidelining key institutions. Apparently, he is now effectively the accuser, prosecutor, and judge in cases involving corrupt officials. He may have, through his actions, given the impression that he totally disdains the judiciary and may not respect or obey court orders that go contrary to the ways he thought best of handling corrupt officials. The Dasuki and Kanu cases point in this direction.
Sadly too, he appears to have also empowered agencies like the EFCC to become de facto courts that accuse, try, convict, and imprison people without recourse to the law courts. Since January 5, for instance, the spokesperson of the opposition PDP, Olisa Metu, has been in detention with the EFCC for supposedly being a beneficiary of N400 million from the famous Dasuki arms money. Rather than charge him to court within 48 hours of his arrest as stipulated by the law, the EFCC has refused to charge him to court and has also refused to release him or grant him bail. According to the agency, he won’t be released until he refunds the N400 million. If this is not autocracy or even outright tyranny, I wonder what it is!
But that is not all. The president has all but practically abrogated and consequently appropriated the powers of the Central Bank of Nigeria to make monetary policy decisions. In France in September 2015, Buhari categorically declared that Nigeria won’t devalue the naira. “I don’t think it is healthy for us to get the naira devalued,” he was quoted as saying. When quizzed on the shortage of foreign exchange that the decision would cause, he argued that “the central bank is providing ample foreign exchange to essential services [and] industries”.
Expectedly, after the pronouncement, the CBN lost its independence to determine the country’s monetary policy and has relied instead on reading the ‘body language’ of the president and taking actions that will conform with that ‘body language’ now verbalised in France.
The CBN was then forced to roll out various controversial policies to protect the beleaguered naira. Though pegged officially at N197 to a dollar, the naira is now trading at the black market rate – a truer reflection of its value – at over N285 to a dollar.
Besides the prohibition of imports of certain items and general restriction of access to forex for businesses, in August 2015, the CBN officially prohibited the payment of foreign cash into customers’ domiciliary accounts arguing that the banks’ vaults were awash with foreign currencies. However, shortly afterwards, the same CBN limited the amount that could be withdrawn with naira cards abroad to $300 and in December 2015, it completely banned the use of naira cards abroad. This time, it cited the dwindling foreign reserves and banks’ inability to settle dollar transactions arising from the use of naira cards abroad.
As a result of these policies, businesses and manufacturers can no longer access forex to import inputs and essential spare parts. Many are already laying off staff and plan to close shop soon if the situation does not improve. Yet, this is happening under a government that claims it wants to support and encourage businesses and economic activities to raise non-oil revenues. Pray, where will such revenues come from when the government is stifling the economy?
Similarly, ordinary Nigerians who study abroad, who make online payments to institutions abroad to facilitate their businesses, have been left stranded and incapable of operating under the new dispensation.
Institutions, simply defined, are established laws or practices and are a sine qua non for societal progress and sustainable development. In fact, for Francis Fukuyama, the development of a capable state that is accountable and ruled by law is one of the crowning achievements of human civilisation. It is the absence or weakness of institutions or, more appropriately, a capable state that is at the root of corruption. In Nigeria and other developing countries, corruption serves largely to grease the wheels of inefficient bureaucratic government machines leading to efficient outcomes. Common sense therefore dictates that an effective war against corruption must involve the strengthening of state institutions.
This, however, is not the case with Nigeria. Nigeria’s war against corruption necessarily involves the weakening or destruction of state institutions. From Obasanjo to Yar’Adua, to Jonathan and now Buhari, the stories have been the same. But at no time has any government shown absolute contempt for the rule of law and order and state institutions like Buhari is doing now. Like it happened in 1985, he may wake up to realise that all he succeeded in doing was to create the environment for corruption and impunity to thrive in the country.  
(To be concluded next week)
Christopher Akor