• Friday, June 14, 2024
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Today’s Nigeria ‘peace time’ is worse than any war time – Chidi Amuta

Chidi Amuta

A former lecturer at the University of Port Harcourt and publicist, Chidi Amuta has deplored the high level of poverty and insecurity in Nigeria, saying that “Nigerians are dying needless deaths.”

Amuta, who also described the eight years of President Muhammadu Buhari administration as “the worst stretch in our national journey,” prescribed that “Nigerians should remember him by insisting that NEVER AGAIN must such misfortune befall the nation.”

He shared these views in an exclusive interview with BusinessDaySUNDAY, sadly observing that “Today’s ‘peace time’ Nigeria can hardly go without a few violent deaths each day as a result of insecurity.”

Amuta also expressed the optimism in the capacity of the new administration in his state to right the socio-economic wrongs of past three administrations that spanned 24 years.
According to him, “The quantum of wealth in the pockets of the three last governors and their cohorts is estimated to be more than the aggregate net worth of the entire state both in terms of cash and fixed assets!”

Read also: Doing business in Nigeria now is like living in purgatory – Amuta

The following is the excerpt of the interview:

The last 8 years were very tough for Nigerians. Many have described it as years of the locusts. Could you paint a picture of what you think was responsible for that ugly experience?

I reflect on the last eight years as the worst stretch in our national journey. Very tragic indeed. It takes us back to the crisis of leadership again. Never in the history of modern Africa has a nation placed so much hope in a leadership only to get so much disastrous disappointment as in Nigeria of the last eight years. The highest rate of unemployment at close to over 40percent; the largest known population of poor people on earth- over 120 million living in abject poverty; Nigeria as one of the top 5 most insecure and dangerous places on earth. We share that last tragic ranking with nations like Syria, Libya and Yemen which are in known openly declared wars. See our corruption profile. You don’t need the annual rating of Transparency International. Just do a profiling of corruption-related front page stories in Nigerian newspapers over a 12-month stretch and you will weep. Look at our external and internal debt profile. Disgraceful. All within a space of mostly the last eight years. The insecurity is a different story. The rate at which Nigerians are dying needless deaths is alarming. Even during the civil war with armies on both sides with the guns of war trained at each other, at least some days passed without casualties. Today’s ‘peace time’ Nigeria can hardly go without a few violent deaths each day as a result of insecurity. See the killing fields of Plateau and Benue states alone in the last three weeks! Disgraceful! President Buhari presided over the most divided phase of Nigerian history. He divided the nation along religious, ethnic, regional and social class lines. Imagine a president that virtually declared ‘war’ on a section of the country, threatening the Igbos of South Eastern Nigeria that he would ‘speak to them in a language they understand’. For this, Twitter scrapped his official handle for which he banned the platform for God knows how long! He still insulted the same section of the country by describing them as a Dot encircled by the Nigerian vicious circle of violence. So on all indices of governance and power, Mr. Buhari remains an unmitigated disaster and the worst nightmare that has afflicted Nigeria in all of its life as a nation state. Nigerians should remember him by insisting that NEVER AGAIN must such misfortune befall the nation.

There seems to be hope that there could be a ray of light at the end of a long dark tunnel. Do you share in that optimism?

Don’t forget that the Tinubu presidency is just about 50 days old. There is as yet no cabinet. Parliament has hardly settled in. So, it is still early days. However, from the early signals, there is a possibility that in comparison with the Buhari presidency, we could see a marked improvement. I can testify to a commendable pace of governance response. Some of the major policy decisions are in line with long-held reservations about the Buhari era. To that extent, there is some hope.

But let us not forget that Tinubu and Buhari are from the same party, the APC. So, we need to see an internal revolt in the party to give room for any policy divergence.

The announced policies so far can only make life harder for the people while saving government some money to spend on its services. But in general, the new president has to strike a balance between hard economic decisions and the perennial need for government to remain compassionate and look out for the good of the lowest common denominator of the citizenry. We need to look out for how Mr. Tinubu navigates this treacherous balance. So, I would insist on a conditional optimism for now.

From what could be seen out there, hunger is palpable and ravaging a larger percentage of the populace. What urgent steps do you think government can take to loosen the noose on people’s neck? Are you comfortable with the proposed cash handout to 12million families?

I have reservations about cash transfers as a strategy of poverty alleviation. As an immediate palliative, maybe you can enable the poorest to enjoy one nice pot of soup in a month with the N8000 promised handout. On closer examination, it begins to look like bribing the poor. When the money runs out in a matter of days each month, the hunger returns and increases. I would instead advocate greater investment in public transportation, universal healthcare and good education for all as more sustainable mass alleviation measures. If we must transfer cash to the most vulnerable segments, it should only be for no more than the time it will take to activate sustainable social benefit measures. More importantly, I think the end of subsidy regimes is a unique opportunity to lay the foundations for a sustainable national social welfare programme. But we need to learn from the experience of a country like Brazil. Their social welfare benefit programmes are tied to other wider social benefit programmes. For instance, cash transfers should be tied to enrolling your children in schools, vaccinating them against preventable diseases, submitting your biometrics for national identification, etc. Free transportation vouchers in urban areas should be available to those who pay their taxes, inoculate their children and who register to vote. Most importantly, our public accountability profile is bad. We do not have any assurance that some of the cash transfers will not end up in the private pockets of officialdom.

Without so much as assessing the new administration of Bola Ahmed Tinubu; are there areas you can say it is heading in the right direction and vice versa?

It is a bit too early to assess the Tinubu presidency. There have been bold indications of policy direction. But in the absence of a cabinet and the other ancillary structures and personnel to run a government and implement the bold policies, we still have no implementation mechanism to test the policies in real practical terms.
The end of the subsidies regime is good. But the president needs to proceed from there to end the entitlement mentality among the elite. Partisan democracy may be good for the polity but politicians are never the best people to run a productive administration. The new president has to find a way to navigate that treacherous bend.

Abia your home state has been a big concern to you. You have written a lot on the wasteland successive administrations reduced it. A new sheriff is in town. What are your expectations from the new government?

The Abia situation is a long standing tragedy. It has taken over 24 years to completely strip, sack and shamelessly privatise and pocket an entire state. The quantum of wealth in the pockets of the three last governors and their cohorts is estimated to be more than the aggregate net worth of the entire state both in terms of cash and fixed assets! I am not sure who between the state and its past rulers is richer. But the resultant consequence of this recklessness is there on the faces of millions of poor Abia people, the huge unpaid salary bills, the monumental debt portfolio of the state, the sorry state of the infrastructure and institutions-hospitals, health centres, schools and even the state university where staff are owed several months of salaries and benefits.
I am optimistic about the new administration in the state. I know Governor Otti’s pedigree and background. He has the commitment, honesty of purpose and managerial expertise to turn things around. I think he will be able to salvage the state if he is not unduly distracted by the Abia locust elite. But he needs time to undo the damage of 24 years. The resource challenge is immense. He needs to find the money to reduce the debt burden and the will to reduce the waste. I believe he will run a responsible administration and a new Abia is in the making.

Read also:Nigeria’s problem lies with the leadership selection process – Amuta

How does it feel to be 70 years in a country the life expectancy of which falls below 50 years?

Age 70 is a blessing. I can only thank God for the Grace of these years. The pressures and challenges of life in our environment are immense. I guess one has been lucky to survive the challenges in this environment. Beyond luck and the Grace of God, the rest is a combination of survivalist strategies and risk management.