Solutions in search of problems

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Dan Agbese

Our records speak for themselves. At periodic intervals, solutions to our national problems flash across the radar. We latch on to it as only Nigerians can. I know of no nation that has done more to find solutions to its problems than our country. And I know of no nation that has always come up short – and promptly begins again. I would have thought that we are all bone weary from the many solutions we found in the past that either solved nothing or even exacerbated the problems. But not so. The new politically correct solution to our problems is something called restructuring. It is not exactly new but during each election circle it is dusted off and put out as the new solution to all our national problems.

Not many of us really understand what this is all about and why we now regard it as the solution waiting for problems all along. But somehow, because someone says it is the solution we have been looking for, we accept it as the panacea to our myriad of national problems. And so, we must push for it, telling President Buhari he would imperil both his political future and the nation’s if he continues to dress up his ears in cotton wool so he does not hear and give heed to the mounting demands for the application of this new-solution-fits-all-problems. We now hear there is no alternative to restructuring. Yet, in life, as the late Professor Sam Aluko insisted in the SAP days, there is an alternative to everything, death not excepted.

The new cardinals of restructuring and their acolytes are in an aggressive mode.  If this is the solution to our political, social and economic problems, then this should be our Eureka! moment. But it would seem that not even the cardinals and the apostles of restructuring know much about it. They only know that it makes political sense to latch on to it.

It seems to me that we have lost the capacity for sober and civilised reflections on our myriad of solution-defying problems. Noisy and garrulous, we refuse to hear what others say. We conduct a dialogue of the deaf. We only hear our own voices and accept only our wise view points.

We speak in aggressive and absolute terms, making no rooms for the possibility that the right of others to make their contributions as their wisdom moves them is guaranteed by our constitution. We threaten and bang the table. It is either the nation accepts our proffered solutions or the nation itself ceases to be. There is usually no alternative to whatever we put forward. True federalism? Check. Fiscal federalism? Check. It is no way to explore solutions to our problems. It is no way to discuss with one another. And, it is certainly no way to reach consensus on those things that disturb us.

Put that down as a partial explanation for our inability to find solutions to our problems; and when we do, we are unable to implement them. We keep solutions floating around problems.

We are used to these antics that pass for national discourse. The creation of more states was once touted as the best to solution to our national problems. Some of our military leaders, notably, General Gowon, General Muhammed, General Babangida and General Abacha, bought into it and we leaped from a federation of four regions to the current 36 states. It does not matter, of course, that these states, as the late Chief Awolowo put it rather indelicately, have become glorified local governments. They are unable to meet their basic statutory obligations as governments. In multiplying the states beyond Gowon’s very sensible 12-state structure, we simply multiplied centres of mediocrity. Thus, men who are not fit to run a state ministry as commissioners are state governors.

I have written extensively elsewhere on restructuring. We have two options here. Restructuring could be physical or administrative. The physical restructuring by the generals gave us the current 36 states. I do not think anything further can be gained by taking the number from 36 to 54 as recommended by the national political conference convoked by the then President Goodluck Jonathan. More states and more local governments are complicated problems; not simple solutions.

Our better option is administrative restructuring to take us at least to the door steps of best practices in federalism. I do not think it is the solution to all problems but the current administrative structure has imposed a military command structure on our democracy and created something unknown to the best brains in political science – unitary federalism. It is stifling and negates. Professor Isawa Elaigwu calls it military federalism. It does not exist anywhere else in the world. The current NLC agitation for a minimum wage is a case in point. Why should the states be forced to operate a uniform salary scale for their civil servants and public officers? There are poor states and there are wretched states. And there are, of course rich states made mostly so from their monthly shares from the federation account.

It is wrong to put them in the same basket with a minimum wage they cannot afford. We are exacerbating our problems. Capital projects are virtually non-existent in most of the states because this nation at federal and state levels commits a whopping 87 per cent of the annual budgets to recurrent expenditure. No nation can expect to develop this way. Salaries do not build roads or schools or health facilities. And what is more, they lack the capacity to reflate the economy. Capital projects have multiplier effects in whatever communities they are sited. We have ignored this to the detriment of our national development ambition.

It would take more than mouthing the right words to change the system. It would take courage; it would take commitment and a president who attempts it should be prepared to initially lose something of his popularity with the people. There is a risk in all political decisions. And only the courageous can attempt what others dread. We have enough solutions. We have enough problems. Let us apply the solutions to the problems and end this vicious circle of solutions searching for problems. That is the only sensible way to go.

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