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This Change Must Be Meaningful


sylvester odion-akhaineIn the liberal context, Nigeria has just recorded a one turnover in terms of an incumbent party handing over power to another. This constitutes a change of sorts, but not substantial because elements of the same ruling clique had only shuffled themselves in the last electoral exercise. Change involves not a modification of existing reality but its transformation. It is the central lesson of dialectics. As Friedrich Engels rightly expounds in his Dialectic of Nature, dialectics is the science of universal interconnection and of the development of nature and human society. Indeed, they are the general laws of the development of nature and human society summated into three key components, namely, the law of transformation of quantity into quality and vice versa; the law of interpenetration of opposites; and the law of negation of the negation.

It is important to look back at where we were before the 2015 general election. Historians say, a retrospection is imperative for an appropriate prediction of the future and remediation of present contradictions. the north eastern tip of the country was taken over by lethal insurgents activities of non-state actors known as Boko Haram; widespread corruption by public officials resulted in massive capital flight; human rights violation underlined by extra-judicial killings by security forces and political thugs of the power elites preponderated; comatose refineries and a crippling fuel scarcity climaxed in a national protest in 2012; rising unemployment was the order; poor electricity supply a rule; a depreciated naira; dependent economy, consumerist orientation, low productivity and massive impoverishment of our people characterised the economy.

The question is: what has changed since May 29? Your answer is as good as mine. The same old wine in the same old bottle, apologies to Prof. Issa Shivji. A cabinet that is solely dictated by political expediency is in place; the value of the naira is dipping with no end in sight; fuel queues are back; Boko haram insurgents are free-riding; the legislators are fighting for juicy committees; macro-indicators for the economy are not looking good. Activities at the stock exchange are increasingly bearish. According to BloombergBusiness, “When Muhammadu Buhari clinched victory in Nigeria’s presidential elections in March, stocks soared as investors looked to the former military ruler to reverse decades of economic mismanagement and policy inertia. Now hopes have fizzled in his ability to turn around Africa’s largest economy and oil producer”. Those who wish to diversify the economy have no clue; innocent citizens are at the mercy of security forces. Only recently, a certain Daniel Owie was manhandled and subsequently shot in the leg and dumped in a police cell by soldiers in mufti for daring to ask for traffic order in Benin;  hopelessness such that breeds insurgents hangs on the horizon. Workers face a bleak future with threats of undermining the minimum wage of N18000, itself a slave stipend.

On the balance sheet, nothing has changed. The government must be ready to commit class suicide and root with the masses of people many of whom marched from Kano to Lagos and Lagos to Abuja to celebrate ‘change’. The change that will be meaningful will entail the negation of the old order. There has to be structural transformation of the structure of state and of government. It will involve strategic infrastructural development; it will involve a re-articulation of a development ideology and the mentoring of a new elite that will help unleash the productive capacity of Nigerians. A few insights. Re-federalise the units of the Nigerian state for self-determination that entails fiscal autonomy; downsize the legislative chambers to one (Senegal did under incumbent President Macky Sall); complete the east-west coastal road that would enable Nigerian commuters travel from the East to Lagos in about two hours; complete the Lagos-Ibadan Expressway; revamp the Lagos Kano railway; develop massive silos as produce banks to mop the peasants produce alongside mechanised farming; please add a massive ideological orientation programme to crown  these efforts and steer the population in the desired direction. Truly, an elite that cannot be committed to and engaged with these problems has no claim on power. Our guest lecturer will elucidate on aspects of the structure of government and President Buhari could perhaps learn one or two things from his expose. Ladies and gentlemen, charity will never come from abroad; our destiny is in our hands.

Thanks you.

Text of welcome address by Dr Sylvester Odion Akhaine, Chairman, Board of Trustees at the 13th Annual Democracy Lecture of the Centre for Constitutionalism and Demilitarisation held at the Right House, Lagos, December 5, 2015.