Wednesday, November 23, 2016 12:52 pm
On Wednesday November 16 2016, Trenchard Hall of the University of Ibadan, UI, was filled with students, intellectuals and other eminent Nigerians for the 2016 UI Convocation Lecture, titled, “Nigerian Exceptionalism: Nigerian Quest for World Leadership”, delivered by the Nation’s former Minister of Foreign Affairs and former Director-General, Nigeria Institute of International Affairs, NIIA, Professor Bolaji Akinyemi. In attendance were: The UI Vice Chancellor, Professor Abel Idowu Olayinka, Professor Oladipo Akinkugbe, Professor Ayo Banjo, Professor A. B. O.O Oyediran, Professor Emeritus Femi Osofisan, former Vice Chancellor, Olabisi Onabanjo University, OAU, Professor T. O. Bankole, some royal fathers, and religious leaders among others.
The lecture, according to Akinyemi, was aimed at interrogating the concept of Nigerian exceptionalism, whether it is an illusion or not. If it is an illusion, then Nigeria has been led up the garden path or has allowed itself to be led up the garden path into believing it could bat above its weight. But if it is not an illusion, has it achieved it, and if she has not, then where did it as a nation derail?
Laying the foundation for the lecture, Akinyemi expressed pessimism about the perceived exceptionalism and the possibility of Nigeria achieving her world leadership quest amidst its corruption laden constitution and laws which gives room for bad governance, mal-administration, misappropriation and misapplication of resources, weak security, and military might, endemic corruption, and insensitivity to the people’s needs among others.
Opening his lecture, the diplomat said, “It is either courage or sheer lunacy, the kind of lunacy that scholars exhibit from time to time, that propels me to stand before you and proclaim Nigerian exceptionalism, at a time when the Minister of Finance, Mrs. Kemi Adeosun proclaims that Nigeria is in the worst economic recession ever. Newspapers are carrying screaming headlines about millions being out of jobs and Senator Shehu Sani saying, “We may die before President completes reforms”. In the United Nations Human Development Index 2015, both Pakistan and Nigeria are ranked 147 and 152 respectively out of 188 and grouped among the Low Human Development Countries, with Nigeria having N5,314 Gross National Income, GNI, per capita and Pakistan having N4,866 GNI per capita. Yet, Pakistan is not only a nuclear power; it is ranked number 13, while Nigeria is ranked 44 out of 126 countries in the Global Firepower Military Rankings. Of course, Pakistan did not spend about $7.4 billion on the importation of toothpicks, fish, milk, textiles, rice, and furniture between 2014 and May 2015 as Nigeria did”.
The guest lecturer pointed out that resources of a nation did not determine exceptionalism but the utilization of the resources or the prioritization of the utilization of resources saying, “For example, in terms of defence spending, Pakistan spent $7 billion, and is ranked 27th while Nigeria spent $2.3 billion and ranked 62nd out of 128 countries”. He argued that a major factor responsible for the nation’s present state is not a lack of resources but a scandalous application of resources, considering unjust to describe as poor a country which spent a total of N1.8 trillion, about $7.4 billion on the importation of toothpicks, fish, milk, textiles, rice and furniture between 2014 and May 2015.
Quoting CBN, he disclosed that fish imports gulped $1.39 billion, while milk and rice imports accounted for $1.33 billion and $51 million respectively adding, “According to the CBN Governor, most of you are aware of the often-quoted number of N1.3 trillion, which is what we spend on average importing rice, fish, sugar, and wheat every year. I am saying it is shameful for us to import fish in sauce, canned fish in sauce and sardine. Before I was born, palm kernel was taken out of Nigeria to another country and today, we go to that country and import palm oil. It is shameful that items that we used to produce in this country, we now begin to import them. Is it not shameful that despite the high production of rice in Nigeria, we still patronize imported rice which must have spent at least seven years in their stores? How can we keep complaining about the depreciation of the naira when all we do as a people is to import everything from ordinary Geisha and toothpicks to even eggs?”
“The misapplication of resources is not limited to those identified above. There are no figures of marriages in Dubai, in South Africa and in Brazil; or birthdays in Rome or Spain. The madness is not in our stars, it is in us”, he added.
Akinyemi stated further that another illustration of the quasi-criminal misapplication of resources is the pension package for ex-governors saying, “According to a Lagos pension law, a former governor will enjoy the following benefits for life: two houses, one in Lagos to cost about N500 million, and another in Abuja to cost about N700 million. Others are: six brand new cars replaceable every two years, and close to N2.5million as monthly pension amounting to about N30million pension annually. He will also enjoy security details, free medicals including his immediate families, 10 percent house maintenance, 30 percent car maintenance, 10 percent entertainment, 20 percent utility and several domestic staff.
“In Rivers State, the law provides 100 percent of annual basic salaries for ex-governor and deputy, one residential house for former governor anywhere of his choice in Nigeria, one residential house anywhere in Rivers for the deputy, three cars for the ex-governor every four years, and two cars for the deputy every four years. His furniture is 300 percent of annual basic salary every four years en bloc, house maintenance is 10 percent of annual basic salary.
“In Akwa Ibom State, the law provides for N200 million annual pay to ex-governors, and deputies. He enjoys a pension for life at a rate equivalent to the salary of the incumbent governor/deputy governor respectively. A new official car and a utility vehicle every four years, one personal aide and provision of adequate security; a cook, chauffeurs and security guards for the governor at a sum not exceeding N5 million per month and N2.5 million for the deputy governor. There is also free medical services for the governor and spouse at an amount not exceeding N100million for the governor per annum and N50 million for the deputy governor. Also, there is a five-bedroom mansion in Abuja and Akwa Ibom and allowance of 300 percent of annual basic salary for the deputy governor. He takes a furniture allowance of 300 percent of annual basic salary every four years in addition to severance gratuity.
“The Kano State Pension Rights of Governor and Deputy Governor Law 2007 provides for 100 percent of annual basic salaries for former governor and deputy. Furnished and equipped office, and a 6-bedroom house for former governor; well-furnished 4-bedroom for deputy, plus an office. The former governor is also entitled to free medical treatment along with his immediate families within and outside Nigeria where necessary. It is the same for deputy. Two drivers are also provided for the former governor and a driver for his deputy; a personal staff below the rank of a principal administrative officer and a PA not below grade level 10. There is a provision for a 30-day vacation within and outside Nigeria.
“In Gombe, there is N300million executive pension benefits for the ex-governor. In Kwara, the 2010 law gives a former governor two cars and a security car, replaceable every three years, a well-furnished five bedroom duplex, furniture allowance of 300 percent of his salary; five personal staff, three SSS, free medical care for the governor and the deputy, 30 percent of salary for car maintenance, 20 percent for utility, 10 percent for entertainment, and 10 percent for house maintenance.
“The Zamfara version of the law, signed in 2006, gives former governors pension for life, two personal staff, two vehicles replaceable every four years, two drivers, free medical treatments for the former governors and deputies and their immediate families in Nigeria or abroad. The law also gives the former governors a four bedroom house in Zamfara and an office, free telephone and 30 days paid vacation outside Nigeria.
“ In Sokoto, former governors and deputy governors are to receive N200 million and N180 million respectively being monetization for other entitlements which include domestic aides, residence and vehicles that could be renewed every four years. Section 2 (2) of the Sokoto State Grant of Pension (governor and deputy governor) Law, 2013 states that “the total annual pension to be paid to the governor and deputy governor, shall be at a rate equivalent to the annual total salary of the incumbent governor or deputy governor of the state respectively”.
Akinyemi, who condemned these benefits to the former governors and their deputies, pointed out that all Nigerians should be blamed for the recession the country is currently passing through saying, “It is not government alone that is responsible for N62.8 billion of imported French fries rather than the potatoes produced in the Middle Belt, for the US$6 million daily of imported rice while 800,000 tons of rice go unsought in Kebbi, for the N7.2 billion spent on imported toothpicks and billions of Naira spent on Brazilian, Japanese, and India hair pieces. Was it government that was travelling and bringing in goods from China, Dubai, and Italy?”
Another issue which has had a negative effect on Nigerian exceptionalism, according to him, is corruption but he was quick to point out that Nigeria is not the most corrupt country in the world. He said that China leads the world over 10-year period from 2004 to 2013 with $1.39 trillion in illicit outflows, followed by Russian, Mexico, India, and Malaysia with Nigeria at number 10 with US$1.8 trillion stressing that China also had the largest illicit outflows of any country in 2013, amounting to a staggering US$258.64 billion in just that one year. “Corruption is relevant in the misapplication of resources which undermines the corpus of resources available for development. If we do not understand all these issues, as soon as we start to come out of recession, we will make the same mistakes all over again”, he added.
Concerning the position of Dr. Obiozor that Nigeria is truly the giant of Africa considering its population which is currently about 185 million, Akinyemi said, Nigeria is twice the population of Egypt, thrice that of South Africa and twelve times that of Zambia affirming that Nigeria alone constitutes 25 percent of the total African population. This numerical strength, according to him, revealed that the nation is strategically positioned in Africa to the extent that she should be a force to be reckoned with especially in stabilizing the continent.
He alluded to the fact that prematurely, even before independence, the Nigerian political class had already started portraying Nigeria as a formidable force in the world affairs saying that many of them delivered lectures showing their expectations of the emergence of Nigeria as the leader of Africa stressing, “Their publications reflected the consciousness among the Nigerian elites of an acceptance that Nigeria has a crucial role to play in the world affairs in the post independence period”.
He said, “At independence, Nigerian GDP was US$4.2 billion while Ghana was U$1.22 billion. Nigeria population was 45.2 million while Ghana was 6.65 million and Ethiopia was 22.2 million. For Nigeria, Life expectancy in 1960 was 37.2 years, while Ghana was 45.8 years and Ethiopia was 38.4 years. The GNI per capita for Nigeria was US$100, while Ghana was US$190. By 1981, Nigerian GDP was US$61.7 billion while Ethiopia was US7.325 billion. By 1984, Nigerian GNI per capita was more than double that of Ethiopia. From this data, it is not irrational to conclude that the expectation that Nigeria was capable of a leadership role in Africa was a reasonable one”.