President Yar’adua’s Era: A new dawn for the masses?
THE SEVEN POINT AGENDA
In order to give the impression of a serious minded administration, President Yar’Adua has come up with what is known as the seven point agenda for the country. This includes energy, security of lives and properties, land reforms, human capital development, wealth creation, poverty alleviation, transportation and infrastructural development. According to official propaganda, the implementation of this 7-point agenda will catapult Nigeria to become one of the 20 biggest economies by the year 2020. On paper, this seven point agenda individually and collectively appears to have captured the essential features of the problems troubling Nigeria. Take energy for instance. According to the Manufacturers Association of Nigeria (MAN), goods and services produced in Nigeria are 33%costlier than other countries where stable electricity supply is available. This is not to mention the fact that the absence of steady electricity supply has factually turned the country into a dumping ground for all sort of electricity generator sets with its incalculable cost in form of environmental pollution, both now and in the long run.
Again, the issue of security is one issue that can not be over emphasized. Today, life has become so cheap in Nigeria. People are routinely killed and nothing happens. High profile murders occur all the time, but the perpetrators are never found. Throughout the 8 years of President Obasanjo government, Nigeria was especially fortunate to have earned tens of billions of dollars due to a steady rise in the price of crude oil internationally. Sadly however, at the end of the day, the country’s basic infrastructures like roads, communications and necessary social institutions like the health and education sectors were left in a very, very deplorable condition. And unlike the previous oil boom of the mid/late 1970s when the country made significant fortunes from oil sales and a significant portion of this was actually invested to develop the real sector of the economy, a situation which generated certain level of employment, â€“ the neo-liberal mantra of Obasanjo’s era only worsened the living conditions of the vast majority of the people through prohibitive costs of living and outright mass retrenchment of workers. Therefore, the best realistic way to stem the alarming growths of crimes, prostitution and other social vices is through massive implementation of policies that will create jobs to mop up mass unemployment, guarantee decent housing, health care and education for all. Any other approach will only ultimately lead to greater strife for the entire society.
There can be no serious talk of human capital development without standard health care services and quality education guaranteed for the vast majority of the working masses. Sadly however, the religious favour with which the Yar’Adua government embraces neo-liberal policies means that these vital sectors necessary for the development of Nigeria’s human capital will continue to suffer from lack of sufficient investments. In contemporary Nigeria, average life span for male and female is put at 49 years and 51 years respectively. This calamitous situation is largely a reflection of the worse than stone age conditions of the available medical services. The available health care facilities are grossly inadequate, ill-equipped with an highly under motivated workforce. “Not long ago, the United Nations Fund for Population Activities (UNFPA) released a shocking report which showed that Nigeria was one of the countries with the worst maternal mortality rates in the world. The other countries in this category include Angola, Burkina Faso, Mauritania and Sierra Leone.According to the report, one out of 18 mothers in Nigeria has a life-time chance of dying from pregnancy complications compared to one in 2,400 in Europe. In Nigeria, about 45,000 women die in childbirth every year, with a ratio of 1,500 deaths per 100,000 live births. This is the third highest estimated number of maternal deaths in the world, after India with 11,000 per annum and Ethiopia with 46,000 maternal deaths per annum. Without doubt, urgent and drastic action is needed to reverse this ugly trend. Women in the reproductive age group ought not to face the risk of untimely and avoidable death in the course of giving birth.” (The Guardian Editorial, September 27, 2007).
Recently, experts on education in a seminar revealed that Nigeria is presently having the highest number of illiterates in the world. According to the United Nations Education Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) Director and Country Representative in Nigeria, Mr. Abhimanyu Singh, “There are about 60 million adults in Nigeria, 85% of them under the age of 35 years can neither read nor write”. (See also The Guardian, September 27, 2007). So, we ask, beyond rhetoric, what precisely will Yar’Adua’s seven-point agenda do to halt the chronic decay that has virtually destroyed the health care and education sectors in today’s Nigeria? Does this mean that the capitalist elite in power at central and state levels will now commit adequate public funds for the development and expansion of health care and education services? Quite contrary, governments at central and state levels have, at the same time, continued to implement policies which will only worsen things for the masses, in this respect. Samples: “Last week, about 400 health workers of the Lagos University Teaching Hospital (LUTH), Idi-Araba, mostly staff from the kitchen, laundry, stores, cleaning and security departments received letters to proceed on a four-day pre-retirement training programme organized by the Bureau of Public Enterprises (BPE). The programme was a prerequisite to disengage the services of certain category of staff from public service as part of the public sector reforms of the federal government”. (Sunday Independent September 2, 2007).
Recently, the PDP controlled Osun State Government announced the establishment of a new university. 90,000 hapless working class youths, seeking to have university education applied with N5,000 each for an admission into what is supposed to be a public school. After pocketing a neat N450million through this exercise, the school offered admission to only 5,000 applicants. And then the big shocker! Each successful candidate is to pay a minimum of N152,000 and N350,000 respectively, depending on whether he/she is studying art or a science course!
Against this background, Yar’Adua’s seven point agenda as being articulated appears very apt. But can government really deliver on this? Our answer is capital NO. This is because President Yar’Adua, like his predecessor in office, has already expressed his commitment towards the continuation of the neo-liberal reform agenda. Within this concept, we can say, without any fear of contradiction, that these outlined laudable objectives will remain mere pipe dreams.
HUMAN CAPITAL DEVELOPMENT
Take for instance the issue of human capital development. This basically will call forth a massive programme of investment in health care, education, job creation, etc. But precisely, this will be the last thing to be seriously done within the framework of neo-liberal economic policy which the regime and its imperialist mentors and backers are committed to. The development of other infrastructural facilities including the provision of stable electricity and water supply are clearly desirable. But again, this will require massive injection of public funds, a phenomenon which is totally out of tune in the prevailing neo-liberal orchestra. Even if massive funds are allocated to some of these sectors, most of these will only end up being creamed off by corrupt politicians and their capitalist contractors.
Wealth creation sounds very nice. But what, precisely, does this mean? Today, Nigeria realizes hundreds of millions of dollars daily from sales of crude oil alone. But according to the World Bank, only 1% Nigerians are presently creaming off 80% of this wealth. So, how would mere creation of additional wealth benefit the millions of pauperized Nigerians? Plainly put, Yar’Adua’s telling the working class and the poor not to expect adequate funding of necessary social services. This is because when the bourgeois begins to talk of wealth creation, the issue of adequate spending on public utilities and services is not on the agenda.
That poverty alleviation is one of the much touted Yar’Adua’s seven-point agenda clearly shows that the working masses cannot really expect significant improvement in their living standard under the present dispensation. Like all other Yar’Adua’s policies, this particular policy was inherited from his predecessor, ex-president Obasanjo. According to “Oxford Advanced Learner’s Dictionary”, the word “alleviation” means making something “less severe” or “to ease” something. Thus, this policy abinitio, has taken the prevailing widespread poverty for granted – the only challenge remains how to “ease” it or make it “less severe”! Well, whatever it is worth, it would be a welcome relief to “ease” or make “less severe” the prevailing excruciating poverty which presently dominates the country. Unfortunately however, the adoption and implementation of series of programmes by the central and state governments in the past eight years or so have totally failed to produce any significant improvement in the living standard of the people. By the late 90s, 55% of Nigerians were said to be living below poverty level, but after eight years under Obasanjo government and hundreds of billions purportedly spent on diverse “poverty alleviation” programmes, over 70% Nigerians now live below poverty level! Quite alright, huge sums of money were usually allocated by both governments and international donors to “alleviate” poverty, but most often, top government officials and their capitalist contractors usually steal the largest portion of this sum , thus leaving only a pittance which invariably always got distributed only to close loyalists and supporters of the ruling parties. Therefore, the only real way to tackle the problem of mass poverty is for government to totally utilise the country’s resources to better the lots of everybody and not just of a few as is the norm under the prevailing capitalist dispensation. Unless it is done, Yar’Adua’s own “poverty alleviation” programme would not achieve any better success than that achieved by his inglorious predecessor in office in this respect.
Under a system where money and monetisation rule supreme, any talk of land reform will only produce a situation where only those who have big, mostly stolen wealth, will have real and adequate access to land. In the 70s, when the world bourgeois still largely favoured the idea of using state investments to safeguard its collective class interest, the Nigerian ruling class, under the military regime of General Olusegun Obasanjo (1976 – 1979) promulgated what was called a Land Use Decree (now Land Use Act). Under this Act, the ownership of all lands in the country is theoretically vested in the government. Through this law, government acquired vast lands across the country. The idea was that if government has control over land, then it would be easier for potential investors to acquire land instead of going through the endless tangles while striving to acquire same under communal and families authorities. At the end of the day, the whole policy turned to be a strategy through which a few had undue access over vast lands through their control of state apparatus.
However, in today’s neo-liberal milieu, the equation is the exact opposite. Lands and properties which were hitherto acquired in the name of the society have now been marked down for sharing by the thieving capitalist elites. Now, the new song is that the Land Use Act has suddenly become anachronistic. It has to be reformed! Land owners must have right to dispose off their lands in whatever way they think best. In pursuance of this self-serving agenda, the Lagos State government, for instance, under former Governor Tinubu had perfected a perfidious strategy of instigating and backing those whose lands were previously acquired (notwithstanding the fact that they were fully compensated then) to begin to make forcible incursions and trespass into the same land with a view to urge government to release such lands. Through this iniquitous approach, lands which hitherto belonged to the public have been returned back to their previous owners, of course, with large proportion of this becoming properties of those currently in power. Therefore, in the given situation, any talk of Land reform can only legalize the prevailing situation where Lands belong to the highest bidder. Therefore, contrary to what government’s town criers will want the masses to believe, Yar’Adua’s so-called 7-point agenda is neither original nor new. As a matter of fact, before the wholesale adoption of the neo liberal policies which reached a crescendo, under Obasanjo’s presidency, all of the items listed in this so-called 7-point agenda had long ago been better articulated in what used to be called National Development Plans. The only difference being that there was a certain level of sincere intention on a part of the ruling class then to actually use part of the public resources to fund these objectives but for the inherent corruption of capitalism which actually created a situation where money meant for development was actually looted by government officials. Today, under the prevailing neo-liberal milieu, where the reigning philosophy is that government must not expend public resources on the economy and well-being of the masses, Yar’Adua’s seven point agenda will at the end of the day turn out a ruse.