The Next President Must Fall on His Sword

'Laolu Samuel-Biyi
The Next President Must Fall on His Sword

The only thing Nigerians can all agree on is that the country has many many problems. Most of these problems have simple solutions, but they are hard to solve because Nigerians as a group don’t really know what’s good for them. They want a savior, but they don’t want to be saved. 

In 2015, Nigerians hired Muhammadu Buhari because they believed that someone with his history and temperament could be that iron-handed messiah who will do the hard things that need to be done, but he was not to be. For any of the country’s real problems to be solved, the president and their government must be prepared to lose the next election, and perhaps even risk a public revolt, just to get the most important things out of the way. The country is like a sick minor with an infected limb that is killing them, but they can be saved only with an amputation. An amputation will be painful and it’ll leave scars, but to survive, a parent needs to make the call for the procedure. The next president needs to be that parent. 

There are 101 solutions and more that can be debated, but in the end, only one course of action makes sense. I have highlighted 23 things the next government must do before 2027, ideally put in motion within the first 6 months of the administration, for any sort of real progress to be made in Nigeria. If the government is not willing to do these things that I consider indisputable, we can expect more of the same degeneration for decades to come, or till everything implodes for a hard reset. 

  1. Hands off tertiary education: Everyone has the right to literacy and foundational education to enable them become productive members of society, but tertiary level education is advanced learning, and the majority of the population will never receive university degrees, no matter how developed the country gets. Universities in a country our size cannot produce any quality tuition on the government’s dime, as evidenced by the current state of affairs. We need to be honest with ourselves and admit that there is no real learning happening at public institutions today, and the primary value is the credential that students hope will help them escape poverty in a country that overemphasizes credentials. 

    Universities must be self-sustainable, with fringe support from the government. The quality of education should be immediately improved by commercializing the service and encouraging private competition, and the price of education should be reflective of the cost. This would mean dramatic increases in salaries to attract the best academics, institutions accessing commercial debt to improve their infrastructure, aggressively marketing their service and brand to attract paying students, persistent campaigns to rally financial support from alumni, and endowment investments to improve financial sustainability. With the increased quality and cost, the ROI for students will be more apparent, and private intermediaries (and government) can create loan products to finance education for those that can’t afford it. Government scholarship programs should also be encouraged to finance talented but indigent students from across the country. 

    When you’re paying a few million that you borrowed or earned on a competitive scholarship to access world-class facilities and professors, you will not sit back and let a lecturer tell you an ‘A’ is for God and ‘B’ is for them, or have your degree program changed on graduation day from “Economics” to “Religious Studies” because you didn’t greet the Registrar well. They’re less likely to have the audacity to do those things as well, not for students that cost them something to recruit. 
  1. Quadruple healthcare and teacher salaries: With education no longer subsidized, salaries for high-value public personnel should become more competitive. This should be a national priority for anyone that understands the scale of exodus happening in the healthcare sector, and the risks bad and dissatisfied teachers pose to the social fabric. 
  1. Make NYSC optional: If scrapping the thing is too brash, then make it optional. The basis for this is the simple fact that it already is optional, but we like to bury our heads in the sand and pretend that things are not what they are (see: “Bail is Free”). Today, for the cost of half your monthly allowance, you can get away from your service station. The logical thing is to make the program opt-in only and make others pay to opt-out. Many individuals and companies today would pay a good amount (say N250,000) to be exempted from the program. This amount can go towards subsidizing the costs for those who choose to participate, and the law can remain to say that you either need a discharge certificate, either through service or payment, to formally take up employment that requires a degree. I cannot think of an argument against this, as the payment is simply going to the hands of private LG and NYSC officials today, instead of the government. 
  1. Scrap the Pilgrimage Commissions: I can’t believe that this one needs to be said. It’s the one thing that will offend both major religions equally, and therefore the lowest hanging fruit. Scrap the Christian and the Muslim ones at the same time on day one, on the simple basis that they serve zero national or developmental purpose. While we may again pretend that the cost is borne by the traveler, the open truth is that it’s a hole in the government’s pocket just like several other agencies. While there are dozens of agencies that merit urgent scrapping (maybe even our space program), I call this out separately because it’s just offensive that it exists. In fact, it is my personal gauge to test the seriousness of any administration. If you cannot scrap these commissions on your first day, then what are your plans for the country, really?
  1. Scrap NOA, and clip NBC’s wings: Since we’re on the topic of scrapping, another one to shut down is the National Orientation Agency because it obviously failed and success is indeterminable, even if they try. The National Broadcasting Corporation has also really been a press gag, so its function should be more clearly defined and its powers further restricted. 
  1. Close Most Foreign Missions: The Nigerian government maintains foreign missions based on ego, and to preserve retirement homes for old politicians. Expensive rent, diplomatic passports, and benefits for dozens of people and their families in almost every country (including North Korea). There might be a case for keeping them if they’re actually useful to citizens there, but they only serve as windows to the dysfunction at home. 
  1. Privatize NTA: There’s no symbol of a country frozen in the past than the Nigerian Television Authority. You don’t have to look further than the logo that has maintained the aesthetics of the 70s and simply refused to adapt to any design theme of the past 5 decades. No one can agree to the actual color code of the logo, and the transparent logo version only appeared on the internet a few years ago. The theme song of the evening news is now a bit scary (the one that now sounds like many mosquitoes due to degraded sound quality over time), and “you can’t beat the reach” is a threat at this point. It now functions only as the mouthpiece of the government, far below its potential. For a country with a private sector that has made Nollywood and Afrobeats what it is, a “national TV” should have the influence and quality of an Al Jazeera or the BBC, if only the government would admit that it can’t run anything that needs commercial success (see: Nigerian Railway Corporation; common sense says that should be under private concession as well, but it won’t until the whole thing is destroyed and the loans are due). 
  1. Sell Refineries (and take NNPC public): In line with the point above, the government is never going to successfully build and maintain refineries, so sell what we have for change and regulate private stakeholders. The NNPC is an obvious massive hole in the government while pretending to be a private and public company at the same time. Force it to go public to put partial ownership and governance directly in the hands of Nigerians to force transparency and profitability. 
  1. Remove Oil Subsidy: This is an obvious one and the main surgery. It will bring immediate hardship, but it’s a necessary one. We’re not going to ease into solving our biggest problems, so cut the limb and let the people do what they need to do before they accept the reality. This may cause protests and perhaps guarantee the end of the party at the next polls, but that’s the sacrifice any genuine administration should be willing to take. 
  1. Float the Naira: Likewise, just let the Naira officially reflect its true value. Everyone knows its true value. The only people pretending that the USD is N420 today are the people in government and a few others that benefit from the spread. It’s N620, and if the rate on Google reflects that tomorrow, it won’t change much for most ordinary people. Maybe some inflation on the price of some imported goods, but how much does the population really rely on the goods that were imported at N420? Nonetheless, it’s one of those limbs we need to sever once and for all. 
  1. Decriminalize Suicide: Picture this, you’re depressed and broke, and you want to end your life. As you’re about to leap off the bridge, a good samaritan grabs your shirt to pull you back up. The policemen that have been watching the whole thing a few feet away quickly jump in to arrest you and take you to prison for attempted suicide. Whoever wrote that law (and those that are eager to execute it) need as much mental help as the suicidal people.  
  1. Champion Equal Citizenship Rights for Women: There are some basic human rights that don’t belong to civilized society or any society that stands for equity and cohesion. There is no reason why men should have more powers to confer citizenship on their spouses or children than women. You can argue the point as much as you want, but it’s a stupid and unjust argument. 
  1. Harmonize School Cut-Off Marks: There are just some things that scream “injustice”, and unless we let them go, there’s no basis for the national unity everyone craves. It is absurd for the cut-off marks at Unity Schools to be 134 in Enugu and 2 in Yobe. Statistically, for a multiple choice question set of 100, the probability of getting at least 2 questions right by randomly shading answers is 100%, and the probability of getting only 2 right is closer to 0. You’ll have to know and deliberately shade wrong answers to get only 2 correctly. This means that by being born to a zone, you only have to show up for the exam to be guaranteed entry, while others elsewhere actually have to try. It would be better to abandon the Unity School concept if its implementation is the very antithesis of unity. I get the idea of lower cut-offs to encourage participation for those that are not academically inclined for personal or social reasons, but keep the advantages local. Never elevate a kid at the expense of another with superior merit, then expect no ill-will downstream. Instead, localize the schools and test them differently.
  1. Fight to Abolish Unconstitutional Sub-national Laws like Sharia: There simply should never be scenarios where a subset of the population can enact laws (on themselves or others) that are in conflict with national laws. On the same basis that Sharia law exists in Nigeria, with the blessing of the State Assembly, 80 people in an estate of 100 people in Lagos should legitimately be able to create a legal system that prescribes the imprisonment of anyone that says the word “Zazu” within the estate (enforced by estate police that only target the one-bedroom dwellers) with the expectation that the other 20 people have subscribed to it by mere virtue of living in the estate, despite their constitutional freedom to say the word whenever they please. It’s easy to say that “Sharia does not apply to non-muslims”, but have every Muslim national subscribed to the law, and if a supposed Muslim is caught in an offense, are they free to go immediately they simply say they’re not Muslim? The answer to that is obvious to the honest. Such a parallel legal system and any one of its kind are therefore unconstitutional, and they shouldn’t exist on the basis of the precedent it sets and its current selective implementation. 
  1. Mass Layoff in Police: Most of the current police force should be relieved of their duties. Unless we’re again burying our heads in the sand, the sight of policemen evokes fear than safety. The police force should be dismantled and rebuilt from the ground up. Highly educated personnel, very well-trained and paid, fully-insured, with guidelines that make them very easy to fire, etc. The Nigerian policeman currently has the highest job security in the world, in a country with incredible unemployment. A policeman can abduct you and rob you at gun-point in daylight today, get identified with proof, and they will resume at the office the next Monday. It’s a phenomenon I consider very incredible. 
  1. Conduct a Census: Socialist development agenda based on population numbers has caused the current population data to be broadly suspected to be a sham. Without accurate data, any government would be working blind. Also, take the census opportunity to conduct a survey on self-determination (not a legal referendum) to gauge the pulse of the country in terms of how far disconnected we are as a people. If 98% of the South East no longer want to be in the union, and 70% of everyone else say they should have the agency to do whatever they want, that is an extremely important piece of information that should influence A LOT of negotiation, not the perspective of old individuals with fantasies of the good-ol’-days on what’s ideal and non-negotiable. 
  1. Document and Disseminate Civil War History in School Curriculum: The lack of this history may be the source of many of our ethnic-related issues. There is nothing to lose here but the pride of the old men-of-war married to the idea of a victor and a vanquished. 
  1. Delete Copy-paste Federal Budget: I always imagine the process of writing a budget for the federal ministries to be opening the previous budget on Excel, adding a new column to increase the previous figures by 15%, then adding new vanity projects at the bottom. New cars to be bought. The same project as the last time. The same ministry building as the last year. Those ‘IT’ costs and ‘upgrades’. All the same every year. They say the budget is only a suggestion and the amount there won’t be released 100%, but what’s the point of the exercise if that’s the case? Federal budgets should be done with the same bottom-up rigor as one would find at a private sector conglomerate, with the ministry heads responsible for their balance sheets and budget performance. You should be able to click into the Salaries line and see how the current staff salaries at the individual level add up to the total, with a margin for attrition and expected new hires. Folks at the legislature should not have the freedom to do as they please with all-important budgets. The only reason why they can slash the budget 50% after a 15min cursory look, or increase it by 20% as a favor, is because they know that no rigor went into it. 
  1. Crash Duty on New and Hybrid Cars: Is there a reason why duties on vehicle imports are so high? Nigerians don’t have as many cars per capita as one would imagine, yet it’s so prohibitively expensive as a result of duties, despite the potential productivity and social mobility benefits. If the idea is to prevent the use of the country as a dumping ground for older cars, then crash the duties on brand new and hybrid cars to reduce pressure on petrol/diesel supply and help the environment. 
  1. Sell MMIA: As with NTA, the few square meters of the MMIA in Lagos is a shameful symbol of the country’s deterioration over time. There’s no better “welcome to Nigeria” than that airport, where we keep deceiving ourselves with “Say No To Corruption” FAAN banners while the message should instead be in the staff handbook. The Nigerian government will rather scream “PLEASE STOP GIVING US MONEY WHEN WE BEG!” to passengers unsuccessfully for 20 years than summarily fire the next two people who request bribes and guarantee that the practice stops permanently. The job security in the Nigerian public service is remarkable, and two low-level jobs with $200 monthly salaries and 5,000 replacement candidates would rather be preserved than eradicating a long-standing national shame. Apart from the personnel and the ugliest graphic design possible on roll-up banners, how hard is it for the entire country to maintain a building so small and a single public toilet? A startup estate management firm in Kaduna should be able to maintain such a space that is many times smaller than fancy-looking NASS. Flatten the entire structure and concession any new one to private hands. The same logic with sports stadiums. Sell. 
  1. Scrap Constituency Projects: Legislators make excuses why constituency projects should exist, but the rest of the population will agree that it’s a public hole. You are not “close to your constituency” to execute projects for them. That’s the job of the local government. The job of the legislature is to better the laws that affect them. 
  1. Diaspora Voting (passport) and Scrap PVC: The Nigerian diaspora are an important power block that determines a lot of the economic fate of the country. They are arguably our most economically powerful and skilled set. It can be argued that they know what’s good for the country better than the average people at home. They have unique identities with their passports, and a system that lets them vote should be easy to implement. The reason why there is no enthusiasm for this is that the politicians rely on the votes of the vulnerable that are easy to manipulate in other to bring their mediocre selves into power. The diaspora votes will bring up the average quality of the electorate and the elected by a lot. Also, it makes no sense that there is a specific ID card required for voting unless we are admitting that all other forms of government IDs have no integrity.  
  1. Aggressive Income Tax Enforcement: Personal income tax is a virtually non-existent concept for the average person in Nigeria, but Nigerians really need to pay for all these things. Many more billions need to be generated in the form of taxes, and more people simply need to fall under the tax bracket. 

Tough but great:

  • Criminalize Underage Marriage using Federal Law: Because… come on.
  • Means-test childbearing: Because the population is becoming a massive issue, and at some point, we need to be less sentimental about population control. 

Any government that focuses on all these things for four years, knowing that they’ll become public enemy no. 1, would have martyred themselves for the greater good. I’m not optimistic that any of the candidates would be able to succeed at implementing most of these, especially as many require support from the cog that is our legislative arm. I can only hope that one day, we will get our “John the Baptist” who is prepared for a painful political death by doing most of the above, which would pave the way for that “Messiah” who will swoop in and put a seal on it.

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