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STATE OF THE NATION – BISHOP ODEDEJI

STATE OF THE NATION – BISHOP ODEDEJI

(An extract of the Presidential Charge delivered by the Rt. Revd. Dr. James Olusola Odedeji at the 1st Session of the 8th Synod held on Firday May 21, 2021 at Archbishop Vining Memorial Church Cathedral, GRA, Ikeja, Lagos)

 

Introduction

Our nation is going through many challenges. Nigeria is polarized presently by those who have lost hope and want the country to break up and those who are optimistic that with the right leadership, it can still realize its full potential. National integration is therefore a tall order. Public confidence in those who are in power is waning; insecurity is growing in leaps and bounds. The incursion of armed herders, criminals, and bandits into certain parts of the country has presented a severe security challenge such that citizens are not able to live their normal lives including pursuing various productive activities leading to a threat to food supply and general abject poverty. We have lost count of the numbers of those presently in the kidnappers’ dens/ cells; and the numbers of those who have lost their lives and the number of those in the Internally Displaced Persons camps. The sheer amount of ungoverned spaces under the control of Boko Haram in Nigeria is a problem. Corruption is still a huge challenge working against every good thing in Nigeria. The political class is self-centered and greedy. Our politicians use every opportunity to exploit and extort the citizenry. The much-expected unity in diversity then remains a mirage. How can Nigeria triumph over these self-inflicted problems?

 

 

LAGOS STATE

There is no doubt that our State became an epicenter of the Country, when COVID-19 broke out in Nigeria as from the month of March 2020.  The good time that could have been used to address developmental issues was diverted to attending to those infected by the pandemic and that slowed down development of our State considerably. The economy of the State was badly hit with its resultant effect on both human and material resources. 

 

 

For about five months, people were restricted to their homes.  It was really a bad experience to behold in the history of not only our Nation, but other Nations of the world.  As if that was not enough, the ENDSARS protest came in October, with its attendant destruction of lives and properties and the huge destruction of Government properties, running into billions of Naira.  It was really a tempestuous year that shook governance in the state to its foundation.

 

 

However, our indefatigable Governor, Mr. Babajide Olusola Sanwo-Olu, rose to the challenge, and between the time the storm was over and now, a lot of projects had been commissioned by this visionary government, with many more still going.  We wish to particularly commend the Governor and his team for their plan to tackle transportation problem in Lagos with the introduction of both Blue and Red rail lines, to cater for intra-transportation within Lagos, thereby reducing the man-hour being wasted on our roads, daily.  It can only take a visionary leader to govern Lagos and make such an impact that will outlive our generation.  Within the last two years, the water transportation has also received a boost with new Jetties built, all to encourage more people to always consider alternative means of transportation, as against encouraging endless traffic snarl on our roads.

 

 

Let us also commend your technological approach to solving Apapa Port congestion and its attendant gridlock on Lagos roads.  It is also worthy of mention, that despite being the most populous city in Nigeria, the rate of insecurity has been reduced to the barest minimum.  This is highly commendable.

 

It is our prayer that your tenure will continue to witness monumental achievements, and may God bless you with more wisdom to manage the affairs of the city with the best economy in West Africa, in Jesus’ name.

 

Security Concerns

The protection of lives of property of citizens is the primary responsibility of any responsible government. Recently, insecurity has escalated, and things have deteriorated. In the past decade, there have been a spate of violent attacks linked to Boko Haram in the northern part of the country where lives have been lost and properties worth billions of naira, destroyed. Presently, bandits are now on the rampage terrorizing, kidnapping, robbing, raping, maiming, and killing people on the highways and in different parts of the country. Mass abduction and kidnappings of schoolboys and girls are their signature atrocities. The substantial profits earned from kidnapping allow the purchase of more weapons and the intimidation or the pay-off of yet more local officials and members of the security forces. People now live in palpable fear everywhere. Travelling across Nigeria, particularly on the roads is now scary and is becoming quite dangerous due to the activities of kidnappers, bandits, terrorists, criminals and hoodlums.

It is worrisome that seven years after the abduction of 276 girls of Government Girls Secondary School, Chibok, Borno State, things have taken a more dangerous dimension as attacks on schools have now become consistent. Reports say that about 800 students, including those attending higher institutions, have been abducted in coordinated attacks on schools in mostly northern states in the last six months. While some of the students were lucky to be released from the kidnappers’ dens, others were brutally murdered. Others are still in captivity while parents scramble to pay ransoms. The incessant attacks on schools are only a system of a bigger problem. Insecurity across the country has worsened. States have been forced to shut schools, particularly the boarding schools in vulnerable areas due to insecurity, despite the closure of schools for over six months nationwide in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

 

Just last week, the Catholic Diocese of Abuja announced the closure of their schools, declaring that they could not guarantee the safety of their students. This will further increase the number of out-of-school children which is put at 13.5 million. Parents are daily being discouraged from taking their children to school in the North. Children should not be forced to choose between their education and their lives. The insecurity and threats to educational facilities can only compound an already difficult situation.

 

Apart from the deadly mission of the bandits to Greenfield University, Kaduna, where several students were kidnapped, the bandits equally abducted scores of students at the Forestry College in Kaduna. The Kaduna State Government said 393 persons lost their lives in the first three months of this year; 926 were kidnapped. The North Central is equally bleeding. Eleven soldiers were killed in April in Benue State. Between late April and early May 2021, it was reported that bandits and Fulani herdsmen killed seventy people in an IDP camp in Makurdi, Benue State. Nineteen others were also reported to have been killed in Gwer Local Government Area of the state. The blood frenzy has spread to Plateau, Nasarawa, Taraba and Kogi States. The Niger State Governor reported recently that Boko Haram hoisted its flag in two Local Government Areas of the state. There was also a security scare in Abuja and security was tightened around major government infrastructure.

 

 

On Monday, May 10, 2021, the Presidency disclosed that there was an attempt by armed robbers to burgle the residence of the Chief of Staff to the President, Ibrahim Gambari. This further heightened the fears of the people that indeed no one is any longer safe in the country. The South East has also witnessed consistent attacks on security formations in some of its states in the recent times usually linked to ‘unknown gunmen’. The South-South has also not been spared. Police, soldiers, and other government institutions have been witnessing consistent attacks where law enforcement officers are killed with reckless abandon. The security personnel, including the police and the soldiers, have recorded a lot of casualties in the hands of terrorists and ‘unknown gunmen’. The South-West has also not been spared. Lagos and its suburbs are already surrounded by criminals (both natives and foreigners). The United States Embassy issued an advisory warning American citizen to be careful of traffic robbers in Lagos. Even if Lagos is relatively safe, we are sitting on time bomb! May the Good Lord deliver us.

 

All over, the threat level is rife. It will be dangerous to allow Nigeria to slide into a war it can ill afford, whereas, this is already a war situation, even if not yet a full-blown war. The nation is bleeding, blood is flowing here and there. People are living in palpable fear. Several factors are to blame; most of them are self-inflicted. The President must clamp down on this anomaly decisively. Nigeria is now experiencing failed institutions, weakened national cohesion and hegemonic stance as fallouts of insecurity. State failure is playing out extensively. Notable voices have been calling on the President to seek help, review the impotent security system or return Nigeria to true federalism. The human and economic costs of this anarchy and killings are simply unsustainable. Crime has become an easy alternative for the nation’s teeming youths. The government must tackle unemployment and poverty, otherwise, the crime rate will continue to soar.

 

As these conflicts increase in frequency, intensity, and geographical scope, so do their humanitarian and economic toll. The increasing availability of illicit firearms, both locally produced and smuggled in from outside, worsens the bloodshed. Many people have been forcibly displaced, with properties, crops and livestock worth billions of naira destroyed, at great cost to local and state economies.

 

 

Herders versus Farmers

Fulani pastoralists traditionally migrate south with their cattle each year during the dry season, but they now travel farther south and stay longer. It is the result of unpredictable rains, a surge in cattle rustling, banditry, and conflicts with local farmers as cattle encroach into farms. Some sections in the south now view the presence of armed pastoralists as a ‘Fulanisation’ plot aimed at land grabbing. Fulani herders are now rampaging freely. Violent conflicts between nomadic herders from northern Nigeria and sedentary agrarian communities in the central and southern zones have escalated in recent years, threatening the country’s security and stability.

 

Many farmers are said to have been sent out of their farms, leaving them jobless and further threatening the drive for food sufficiency in the country. Freedom fighters and self-determination groups are emerging from the chaos.

 

Rise of Regional Security Outfits

As a result of the rising insecurity in the land and the inability of the security forces to stem the tide, self-help groups and regional security outfits have now been set-up. In 2020, the South-western governors responded with the formation of ‘Operation Amotekun’ to tackle unprecedented levels of armed robbery, kidnapping and farmer-herder crisis in the region. In the South-East, the governors of the region equally put together a regional security outfit known as ‘Ebube Agu’ in 2021. In the north-east, the Civilian Joint Task Force battles Boko Haram while across the north-west, there are several self-defense militia supported by state governments to stem banditry.  It is believed that there would be no need for self-help if there is confidence in the state actors to provide adequate security for all irrespective of their class and tribe.

 

The Economy

Nigeria is now practicing an economically centralized, unworkable, and politically unsustainable federal structure. This has so far delivered only economic misery, poverty, and joblessness. Nigeria currently has a policy which allows the Federal Government to take 52.68 percent of revenues and shares the rest among the 36 states and 774 local government areas. This has made the states and local government areas noncompetitive and unproductive, leading to a low economic complexity.

 

The states are neither productive nor have the impetus to drive economic activities. This is due to the absurd dependence on the monthly federal allocation. This fiscal policy is unhealthy for Nigeria as it does not allow its constituent entities to grow. It simply makes them perpetually dependent.

 

There are abundant agricultural and mineral resources waiting to be exploited. Nigeria is Africa’s largest producer of oil and the sixth largest oil producing country in the world. Despite its huge resource endowment, majority of its citizens wallow in abject poverty while unemployment is growing. The prices of goods and services are rising every day. Its economic fortune has been dwindling due to a fall in the global price of crude oil and its overdependence on oil and the failure to develop other resources.

 

Poverty rates remain high in Nigeria. The problem is further compounded with the high cost of governance which is caused by the running of bogus Ministries, Departments and Agencies that perform overlapping functions, wasteful spending by government officials and the jumbo pay for some elected officials.

 

Corruption

Corruption is a serious crime. Corruption stifles development and economic growth. Public officials continue their looting spree while public funds are embezzled by greedy and insatiable politicians and public servants. The wheel of justice grinds too slowly in cases involving corrupt and influential politicians. Nigeria dropped to 149 on Transparency International’s 2020 Corruption Perception Index, the worst ranking received in recent times. The Lagos State governor, Babajide Sanwo-Olu, recently signed the Public Complaints and Anti-Corruption Commission Bill 2021 into law. The law seeks to promote accountability and transparency in the governance process. The law nudges the state government to establish an anti-corruption agency to investigate and prosecute officials of the state and contractors indicted for economic crimes and financial misappropriation. Similar agencies have been set up in Oyo and Kano States. It is a worthy model that other states must urgently emulate.

 

However, the worry here is about its implementation. Nigeria is not a country without laws; there are many of such laws. Implementation and sincerity on the part of the state actors to apply such laws no matter whose ox is goad has always been called to question. This is a key reason why corruption has continued to thrive. The strong and powerful are shielded from the anti-graft agencies.

 

Nigeria and Infrastructure Development

We must commend the government of the day for opening new frontiers in rail and road transportation.  We make bold to say that all the six geographic zones of the country have enjoyed some levels of road and rail construction, and so many of such roads and even rails lines are still ongoing.  As at the last count, the second Niger Bridge has gotten to 66% construction level, while the standard rail gauge from Lagos to Ibadan has been completed.

 

However, we must join our voices with others to say that the rate at which the government has borrowed, and still borrowing in the name of infrastructural development, is quite worrisome and this needs to be urgently put in check.  Infrastructural development must be priorities in line with the available resources and minimal borrowing.  There is the need not to trade the future of our nation all in the name of development.  What is the essence, for instance, of completing our standard rail gauge, having borrowed heartily to finance it, and the same taken over by our creditor Nations, all to service the debts owed them.  We must be careful not to allow another sovereign state within our sovereignty. There is a saying that modern slaves are not in chains, they are in debts.

 

Nigerian Power Sector and Industrialisation

No nation can boast of industrialization without adequate power generation.  In Nigeria, the power sector continues to defy all solutions to attaining enough power generation to aid industrialization and commerce.

 

The more funds are committed to the sector, the less we see in terms of power supply.  It has always been a blame game from one government to the other.  The only news from GENCOS, DISCOS etc is the need to increase electricity tariff even when their customers are not enjoying electricity.  Many industries have relocated away from Nigeria.  Those that refuse to relocate are selling their products far higher than the worth in nearby countries.  Rather than allow for competition, the few industries are being protected at the expense of their customers. Customers therefore have no choice than to buy the products.  The forces of supply and demand do not work in such markets.

 

In our opinion, the government must endeavour to seek help from technologically advanced countries for alternatives to hydro power generation.  It is high time we begin to use our rich mineral deposits such as coal, to generate electricity as against over dependence on gas.

 

2023 Election

As usual the 2023 election has started gathering momentum.  But the question is “Will It Ever Hold?”  Why was the question asked?

 

More than ever before, this country has been greatly dismembered.  There are agitations in virtually all the three zones in the South, and even in the middle belt of the country.  The complaints are similar, to re-discuss the Nigerian Nation.  The structure of Nigerian State, as at today, is defective, and only a conference of all stakeholders to discuss how unity could be achieved would save the country from imminent collapse.  Ironically, the government of the day and the major drivers of governance are not interested in any form of conference.  The plan of government today is to apply, if possible, maximum force to sustain its policies on the governed.

 

In the South West and South East zones, agitation for self-determination is so tense, to the extent that, in the absence of a dialogue with various zones to quell agitations, anarchy is knocking right at our door, with possible calamitous consequences.

 

Long before now, the name “Biafra” “MASSOP” were rife in the South East, today not only that other groups have emerged, names such as “Oduduwa Nation”, Middle Belt Nation”, Indigenous People of Biafra and even “New Biafra” are noticeable.  And with all the threat from all our Securities Agencies, these groups are unperturbed.  They are brazing up for war, and if dialogue is not initiated on time, what happened in Somalia might be child’s play.

 

In our opinion, if this government is not interested in the outcome of 2014 National Conference report, which brought different opinions together as to how Nigeria can remain one and indivisible, another one can be initiated.  But without a “National Discuss” the future of the country to remain one, may be a mirage.  Already, people in various zones are at dagger drawn with their Political Leaders, on whether there would be election come 2023.

 

From the look of things, the last may not have been heard on what may likely befall this country on or before the coming election date.

 

Islamization Agenda: Myth or Facts

We cannot pretend not to have heard about the move to Islamize our country, Nigeria, by predominantly Muslim North. Others call it Fulanization of Nigeria.  This, our government has denied at many fora and even on public media.  However, a careful look at what these so called “Jihadists” or “Fulani Herdsmen or better still “Boko Haram or ISWAP fighters, have done recently in some parts of the country where they captured predominantly Christian areas, such as in Bornu, Yobe, Adamawa, Niger and part of Benue, Christians were being forced to renounce their faith and embrace Islam.

 

The question now is “Is there any sinister move to Islamize this country”?  This is a nation of about one hundred million Christians, or even more.  Nigeria is a country that is meant to be built on religious secularity and with a Constitution to guide it. 

 

Suffice it to say that while a Community in Enugu State was sacked, leaving many people dead and many homes burnt, about five local government of Niger State are presently under the control of Islamic Jihadists.  Ironically, the Local Governments under siege are predominantly Christian communities, and nothing concrete has been done to repel these people from those communities, by our different law enforcement agencies, inclusive of our military.

 

We therefore call on all our religious leaders to prevail on who the sponsors of this devilish idea to have a rethink.  Our God remains in heaven to fight our battle.  We also use this medium to call on International Communities via their various embassies to match closely the activities of these agents of destabilization.

 

 

 

 

Urgent Action Steps by the Federal Government

In our humble opinion the following steps need to be taken by the authorities in the land to put Nigeria back on the path of progress and growth

  1. Federal and State governments and security agencies must sustain campaigns against cattle rustling and banditry; improve early-warning systems; maintain operational readiness of rural-based police and other security units; encourage communication and collaboration with local authorities; and tighten control of production, circulation and possession of illicit firearms and ammunition, including strengthening cross-border cooperation with neighbouring countries’ security forces. Sponsors of terrorist groups must be identified, arrested, and prosecuted accordingly, if the fight against insurgency will be result-oriented. There is need for professional restructuring, which is a key policy that will purge the military and the police of its ills and reposition it for its improved professional task. There have been heightened concerns that we have some corrupt military personnel among the rank and file of the military aiding and abetting crime and criminality. This must be investigated and carefully reviewed.

 

  1. The President must equally show the willpower to steer Nigeria out of violence. The President should declare a state of emergency on security; initiate security reforms and take necessary measures towards running an inclusive government. The police formations must be decentralized. The call for the amendment of the constitution to allow for the creation of state police has been consistent. Those regional security outfits in the South-West and South-East; “Operation Amotekun”, a security outfit put together by the six state governors of the western region, to stem the tide of the growing spate of insecurity in the region and the South-East regional security outfit known as ‘Ebube Agu’. States should be allowed to control their resources and their internal security more effectively. We must adopt State policing, this is the best option for Nigeria. The military must be fully armed and well-motivated. The state governors must be proactive; their security votes must be used to serve and protect the people They must be ready to maintain law and order without fear or favour. Perpetrators of the carnage all over the country must be brought to book and prosecuted.

 

  1. Security must be heightened around our schools. Schools should be secured with perimeter fencing and alarm systems. This will offer the first line of defense against intruders. The government must look for more creative ways to safeguard places of learning. Improved connections should also be encouraged and driven between the schools and their host communities.

 

  1. Coordinate with neighbours to stem cross-border movement of non-Nigerian armed herders and small arms. Nigeria should work with Cameroon, Chad, and Niger (the Lake Chad basin countries) to regulate movements across borders, particularly of cattle rustlers, armed herders and the proliferation of small arms that have been identified as aggravating internal tension and insecurity in Nigeria. The security operatives must also work in synergy with the communities. One wonders how insurgents can move hundreds of people out of the communities without any challenge.

 

  1. President Muhammadu Buhari’s administration and state governments need to work together; taking immediate steps to shore up security for herders and farmers; strengthening conflict-resolution mechanisms and initiating long-term efforts to reform livestock management practices; address negative environmental trends and curb cross-border movements of both cattle rustlers and armed herders. There should be the establishment of conflict mediation, resolution, reconciliation and peace building mechanisms. This should be done at state and local government levels, and within rural communities particularly in areas that have been most affected by conflicts. The government should focus on investing in peacebuilding, reconstruction and rehabilitation and socio-economic development.

 

There should also be the establishment of grazing reserves in consenting states and improved livestock production and management to minimize contacts and friction between herders and farmers. This will entail developing grazing reserves where governments have already earmarked lands for this purpose; and encouraging livestock producers’ buy-in through easier access to credit from financial institutions. Open grazing should be banned across the country. In the communiqué issued at the end of the meeting of the Governors of Southern Nigeria at Asaba, Delta State on Tuesday, 11th May 2021, the governors equally recommended that open grazing be banned across Southern Nigeria. This call must be taken seriously and should not be discarded. 

 

  1. The Federal Government must define in clear terms, a coherent political approach to resolving the multi-faceted crises, and even acknowledge its scope. We must not continue to live in denial and pretend all is well. Crime and criminality of any shade must be condemned in clear terms. Several kidnap incidents happen and when the victims are released after negotiations, the security agencies go to sleep and even try to take accolades for the negotiations, as against taking out the terrorists. For the economy to thrive, security must be guaranteed. This is because no investor, whether foreign or local, will continue to invest money into an economy where security of lives and property is not guaranteed.

 

  1. We recommend the implementation of fiscal federalism where the resources of each state should belong to them and the constituent entities only pay federal taxes or royalties for the resources. This was the practice in the in the First Republic; the regions controlled their resources, paid taxes, and agreed percentages to the entre. This worked well as the regions developed very well. All the 36 states have resources that can be developed for economic growth. A unitary system masquerading as a federation like Nigeria only produces a club of diverse, but insensitive political elites, whose happiness and comfort largely depend on their opportunistic and exclusive access to state resources. They may not bother about the general populace. The time to end the shallow and parochial interests standing selfishly against restructuring is now. A proper federal set-up will save our country from unemployment, insecurity, economic downturn, and ethnic tensions, and place it firmly on the path of sustainable national development. The government should therefore take steps to improve the efficiency of the states and their ability to provide public goods. Economic diversification holds the key to the emergence of a robust economy.

 

  1. We recommend that in view of the widespread agitations among Nigerians for greater inclusiveness and in deference to the sensibilities of the citizens, appointments into Federal Government Agencies should be reviewed to reflect federal character as Nigeria’s overall population is heterogeneous. Nepotism must be done away with. Someone who has been sympathetic with terrorism and jihad should not have been tolerated in a responsive and responsible government. The unity of the country must be premised on equity, social justice and equality.

 

  1. The Federal Government must, as a matter of urgency, work with the Lagos State Government to find a lasting solution to the gridlock on the Oshodi-Apapa Expressway, being the only outlet from Apapa Wharf. The Federal Government should immediately move to establish more ports in other states. This will further create more jobs for the teeming unemployed youths in the country and promote socio-economic activities in the country.

 

  1. Fighting corruption demands sincerity of purpose on the part of government and a whole of government/ whole of society approach. The states should work closely with the federal agencies as well as the private sector and civil society organizations. The leadership must be seen to be above board and spur civil servants to excellence, and governance should be opened to public scrutiny. The Federal Government must take deliberate steps to strengthen and reposition the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) and the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission (ICPC) to prosecute all cases of corruption.

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