In an age in which a number of states in the federation are building and maintaining their airports, including “poor Jigawa” why does the former Vice President think that building airports in states that have no airports is the right thing to do? I vehemently disagree. Instead, the Atiku team should privatise or sell off all airports in Nigeria except four to interested parties with the states where there are located having the first right of refusal.
The four are Lagos, Abuja, Port Harcourt and Kano airports, which should be modernised, and technology driven. You cannot see and behold the airports in Singapore, Paris (the modernised Charles d Gaulle airport) or the new Turkish airport in Istanbul and not wish one of such for your country. I also think that decentralising the management of the ports and leaving NPA as a regulating organ is the way to go or think in an age of restructuring and decentralisation.
There is no section I find as confusing as that of the Niger Delta, more because of the confusion in the document. In one breath, the document speaks of relocating the Niger Delta Ministry to the region so that it could be closer to stakeholders and in another breath contemplates merging the ministry with the NDDC. I do not think any of these and the “firm commitment to implementing the Niger Delta master-plan” are the real answers to the motley collection of problems facing the Niger Delta especially the South-South, but the document would appear to reinforce not just the general attitude towards the Niger Delta but the lack of or general refusal of Nigerians to understand the problems of the region.
Since the 1940/50s the region, which over the years has become the cash cow of the nation has been demanding for fairness and development. Let me make it as simply as I can, if successive Federal Governments had completed the NLGNs, including the Brass NLGN, built dual carriage freeways linking all the states of the Niger Delta region, developed about four seaports, built or engineered the building of more oil and gas facilities or infrastructure, encourage agriculture and education, the narratives of the region and the nation would have been different.
The region by now would be growing like Lagos. The Atiku team may therefore wish to rethink its strategy on the Niger Delta as I am confident that the commitment to incentivizing those interested in building modular refineries in the north to process crude oil from the Republics of Niger and Chad while there is no such firm commitment for the Niger Delta where there is abundance of oil and gas could be a source of potential disagreement and anger in the Niger Delta. Frankly, I see no difference between this and what the APC Buhari administration has been trying to do for three years with no remarkable success.
Oh, by the way if the focus is to make the NDDC effective, efficient and accountable, then stop appointing politicians as managing directors or as board members as they all see the NDDC as stepping stones to state mansions or to the National Assembly. The Atiku team may wish to ask for the document on the Niger Delta Energy Corridor, designed to host all oil and gas installations and runs from Calabar to Lagos. There is also the Lagos- Calabar railway which has been on the rail master plan which has been deliberately neglected. Just do a few of these and see how the region would respond.
Going through the whole document, you experience the same concerns indicating that more work is still required if the dream is to be realised. In a country where it is reported that over 60% of academic work by both lecturers and students is plagiarized, where facilities are poor, classrooms overcrowded, the quality of staff is low or poor, products of the universities unemployable and where among other problems, public universities have become graveyards of uncompleted or abandoned projects and unable to attract expatriate lecturers, that not enough attention was paid to our universities.
There is so much to be done to achieve the dream of quality education where our situation is precarious nor to health, which is becoming increasingly expensive and public health institutions decrepit. Our education and health sectors would benefit from some extensive reforms but special attention should be paid to the training and retaining of teachers at all levels and health workers to acquire modern skills and competences. Our nurses if you have been to some hospitals of recent have lost the caring touch of Florence Nightingale, the founder of modern nursing.
Any reform of the public service must also take into consideration why previous reforms failed. The new set of reformists must learn to be humble and not run down or talk down on civil servants to promote themselves. Above all, they should know that for any reform to be sustainable, it needs champions from the inside not outside. Even corruption can be addressed without the hypocrisy and grandstanding we have witnessed in recent times. Atiku’s reform of the EFCC may wish to consider not making the leadership an all police affairs.
Finally, it is clear the Atiku presidency will be friendlier to business and we are likely to return to the refrain of the OBJ era about the private sector being the engine of growth or to the Jonathan era of agriculture being business. This should be balanced by government playing its role as a catalyst, a stimulator that also protects the people. The welfare of the people must not be sacrificed on the altar of market forces. That’s why the Atiku campaign cannot and must not maintain any splendid silence in the NEMA scandal, the crisis in the NHIS and the labour demand for a new minimum wage.
That said, it’s a document worth reading, if for nothing else, it offers us the opportunity to engage a presidential candidate and help him reshape his dream for us.
Ambassador Keshi wrote from Lagos.