Won an election in an African country? Build a Prison.

You will need it. There are that many idiots you will have to lock away.

And it’s not sensationalist to say that the first duty of any leader of an African country should be to build a prison. A very big one.

To give you an example, a few days ago we were told that Muhammadu Buhari has just won Nigeria’s presidential election, and that sometime in May he will be inaugurated to lead Africa’s largest economy and most populous country.

So, the question is what difference will he make?

You’d be forgiven if you thought not much because Nigeria has been hit by so many scandals lately it’s insane to expect one government to sort out all the mess within a short space of time. And without some radical policies.

Still, there’s reason to be optimistic. According to one Ignatius C. Olisemeka who served among various diplomatic roles as an ambassador to the US for Buhari’s first administration, writing on Vanguard here, Buhari is a man who is deeply religious, lacks bitterness, is incorruptible and is a

.. patriotic Nigerian devoid of any trace of ethnicism and parochialism.

Sounds great right?

But Nigeria faces some extraordinary challenges. And it’s doubtful in my view whether merely being a disciplinarian uncle – in the absence of an extraordinary plan to get things moving – will do much to help. Needless to say I hope I am wrong.

Olisemeka does a good job in listing a good number of these challenges that typify many parts of Africa beyond Nigeria :-
The nation’s sense of indiscipline and disorder is evident and all pervasive even in very simple things and matters of the day and moment. A road-side mechanic claims to be an Engineer (Engr) and insists on being so styled. A traditional herbalist insists he must be called and respected as a professional medical Doctor (Dr) and, indeed, hugs the appellation. An ordinary traditional village community leader who flamboyantly styles himself a Chief and clownishly attired in a self-designed robe, is addressed not only as “Your Highness”, but takes offence if he is not properly addressed as “Your Royal Highness”.
… Pages of our national newspapers are replete with lavishly self-serving advertisements of obituaries, weddings and birthday celebrations. Why not severely tax those who place these wasteful advertisements to rake in and release funds to charities or other good causes such as sporting and educational development of the country.
… confident young ladies on our television sets in order to make themselves more attractive and acceptable, bleach their skin to pale sickening white, with their veins thinly exposed; their bare knuckles and elbows still looking jet black. They should be reassigned to the back room offices, decorated with mirrors, left to rue their new look which has become an eyesore to many viewers. Our television channels have suddenly become a babel and cacophony of crude and embarrassing noise makers, reflecting the values of a sick society, drunk with democratic excesses.
Honorary degrees are sold, bought and conferred on undeserving personalities by many of our Universities and these personalities shamelessly parade them at will. A few prominent church leaders have relocated their pulpits from their churches to the seats of secular power while a number of Imams have not been able to teach their adherents the purity of their religion which preaches respect for human lives.Our youths need impeccable high level connections before gaining employment at any level, both decent or menial. Impunity freely reigns in the land more than ever before. The temples of justice are daily being desecrated. The Lady now has her eyes wide open; seductively beckoning and soliciting for favours….

And those democratic excesses being refered to here are just the icing. According to one Joachim MacEbong, writing on African Arguments here, the downfall of Goodluck Jonathan had as much to do with his own shortcomings as with external factors against which he didn’t do enough. MacEbong summarises the issues as follows:

Having received a strong mandate, Jonathan proceeded to fritter it away on issues like a proposal for a single term of 6 years and a badly-handled public debate over the removal of fuel subsidies, which culminated in Occupy Nigeria. As scandal after scandal came to light without any decisive action, and Boko Haram escalated its activities, Jonathan came to be viewed as being soft on corruption and security, which made a Buhari presidency much more appealing. When you add a flailing economy to the mix, the discontent was there to be tapped

So the same corrupt system Jonathan and his predecessors failed to eradicate is the same one which Buhari will encounter. The same Boko Haram, now twined with the middle-eastern thugs that are laying claim to a caliphate and who are calling themselves IS, ISIL and ISIS is the same group Buhari has to contend with. The shocking Youth unemployment (credible estimates range from 23% to 54%) and associated crimes haven’t gone away just yet, and the armed militia running roughshod across the Niger delta – groups who have been responsible for the loss of billions in illegal sales of Nigeria’s oil every month – are still very much on the loose, free to continue their havoc on Nigeria’s economy.  The tribal conflicts between tribes, and religious intolerance between Christians and Muslims are still very much around – it’s probably only a matter of time before the next church or mosque is torched.

The problems don’t end there. Remember this report by McKinsey Global Institute (MGI), titled  Nigeria’s renewal: Delivering inclusive growth in Africa’s largest economy and published in July 2014, in which we were told what a huge opportunity Nigeria presents to investors? Well, that report also mentions that Nigeria averaged a GDP growth of 1.5 percent a year under military rule ( between 1983–99) – the same time period Buhari had his first stint as country leader. It further states that:

In rural areas, 53 percent of the population lives below the poverty line due to low farm output, poor access to markets, and a rising population that is leading to cultivation of smaller plots …Recent reforms in agriculture are promising, but the scale of challenges is vast, and it may take many years for farm incomes to rise substantially.

However what is probably most worrying, besides the fact that Nigeria remains in the bottom 25% of most corrupt countries according to Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index is this next fact:

… poverty rates have remained high and stagnant. On metrics of human health such as child mortality, Nigeria falls far short of the United Nations’ Millennium Development Goals, and it has under-invested in education and infrastructure.

Under-investment in Education and Infrastructure means you have a long way to go to turn around your economy because your institutions can’t just produce quality graduates at the stroke of a presidential decree. And putting in place the necessary infrastructure to kickstart your economy will also take time.

So uncle’s work is cut out. And that’s before we even begin talking of illicit financial outflows.

But what these problems also show is that a little leaven is leavening the whole lump.

You may say look Sangwani, this happens in all poor countries, these people are messing things up because of poverty and corruption they see; that it’s because of the tribal alienation that has left large parts of the north underdeveloped, which forces them to seek political power by hook or crook.

You may have a point, I’m not dismissing other causative factors.

My contention is that a leader can’t address the real issues when there is lawlessness  (if not continuous sabotage) in the form of endemic corruption, terrorists, militia groups and white-collar criminals.

Before there is even any talk of progress, the task of cleaning up will inevitably entail prosecuting those who are spoiling the broth. If nothing is gained from such an exercise, at least a breathing space may be found that allows the leader to squarely face the real issues (security, job creation, healthcare, the economy) without constant disturbance from issues which fuel detractors.

So, it can’t possibly be sensationalist to suggest that the first duty of any newly elected leader of an African country should be to either build a  new prison or ensure one exists that can accommodate as many of those who must be behind bars.

Such an exercise will create jobs (imagine the number of jobs you could create if your budget had $20 billion more each year) It will instill a sense of discipline, and could even attract investment?

I’ll end with another quote from Olisemeka’s article:

The immediate challenge before him [Buhari], I feel convinced, is how to curb the excesses of the teaming mass of followers who, undoubtedly, adore him. The next, is to rein in the display of empty, hollow pompousness and offensive arrogance by a few of his elitist, lazy patronage-seeking associates; who, if victorious, will flock to him without discrimination

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