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The more things change in Nigeria, the more they remain the same

By Douglas Anele

The title of our essay today appears contradictory or, at best, puzzling. How is it possible that something changes and still remains the same, when the very idea of change entails that that which has changed cannot be the same thing again? We know that reality, in all its diverse manifestations, is subject to flux.

The ancient Greek philosopher, Heraclitus of Ephesus, is usually credited with the theory of universal eternal strife, with the doctrine of the changing character of all things.

His famous statement that “you cannot step into the same water twice, for new waters are ever flowing in upon you,” has been interpreted as the credo of the belief in the cosmic permeability of change.

In Nigeria’s political experience, there is abundant evidence to suggest that things are changing. For instance, if you compare the political situation in the country now with what obtained say in 1979, you will notice considerable changes, despite the fact that we are still operating the same presidential system as before.

Now we have more political parties, and it appears that there is an appreciable opening up of the political space.  More  political parties than ever before contested the  elections  which ushered in the present dispensation , because of the  purported need to provide greater, more variegated, platforms  for political expression.

The number of women participating actively in politics has increased; so has the percentage of women elected into different positions. For the first time a woman, Patricia Etteh, was  the Speaker of the House of Representatives, whereas Mrs Virgy Etiaba was for a short time the governor of Anambra State. Chief Olusegun Obasanjo, a former President, established the Independent Corrupt Practices Commision (ICPC) and the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) to fight corruption and financial and economic  crimes. One can go on multiplying examples which tend to suggest  that since 1979 there have been several changes in the political power equation in Nigeria.

However, are these changes genuine? Are they fundamental enough to constitute paradigm-shifts in the direction the country has been moving since 1979? In my view the answer to both questions is:NO. Infact, if there have been changes, they are for the worst. Nigeria has been retrogressing since the Second Republic, as successive governments compete to outdo one another in kakistocracy.

Corruption in high places by sacred cows, criminal wastage of the country’s resources on white elephant projects, unrealistic projections,nepotism and unintelligent pursuit of selfish interests by the ruling elite etc., have continuously compromised our development efforts. Take the question of corruption. Since 1979, the level of authority stealing by members of the ruling class has been increasing exponentially, to the  extent that holding a public office is now generally considered by Nigerians as the fastest way of becoming a multi-millioniare. There is corruption in all countries of the world.

But in serious countries, corrupt public  office holders, including  former Presidents and Prime Ministers,  are  held accountable for their misdeeds. In Malaysia, Argentina, Phillipines, South Korea, China and the developed countries of Europe and North America, highly placed former political office holders are either given very harsh sentences for perpetrating corruption or, in some extreme cases (China), executed. In Nigeria, top government officials launch,incubate and nurture corruption till it matures for harvesting. Of course,  the yield is usually in millions and billions of naira or dollars.

The interesting aspect of the situation is that no serious effort is made to nip authority stealing in the bud .  The  anti-graft agencies created by former President Olusegun Obasanjo have recorded very modest achievements in bringing few corrupt sacred cows to justice. President Umaru Yar’Adua merely re-echoed the  pledges of his predecessors  to tackle corruption irrespective of who was involved.

Yet,  more than two years into Yar’Adua’s  four-year tenure, the media continues to report almost daily cases of outrageous graft by officials of the Federal Government. Consider these:The House of Representatives recently passed a motion to revoke the N63 billion contract awarded to Julius Berger Plc for the construction of a second runway at the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport, Abuja.  The legislators argued  that the contract did not follow due process.

They  also alleged that it was overpriced, and that some runways  constructed recently were of better standard and cheaper than the one Julius Berger was to build. These allegations, if true, means that some top officials of the relevant ministries and parastatals stand to gain illegitimately if Julius Berger eventually executes the contract. In another report, Magnus Kpakol, former Co-ordinator of the National Poverty Eradication Programme (NAPEP) told members of the Senate Committee on Public Accounts that the  documents relating to a N2.4 billion contract for the purchase of tricycles by NAPEP were missing. Kpakol claimed that the contract was perfected  in 2001 before he was appointed and that he had searched for the documents but could not locate them.

To be continued


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