By Dele Sobowale
“When those in office regard the power vested in them as personal prerogative, they inevitably enrich themselves, promote their families, favour their friends. The fundamental structures of the modern state are eroded like supporting beams of a house after termites have attacked them. Then the people have to pay dearly and long for the sins and crimes of their leaders”. Lee Kuan Yew, Singapore’s Prime Minister.
(VANGUARD BOOK OF QUOTATIONS, p 2).
The man who led Singapore from the Third World to the First in one generation has had no equal in Nigeria and certainly doesn’t have now. All our living Heads of State put together have done less than one tenth of what Yew did for the tiny nation of Singapore despite the galling pretences of the most self-righteous one among them; by that I mean Obasanjo.
There is no single living Head of State and almost none among the dead who would not be indicted on charges of regarding “the power vested” in him “as personal prerogative”. And that culture is getting worse by the day. That “they enrich themselves, promote their families, favour their friends” is legendary – even by Africa’s low standards for accountability and transparency in governance. The rest of the world had for long accepted that we in the Dark continent are still living in the Dark Ages given the leadership we have had since the “Wind of Change” (courtesy Harold MacMillan, British Prime Minister) which brought disorder called independence into previously well-organised colonies. Truth is, there is no single part of this continent, certainly not Nigeria, which was not better governed in 1952 than now.
However, never in our disgraceful history, since independence has impunity, the arrogance of power and total disregard for the development of Nigeria, been so glaringly exhibited as we have experienced since 1999 under all governments – with few exceptions. Never has the welfare of the majority glaringly taken such low priority to the prerogatives of leaders.
In the last three weeks, Nigerians have read how the Presidency intends to spend N2.3 billion on food, drinks and welfare of visitors to Aso Rock; last year the sum budgeted was N1.3 billion. But, since only Unijankara people protested, the collective silence was taken as consent. One blockhead even invited me to join them at Aso Rock if I want to eat. Now, the budget for food and drinks, in 2013, has risen by 80%, from this year’s estimates, while the entire budget by less than five percent.
Meanwhile another N2.2 billion project has been slated for 2013 – the construction of new Vice President’s House. This will make it the third Vice-President’s house that the Federal government of Nigeria under the PDP will build since 1999.
The United States of America and Britain had retained the same structures for their leaders for centuries; only making renovations and improvements as technology and security will suggest. But, not Nigeria; where the comfort of Nigerians is more important than the welfare of the people they govern.
This government must be in love with N2 billion projects because there is a third one – a N2.2 billion contract to build a conference hall in the Presidency. The excuse this time is that it will accommodate 150 people at a time. Meanwhile, Abuja is saturated with halls of that size.
To PUNCH, we owe a debt of gratitude for drawing our attention to the fact that the Federal government of Nigeria spend N9 billion annually on the 10-aircraft Presidential fleet. The same paper went on to point out that the leaders of nations, far more developed and richer than Nigeria, have smaller fleets; some don’t have any. The abridged list of countries is presented below:
COUNTRY PRESIDENTIAL FLEET
United Kingdom 0
South Africa 1
Japan has the third largest economy in the world; South Africa is the largest economy in Africa. Their leaders keep only two aircraft idle most of the time. The Nigerian President keeps ten aircraft grounded and maintained at great expense by Nigerians – virtually all the time. So, in 2013 we can expect to spend another N9 billion on wasting assets instead of active investments. It is clear to even to the ordinary man that if half the cost of maintaining the Presidential jet is spent on roads or fertilizer every year Nigerians will benefit more than they do with so much going into the “prerogatives” of our leaders.
However, all those are small potatoes compared to the corruption, lack of transparency and accountability in the oil and gas sectors – where more money that should be paid into the Federation Account for sharing between the three tiers of government simply vanish into private pockets. Few Nigerians are aware that Deep Water oil operations on which the International Oil Companies have invested about $46 billion (that is nine times the 2013 budget) had been generating funds for the country. How much was generated last year, this year and years before remain a secret. The 2013 budget has followed the same pattern of cover-up because it makes no reference to this important source of revenue. By the same token, there has been no account of the disposition of the funds for the Petroleum Development Trust Fund, PDTF, which is first charge against oil proceeds and mandatorily to be given to the PDTF Secretariat for specified development projects. The PDTF was much abused under Obasanjo and there is every reason to believe that it is still being looted at the moment. PDTF is another agency under the Ministry of Petroleum whose activities have been placed under a veil of darkness – for obvious reasons.
While Japan has been described as nation which cannot afford to waste anything, and that explains its rise to economic power. Nigeria wastes everything, our leaders encourage profligacy and corruption. That explains why with our vast resource advantage over Japan, we are poorer and will remain so for a long time to come. We simply lack the leaders to take us to help us develop.