On bulimia, profligacy and torpidity (1)

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By Douglas Anele

If any set of three words captures the basic tenor or characteristic of Nigeria’s ruling elite and the generality of Nigerians, the ones that constitute the title of our discourse today are “spot on,” as the Americans would say.

To avoid misunderstanding, it is necessary to give an indication of what those words mean. According to Oxford Dictionary of Psychology, bulimia (or, more technically, bulimia nervosa) is a pathological voracious appetite for food. It is a form of eating disorder characterised by episodes of binge eating, usually carried out secretively and accompanied by a sense of loss of control.

A bulimic person tends to be ashamed of his or her abnormal behaviour and, as a result, takes compensatory action to prevent weight gain, including but not restricted to self-induced vomiting, fasting and obsession with exercise. Concerning ‘profligacy,’ Chambers 20th Century Dictionary gives its meaning as “state or quality of being profligate, a vicious course of life.” Thus, to be profligate entails being rashly extravagant or wasteful; a prodigal.

‘Torpidity,’ the last expression in the triad, is the state of being lethargic, sluggish, dormant, loss of the power of motion and feeling. Now, since the attainment of independence on October 1, 1960, leading members of the ruling elite in Nigeria have manifested a degree of selfishness and voracious appetite for corruption which would have completely crippled a less-endowed country.

That Nigeria has an incredible potentiality for greatness hardly matched by any other country in the world, is beyond question. With immense natural and human resources, coupled with climatic condition that is generally clement all year round, there is no good reason why over seventy-five percent of Nigerian people should be struggling with poverty. Unfortunately, the frontiers of poverty in Nigeria are expanding rapidly.

The situation is anomalous and paradoxical, considering the quantum of resources wasting away in the country. World-renowned writer, Chinua Achebe, in his little but provocative book, The Trouble With Nigeria, identifies some fundamental causes of Nigeria’s chronic underdevelopment. And he was quite forthright in concluding that the blame for it must be placed squarely on the doorsteps of our leaders.

Corruption, that is, abuse of entrusted power for selfish purposes which eventually has negative repercussions on every one who relies on the integrity of people in positions of power, authority and influence, has been taken to the level of an art form by members of the ruling elite.

Of course, no country in the world is completely free from corruption among the leadership. The difference is that, whereas in well organised countries law enforcement agencies are empowered to enforce strict anti-corruption laws irrespective of the status of who was involved, in Nigeria the laws against corruption are deliberately formulated to favour the rich and powerful, and their enforcement leaves much to be desired.

Again, morally frozen senior lawyers and judges shamelessly connive to despoil the people by letting billionaire-thieves go scot free. The legal saga of James Onanefe Ibori, former governor of Delta State, both in Nigeria and United Kingdom, is a sad metaphor for the moral black hole into which the Nigerian judiciary has plunged itself.

The pecuniary bulimia afflicting political office holders and prominent members of the ruling and business elite has reached a disturbing level capable of plunging the country into the kind of financial mess which Greece is facing right now, or even worse.

At least, Greece is a member of the European Union (EU), and the latter is taking unprecedented measures to pull her out of impending bankruptcy. Nigeria does not have that kind of opportunity, because an African equivalent of the EU does not yet exist.

Therefore, although our country is barely keeping its corruption-battered head out of dangerous financial waters, there is no doubt in my mind that if the Presidency and the motley crowd of political office holders nationwide continue in their profligate ways, very soon Nigeria will be stranded in a financial no-man’s land which will have devastating consequences for the Nigerian people.

One does not need to be an expert in economics or political economy to sense that Nigeria is dangerously approaching an economic cliffhanger, judging by the rate of inflation and deindustrialisation in the country at this time. It is not that our President does not have financial experts in his cabinet who can give him sound advice on how to run the economy for wealth creation and sustainable development.

The problem is that President Jonathan has not communicated effectively to his ministers and Nigerians in general, through exemplary leadership, that he is ready to do whatever it takes to eliminate waste and reckless spending in governance.

In short, President Jonathan seems incapable of taking the sort of unprecedented tough decisions necessary to reverse the current trend in which over seventy-five percent of federal revenue is spent on recurrent expenditure, leaving a paltry twenty-five percent for capital projects.

If we ignore the unnecessarily large size of Jonathan’s cabinet (which itself is a form of corruption) and focus on certain frivolous provisions in the 2012 Appropriation Bill Jonathan sent to the National Assembly sometime ago, it will become clear that Mr. President has learnt nothing from his own mistakes or from the mistakes of those before him. In 2013, for instance, the State House will spend N1.320 billion for “refreshments, meals, and other miscellaneous expenses.”

In his defence of what my friend, Obi Nwakanma, called “glutton’s budget” or budget for “ihe-ose,” Mr. Emmanuel Ogbile, Permanent Secretary State House, had the audacity to say that the money is not even enough for the sub-head! Keep in mind that last year, the President had to reduce the amount for meals and refreshments to N920 million, in response to criticisms of the initial estimate.

I have always argued that one simple method of gauging the extent to which political leaders are working for their people is by noting the changes (if any) in their physical appearance immediately they assumed office and a year or two afterwards. Consider President Barack Obama of the United States.

When he was elected in 2008, his scalp was almost completely black and there were few lines on his forehead. Now, four years later, Obama has aged somewhat. Although the American President still retains his boyish handsomeness, his scalp is greyer and there are more lines on his face. Obviously, Obama is working and thinking hard for America, because he understands the enormity of the problems of governance and is prepared to lead by example.

Now consider our own President, Goodluck Jonathan. He looks much better now than when he was the Vice President. Our President exudes such an aura of well-being and opulence (or no shakingness) that nothing about his visage projects the seriousness of his office and the belt-tightening messages he and his aides have been asking Nigerians to adopt. TO BE CONTINUED.

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