By Pini Jason
IN one of the several interviews to mark his 60th birthday, Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu (BAT) was asked by the SUN editors if he was interested in becoming the president of this country. “Why not?”, he countered and went ahead to boast that he can make a better president than many of his peers. But two down the line he began to distance himself from the ambition.
The SUN: But seriously, would you contest in 2015?
Tinubu: Em…..I can’t say that. It is too premature for a politician to come out and say that. I cannot say that now. 2015 is still far away.
The SUN: It is not far
Tinubu: 2015? Ah! You want to kill me before then? You want me to declare now? Ahh, my sister, no!
The above conversation reflects what we have reduced our politics to. Here is a man being celebrated for his widely accepted political achievments who, in one breath, boasted about his competence for the job of president and who, in another breath, would not want to be caught nursing a presidential ambition. I don’t know why, but in Nigeria, we have managed to make political ambition a very terrible disease. If you want to put a Nigerian into trouble with, for example the Governor of his state, all you need do is “accuse” him of having an ambition to run for governorship. The man so “accused” will swear with the names of his wife and children, and may even lead a delegation of peacemakers to the incumbent, to prove that he haboured no such ambition! A Nigerian politician continues to deny his political ambition till he finds himself in office. As a result we never get to know and interrogate the vision of the man who wants to lead us.
The controversy about 2015
The easiest way to start a controversy where there is none is to bring to the front burner the issue of who runs for president or governor and which community its turn it is. Not long ago the group of Concerned Northerners coordinated by loquacious Junaid Mohammed accused President Jonathan of nursing ambition to run for president in 2015. That seemed an effective jab in the serial attempt to make Nigeria “ungovernable” for Jonathan throughout his tenure. Since then Jonathan and 2015 have become a national distraction. Even Jonathan’s purported support for the coronation of Alhaji Bamaga Tukur as the chairman of the Peoples’ Democratic Party, PDP, has portrayed as evidence of his speculated ambition for 2015. If I know Nigerians, this needless debate will engulf the nation until we invent another distraction. Let me loudly say that this piece is NOT a support for Jonathan’s presumed ambition for 2015. It is NOT a position against such ambition, if any, either, and I shall explain why.
This argument about Jonathan and 2015 seems to me that Nigerians have settled for the fact that Nigeria’s presidency is an exclusive preserve of the PDP. If the PDP does not deliver the dividends of democracy to Nigerians, there are at least 40 other political parties on whose platform we can throw a formidable candidate at the PDP. Whether President Jonathan runs in 2015 or not is not a matter that requires a detective’s legwork to uncover. What is it that makes the speculated ambition an issue? Is it the legitimacy of such ambition or just the morality of it? Except that both the South East and the North are laying claims to 2015, and the South-South seems to be asking if it does not enjoy its eight years now, when?, there is hardly anything about 2015 to warrant heating up the polity now. These sentiments are the reasons why our politics is not developmental.
Just as economists have started to question and review their previous assumptions that endowment with natural resources is all there is for the development of nations, groups in Nigeria, especially the North, must try to come to terms with the very obvious fact that holding presidential power does not necessarily bring development. Just as nations like Japan and Singapore have proved that you can easily develop based on factors other than natural resources, groups in Nigeria must reexamine their fixations with presidential power.
Two news items in the Daily Trust of Thursday 29 March 2012 illustrate how priorities of nations or groups make the difference in development. Governor Wamakko of Sokoto state told newsmen that his government was spending between N44 and N45 million every month on payment of beggars’ allowances in the state (page 8). This amounts to giving people fish forever. On the other hand, Osun state government approved the payment of examination fees for pupils in all public primary school in the state (page 11). This is teaching people how to fish. The disparity these two policies will create in future between Sokoto and Osun state will have nothing to do with the religion or tribe of the president!
Let me further illustrate. When Nigeria’s former presidents and Heads of State meet, it tells a story of the irony of power and poverty in this country. With the exception of Chief Ernest Shonekan whose Interim National Government was even declared illegal by a court, the only other Yoruba you would see is Chief Olusegun Obasanjo. Five others (not forgetting three dead ones, Murtala Mohammed, Sani Abacha and Umaru Yar’Adua) are all Northerners. But long before Shonekan and Obasanjo, Western Nigeria had made tremendous strides in development.
There is nobody among the former Heads of State from the entire Eastern Region. Yet with 20 pounds after the genocidal war, the region has struggled to develop and it is doing well at that. The point is that politics and power are too precarious and ephemeral for any group to put either on the table as the only commodity it has on offer. In Igbo land, it is said that one who trades on earthen pots cannot be a well grounded businessman! One stumble and all his wares come crashing down in pieces!
Changing times and old assumptions: Times are changing. Certain
assumptions of old are no longer relevant or sustainable. Some young elements in the North must join the new thinking and table the North’s case as a Nigerian case.
Empty boasts, insults, abuses, threats and violence no longer intimidate other Nigerians. They only do bad PR for the North. The assumption that power belongs to the North exclusively and any incumbent from outside the North is simply a stopgap doing a Roberto DiMatteo till the anointed comes, is simply archaic and untenable. Well, if DiMatteo delivers there is no reason why the owner of Chelsea, Abrahamovic may not ask him to continue.
In this case the Nigerian people are the owners of the power President Jonathan holds today. If he does well, it will be the prerogative of Nigerians to decide his fate in 2015. It will not be a matter of mere speculation. Can he do well? If he does well, will Nigerians just sacrifice him on the altar of turn-by-turn politics? What are those warming up for 2015 bringing to the table? Religion or region? These are the crux of the matter.
On the other hand, are there people afraid of Jonathan doing well? Are there deliberate efforts to ensure that he fails so that South-South’s turn becomes a waste?
Should Jonathan’s years be a waste, can that be Nigeria’s gain? Just as over three decades of monopoly of power did not eradicate poverty in the Northern part of the country, my fear for Jonathan is that his tenure may not make significant economic difference in the Niger Delta. The devastation of the region by oil exploitation is monumental and expectations from the Jonathan presidency are very high among the people of Niger Delta. Jonathan may well prove that an appeal to religion or ethnicity is not enough to sustain one in power. Performance is it.
If our political behaviour must change, we must also change the mindset that makes the expression of political ambition an imprudent behaviour. We are better of if we know in good time who wants to rule us so that we can thoroughly interrogate his or her visions for the nation. For now, Jonathan has not declared for 2015. So there is no cause of action for which any controversy monger would want a court to grant an order of injunction against him.
Secondly, the framers of section 137 of the 1999 Constitution seemed to be clear in their minds when they said “elected” twice. This whole thing may be a panic reaction to the emergence of Alhaji Bamanga Tukur as chairman of PDP and which was speculated to pave way for Jonathan in 2015. These are hardly enough to divert the attention of the nation from far more urgent and serious issues confronting it now.
Corruption and our porous system
THE most recent in our culture of corruption is the mind boggling looting of the Police Pension funds. Last week, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, docked a permanent secretary and five others for allegedly stealing N32.8 billion of Police Pension fund. Two billion Naira cash was allegedly recovered in the house of a permanent secretary. Hardly a day passes without one reading of tens of billions of public funds being stolen by some public officers.
The question I keep asking is, what makes our system so porous that somebody will steal a million, hundreds of millions and billions without detection? With all the documentation obstacles placed in the way of people who do genuine business with government agencies, how and why is it easy for people to steal public funds only for the system to begin to play catch-am catch-am long after?
I ask these questions because when the Central Bank of Nigeria introduced its cashless policy, even with all its imperfections which have forced a rethink now, many believed that it was a step in the right direction towards containing corruption in Nigeria. But surprisingly, the CBN in its recent review of the policy exempted the Ministries, Departments and Agencies of government.
In view of the scandals we witness every day, if the CBN is going to exempt the MDAs it might as well forget the entire cashless policy. There is nowhere that the cashless policy is more needed than in the MDAs! After all many of us are already cashless! The nation must seek ways to design a bureaucratic system that is convenient for those who do business with governments and yet not easy to abuse by public officers as is the case now!