By Tabia Princewill
The hustle for position and appointments is a defining factor of Nigerian life. The joke now, in most parts, is to ask friends if they are moving to Abuja which goes to show that although a majority of Nigerians voted for “change” in principle, few truly understand what it entails. Unlike more developed countries where those called to serve often have solid educational backgrounds in policy making, those attempting in Nigeria to gain appointments often have no real understanding of governance and policy. Instead, what is touted as “experience” is simply experience in deal making and speaking the language Nigerian politicians understand: money.
I sincerely hope the calculations currently going on will leave room for technocrats to operate. But one must really ask: why are our politicians not technocrats? Why is there a difference, a separation between the two? One doesn’t go into politics in the US or the UK because one has no other business or occupation to attend to.
Of course, politics all over the world is a game of ambition but it is also one of conviction. Now that the “transfer window” is closed, and that APC has shut its doors to PDP defectors, one can only hope it’ll soon be time to get down to the very serious business of governance.
Names of prospective nominees are circulating online; each comes with calculations based on zoning rather than real competence. What if the best man or woman for the job is from a different zone than the one allocated for a particular office: is this person simply out of the race?
Ethnicity and power play
No wonder Nigeria is still so underdeveloped if rather than competence all we do is reward ethnicity and power play. Rather, what we need are creative, talented individuals who will put the needs of the majority first rather than see public office as a means of self-aggrandisement.
As a student of History, I think of the people, in France for example, who laid the foundation upon which today’s modern policies were built. Colbert was a French Minister under “le Roi Soleil”, the “Sun King”, Louis XIV of 17th century France: France became a dominant world power, enabling French supremacy for several centuries.
Some even go as far as saying that without Colbert and his reforms, modern France would not exist. Who will be the Nigerian Colbert, a person whose structural reforms will place our country on the map, preparing it for international greatness for centuries to come?
Colbert would say “pour le Roisouvent, pour la patrietoujours”, meaning: “often for the King, but for country always”. Politics is often about vested interests; there is no country in the world where this isn’t true. However, when personal interests are aligned with a nation’s greatness, which is when development occurs, history is made, poverty is defeated, jobs are created. Colbert was a workhorse who did the King’s bidding but never forgot the interest of the majority.
The projects he championed certainly enriched the elite and the French government, but they definitely empowered ordinary citizens (to a certain extent as one cannot compare the standards of living in 17th century France to what the modern age deems acceptable). “La gloire du Roiet le bien de l’Etat” was another one of Colbert catchphrases i.e. “for the King’s glory and the good of the state”. You see, “corruption” (although at the time it wasn’t deemed as such) i.e. dishonest or fraudulent conduct by those in power, should not stop the general affairs of the state from being conducted. In fact, the state must work, roads must be fixed, airports and hospitals built, children educated and groomed into a competitive workforce, because politicians understand that whatever money or businesses they amass can only last in a system where the needs of the majority are also met. After all, without an educated middle class with adequate spending power, who will buy the goods and services that the elite and their corporations produce? Serving the King and his interests was (and is, even today in the West) synonymous with the good of the state and its people as a whole. So, when in Nigeria I hear people talking about the Hausa-Fulani cabal being back in power, or the interests of the South-South, I say we just don’t fully understand what working for history and endless, perpetual greatness is all about. If by interests of the South-West, for instance, we mean only the interest of Bola Tinubu, then we are totally misguided and incapable of seeing the big picture.
Colbert founded French research and innovation, inviting the best artisans, scientists and innovators to create new typically French products for export, thus creating the French identity and reputation for finesse and luxury goods the country enjoys till this day. Nigerians expect those serving in the Buhari administration to have the same level of dedication to their country as the founding fathers of the countries we like to visit on holiday.
The issue isn’t really whether or not they make money: all politicians, all over the world, make money. The issue is what they do with it: invest it in Nigeria, or keep it in Swiss banks, helping to keep foreign economies afloat. The issue is also recruiting the best, no matter their age or where they are from.
They must work for Buhari and his legacy as a reformer and restorer of the Nigerian dream. Integrity in public office is of course important, but it would be naïve to expect the system to sporadically change.
However, if we are to compromise and make certain concessions to the status quo for now (after all, Colbert was an extremely rich man rumoured to have made his money speculating on “special projects”) we must be clear about the sort of “middle ground” we will accept, which also goes for “soft landings” for those in the past administration.
Recovered funds must develop Nigeria and we must agree the era of government largesse and stealing with impunity is over. What we are after now is tactical, strategic investments to make Nigeria a country we can be proud of, where “made in Nigeria” is not something we look down on.
Oby Ezekwesili and #BringBackOurGirls
Let me start by saying she is someone I admire. However, Ms.Ezekwesili’s call to Obama to help rescue the Chibok girls is one of the structural reasons why Africa remains underdeveloped.
Our “White saviour” complex permeates our political culture and understanding. Will Obama spend US taxpayers’ money to send troops or whatever machinery to Nigeria? Obama is not accountable to the Nigerian people; quite frankly, he owes us nothing.
Rather, it is the administration, which refused to believe that any girls were taken, that owes us everything. Nigeria has the resources and capability to defeat this scourge: Boko Haram. We cannot, in one breath, accuse Westerners of over-interfering and keep asking them for help in the next. Have you noticed that African presidents are only ever invited to see Obama in groups of three to five?
We must regain our own self-respect before anyone internationally can take us seriously, as many of our problems are man-made, created by selfish, greedy people then endorsed and accepted by some who don’t know better and others in the citizenry who are simply waiting their turn.
When I hear of boats capsizing in international waters, I think of the possible brilliance and untapped opportunities Africa loses to forced migration. If we developed fairer societies, Africans wouldn’t need to leave our shores in droves. But how can we, when any and all former ministers can enter venues with gun-toting policemen, as if state apparatus were their personal property. Private individuals using state resources for personal gain: one of the many reasons why ordinary people would rather risk their lives than stay in their own country. It is our collective shame.