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The Oxford and Cambridge club of Nigeria debate: Nigeria democracy and the economy

By Partick Dele Cole
THE Oxford and Cambridge Unions were the training ground for speakers who intended to climb the political ladder. Both Universities were the recruitment centres – de rigour – for British political leadership.

Both have produced more Prime Ministers and Cabinet members than any other University. Each of the Unions was where orators horned their skills, and still do. International Scholars, Statesmen, Presidents, Prime Ministers, and other Leaders look forward to the thrust and cut of debates of the Union. That the graduates of Oxford and Cambridge here in Nigeria have decided to bring forth that tradition is welcome and commendable.

I went to the Oxford and Cambridge Club 2015 Debate on Nigeria, Democracy and the Economy. The Moderator was Professor Kanyisola Ajayi, SAN (Cambridge); whilst the Chairman was Professor Bolaji Akinyemi CFR (Oxford). There were four speakers Dr. Bright Okogu (Economist, Oxford), Dr. Ayo Teriba (also an Economist, Cambridge, whose uncle, Professor Teriba, was a good friend of mine Demola Akinrele, Esq, SAN, (Cambridge) and Professor Fidelis Oditah, QC, SAN (Oxford).

I expected robust debate and or statements and we received five statements in the sonorous, dulcet, clipped diction that now characterizes those properly educated who ended up in Oxford and Cambridge. There is diction I call Nigeria – Oyibo – speak – the moderator also had it and so did the rest.

I remember asking a lady sitting next to me- whether this was a new Nigerian language. It was an exhibition of their command of English and their very professional presentation which were so good that they could get away with saying very ordinary things in a very profound way. This mesmerising diction broke down twice – when Professor Oditah referred to Fela and he had to speak pidgin, ending with the very wafferian (people from Warri) advice – “shine your eye oh”. You cannot quote Fela in that clipped diction; so he also quoted some pidgin. The effect was eerie – as if a beautiful mould had suddenly been deliberately smashed! I used to think that Professor Bolaji Akinyemi in his deliberately deep slow voice usually sounded like an Oxonian. But today, age told on him – he sounded like an old professor from Ilesha, much the same as I sound like a fisherman from Abonnema.

Professor Akinyemi lamented the lack of that robust debating culture which existed in Nigeria in the 1950s, 1960s, etc., and blamed it all on the military who co-opted the intellectuals into service in their successive administrations. With the military, there was no time for too much grammar (turenshi). In this present political campaign, what it lacked in issues (as in substance) it has made up for in forced jollity, a great deal of noise and incredible lies and exaggerations: there is no doubt that everyone knows there is an election compared to 2011 when we had a tame parade by the parties.

Large economy, punny revenue

The panelists attribute this to the presence of a virile (or was it- vital opposition). They all agreed on the largeness of our economy (GDP ) and the puny revenue derived from there– our GDP is twice that of Algeria, but the revenue from Nigeria’s GDP is half that of Algeria. The elephant in the room was corruption which they all found synonyms for- “leakages”, “absence of a middle”, “necessary stomach infrastructure”, etc. When a member of the House of Representative earns US$2 million, plus the so called “constituency projects allowances” the result is predictable. At least, we ought to be able to count 471 Federal constituency projects, multiplied by two, that is, one project for every two year period. Add this to the extra projects for each senator, 36 x 3 at least there should be one constituency project per Senatorial District.

The sweetest of these dulcet voices was Demola Akinrele, who, in the old manner of the Oxbridge debates, spoke without notes for the longest time. He too dealt with kid gloves with the judiciary who were the supposed saviours of democracy, pitched against an avaricious executive which is forever expanding its powers. He called for the judges to earn more so that better quality judges could be recruited. He wanted the establishment of a Constitutional Court, a Corruption Court that could fast-track cases and avoid the blockage which sometimes seem to be haemorrhaging the Judiciary. On the Legislature all agreed that the power of oversight of Executive actions had been debased into a bidding war by the legislature. Members of the Executive claiming that their bills and/or budgets, etc., could be passed without inducements. The loneliest figure on the Panel was Dr. Bright Okogu, who did not look bright at all – lamenting that his budget was always swollen by extra demands for the Legislature, the inability to call into question just how well the budget had been followed, the regime of waivers and some fancily calculating of payment of 25% (or was it 75%) for bodies that collected revenue for and on behalf of the Government. There was great camaraderie, as speakers tried, in as polite a way as possible, to dig at one another.

Corrupt Judiciary

One of the most fascinating observations was the fact that nothing on the economy was asked of the Executive beyond submitting budgets. It was necessary to build institutions into the whole economic fabric which entrusts specific economic tasks to the Executive and the Legislature; in the United Kingdom, the Select Committees System perform these functions; whilst the various Economic Committees (Bi-Partisan) in the US Congress and the White House also perform these crucial tasks.

In this season of political silliness I just wondered why the panelists did not do more than scratch the surface on the crudity of a looting culture and administration. Crudity is not changed by a refined approach. The Political Parties all have Governments at the state level which are examples of what they can do, and more importantly, cannot do. There is no reason why one looter is worse than another looter, and justice is not served by avoiding the topic.

It may be argued such an approach would have negated the caution and stricture given to the Speakers by the Organisers that they should not delve into the real political arena in this period of electioneering campaign, in order to avoid the possibility of anybody claiming that any of the statements made at the Debate was tantamount to declaration of support for any of the Political Parties. And I believe that the Speakers did rather well in that regard. But at the expense of anonym.

All the commentators spoke about corruption and how endemic it is; but they some how fail to include the judiciary in the corruption arena. If corruption is that endemic, then the judiciary is tainted with that contagion. It is like Jesus Christ said in the Bible if you lust after a woman then you have committed adultery.

The popularity of election cases among judges cannot be for the love of the Constitution and a desire to make sure that only those properly elected serve as Legislators or Governors, etc. If they have, in the biblical sense, lusted after these cases, then they have sinned. If you see corruption, e.g. Police receiving money while on patrol – and you do not report it, and you are a judge, then you are a collaborator and have, like the Pharisee seeing evil and averting his eyes, sinned.

Our Lawyers know a great deal about corruption in the Judiciary. It is time someone exploited that knowledge even in the face of damaging some part of the client attorney confidentiality.

Inevitably, the paradigm posed by the late President of Singapore Lee Kuan Yew came up – development, development, development and democracy (including freedom of speech –) came a distant fourth.

Bismarck Rewanes’s impatience with the Kleptocracy called Nigeria received some sympathy, but not enough explanation – he said that what Nigeria earned in revenue between 1977-2002 was less than what it earned in 2005, 2006, and 2007 (he was not that specific) but the figures bear out his point. Even though there was some corruption between 1977-2002, more was achieved with less revenue that the period 2005-2014 which saw massive revenue matched with less achievement and massive corruption. There was no satisfactory explanation. But Dr. Teriba explained that unless we turn the revenue into production – infrastructure, railways, manufacture – processing our raw agricultural materials -) there will be no end to the loss of the middle (-is it a loss or has the middle been over fattened?) He pointed out that manufacturing in Nigeria, concentrated as it is on beverages, (even manufacturing of food and beverages was still import dependent) produces less than 5% of GDP.

Office of the First Lady

There was a hapless lady who feared that in our slumber we may introduce same sex marriages! I am sure I did not understand how a slumbering innocent people can suddenly, on waking up, have legal same sex marriages –but I share her concern for such a calamity! While on Ladies we learnt that there was no provision for First Ladies in the Constitution and that their activities should be reined in.

The Chairman thought that the excesses of First Ladies should be curtailed and that sometimes they use their offices for good – like Maryam Babangida – in mobilizing women, especially in the North where women needed mobilization. Maybe those of us who are married know how difficult it is to rein in a woman. I do not believe that nonsense about African women being obedient. They are not necessarily so. Maybe when we are poor; but once power and money get involved there is no telling what a woman (or a man) can do. Perhaps, there should be help for the hapless husband – just ban all activities by law of all wives of Governors or Presidents and deny them access to public money. It may seem to some that one is throwing out the baby with the bath water. Not necessarily so. It will curtail the excesses so evident to- day- for example, a large fully funded expensive office of African First Ladies etc. The most vociferous of these women cannot be stopped by their husbands without outside help, including Christians, Muslims, Animists and Mammy Water worshippers

Why do we have First Lady – Why not, First Husband, First Mother, First Brother, First Cousin, First Son, First Daughter, First Grand Mother and First Grand Father, Etc.?

If the President or the Governor is married to six wives do we have six First Ladies or do we have First 1st Lady, 2nd First Lady, 3rd First Lady, etc or is it First Lady, 2nd Lady, 3rd, 4th, 5th, 6th Lady?

How did Governor Nyako manage since he had four wives? Do we return to Governor Diete-spiff’s era when we had two First Ladies (the second First Lady had been Chief brides maid to the First Lady. And he went out with both simultaneously) Reductio ad absurdum. Should we not pay pension to these Ladies? Like we pay their husbands.

I would not be surprised if contractors, political job seekers pay to see the First Ladies, who then lobby for those they want to help? How much does this cost? What does a Minster or Commissioner do if summoned to the presence of a First Lady? Can he defy her and not go and still keep his job?

The President of the Club reminded us of the Oxford and Cambridge Boat Race just after Easter. What an arcane subject! There is an Okrika – Abonnema boat race on that day. Any takers?

Finally, as the Chairman said, let’s end by the wit of Winston Churchill, who would cheerfully drink poison rather than marry Lady Astor. Accused of being drunk by Mrs. Braddock; he accepted the abuse. But reminded her that tomorrow he would be sober while She, Mrs. Braddock, would still be fat and ugly!!! We used to say that African women were beautiful, especially when they were fat. I have not heard that said recently, maybe I do not go to the right parties. (You get it – play on words – right/left; party/parties.)


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