By Tabia Princewill

Our political history has seen a succession of opportunistic characters appealing to our   base instincts to secure power and quick wins. As an American novelist, Henry Adams once put it, politics is “the systematic organisation of hatreds.”

Leaders engineered a winner takes all economy, implanted their stooges and fronts to represent them at the head of companies which exist only to do business with government, rather than provide any real market worthy, competitive services.

They made sure the system they had now rigged in their favour fully belonged to them, so that even when attempts at liberalisation or privatisation were made, they were the only ones with access to the funds to buy whatever asset was on sale.

Besides the obvious lack of understanding of the power reforms which necessitated a hike in prices, the fact that virtually all the power holding companies seem to involve, or to be backed by, in one form or another, past political office holders and generals, didn’t help to inspire public confidence.

New business  opportunity

Are they equipped to efficiently run these companies, or did they simply believe this new business opportunity would allow quick returns? Beyond the vandals destroying infrastructure or the lack of gas which prohibited the proper functioning of the DISCOS and GENCOS, we must begin to look at our distorted political and economic system where both political and economic power are bought, then remain concentrated in the hands of a few who cannot even do us the favour, for all their supposed might, of running the system properly.

As I have said numerous times in this column, Libya, Saudi Arabia and many other countries in the Arab world are not democracies. Yet, they boast of free education, healthcare, good roads and social security. What we could have achieved if our oil wealth during boom periods hadn’t been so chillingly looted is anyone’s guess. What we could also have done, without the financial burden of 36 states is also left to the collective imagination. We were ruthlessly manipulated by clever politicians into believing that more states would mean more representation and development. All it did was give us more governors, deputies, house of assembly members, retinues of aides, advisors, commissioners etc. Only in Nigeria would an aide’s personal assistant also have his or her own assistant, paid for by the government, often a family member, useless to the people’s cause but happy to milk the federation dry.

I’ve often called for us to emulate France, a country that merged several of its regions in order to face up to economic challenges and avoid the burden of costly state administrations. Et tu, Nigeria?How does it make sense for a country such as ours, grappling with crippling poverty, to spend almost 80% of our revenue on accommodating, as the current Emir of Kano and former Central Bank Governor said, one million public officers at the expense of over 160 million Nigerians. Let’s not forget that governors, for example, besides their salaries, pay themselves huge amounts upon leaving office for the rest of their lives, while residents of their states collect puny pensions, if at all. If only our governors’ performance were commensurate with their salaries, then we would be the most developed nation on earth. Nigerian politicians are skilled manipulators of ethno-religious identities for their personal gain and we continuously fall into their trap.

Our politics has been a combination of self-regarding tactics, where leaders only engage in activities that grant them huge personal payoffs. But in all critics’ talk of Buhari’s travels (a grossly misunderstood issue) and his agenda, no one ever asks what our state governors and local government chairmen are doing.

We misunderstand the whole point of a Federal system which is supposed to bring government closer to the people through governors and local government actors. We are yet to query any of them as to the proper use of the bailout funds or as to any of their activities for that matter.

Commissioning schools and boreholes, or in the case of Governor Fayose, buying food from children who should be in school, is not enough, it is an insult to our collective intelligence and aspirations. Our local councils do not make the best use of our money nor do they share power with the communities they are supposed to serve, which defeats the purpose of their very existence. Now, what do councils normally do? Controlling where new houses and other buildings are built, making sure they meet safety requirements, providing for leisure centres to keep young people away from drugs or other nefarious activities, providing services for families, children and the disadvantaged, waste management, maintaining roads, cleaning the streets, supervising schools and most of all connecting with communities, being open to suggestions and giving power to them by enabling them, for example, to get involved in how services are delivered.

We can all agree in most cases, this is hardly done. As for audits of our local governments and citizen’s ability to scrutinise how funds are spent, we can also agree that, perhaps, the greatest transparency issue within the federation today occurs at that level. So, besides creating and mediatising kingpin governors who were virtually unknown before their elections, what are we going to do about this political class or political economy where public office is a kingship rather than a call to service? Will we continue to pay the cartel to impoverish us?

Positions of  authority

The reason why so many states do not function correctly is simply because they have the wrong people in positions of authority. Let us all stop screaming or wishing for Buhari’s magic wand to change our reality and rather question those closest to us whose job it is to do so in very real, incremental ways which we would immediately feel if said people were up to the task.

But then again, we vote for the people the parties present, and we are caught, many times, between the devil and the deep blue sea, asking ourselves “which candidate is worse or would do the most harm” rather than who is the best.

I firmly believe we must begin to rethink meritocracy in Nigeria and examine how talent pools are created and maintained abroad so that when parties recruit, they go to serious-minded, efficient individuals rather than those with experience in hooliganism or fraud.

Farouk Lawan and Femi Otedola

Marcelo Odebrecht, the former CEO of Brazil’s largest construction company was convicted a few days ago of corruption and money laundering.

He was sentenced to 19 years in prison in order to send a strong signal to the business community that bribery and corruption wouldn’t be tolerated.

Odebrecht was reportedly close to former President Lula and his party. The investigation revealed the business community routed cash gifts to party leaders through executives at the state oil company Petrobas. Brazilians supported the move to rid their system of bribery: why can’t we?

Senator Ali Ndume

The Senate, as an institution, is one of our biggest problems. Most see it as a retirement home for governors who add their senator’s salary to the huge benefits they continue to receive as former governors. With little impact on policy making beyond obstructing reform, it isn’t surprising that rather than take on child marriages, the Senate would discuss men taking on a second wife.

Ali Ndume, the Senate Leader, curiously said he was advised by the Senate President, Bukola Saraki to marry a second wife. It would be interesting to hear Toyin Saraki’s views. Ndume proffers polygamy as a solution to women’s problems, on International Women’s Day, of all days. Nigerian women are constantly objectified, but it is most embarrassing that our Senators’ public utterances are continuously haphazard, bordering on illogical.

After Dino Melaye’s incongruous onslaught on foreign wives, one must ask if there is a shortage of issues for the Senate to debate. Poor Nigeria, at the mercy of those who have made themselves into court entertainers.

 

Disclaimer

Comments expressed here do not reflect the opinions of vanguard newspapers or any employee thereof.