By Tabia Princewill
Not enough attention is being paid by the media or even by Nigerians themselves, to the deliberate acts of sabotage from certain anti-reform interests who do not wish to see the Buhari administration do well because it is a direct threat to their own crooked means of livelihood.
Even within the APC, which is a merger of different groups not necessarily held together by the progressive reform agenda the President is championing, there are people who loathe change and simply joined the party to retain power.
Without a common understanding (and most of all acceptance) of the necessities for reform, especially between governing elites, real change is difficult as elite interest in Nigeria resides in the maintenance of the plutocracy we have always known: government by the wealthy in the interest of the wealthy alone. Added to this is the global incentive for African politicians to be corrupt: if one can so easily hide funds in Panama or other tax heavens, it is no wonder the money meant to develop our societies ends up shoring up foreign bank accounts.
High level discussions
It is a shame that the logic behind the President’s trips is both poorly communicated and understood: without his presence at high level discussions to repatriate funds or even to identify means of eradicating the foreign, complicit actions and conditions which facilitate money-laundering in the first place, it would be difficult to achieve much. Indeed, Nigeria’s reputation has been badly damaged over the years so it is very necessary for the Chief Executive to state his case for development to other world leaders in person.
If it is too difficult for government to get the political and business elite to buy into the reform process, then the Presidency and the APC must look to the people responsible for their victory, for support: the poor and middle-class. It is time in Nigeria for a new social contract, a new alliance different from what was done in the past whereby government allies were rotating, zonal factions of the political elite. The President’s real and only allies are the poor, the only people to whom ‘change’ is beneficial.
It is of course possible to find behavioural incentives to convince the elite to believe in policies and ideas that favour the majority, but this has to be a long term project. In the short term, the ignorance and tribalism which have allowed these same political elites to get away with defrauding their constituents must be checked. How can anyone claim it is “taboo” to investigate former Presidents or their relatives? If they have done nothing wrong, then they have nothing to fear. We must do away with the culture that says “big-men” are untouchable; it allows impunity, one of the central reasons why our country’s economy is in dire straits today. Imagine if in the US every criminal or accused knew that he would never be brought to justice because some poor misguided indigenes from different states, would claim marginalisation and witch-hunt by the Federal Government, forgetting these same individuals they protect did next to nothing to lift them out of poverty! If it sounds impossible or ridiculous in the US, why do we accept this in Nigeria?No one is above the law so if there is evidence of wrongdoing, everyone and anyone can and should answer for their actions.
The concept of witch-hunting or selective justice is a scam created by frightened individuals to subvert the rule of law. The Prime Minister of Iceland resigned over his wife’s secret account in Panama, pending further investigations over the source of the funds, etc. Why is decency, respect for one’s people and country, respect for their image, the norm elsewhere, yet in Nigeria not only is it unusual, we the people don’t demand it! Quite the opposite. We must begin to separate politicking from facts and Nigerians should not allow themselves to be used in the defence of evil. It is not in our collective interest.
The reason why so many, even among the upper middle class, are anti-reform is because their income derives from clientelist networks, that is, most Nigerians make money from attaching themselves to patrons, the equivalent of a Roman slave master in Antiquity. It is imperative the APC, the Presidency does a better job selling the benefits of reform, particularly to the poor, the backbone of its support system: watch them fight the ‘change’ battle once they fully realise what is at stake. A modern economy cannot survive on patron-client networks. Currently, corruption’s dependents say the President is destroying the society because he is attacking a system where parasites feed off the state and throw crumbs to their followers who hail them for it. They don’t want a system where one makes money through hard work or merit: how tasking for those who have never done an honest day’s work in their lives!
Social contract with the poor
The Presidency has not told the story of how or why it is the real champion of the poor, the excluded and economically marginalised nor has it consistently told Nigerians that nobody is poor because their ethnic group is side-lined but rather because of bad governance by people of that same group: we are after all, a federation, a concept many don’t understand. State governors have more responsibility for development at the local level than even the President, whose actual role is to create an enabling environment.
The social contract with the poor should be built on a communications strategy, which consistently explains the issues with real life, relatable examples of not just failures but solutions. There is an on-going struggle between the Presidency and vested interests: the continuing budget saga proves it. Well-meaning Nigerians who want to have power, roads and amenities our counterparts abroad take for granted, should know on which end of this struggle their interest lies. This is about our nation’s survival. The Presidency should be directing a dialogue whereby the citizenry gets to truly understand what the real issues are and the constraints to change.
I won’t tackle the budget sagas; this deserves its own article. Let’s focus first on our lawmakers’double income, a travesty in these lean times, or in any time really. About 21 former governors, according to allegations, currently receive pensions from their states and salaries as senators, yet the same states can’t pay their workers, received bailout funds and ask for more.
Nigeria combines wickedness with absurdity. As for the idea that the National Assembly can insert constituency projects into the budget, it contradicts the separation of powers: the executive, i.e. the Presidency and the ministries are the sole government actors with the constitutional competence to undertake such projects. Legislators can lobby for projects for their constituents but by no means can they carry them out. Scandal by scandal, Nigerians uncover the scams and dysfunction keeping us from progress. It’s a shame however that no one in government is making sure the truth isn’t distorted again once it comes out.
The Vice President makes sound pronouncements which should be relayed more often. It is indeed “pathetic” that Nigeria benchmarks its budget on the oil price. We must re-examine the abnormal, dangerous facts of Nigerian governance and policymaking, which somehow became the norm.
It is not about insulting the past administration or anyone else: progress, development, change, call it what you want, demands unsentimental analysis and correction of past mistakes. The common denominator in all Nigerian governments, past and present, is the weakness in communicating facts and ideas, which would help their cause. The budget is another one of those severely misunderstood, miscommunicated issues. Austerity would make matters worse. We need to do what should have been done long ago, especially in times of plenty: invest our way out of trouble, hence why 30% of the budget is earmarked for capital expenditure.
As for taxes, many will fight paying them. There should be a communications strategy to help cure Nigerians of the oil-rich-free-ride mentality.