Sunday Perspectives

September 1, 2019

The return of barbarians (3)

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By Douglas Anele

As I was saying, the paucity of world class economists and public finance management professionals in President Muhammadu Buhari’s current cabinet and economic team is a valid reason for thinking that this government is either not serious about building a vibrant productive economy or is just incapable of doing so. Whatever may be the case, the possibility that the economy will improve significantly between now and 2023 is quite low. This brings us to another important issue: the quality of those appointed as ministers in the recent exercise. In constituting his cabinet, a visionary result-oriented President, given the unhealthy state of Nigeria’s economy, would have diligently selected only thirty-six ministers to meet the minimum constitutional requirement concerning the number of ministers and lower drastically the cost of governance. But with forty-three ministers, a sizeable number of whom have questionable antecedents, President Buhari has demonstrated appalling insensitivity to the current disturbing economic situation made worse by his government’s ruinous profligate borrowing and ballooning recurrent expenditure at the federal level.

So, the question arises: Is the President really aware of the gloomy economic realities or is the problem simply a matter of nescience, gross incompetence and desire to reward those that worked for his controversial re-election? Something tells me it is a combination of all these. To be candid, this government appears to be more interested in consolidating its power than in delivering good governance because given the parlous state of the country’s economy at the moment, a thinking and focused President would constitute an efficient lean cabinet to reduce cost and improve efficiency by avoiding unnecessary overlap or duplication of functions. Unfortunately, Buhari is not such a President, and the vicious cabal allegedly governing on his behalf are not interested in people-oriented leadership, which Nigerians need so badly right now. Beaming our critical searchlight on the appointments (a constitutional function where the President would have easily improved upon the practice of his predecessors by attaching portfolios to the names for more detailed, effective and stringent screening at the Senate) one is immediately struck not only by its nepotic favouritism of the north (especially the north-west) and side-lining of the south-east but also by the large number of individuals with ugly dark shadows of corruption hanging all over them.

Morally speaking, appointing people with disgusting putrid stench of corruption into high offices ought to be anathema in a government that is genuinely fighting corruption. However, for leaders of the APC once you join the party and begin to sing the praises of Buhari, you become completely sanctified and your burden of corruption  dissolves into nothingness – cynics have actually described how some of the names made the list as a bizarre re-enactment of the discredited, morally bankrupt, medieval practice of Indulgences by the Roman Catholic Church. Consequently, it is not surprising that Buhari’s ministerial list reads like a roster of who-is-who in the accursed book of corruption. Most well-informed Nigerians would agree that since 1999 no administration has patronised and rewarded corrupt politicians and retired military personnel as much as the current government. One of the shambolic features of Buhari’s choice of ministers is that Festus Keyamo, a former external prosecuting counsel for the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), is in the same ministry of Niger Delta with Godswill Akpabio as minister of state and substantive minister respectively. Given that background, how would both men interact at work on a daily basis without some degree of psychological tension and cognitive dissonance? Abubakar Malami, the returning Attorney-General and Minister of Justice, is implicated in federal government’s serial disobedience of court orders.

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The conclusion from the foregoing is clear and unequivocal: Buhari not only rewards corruption, he celebrated it in the latest ministerial appointments because those involved are his loyalists. It follows that anyone still in doubt that the APC government cannot win the fight against corruption should get his or her head examined urgently. Buhari’s anti-corruption programme has turned into a caricature or legerdemain designed to deceive gullible Nigerians. That is why the agencies responsible for it, particularly the EFCC, have become instruments for harassing and intimidating dissenters: they go after mostly those that do not support the President and the ruling party. In my opinion, the ministers, especially the reappointed ones, are barbarians.

Why? Because like a typical barbarian who lacks the refined civic attributes of those the ancient Greeks referred to as “citizens” (attributes like civility, adherence to the rule of law and a highly developed social conscience) most of the people in power now behave as if Nigeria belongs to them exclusively for the purpose of satisfying their bulimic craving for primitive accumulation. Put differently, despite their elevated status in the society, Nigeria’s top political office holders are not civilised enough to lead, given that they lack the intellectual, emotional and moral refinements that constitute the essence of a civilised human being. That is why they behave as if political office is an end in itself, as if public funds and assets are for the satisfaction of their insatiable desires. Considering that we are now under the epidemic of kakistocracy, there is no silver lining in the horizon given that the present set of leaders cannot lift Nigeria from the morass of escalating insecurity, economic stagnation and cancerous corruption.

Meanwhile, the ruling power blocks made up of certain prominent individuals from the core north and south-west, are united by the lust for power. But whereas northerners in the corridors of power are obsessed with maintaining the north’s political dominance at the centre, their southern counterparts are interested in eating the crumbs that fell from their Fulani masters’ table. Generally speaking, the ruling elite are not interested in working for the suffering masses. It might be objected by some readers that the outlook presented here about the current administration is too pessimistic and negative. That is correct; but we should remember that truth is not always palatable or comforting. On the contrary people avoid speaking truth to power mostly out of fear for the negative repercussions. That said, my pessimism is based on objective assessment of the current situation, not on starry-eyed propaganda-induced optimism which beclouds one’s sense of reasoning. How can any reasonable Nigerian be optimistic after the President had assembled a group dominated by people of questionable character with a barbaric (in otherwords extremely selfish) attitude to public service? Nigerians must prepare for four more years of motion without movement in the right direction.

The issue of corruption, though quite telling, is not the only thing wrong with the ministerial list. The number of women in it is abysmally low, and the average age of the appointees is closer to fifty than to forty. The current administration has not done enough to integrate women and youths in the top echelons of governance. President Buhari, by his recent choice of ministers, confirmed that he is gerontocratic and probably a misogynist as well. After all, he espouses the archaic belief that the place of woman is to prepare food and serve as sexual outlet for men, and his cabinet since 2015 has been dominated by people above fifty years. Therefore, even if Buhari is allowed to stay in office for another four years after 2023, his attitude to women and Nigerians between the ages of twenty-five and forty-five will remain the same – just as a leopard cannot change its spots, Buhari is not likely to change from his ingrained habits no matter what the sycophants around him might say.

What about the two chambers of the National Assembly APC, are they dominated by barbarians in the sense of people motivated by  extreme self-indulgent materialism who are insensitive to the suffering masses? In my opinion, the answer is in the affirmative. First of all, their bow-and-go practice during the screening of several ministerial nominees indicates a high degree of unseriousness and mediocrity in the exercise of their oversight function. This is not surprising because Ahmed Lawan, the Senate President, his deputy, Ovie Omo-Agege, and other diehard Buhari loyalists have publicly exhibited worshipful reverence towards the President. Second, the federal legislators are still receiving outrageously huge emoluments and pecks of office which constitute a heavy burden on the country. As I write, the senate leadership is preparing to buy Sport Utility Vehicles (SUVs) for senators worth N50 million each. To be concluded.