By Simon Kolawole
Even if crude oil sells for $2000 per barrel for the next 10 years, you are notlikely to see any significant difference in the quality of life and standard ofliving of ordinary Nigerians. I mean it. The healthcare system would remainlargely the same – and our rulers would continue to fly to Germany to treatstomach upset; the potholes would still have a field day on our roads – and ourrulers would keep acquiring 4WDs to escape the discomfort; the schools wouldstill be producing illiterates – and the children of our rulers would continueto invade British and American schools to study; electricity would still be onand off, mostly off – and long live the generator merchants! Nigeria’sunderdevelopment is, without any doubt, built into the nature of our politics.
Why is this so? Let’s be honest with ourselvesand stop playing pranks: how many people are genuinely interested in theprogress of Nigeria? How many people go into politics because they are reallyinterested in our progress? Maybe everyone should do more soul-searching. Takea look around. Examine the society. Listen to the said and the unsaid words.Read the newspapers. Watch the TV. Listen to the radio. There is somethinginside the minds of those who rule us that tells them the progress of Nigeriashould never be a priority. And so, year in, year out, we get the same resultsfrom the different characters ruling the country at different levels – federal,state and local.
Sometimes when I look at Nigeria, I wonder howthings would change for the better. Most of us agree that the major obstructionto our progress is the quality of leadership, but then we have had some goodquality personnel in government they still failed us. We have tried all kindsof people. We have tried illiterates and semi-literates. We have triedgraduates and PhDs. We have tried third-class, second-class and first-classdegree holders. We have tried home-based and foreign-based. We have tried menand women. We have tried the old and the young. Yet we keep getting the same results:abject greed and crass incompetence. If symptoms persist after 51 years, Idon’t know the doctor we would consult now.
For a while, I have been thinking about thisperpetual state of bankruptcy, and I have been asking myself quietly: why arewe like this? How can we get out of this rot? What makes this rot possible inthe first place? What feeds it? What makes it possible for us to be locked upin a vicious cycle? Is there any visible way out of this mess? Many a times Iwhisper to myself: “We are finished!” But then another part of me says: “No, itis because wrong people are in authority over us. The day we get the right guysto control the affairs of this society, Nigeria will change like magic!” Asthis war rages on in my mind everyday, I never fail to ask: so how will thegood guys get into government? The very nature of our politics forms abarricade against these guys, and even if they manage to skip over thebarricade, the very system they want to change is too entrenched, too powerfulfor them to overcome. So they, too, surrender and decide to join in thedestruction of Nigeria. It’s a tough call, let’s be honest.
Today, I have chosen to highlight five obstaclesobstructing our progress. Of course, there are a thousand others, but thesefive have been agitating my mind recently.
1. Too Many “Checkpoints” When you hear that N500 billion has been budgeted for hospitals, for instance,we would be lucky if 10 per cent of that gets to them at the end of the day.There are too many checkpoints where the money will pass, and everybody musttake his or her own share: from the ministries and agencies involved inreleasing the money, to the health ministry itself, to the permanentsecretaries, to the directors, to the hospital boards, to the chief medical directors,to the senior management of the hospitals… Fellow Nigerians, if N1 billion getsspent on the hospitals, that would be a record! (NB: I only used health as anexample. You can multiply that by the number of federal ministries – and,please, don’t forget the 36 states and 774 local governments). How can we makeprogress with such institutionalised corruption? How can we make progress withthe across-the-counter stealing, as witnessed in the pension scam?
2. “Your Turn to Eat” In the last few years, I have turned down a number of “very lucrative”political appointments because of my belief that I can be useful to my countrywithout serving in government. But many of my friends who heard about it calledme and said: “Simon, are you crazy? How can you turn it down?”; “Suchopportunities don’t come always. This is a rare opportunity for you to helpyourself and do whatever you want to do thereafter”; “You may regret this laterin life.” In 2008, I wrote an article a reader did not like. He sent me a few insults.The most amazing one was to taunt me. He wrote: “Segun Adeniyi, presidentialadviser. Eziuche Ubani, member of the House of Representatives. Simon Kolawole,ordinary editor.” Did you get the point? Somehow, Nigerians have come to thinkthe only mark of success or fulfilment in life is to be in government. The mootpoint is about “cool money” as a sign of success. For as long as we see servingin government as a meal ticket, Nigeria will continue to remain like this.
3. Too much politicking Nigeria is confronted with major challenges that, ordinarily, should elicit theconcern of anyone who wishes this country well. But we are so consumed bypoliticking that the interest of Nigeria is hardly the motivating factor formany politicians, commentators and analysts. I will cite the Niger Deltamilitancy and Boko Haram insurgency to illustrate my point here. Faced withsuch enormous security challenges, you would expect everyone to rally round andhelp salvage the situation. But, no, politicking must take the centre stage.When the militants were bombing oil installations and killing soldiers, NigerDelta leaders kept quiet. When the soldiers started destroying villages andkilling innocent citizens, Borno elders said nothing. With Boko Haram, NigerDelta leaders started calling for state of emergency in Borno, while Bornoelders asked that soldiers being withdrawn because they were killing innocentcitizens. Tell me how we can make progress like this. We are too narrow-mindedto think of the national interest.
4. Incompetence Countries that have managed to develop across the world were ruled, and arestill being ruled, by competent hands. This is because there is a common goalin mind. Can we say the same thing about our dear country? The criteria forselecting public officers here are usually woven around anything butcompetence. Those who helped you to win elections will hand over a long list ofloyalists to be appointed ministers, advisers and commissioners. Let’s saythere is nothing wrong with that. The issue really is: what is the quality ofthe brains of these nominees? Only very few appointments are based on merit inNigeria. So the country keeps going down…
5. Crime, No Punishment We’ve heard about so many scandals, probes, investigations and trials. What isthe outcome? How many former ministers, commissioners, governors, permanentsecretaries and such like have gone to jail for destroying this country? It’seither the prosecution is not diligent or the judges are compromised. More so,with a cacophony of voices from the media, pressure groups and so-calledstatesmen, ethnic, political and religious sentiments are introduced intoissues and muddled up. It works all the time. The moment you know that if yousteal, your people are there to protect you from facing the full wrath of thelaw, you know you are fully protected. Bad behaviour is, therefore, encouragedacross board. And Nigeria keeps going down…
And Four Other Things…
Pension Pain A report in The Nation yesterday said a total of N151.6 billion in cash,allegedly, stolen from pension funds had been recovered by the Pension ReformTask Force. Forty-seven bank accounts used to stash away over N100 billion ofthe funds by a cartel have also been uncovered, the newspaper reported. Isthere no boundary to wickedness in our land? Every time, we read stories ofpensioners collapsing and dying while queuing up endlessly for theirentitlements. All that most of them need to live through the month is perhapsN10,000 or a little more. Yet, it is hell for them to get it. Some wicked soulsin government stash the funds away, turning themselves into billionaires at theexpense of old people who laboured all their lives for this country. Is thereno limit to greed and wickedness?
13% vs 50% Recently, the Coalition of Northern Leaders, Academics, Professionals andBusinessmen, led by Dr. Junaid Mohammed (the new Adamu Ciroma?), issued astatement saying the 13 per cent derivation on oil had brought too much moneyto the governors of the Niger Delta “who do not have the capacity to manageit”. Last Friday, the South-South Speakers Conference countered, asking thatderivation should actually be 50 per cent, given what it was before thediscovery of crude oil. I think the battle is fully on now! Of course, there isa sense in which you can say Junaid is right – the Niger Delta would have beena far better place by now if all the resources allocated to it since 1999 hadbeen judiciously utilised. But then, come on, so also can we argue that if allthe resources that have gone to the North since 1999 were well spent, theregion would be a better place by now. So maybe the hot air from theprotagonists and antagonists will not help matters but only heat up the polity– something we enjoy a lot in Nigeria.
Signals from Senegal Anytime something good happens to democracy in neighbouring countries, I alwayshave mixed feelings. I’m like: if it can happen in Ghana, it can happen inNigeria. But another part of me says: when? How? The defeat of President AbdoulayeWade of Senegal by Macky Sall is one of those occasions. Wade, who has beenpresident for 12 years, has enjoyed the dining room of the Presidential Palaceso much that he had refused to let go, doing everything possible to twist thelaws to keep him in office perpetually. At almost 86 years, he still refused toacknowledge that the market had closed; he was stubbornly shopping for anotherterm in office. But the opposition rallied round Sall in the run-off. Withdefeat staring him in the face – and most importantly, being unable tomanipulate the process – Wade belatedly threw in the towel. O God, when willthe opposition play the right politics in Nigeria?
Tinubu at 60 In 1999, the Alliance for Democracy controlled the six states of the South-westof Nigeria. It was a big embarrassment to President Olusegun Obasanjo that hisparty, Peoples Democratic Party, had no foothold in his own domain. Obasanjowent to work, persuading the AD governors to work with him in return for somefavours. The AD kept faith, failing to field a presidential candidate in the2003 election and asking its supporters to vote for Obasanjo. By the time theelections held, PDP swept out five of the six AD governors in verycontroversial circumstances. It was a bitter experience for the AD governors.Only one person survived – Senator Bola Ahmed Tinubu, who was governor of LagosState. I don’t know how he survived. Then he created a new party called ActionCongress of Nigeria and has chased the PDP out of the South-west. He deservessome credit. That he is a solid politician is not in question at all. And I sayhappy birthday (in arrears) to him!