By RUDOLF OKONKWO
A common refrain in Nigeria’s political discourse is that commentators should respect people in government, especially the president. Even though respect is earned and not bestowed, Nigerians waste no time in spiting out words of that nature. Some say that even if commentators do not respect the occupant of the office, they should respect the office itself.
That, in and of itself, is a western concept. It is not a bad idea except that we selectively pick western concepts that favor our argument of the day and discard the ones that do not.
If only we blindly respect people in power or the offices they hold, things won’t be this bad. But we literally worship them. For some of us, it is cultural. For others, it is an offshoot of our patronage-based society.
In the political arena, at least, I have always been of the opinion that worshiping our political office holders is dangerous because there is no way of holding the people we worship accountable. And our first job as citizens is to hold our elected officials, civil servants, law enforcement agencies and all those who receive tax payers’ money accountable.
There is no limit to how we should hold them accountable. We can yell at them. We can make fun of them. We can shun them. In all things, they should be answerable to us. In fundamental terms, they are our servants. They work for us.
Since most of us know and even profess that respect is earned, it is strange how we do not pause to ask if they have earned our respect before we defend government officials whose activities receive scrutiny – or more importantly, if they have respected themselves or even their offices.
I used to think that our politicians are exploiting our ignorance. But that is a very wrong perception. What I think they exploit is the awareness that we are incapable of taking real and concrete actions to change our situations.
Does your president respect you? Does your governor respect you? Does your local government chairman respect you? Does your ward councilor respect you? Does your government respect you? If your president does not respect you, where will the whole hierarchy of government find the inspiration and example to respect you?
Here are the top ten things that will prove if your government official respects you and by extension, the office they hold.
1.) Your President respects you if you know how much your president makes each year and how much he is worth as required by the provision of the constitution which expects him to declare his assets.
2.) Your government respects you if those in the National Assembly have initiated an impeachment proceeding on the president for failing to declare his assets as required by law.
3.) Your governor respects you if you know how much he collects as security vote from the monthly federal allocation he receives from Abuja. On the average, they collect about 7% from the money meant to run the state. This unaccounted money runs into hundreds of millions of naira in states where many live on less than N20,000 naira a month. They stash the money in foreign banks, buy votes and oppress opponents, and use the rest to take the wives of local government chairmen on a shopping spree abroad.
4.) Your government respects you if they know how much crude oil is taken out of Nigeria everyday. That nobody in government can tell the exact barrel of oil that is drilled out of Nigeria’s land and sea is a capital sin.
5.) Your judiciary respects you if it treats the bank executive who steals customers billions the same way it treats a poor girl who stole a blackberry phone.
6.) Your police force respects you if they obey the laws of the land which includes treating every suspect with respect, following due process, eschewing torture, rejecting bribery, making sure that they are fit like policemen of the rest of the world and, most importantly, keeping their barracks clean.
7.) Your president respects you if he holds periodic press conferences where he answers questions that are important to you, the citizen. Holding a stage managed press conference where questions are sent in advance does not count as respect. Neither does refusal to debate his political opponents show respect for the voters.
8.) Your soldiers respect you when they subject themselves to the orders of civilians who run our democratic government and respect the laws of the land. It is not happening when soldiers are beating up civilians on the street or when soldiers are burning up police stations after an encounter with the police.
9.) Your government respects you if it is transparent about how oil blocks are given out and who owns what oil block. The most precious resource of your country should not be handed out to friends of the government. You have the right to know who owns what block and how and why he or she got it.
10.) Your president respects you if, once in a while, especially in moments of national crisis, he wipes that ludicrous smile off his face.
Those who do not respect you, as a citizen, do not respect their offices. In fact, by disrespecting you, they have defiled their offices and do not deserve your respect.
Please correct me if I’m right.