Civics and the Words and Deeds of a Nigerian Politician was the title of my column of 18th March 2022. The theme was the state of wisdom in Nigeria is that you believe the words of a politician at your own peril. I circulated one of the posts going around on WhatsApp about specific lies some politicians allegedly told and did exactly the opposite of what they swore not to do. I have not fact checked the quotations and I should be forgiven if they are all lies.
I will never go back to the PDP. PDP is beyond redemption!
I will never leave APGA. I’d rather quit politics. PDP is a curse to the South East!
I would rather die than to join APC!
~FEMI FANI- KAYODE
May God punish me if I ever leave PDP!
~Gov Bello Mohammad Matawalle
I will not join these people who carry brooms like witches. Over my dead body!
~ Chibuike Rotimi Amaechi
Only house helps go around with brooms
~ Godswill Akpabio
My position remains that Nigerians do themselves a great disservice by accepting it as a given that they expect their leaders not to be truthful to the electorate. They are as guilty as the politicians in creating the ideological basis for excusing the political class from responsibilities for what they say and promise. In a democracy, the political class is by definition supposed to be composed of people with character and integrity who keep their word and do exactly what they promise to do. Democratic civic culture is about citizens making clear demands on their elected representatives that they keep to their promise if elected.
The year was marked by the hordes of applicants paying for the right to apply for the position of President, Federal Republic of Nigeria, which was advertised. A large crowd of governors and former governors, ministers and senators made a bid and applied. I did not really notice them telling the selection committee – party delegates and the shareholders, Nigerian citizens of voting age, why they were applying for this specific job. I remember one candidate, Governor Nyesom Wike of Rivers State explaining his qualifications, Nigeria, he said, needs a madman like him to turn things around. Maybe Atiku Abubakar was not listening when he said that. I also recall that when Bola Tinubu visited President Buhari to tell him of his intention to contest for the vacancy, he told Nigerians that he is applying because he has always wanted to have the job. He added that in any case, it was his turn to rule.
At the end, the candidates with the deepest pockets won their primaries and are now on the campaign trail. The primaries were a money contest and the question was where did they get the money from? As governors or ministers, none of them earned N100 million as legitimate income to buy nomination forms. We are forced to make the only possible conclusion that they must have stolen these monies from government coffers. A democracy cannot survive when those in power steal from the treasury and use that money to continue in power, this time occupying even greater offices.
Leadership requires people with a vision of what they want to achieve for Nigeria. Of course, those who want to present themselves can get good consultants to write up a vision and programme for them. It is, therefore, important to define competence on the basis of track record of proposed candidates – professional background and accomplishments, community engagement and service, views expressed on political, economic and social issues. There has to be a minimum education standard, degree or higher national diploma. Finally, age and good health are key factors in leadership and Nigerians know a lot about this issue. People over 70 years should be encouraged to stay out of politics because they are unlikely to have the energy for the enormous work involved in running a country as large and complex as Nigeria.
As the Buhari Administration winds up, the question of his legacy is on the table. Unfortunately for the President who has always seen himself and built his image as an anti-corruption crusader, his legacy might well be that of running the most corrupt regime in the history of Nigeria. At the core of the problem is the Ministry of Petroleum which he has been minister of since his return to power. Of course, one dossier President Muhammadu Buhari is supposed to know very well is that of petroleum after all he was Petroleum Minister from 1976-78. He was also Head of State for 20 months from December 31, 1983. When, therefore, he told Nigerians as a presidential candidate in 2011 that the fuel subsidy regime is a fraud, people believed him and the élan of hope on this anti-corruption crusader finally brought him to power in 2015. We all remember when he posed the basic question: “Who is subsidizing who?” His answer was categorical, the then PDP regime was using fuel subsidy to fund corruption. The legacy President Buhari would leave is the trillions of naira spent to fund corruption in the name of fuel subsidy.
In October, I reported on a workshop Nextier organised with the Institute of Security Studies in South Africa on “Nigeria in 2050: Global Player or Poverty Capital of the World”. It’s a trend analysis of where we are headed if we keep to the current pathway – annihilation. It is therefore above all a warning that to survive as a people, we must change our ways and move away from the massive level of public corruption that makes it virtually impossible for governments to do their work of producing public goods for the people – security, welfare, good health, infrastructure and so on. We must improve governance or perish. The problem is who in government will listen. Who has power and at the same time the empathy to listen to what the people need desperately.
The study drew attention to the fact that over four decades after the introduction of compulsory universal basic education, over 30 per cent of the population is illiterate. The country is in a chronic crisis with an essentially bankrupt economy that has sunk into a debt trap. Nigerians have never been so unsafe with multiple insurgencies, widespread banditry, separatist agitations, policy discontinuities, massive corruption and a level of poor governance that presents an existential threat.
They showed graphics demonstrating that Nigeria and Malaysia were at similar levels of economic performance at independence but today, they have transformed their economy and moved far ahead while we remain in crisis. Nigeria is not on track to achieve most of the SDGs by 2030, and is forecast to have the highest number of poor people globally by 2050. Internally, there is a poverty polarity between northern and southern Nigeria, with the north lagging far behind. Nigeria has one of the world’s lowest tax revenue-to-GDP ratios, leaving little fiscal space for productive expenditure. The public health and education sectors are incapacitated by mismanagement, corruption and inadequate funding.
Nigeria’s population is forecast to increase to over 450 million by 2050, by which time it will be the third most populous country in the world. Although Nigeria has great agricultural potential, the sector is unable to meet the nutritional demands of a rapidly growing population. Nigeria has made little progress in export diversification. The country remains a rentier economy but currently, even that is lost as most of the petroleum produced is stolen and sold by government and security cabals that have become pipeline bandits. Macroeconomic instability, skills shortage, an unfriendly business environment and infrastructure deficits constrain productivity and growth in the non-oil sector.
As we move into 2023, we the people must take the resolve that Nigeria can and must address the security challenges it faces by providing the leadership for the security forces to be properly equipped and encouraged to do their work. It is still possible to promote national cohesion and social inclusion by ensuring a fair distribution of socio-economic amenities across the states. Set up a national social protection programme to support the poorest and most vulnerable to reduce poverty and inequalities. Intensify the struggle against corruption, improve public financial management and domestic revenue mobilisation by accelerating digitalisation to enhance tax efficiency and address the infrastructure gap by creating an enabling environment for public-private-partnerships in infrastructure development.