Temple Chima UbochiSunday, February 9, 2014
Bonn, Germany




Continued from Part 12

Just because a child’s parents are poor or uneducated is no reason to deprive the child of basic human rights to health care, education and proper nutrition (Marian Wright Edelman)

We have the greatest opportunity the world has ever seen, as long as we remain honest -- which will be as long as we can keep the attention of our people alive. If they once become inattentive to public affairs, you and I, and Congress and Assemblies, judges and governors would all become wolves (Thomas Jefferson)

Nigerian leaders are thieves. Governance system in Nigeria had changed from the one based on public interest first to self-interest first. Nigerian leaders from councilor to the presidency had always emerged the richest in their respective constituencies after leaving office, compared to the time of Awolowo, Azikiwe and Ahmadu Bello (Alhaji Abdulkadir Balarabe Musa, remarked during his 77th birthday)

ow can the government tackle unemployment, when huge chunk of the yearly budget goes for the payment of salary and allowances of political office holders and civil servants? The problem is that the bulk of government spending (75 percent) is recurrent expenditure. And 25 out of the 75 percent of Federal Government overhead go to the National Assembly. That’s hindering the economic and infrastructural development of Nigeria. That’s why we have irregular power supply, decaying infrastructure, high unemployment rate etc. For us to make progress, we need to start looking at the structure of expenditure and make it more compatible with the development initiative of the country. If the political office holders and civil servants receive less and steal less, there will be enough money for good roads, better schools, well equipped hospitals, regular power supply, and all these would help in creating more jobs.

A Nigerian politician speaks against corruption when he or she is not getting enough to steal, otherwise no one will hear a whimper from him or her. Corruption has devastated Nigeria beyond imagination and the national assembly is doing nothing about it; instead the members accorded themselves the highest pay, making them the highest paid legislators in the world (Nigerian legislators receive the highest pay for doing nothing). The former Governor of Kaduna State, Alhaji Balarabe Musa, rightly noted the threat posed by the National Assembly in deciding their remunerations and fringe benefits, as no one controls the members, and as a result (of it) they got away with what they demanded. And that opened the floodgate of decay and the situation we are facing now. Some people have pointed to the immorality of the legislators in spending so much on their benefits, when millions of Nigerians are living below the poverty line. The founder of Odua People's Congress (OPC), Dr. Frederick Fasheun, in describing our democracy as too expensive, made a comparative analysis of earnings of legislators in democratic countries, Fasheun said Nigeria's democracy is a sham in view of its poor results, and insisted that Nigeria is not yet a democracy. In Kenya, Fasheun said legislators earn $53,000 yearly; in South Africa, they earn $55,000 just as their UK counterparts earn £65,000, and U.S. $190,000. In Nigeria however, Fasheun said he was informed legislators earn N290, 000 million, the equivalent of $2 million, and he added "That makes ours the most expensive democracy on earth. If we pay that much and get true constitutional democracy, we won't mind. But paying that much in a poor country like Nigeria is sinful; it's simple primitive accumulation of wealth."

What some members of the national assembly do is to defect to another political party whenever they lose out on the political equation; so in order for more pecuniary or personal gains to accrue to them, they jump ship to join a new political party where they hope to gain more. No Nigerian politician defects to another political party on principle or ideology. It’s unfortunate that the line of demarcation between the Nigerian political parties are often blurry when it comes to ideology and manifesto, as there seem to be no difference between the party in power and the opposition parties. Some Nigerian political parties may claim to be a party to the right or left or centre, but, in reality, the difference between Nigeria’s plethora of political parties is not clear.

Worse still, what the legislators from the so called opposition parties do from time to time is to hold Nigeria to ransom whenever they feel that the ruling party has short-changed them in any way. We just read that the All Progressive Congress’ House of Reps Members (on February 4th) executed the directive of the party to stifle the passage of all major government proposals before them for consideration. The members on that day scuttled the presentation of the 2014 budget forwarded to the House by the Government of President Goodluck Jonathan. The APC House of Reps Members had earlier vowed to shut down the structure of Government completely should the Federal government fail to control the impunity in Rivers State. That’s not the way it’s supposed to be; Nigeria’s interest is bigger than personal or group interests.

One starts to wonder what’s going on, when a Nigerian legislator starts campaigning against corruption out of the blue. According to huhuonline.com (on 03 February 2014), “Reps Seek End to Corruption, Support Establishment of Financial Intelligence Agency”! The news was that the Speaker of the Federal House of Representatives, Aminu Tambuwal, on Monday (03 Feb), expressed concern over the spate of corruption in the management of finance of public institutions culminating into loss of billions stolen funds. To tackle the problem, the speaker assured that the establishment of Nigerian Financial Intelligence Agency (NFIA) would help in ending the era of financial impunity in Nigeria. Tambuwal, who declared open the public hearing on the bill seeking to establish the NFIA organised by the House Committee on Drugs, Narcotic and Financial Crimes, stressed that when passed into law, the bill would help in rectifying the deficiencies in our financial system, especially the sheer number of loopholes that make it possible for people to perpetrate massive fraud. In the Speaker’s words: “Today, billions of naira go missing in this country every year as a result of mismanagement and outright theft of money belonging to the commonwealth”! We believe that this level of financial impunity is possible because of dubious accounting procedures and the lack of a specialised agency that is able to get facts and details of this intricate web of corrupt practices and ensure that the perpetrators are successfully prosecuted. We want to move our nation from the prevailing system whereby only a select few is privy to the complex way that money gets moved around in this country and so they could hide under the shadows and perpetrate all kinds of scam”.

Mr. Speaker should know that the duplication of agencies would not solve the corruption problems in Nigeria; afterall EFCC can still do a good job, IF really empowered and if the agency is given a free hand to do its job. Just as Walden also noted, “the desire to curb corruption does not lie in the proliferation of agencies, but change in our culture and attitude. Proliferation of agencies will merely bloat government size, thus worsening what is intended to achieve. It is the same corrupt Nigerians in EFCC, National Assembly, the Judiciary and Public Service that will work in the new agency. We are not going to hire foreigners to man the agency. Our air is corrupt, our land is corrupt, and our water is corrupt. We must have the will to end corruption before any agency can succeed. We, as a Nation have attained the crescendo of corruption. So we don't have to waste scarce funds in establishing another agency. When we have the requisite national character and value revival, then EFCC will serve our purpose in eliminating corruption. As of now, families are corrupt, toddlers are corrupt, youths are corrupt, seniors are corrupt, fathers are defrauding mothers, and mothers are defrauding fathers and children. What else can we say?”

The Speaker blames others for corruption, instead of beaming his searchlight on the House of Reps he leads, and then chastise his House members for being “the holes in Nigeria’s pocket”. A group called “Enough is Enough, Nigeria” recently challenged the members of the National Assembly to give an account of how the N150bn allocated to it in 2013 was expended. The Group went on to say that “in eight years, the National Assembly, with 469 members, have expended N1trn of public funds. These funds, alarmingly, are statutory transfers: whether the nation is in trouble or not, these funds are transferred to fund the 'operations' of the National Assembly. Nigerians should ask questions, demand answers and change. Change will not come if we don't drag it down. Don't fold your hands. Don't watch the drama. One more voice means more strength. Join this movement”.

The Speaker shouldn’t forget that in November 2010, the CBN governor rightly noted that the national assembly drains the economy. Sanusi Lamido raised alarm then over the high cost of maintaining the National Assembly which he put at 25 percent of the national expenditure, saying if the trend was not checked, it would continue to stall the growth and development of the national economy. He said the nation must focus on policies that would bring development through increased capital expenditure, stressing that if this was not done, the economy would continue to remain in comatose. Bringing it down to creating jobs: Rather than importing products which can be conveniently produced here, Sanusi asked why should Nigeria be importing rice? What is it that is produced in Thailand or India that cannot be produced here? Why should we be importing all those products? Why should we be importing textiles? In the 1950s and 1970s, the Chinese came to Nigerian textile factories, why are we going to China to import textiles? These are issues that we need to address on quality perspective, create an environment in which capital flows into actual production, into manufacturing, into processing. Sanusi noted: “We have become a country that specializes in exporting what we do not produce and importing what we produce. Do you know that Nigeria provide electric power to Niger? We export power, we don’t have it. The military government of General Sani Abacha conducted a free and fair election in Liberia, we exported democracy and we have not been able to conduct one in this country, and anytime there are elections in Africa countries, you will see Nigerian former leaders going there as election observers, and these were the very people that could not conduct election in their own country”.

Sanusi was right here: If we stop “importing what we produce”, millions of jobs would be created. Rice production is labour intensive and textile mills do employ thousands of people, but, these industries have been relegated to the back burner for their imported products. Dr. Akintola Omigbodun wrote that employment should involve the creation of economic value and when our inputs give us outputs of greater value than the inputs, we talk of our being productive. There is an adage that says work is the antidote to poverty. About 10 or so years ago, there was a conference held in Abuja of persons, groups, communities, local governments, state governments and the federal government which produced an Interim Poverty Reduction Strategy Paper for Nigeria. The paper indicated that the highest priority would be given to agriculture and rural development for poverty reduction and food security. The paper also listed policy initiatives in health, primary education, secondary education, tertiary education, small and medium enterprises, energy, transport, communications, water supply and sanitation as well as housing that would lead to an improvement in the living conditions of the population. The paper included institutional arrangements at local government, state government and federal government levels for dealing with poverty reduction issues. The paper identified cross cutting issues amongst which it was acknowledged that malaria is endemic in Nigeria and is a major cause of morbidity and mortality affecting all age groups. There was also the mention of a plan of action for science and technology. The question that arises is how much of all these have been communicated to our children and youth who are drifting into unemployment and poverty. One often reads statements indicating that the products of our schools and universities do not have the skills required by employers. Any employer should be willing to train his or her employees because any employee who wishes to remain employed must constantly enhance his skills either to meet technological advances or to match the changing "needs of an employer”.

To be continued!






Continued from Part 12