Temple Chima UbochiSunday, February 23, 2014
Bonn, Germany




Continued from Part 14

The spirit of truth and the spirit of freedom --they are the pillars of society (Henrik Ibsen)

There may be times when we are powerless to prevent injustice, but there must never be a time when we fail to protest (Elie Wiesel)

For, brethren, ye have been called unto liberty; only use not liberty for an occasion to the flesh, but by love, serve one another. For all the law is fulfilled in one word, even in this; Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself (St. Paul wrote in Galatians 5:13)

Believe nothing merely because you have been told it. Do not believe what your teacher tells you merely out of respect for the teacher. But whatsoever, after due examination and analysis, you find to be kind, conducive to the good, the benefit, the welfare of all beings -- that doctrine believe and cling to, and take it as your guide (Buddha)

he United States Ambassador to Nigeria, Mr James Enwistle, paid a courtesy visit to the Governor of Rivers State, Rt. Hon. Chibuike Amaechi, in Government House, Port Harcourt, recently. There, Amaechi identified poverty and unemployment as issues responsible for the high rate of insecurity in Nigeria. The Governor then challenged Nigerian leaders to urgently address the twin problems. In the Governor’s words: “Until we deal with the issues of poverty, wealth creation and unemployment, then we may not be able to solve the problem of insecurity”! Taking the message and rejecting the messenger: Also recently, during a one-day technical summit for unemployed youths in Kwara State entitled, "Youth unemployment in Kwara State: The way forward", the Chairman, Senate Committee on Environment and Ecology, Dr. Bukola Saraki, and the Kwara State Governor, Alhaji Abdulfatah Ahmed, called for collaborative efforts of all stakeholders to reduce Nigeria's escalating unemployment rate. Saraki urged the Federal Government to declare a state of emergency on youth unemployment to address youth restiveness and enhance peaceful co-existence in Nigeria. Saraki noted: “there is every need to extend the declaration of state of emergency to youth unemployment. We have done it in the power and water sectors among others and it has worked out well. According to the National Population Commission, youths account for 65 percent of the Nigerian population and 23.9 percent of the unemployment rate in Nigeria”.

Sequel to the last Part of this article: Another South African former president, Thabo Mbeki, late last year, described how corrupt the Nigerian leadership is. Thabo Mbeki rightly said that ordinary Nigerians deserve as much blame as the politicians for the leadership failure in the country, and that it is indeed only the citizens themselves that could put a stop to bad leadership. Naija 2015 wrote that former South African President, Thabo Mbeki recently gave his opinions on the quality of governance in Nigeria in a speech where he asserted that Nigerian citizens were as much as to be blamed as politicians for failure of leadership in the country. He explained that only the people could put a stop to the poor leadership in the country, and the refusal of Nigerian people to be actively involved in governance has allowed poor leadership to rise to the fore.

However, Mbeki does have a solid point – Nigerian people do get the leadership they deserve. There is low-level of participation by average Nigerians and the business of governance has been left entirely to politicians, although this phenomenon can be blamed on the many years of military rule which eroded political participation by the citizenry. The Punch was right that democracy’s efficacy and legitimacy are predicated on an informed citizenry; without active and knowledgeable citizens, democratic representation remains empty; without vigilant, informed citizens, there is no check on potential tyranny. Mbeki’s position quickly brings to mind the statement credited to a French historian and political thinker, Alexis de Tocqueville (1805 –1859), that “in a democracy, the people get the government they deserve.” Given his background as an activist and freedom fighter, whose struggles helped to bring down the obnoxious apartheid system in his country, Mbeki certainly knows what it takes to put a government under pressure and compel it to do the bidding of the people, in whom lies ultimate sovereignty. This civic political culture is lacking in Nigeria at present. Although political participation has risen tremendously, the quality of that participation is still very low. Nigerians are on a general scale not well informed and knowledgeable about government and its activities, and the lack of adequate and proper information limits the ways they can be active in governance. They are technically unaware of the powers available to them as the electorate and so public officials get away with perfidy.

There is also the fact that the middle class and professionals in the society have distanced themselves from politics and governance. They are mostly frustrated with the politics and government, and preoccupied with fending for their families. Not many who end up entering politics are able to keep their heads above the water. All this would really need to change, if we are to really raise the quality of leadership in the country –we all have to be involved. Charles De Gaulle (1890 –1970) was right when he said, “I have come to the conclusion that politics is too serious a matter to be left to the politicians.” According to the Punch, staying away doesn’t exempt any one from the effects of policies or actions of our leaders. Making democracy work, says the National Democratic Institute, a United States-based non-profit organisation, requires informed and active citizens who understand how to voice their interests, act collectively and hold public officials accountable. Democracy’s credibility and sustainability depends, to an important degree, on how it works in practice, and on what it delivers. As Mbeki puts it, bad governments thrive in Nigeria, or elsewhere for that matter, because “the leadership does not feel pressure from the people.” It therefore follows that if Nigerians desire the dividends of democracy, they will have to fight for it. They must decide whether to continue with the way they are being governed or become active in demanding transparency and accountability from government.

The Punch reminded Nigerians that recent events in the Arab world, known as the Arab Spring, have clearly demonstrated what the people can do with power when they realise that it belongs to them, and is only held in trust on their behalf by politicians. Once the Arabs lost faith in the way they were being governed, they expressed their views very strongly and forced changes. The change of government that took place in Libya, Tunisia and Egypt was an inevitable capitulation to the will of the people, just in the same manner as the reforms that were introduced in Morocco. In Nigeria, it appears nothing can provoke the people into demanding accountability from political office holders. Things that would jolt a government in any other clime go unnoticed in the country. For instance, how does one explain the continued deterioration in the quality of infrastructure amidst an endless flow of money from the sale of crude oil? How can the decline in the quality of education and health care delivery be explained in view of the amount that accrues to the country from the crude oil sale? It is in this same country that a government came to office when the price of oil was $18 per barrel was able to pay off the country’s debt of over $30 billion and saved over $50 billion in foreign reserves and more than $20 billion in Excess Crude Account. But the country is now accumulating debts, even when the price of oil in the international market has remained largely above $100 pb in the past six years. Yet, Nigerians are not asking questions and are so enfeebled that their views, when expressed, don’t count.

This point has been made even more pointedly in Egypt where, after three decades of authoritarian rule, the government of Hosni Mubarak was unceremoniously brought to an end. Notably too, even his successor, Mohammed Morsi, was swept away in a gale of protests, barely a year after assuming office as the first democratically elected president of the country. To achieve this, the people were ready to put their lives on the line, confronting security agents and defying live bullets.

Just as Ayn Rand (1905 –1982) wrote that “Neither power-lust nor stupidity are good motives”, and, as Leo Nikolaevich Tolstoy noted that “in order to get power and retain it, it is necessary to love power; but love of power is not connected with goodness but with qualities that are the opposite of goodness, such as pride, cunning and cruelty”, unfortunately, here in Nigeria, nobody wants to put his life on the line. For the Punch, apathy by the civil populace has meekly handed politicians and political office holders the freedom to steal the country blind and squander its resources in a manner, perhaps, unheard of in the annals of the country. It is difficult to think of a country where over N2 trillion spent in the name of subsidy hasn’t been properly accounted for; yet, nobody is behind bars two years after. It is unimaginable that in a country that professes the rule of law, billions of naira belonging to pensioners could vanish into thin air and nobody is made to account for it. It is perhaps only in Nigeria that a minister would authorise the purchase of two extra cars, apart from her other official vehicles, forN255 million. To think that this is happening at a time when a minister was given the boot in Ghana for merely expressing her desire to acquire up to $1 million through politics, only reinforces the extent to which Nigerians are docile and satisfied with the kind of government that they have. The Nigerian minister in question was recently removed from office after the persistent protests against her continued stay as a minister of the federal republic, or else, she would have remained in office till now. It was Bertrand Russell (1872 –1970) who wrote that “next to enjoying ourselves, the next greatest pleasure consists in the acquisition of power”, it is not just under the current government, governments in Nigeria have always acted as if they exist in a different planet and owe the electorate neither explanations for their actions, nor effective service delivery. Yet, when the time comes to make a change through the ballot box, it is either that the same villains are returned to power or they rig themselves back, regardless of what the ballot says.

Just as Bertrand Russell (1872 –1970) wrote that “man is a feeble creature, to whom only submission and worship are besoming. Pride is insolence, and belief in human power is impiety”, Naija 2015 noted that the bulk of Nigerians still bend easier to their primordial sentiments of religion, tribe and ethnicity, albeit many times stoked by politicians who gain from these divisions to line their pockets with public funds. For example, politicians like former Governors of Delta and Bayelsa State, James Ibori and DSPAlameseyeigha were staunchly defended by many people despite the weighty allegations of corruption and money laundering against them, which ended up being true. It has become easier for politicians to claim ethnic persecution when they have been accused of wrongdoing, or use ethnicity and religion to win offices than respond to allegations with facts

To be continued!






Continued from Part 13