FEATURE ARTICLE

Patrick OdionikhereSaturday, July 16, 2011
odionik.patrick@hotmail.com
Austria

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PRESIDENT GOODLUCK JONATHAN IN THE TWIST

igeria ought not to be on the wrong road if those who had managed the affairs so far, had moved beyond self interest and in control of the ordinary man. That Nigeria became laughable state is heart breaking. One bad government replaces another because of bad politics of ethnicity, religious sentiment and self interests; worsened by the poison of military rule and the intermittent democratic culture. No wonder, democratic rule is now camouflage of dictatorship without accountability. Yet, the critical class has been unable to mobilise people in balancing power, a reason that Nigeria's democracy is on the edge.


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Where do we go from here? Election has ended and clear mandate given the different political actors to leave the captivity of their sponsors and the circle of bad governance. PDP's politics of turn-by-turn power sharing and perhaps in the future through constitutional arrangement is a burden. It is a circle of expired mediocre politics for serving self interests. Progressive politics mean we should be abandoning those things reminding us of our division; an important challenge for President Jonathan to pursue new politics of trust building within the different people of Nigeria. If Jonathan is able to interpret the electoral mandate given to him in the concluded free election, he ought to realise that a revolution of a kind happened. That is, those who designed Nigeria to fail are no longer relevant in the democratic politics! The north's politics of hegemony is not a consensus order. So, Jonathan must move out of guilt of an interloper of power. His election means that Nigerians have abandoned the politics of north and south divide, used by few to rob the common wealth. He must understand that nothing in politics is permanent or settled. Rather, issues are constantly in contention and re-negotiation. As a result, irrespective of the desire of power shift proponents, Jonathan's presidency must not be allowed to be hijacked against the interest of the majority that democracy is about. Now that he has been elected those who lost cannot be compensated backdoor if he wants space for change and to serve the interest of the ordinary man, which is the duty of public service. However, indirectly, there will always be winners and losers in a democracy, an interesting phenomenon!

So far, President Jonathan can be proud to say he is the only head of state that did not arm-twist; or had a compromised ascendancy to power. A good indicator if he chooses to follow the path of honour in his stewardship. Although, if I were him, these are the things I would put thoughts to immediately:

It is time to end the free government money to thieves and criminals in the name of amnesty programme. It was used by his late predecessor and his gang to corner the national resources for themselves against a popular demand for road map development for resources producing states. The fraud of monetary handout from Abuja to bandits alone at the backdrop of no infrastructural development across Nigeria or the absence of general social welfare package for vulnerable citizens is an unacceptable state of affairs. A caring government should be thinking of welfare package of at least 10 dollars a day for people in need of social assistance bearing in mind the cost of living and for social harmony in Nigeria. Nigeria has the resources to make it happen. It is unacceptable that only politicians are stealing billions while our people are promised to wait and going hungry to bed. Yes, the idea to negotiate with those brave hearts that rose against the evil men in power was a good development. But the outcome ought to be in light of common good and not the half-heart settlement for few. The Niger Delta cause has been botched and we cannot win against criminality if perpetrators are rewarded. But then, we still need to distinguish between pure criminality and freedom fighting in applying policies of government. In context, should we bribe Boko Haram with money from Abuja so that they lay down their arms and agitations? Should President Jonathan invite the leaders of Boko Haram for talks and follow Yar'Adua's precedent? Why not? After all, Nigerians and their leaders always employ the solution of fire brigade - reactionary and the bushman method. What about the kidnappers? They also have just cause. So, if President Jonathan thinks because he and those running Nigeria are at a moral cross-road; then, he should be reminded that his election is a new dawn that ended old ways. Nigerians forgave his sins so that Nigeria can return to the path of progress with political morality as inseparable settlement of the people. The reward of financial stipends from Abuja to any militant whether Niger Delta militants, Boko Haram or others is dangerous patronage; and ought not to be contemplated because of spill-over effect.

The creation of the Niger Delta ministry makes the Niger Delta Development Corporation (NDDC) no longer necessary. It is duplication with the creation of the ministry of Niger Delta; except, NDDC is kept as economic drainage for the politicians of the region and their cronies as serve-your-self centre. The financial waste in NDDC could be channelled into social projects for youth empowerment in ending criminality. Niger Delta ministry is enough for coordinating and formulating developmental projects in the regions of the Niger Delta.

Nigeria is not yet in the 21st century because of the harm of public corruption. If we think that poor public services cause more death than by crimes of homicide due to looting by public servants; then there is no rationale why crimes of corruption has not become a homicide offence of death penalty. President Jonathan has the people's mandate to make it a real. Until this is done, Nigeria is on the wrong end of the war on corruption. Even so, more annoying is the punishment on petty thieves in sharia states. Yet, the governors of those states who had been accused of corruption are spared of sharia justice. Even then, the harm of corruption is such that there is no room for compromise if Nigeria is to be a functional state and not end like most failed states.

The menaces of corruption are too serious to be ignored. Think about the idea that corruption lead to loss of creative impulse in society because of no incentive in hard work. It destroys competition drive, an important dynamics of motivating people for societal progress. It changes our values, no surprise that moral value is low in Nigeria and no nation can achieve greatness without high moral standard. Therefore, we must restore our people to live an exemplary life of industry and of distinctive virtues of no ostentation. This is where a good functioning tax system could be of help in changing social attitudes and rot in Nigeria. Give thoughts to our past where men with brain were idealised and not money-bag-men of bad morals. We cannot allow the virtues of quick money syndrome to displace honesty and decency; because, only genuine virtues last forever. Nobody should envy Ex Speaker Bankole who never had work experience but through father's connection acquired top public office in cornering public money for his personal aggrandizement. The shame of bad morals is not an ideal that any good father should seek for any child in spite of bringing quick fame. It should also remind President Jonathan that he is on unsafe ground if he fails to tackle corruption. Ancient Rome fell as a result of weak institutions of the state caused by corruption. Yes, everybody has a role in stopping corruption; but the institutional bodies are more relevant in the war on corruption. These institutions, including the courts need to do more in making any act of criminality or corruption unthinkable.

Governance in Nigeria is still like in the classical Europe of the 18th century where only the interest of few people was important. Democracy means we ought to be ending all forms of military mentality of coercion and illegality. The public has no understanding that president and governors spend public money in the name of security vote without compliance to any form of control or scrutiny. Again, the illegality in using public money on wives of the president and governors should stop because they are not public servants but ordinary citizens without privileges beyond just spouse of officeholders. Above all, Nigerians are still waiting anxiously to know of what happened to all the security vote money that the cabals and Yar'Adua's wife (Turai) hijacked. If any wrong had been committed by her, we want to see her tried. Nobody has understanding for acts of lawlessness and remnants of military carryover in running public affairs. We are in democracy where actions of the politicians are subject to scrutiny and constrained.

Public corruption has reached its height because of the level of sanction and the lapses in the system of public administration. More also, you wonder where are the accountant generals (federal and states) in all of these corruption scandals. They all ought to be tried as collaborators of crimes of corruption. Normally, it is the duty of the accountant generals to know, whether government approved projects are executed in financially prudent manner and to report inconsistencies to parliament or the public. The lack of oversight of public money by accountant generals by way of sound audit is helping the financial irresponsibility of politicians. That Ajaokuta steel and other projects have not produced results are the failing and incompetence of the accountant generals, especially at the federal level and those having supervisory functions in government. Beyond this, there is also the need to close all the loopholes in government systems if we are serious about corruption. Just like in other fronts, President Jonathan needs to come clean in order not to remain in the twist of power by exemplary leadership of less opulence. Integrity and morals are intertwined.

Financial independence of the legislature does not give room for its henchmen to plunder public money. Irrespective of how the legislators see themselves, it is one government of PDP and President Jonathan has the long stick of fostering decorum. Even though, politicians are individually responsible for any failing. The excesses of Nigerian legislators and politicians are unsustainable. Legislators have no business keeping the so-called community project money that end-up in their pockets. It is not to say that community project monies are no good innovation. The thin line between private and public interest divide makes it imperative to have clear rules of avoiding conflict. Therefore, it should be forbidden for any public servant (president, ministers, governors, commissioners, legislators and civil servants) or their agent to be awarded government's contracts, including those leading to conflict of interest while holding a public office.

Furthermore, we are in the age of technology that government ought to run much efficiently and less costly. Nigeria cannot afford the current number of ministries. We do not need more than 10 ministers on geopolitical line rather than on 36 states. Nigeria needs only an effective small government that is accountable to the people. We cannot afford 36 ministers and 36 deputies or more. If so, what is then the need for the many civil servants employed? At most, we need only ten ministries, and others in form of special agencies that are service oriented. That, there is poor public service in Nigeria is due to public servants not understanding their job and purposes of public office. In the same way, ministers are not able to delineate between their position and elected politicians. It is this perception that they think once appointed, they are responsible for bringing the immediate needs of their communities as oppose to serving national interest. In a narrow sense, elected politicians represent their respective constituents while appointed advisers pursue national or general interests whether at federal or state level.

Also, the impression that any appointed minister without reputable standing of public service is no technocrat is wrong. Any ministry is specialist agency and whoever heads it, is technically a political technocrat. Unfortunately, confusion has been created due to no preference for suitability and professional capacities other than come-and-take your share political consideration. As such, the lucky appointees then find themselves mix-up. So the moment ministers are appointed they are expected to bring everything from Abuja to only their people even when they lack the mandate and means. Everybody forgets that a minister is a national bureaucrat who serves the interests of all Nigerians like the president; and not the typical local representative. It is the same misunderstanding for the other advisers (special advisers and senior special advisers) other than elected politicians. Even an appointed ambassador is expected to become local provider for his or her ethnic group. In a way, we lose the meaning of public office because of the intriguing interests, which bound up in come-and-chop syndrome. It is why politicians and godfathers want the creation of many political office and agencies without consideration for public interest and cost effects. Regrettably, the dilemma of any government is that it cannot avoid the system of loyalty that gives advantage to a group of people to fight for themselves; unless the leadership has a different agenda. It is on this we shall test the credibility and the capacity of President Jonathan. Although, the middle ground for president and all elected politicians is for them to work for the interest of the majority. In doing so, they set themselves free of manipulation and to achieve ideal goals.

Besides, there is no justification for increasing the number of ministers if government functioned in the past with less. Cost explosion of governance ought to be associated with illegitimate governments and not necessarily in a democratic rule even though democracy expands political interests. At least, costs are moderated because of the well defined scope of interests and political accountability. Nevertheless, democracy can become expensive if wrong values and politics of self-service are pursued. Increasing the number of ministries is not necessarily in public interest but good for preserving the existing political systems of patronage and loyalty. Ideally should be to harmonise or merge some of them. For instance, ministries of environment, water, energy and agriculture ought to be one ministry. The fact that they share something in common may lead to cost and expertise sharing, which are indeed in public interest. So also, Nigeria does not need a minister of communication. The job should be added to that of the spokesman of the president, who simultaneously becomes spokesperson of the government. Functions beyond government's spokesman that are of technical nature should go to the ministry of science and technology. In addition, NTA and other government's own news media should be privatised. Democracy means open government and government have no business owning news media houses that were ill conceived and for propaganda by despot regimes. The revolution in private news media industry in Nigeria calls for a rethink about government owning Newspapers, Radios and TV stations in a free society. Government have no business running things which can be effectively and efficiently provided by private bodies. Corruption is fuelled by any system of patronage and politicians need to draw the line on peoples' term.

Above all, Nigeria needs courageous men and women who have drive for public duty and have the capacity for making sound judgements; and not more ministries for exacerbating corruption. Again, ministers must understand they have been appointed to discharge national service and not to serve themselves if Nigeria will not remain a case of old stuff in a new package. This is where President Jonathan needs to leave the trap of power twist and give less thought to political consideration in making policy decisions for Nigeria to get it right. Instead of contemplating more ministries, I think, Nigeria will be better served if we embark on justice reforms of centralizing the administration of justice. By now, Nigerians are expecting quick conclusion of corruption cases in special tribunals of a maximum of six weeks from first instance to final appeal with stiffer penalty of death. Nothing other than this will be deterrent enough. You have a mandate to defend and any policy that promotes public decency will put you on a high ground.

Government should have no business in religious institutions. There is no understanding for institutionalizing religious pilgrimages at government expense, which are of private nature. Nigeria is secular state that guarantees neutrality of treatment to all the people by the state. The disturbance and nuisance of religious institutions need to be curbed. Religion is good but must remain as a private affair. Our public space must be protected from religious TV adverts, preaching, including Christian and Moslem sound of noise across Nigeria. The desire for religious harmony among our people requires government to put all the institutions of religion on regulation. Our people are been exploited with religion and government needs to step in and put all its practitioners in check with mandatory standard of professional training and qualification for would be preachers in our churches and mosques.

Another issue we must look into is the place of traditional rulers in the republican constitution of Nigeria. Our freedom is not only from the Queen of England but also from the bondage of oppression by traditional rulers. The free public money to Monarchs is illegal in the absence of defined constitutional duties. Monarchs are cheats in the system and people should only be rewarded according to their productivity if we are aspiring to the status of a modern state Monarchy is a setback and hangover of the past that has no place in the new world. I know, it is contentious but it must be tabled for discussion. It is why national conference is imperative in finding solution to the things bringing Nigeria and its people backward. What makes leaders great is not the settled problem solved but the ideological fight, won or lost. Mr President, you have the mind of a thinker.

The politics of tribal sentiment is an enemy of political progress and development. The Political class has been exploiting it to remain relevant in the political space and for harvesting political fortunes. It is time for those who have had their time in government to stop meddling in President Jonathan's government. They should follow the example of ex-leaders in other countries that have left the public space for new generation politics. The vote President Jonathan received in April election was an endorsement for him to have his own mind and to be a just leader. The election meant he has no reason to hide in the power twist to pursue old politics of self interests. Even so, the battle cannot be left to President Jonathan alone. It is why opposition parties need to understand its crucial role of consequential politics of putting ruling party in check. Campaigning is everyday business for opposition parties even when election is not in sight. Ruling party may end campaigning once an election has been won but opposition politics of heating and stigmatizing the failures of government policies are unending business. Acts of terror and violence are no good civic tools in any political discourse.

Another missing link is the students. The Nigerian students must return to their traditional role traditional role of bulwarking injustices in the society. They are the critical class for pushing political change and ending bad governance. Students are respected for their fearless social militancy and not as rapists, armed robbers or cultist of evil. They should inculcate new virtues of morals because they are Nigeria's most valued asset and the foot soldiers for correcting the social abnormalities in Nigeria so that the court will not be the only place for fighting evil vices. Besides, we need to start stigmatizing culprits of corruption as outcast in our respective communities. Inasmuch, as we want Jonathan to do what is right; we must give him the confidence to free himself from the sponsors of the power shift debate. Because, they have no interest in our unity and responsible for the mess and collapse of social norms in Nigeria! The mandate given to President Jonathan is in his own right. He owes no apology for the game change. Nigerians want new political order. If he fails, the price will be messy. PDP's idea of turn-by-turn power sharing is wasteful politics of burden. The revolution achieved with President Jonathan's election without blood can be sustained if we remain vanguard of our own destiny by holding those who lack morals to rule over us to account. And unless we give the bad politicians what they deserve, they will not free President Jonathan to work for us. Notwithstanding though, it is up to President Jonathan to define his own direction and what to make of the game change.

Patrick Odionikhere is Legal Adviser, Federal Asylum Office, Austria

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