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OPINION

Nigeria’s Democracy, 20 Years After: Where lies the Hope of the Poor?

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Nigeria’s Democracy
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By Menyanga Abu

Democracy according to Yusuf Bangura ,is a system of government in which leaders periodically renew their mandates through free, fear and competitive elections. It is a system that acknowledges the right of expression, organization and collective actions of the populace.

These rights grant the citizens the powers to exercise political choice and
to hold leaders accountable for their actions, inactions, decisions and indecisions as the case may be.

Democracy can only produce dividends for the poor masses if only citizens or political groups that have strong ties to the poor exhibit that capacity to mobilize and organize or reconcile internal divisions to create structural links with the policy makers.
It is however very imperative to point out that in a situation where social movements or interest groups are weak coupled with defective and noncompetitive electoral system, the poor tends to surfer the more.

Democracy is considered as a powerful tool for meeting people’s aspirations as well as making them partners in decisions that affect their well-being. Functional and sincere democracy will alleviate poverty but where democracy becomes a charade – a capitalist tool or feudal instrument or an authoritarian institution, – it will end providing lip services.

That is a situation where overriding forces manning a sort of pseudo-democratic formations benefit themselves by exploiting the poor. No doubt, democracy in Nigeria has been elevated in public policy. I think we are yet to understand the type of politics and institutions that will make democracy to achieve growth and human wellbeing. Although our democratic process is participatory in outlook, it tends to be limited to few elected people without the involvement of such people like the informal workers, the artisans or the famers whose livelihood are directly  affected by many of the development policies.

For democracy to add values to the lives of the poor masses and economic growth, every democratic practice should put economic liberty and transparency on a par with every other democratic value such as regular elections, rule of law, human rights, freedom of association and speech. For the poor to feel the positive impacts and benefit from democracy, I appeal to the present administration and its agencies not to use superfluities and rhetoric of democracy as a façade while behind the scenes engaging in rent-seeking practices that can lead to systemic entrenchment of corruption as done by the past administrations.

The corrupt system will easily provide avenues for politicians to use political powers for economic gains and the economic gains could be used for buying political influence. In such a situation democratic dividends hardly reach the general populace.

This usually results in persistent poverty among a large percentage of the population coupled with poor social services in struggling and developing democracy like ours. The situation above can lead to declining in supports for democracy by the populace at large and may signify real threat to democracy because impoverished poor masses may not have the necessary tools to fight back and in most cases they are not familiar with/use to demanding government’s accountability and responses.

Democracy can never be sustained without persistent efforts to eliminate poverty and vice versa. Strengthening democratic governance is an indispensable component of the efforts to alleviate poverty.

Poverty is a big threat to democracy as it tends to deprive people of their political voices, preventing them from holding their government accountable and responsive thus eroding public trust in democratic institutions. Democracy can deliver outcomes that will be beneficial to the poor only if,

(1) the rights of the people are institutionalized that will allow the poor to exercise political choice, build alliance with others and hold leaders to account

(2) groups with strong ties to the poor develop capacity for independent organization  and mobilization as well as reconciling horizontal decisions and establishing structural links with the policy makers – social pacts – and

(3) lastly if there is high likelihood that the sitting government may likely lose office which  can serve as incentives for redistribution. It is believed in some circles that electoral competitiveness can produce redistributive outcomes but competitiveness without effective organization and contestation may
produce weak redistributive outcomes.

Reducing poverty needs power relations at the nucleus of development, as such any strategy put in place to reduce poverty and inequality must consider tipping the balance of power. Eradicating poverty requires an expansion of the bargaining power of the poor masses and those who might represent them.

1999 marked the foundation of the longest continuous democratic governance in the history of Nigeria after her independence in 1960.

Democracy, as expected and believed by many Nigerians supposes to provide the citizens with that opportunity to participate in governance which in turn promotes development. But the said democratic government seems to be working against the aspirations and interests of the poor masses because of the way the democratic system is being operated coupled with corruption in this part of the world.

Take a survey of our National Assembly for example, the Assembly is a major democratic institution in any functional democratic setting, but today
our representatives are not reflecting our views, take less of reflecting our modest lifestyle who they claimed they are representing. Many of them own about four to seven exotic cars, each costing not less than twenty five  to two hundred and fifty million naira in a country where about 130  million people out of the estimated 180 million are living in abject poverty and misery.

The irony of the whole thing is that, back in their villages, their closest neighbours and relatives are struggling to get some pieces of tiny tilapia fish (ibobo) of barely one hundred naira (N100) per a set of three or four just to give taste to their soups and not enough to eat. Yet these are the honourable members representing our interest that most cases pay us money to vote them to serve us. Nobody is asking why they should pay us for them to offer us services.

These show that these political elites have different motives that contradict the interests and aspirations of the general populace especially the poor masses. What I have observed in Nigeria today is that, that principle of value we cherished in the past no longer matter to our political elites as they can always use their ill-gotten money to get to public offices by buying the conscience of the poor masses. The highest bidders have takes on whatever is on the table.

The biggest enemy of democracy is poverty because when people are poor, they are in most cases reduced to destitute and a little money can change their minds. In such a situation that freedom of choice which is one of the beauties of democracy could be taken away from the poor masses by those who control the resources. Nigeria has no business with poverty because God has so blessed this nation with abundant resources.

We thought that with the advent of democracy in 1999, the gateway to development has been opened and bye to poverty sand misery. Little did we know that democracy as practiced in Nigeria is a gateway to corruption, individual enrichment resulting in abject poverty and misery instead of general development.

Democracy which is government of the people by the people for the people has tuned to government of the selected rich by the rich for the selected rich. Democracy to our political elites has come to mean government of the rich, making the rich richer and making the poor poorer. The permanent features of our democracy as experienced today are abject poverty and misery.

The first sixteen years of democratic governance in Nigeria was a complete
wastage though with some pockets of achievement that is nothing to write home about. Those years were marked with unprecedented corruption and wanton stealing of our common wealth by those entrusted with power. What we are experiencing today are no doubt the cumulative effects resulting from those years of mismanagement.

For example, sixteen billion dollars was said to have been spent on electricity provision, but where and what is the situation of power in Nigeria today and how was this huge amount spent, may be the details, as we are told are in a book written by one of our leaders. According to Brooking institute – 2018 world poverty clock – about 643 million people across the world are living in extreme poverty, which is below 1.9 dollars, about 540 naira per day. Out of this number, two third – about 428.7 million – of this population is from Africa.

On 26th June 2018, CNN reported that Nigeria is the new poverty capital of the world after overtaking India with an estimated number of 87 million
Nigerians extremely poor. We all know that the divine forces that drive democratic government to deliver anti-poverty outcomes are complex, but that does not mean that a functional democratic government cannot dismantle these complexities to provide the dividends of democracy to the poor masses that are always at the receiving end.

But then this takes time. Let us support the present administration in the fight against corruption and other of its programmes to bring about even development. I want to point out here that our problem as a country is most times the illusionary belief that we could change Nigeria over night by simply voting a different president into power believing that our problems start and stop with the president.

We tend to think that if we could just have the right person in power, then all of a sudden our numerous problems and Nigeria will be transformed forgetting that the person we are bringing as a new president comes from within Nigerian society and not from the moon or another angelic world or outer-space.

Nigeria’s problem is not just only the man in power but all Nigerians, our shared values and mentalities. Systemic rot and Nigerians are Nigeria’s problems and any day we realize this, we will no doubt get closer to finding solution to our complex problems.

The increasing level of poverty witnessed in Nigeria today results from many-sided problems that are traceable to our political elites/past leaders as well as us the followers because a country cannot good better leaders until it has better people.

Democratization in this country is often contested by the rich who sees it as a process or an avenue for making/stealing money and not for general development. To them democracy is viewed as a battle not of parties but of class and struggle between property and mere numbers.

This phenomenon is making democratization to lose its links between the political parties and broad social movements that define the interest of the poor. Poverty is on the rise as a result of failure of developmentalism; development in democratic setting according to Yusuf Bangura requires high level of continuous mobilization by political elites with development project who are ready to embrace open-led strategies of industrialization.

Any democracy without concerns for the welfare/wellbeing of the poor masses can never be said to be quasi-democracy no matter the colouration of the electoral processes and procedures.

Poverty alleviation in a democratic setting requires expansion of the bargaining power of the poor and those that represent them.

Menyanga Abu, is an Abuja-based Health System and Development Consultant.

OPINION

Taming the Festering Insecurity: Good Governance as Magic Wand

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By Chidi Omeje

There is a community of people who believe that the only way out of the raging internal security challenges assailing this country is to deploy our troops to shoot their way out of our problems. For believers in such ‘militarist approach to internal security management’ (and they are found mostly among our political elites), the Nigerian military possesses the magic wand with which it can figuratively wave at the multifaceted internal security challenges and they will vanish.

If you want to understand the predilection of our political elites for military deployment to deal with any security infraction, cast your mind back to when these current Service Chiefs were newly appointed and how state governors were trooping to the Armed Forces Complex in downtown Garki Abuja for courtesy visits to the new military czars.

To them (the governors), outsourcing the headache of the security challenge in their respective domains to the military was such an elixir that took away the pain of having to think outside the box. I mean, why worry about coming up with smart governance ideas that could tame rising insecurity when there are willing, able and ready troops with magic bullets available to shoot down the security challenges?

The curious irony, though, is that it is the same political elite who rely mostly on the ready-availability of soldiers who are usually the harshest in thumbing down the troops whenever there is a slip up in operations and also the loudest in amplifying such missteps using the instrumentality of the media. Very often, you see disgruntled or attention-seeking politicians pick on the military with the illusion that by attacking them, they are getting at the Federal Government.

And so, the deployment of military troops for various internal security purposes has become so commonplace that it is now a reflex action for governments (federal and states) and even citizens to look up to soldiers to take care of any reported security infraction. Even more telling is the fact that, owing to the Nigerian military’s subordination to civil authorities and its vaunted readiness to be deployed to flashpoints, some other security agencies have conveniently abdicated their responsibilities and are currently more interested in ‘comfort zones’ like VIP protection!

The systematic bastardisation of the architecture of our internal security operations, to the point that the last line of defence in internal security operations (Nigerian military) is now the first responders, while the otherwise designated lead agency (Nigeria Police) takes the back seat, is a topic for another day, but nothing really disproves the grandiose expectations from the Nigerian military more than the unsavoury reality on the ground.

The reality staring us in the face is that despite the indefatigable efforts of troops of the Nigerian military, who are currently deployed in 36 out of 36 states to combat security challenges, insecurity is not only rising across the regions and states, it is appearing to be intractable.

What does that tell us? It tells us that a military (kinetic) approach to internal security operations is not the cure-all solution to security problems. Relying solely on the military is akin to treating just the symptoms of an ailment, while ignoring the root cause.

Unless the disease that is the root cause of the symptom is treated, the illness will persist, despite the efforts committed to addressing it. So are the internal security challenges confronting our country; if we don’t tackle the root cause, merely shooting at its manifestations is just scratching the surface, and that root cause is bad governance!

Bad governance, especially at the sub-national level, is the chief predisposing factor to crime and criminality across Nigeria. Who doesn’t know that there is a correlation between bad governance (which breeds poverty) and the spike in crimes and criminality? Who doesn’t know that inept and corrupt leadership breeds poverty, hunger, misery, despondency, frustration, irritability, desperation, and, ultimately, criminality in society?

Of course, nothing is more axiomatic than the saying that a hungry man is an angry man, and that such a person will listen more to the rumblings in his empty stomach than any sanctimonious preaching of patriotism or good behaviour.

In fact, the hungry man gets angrier and more fatalistic seeing how those entrusted with the common patrimony are abusing the state treasury, living large and in mindless opulence with their families and cronies, at his expense. He becomes irritable and petulant as he is further deprived of social amenities and denied social justice; he turns desperate, daring and deviant, as his the limit of his endurance wanes.

It actually takes exceptional self-discipline and the grace of God for anyone in such a perennial bracket of poverty to escape the above trajectory. Therein lies the correlation between bad governance and the spike in crimes and criminality in society.

A caveat, though: The above scenario is not an attempt to criminalise poverty but to draw attention to how bad governance predisposes citizens to anti-social behaviour.

It is bad governance (corruption, ineptitude and resultant malfeasance) that bred the army of hungry, restless unemployed youths across the country today; it is bad governance that manufactured 18.5 million out-of-school children in Nigeria; it is bad governance that ensures the lack of institutional capacities, which, in turn, deny citizens of social and economic rights.

All these negatives, which are orchestrated by inept and corrupt governance, are what have ensured a steady stream of prospective conscripts into crimes and criminalities in our country. It is no brainer, therefore, that the only way out is a change of heart by our political elite, who symbolise inept and corrupt leadership. But will they?

Sadly, our dear country has never been in short supply of corrupt leaders who bequeath nothing but bad governance and dashed hopes. Not long ago, a bemused world was treated to the sickening paradox of how a federal ministry created for poverty alleviation and humanitarian initiatives was turned into a paragon of corruption and the mindless looting of public funds.

 It was also in this country that, despite widespread public outcry, federal lawmakers went ahead to spend scarce public resources on insanely expensive exotic cars for members, at a time when the masses are dying of hunger.

An ex-governor of one of the states is currently having a running battle with the anti-corruption agency over the allegation that he looted more than N80 billion belonging to his poor state. Another former governor of a state considered the epicentre of banditry in the North is accused of misappropriating N70 billion; another one allegedly diverted N10 billion for a non-existent airport; a former federal minister was accused of stealing billions to float an ‘audio’ airline; and the list from recent memory goes on. So, the indisputable truth really is that for Nigeria to decisively surmount the various internal security challenges across the country, we must begin to pay attention to the quality of governance at all the tiers of government.

With over 130 million Nigerians living in multidimensional poverty — in a country so blessed with both natural and human resources but blighted by bad leaders — it is only expected that it will be weighed down by its own internal contradictions.

The military does not possess any magic wand to wave away insecurity, and in any case the military option alone has never stamped out terrorism and banditry anywhere in the world. Security is not only the responsibility of the security forces. Security is everybody’s business, which is why the all-of-society approach is often recommended.

No less a person than Nigeria’s Chief of Defence Staff, General Christopher Musa, aptly captured the scenario when he addressed members of the House of Representatives late last year, and said: “We have realised that the magic wand in addressing insecurity is good governance. Anywhere you have good governance, insecurity goes down.

 The security forces can only produce 30 per cent. We can only provide an enabling environment. If other aspects are not addressed, it is a problem. People can’t eat. People are hungry. No matter how you tell them to keep the peace, they will not because they have to eat, otherwise they will be predisposed to criminality.” Incontrovertible!

Yes, it is imperative for the Armed Forces of Nigeria to have enough boots on the ground, steel in the waters, and eyes in the sky in order to defend our country from external aggression or internal insurrection, but the incontrovertible truth is that no country shoots its way into law and order. Law and order, peace and security are dividends of good governance and credible leadership.

As the late literary icon Chinua Achebe rightly identified in his little book, The Trouble with Nigeria, Nigeria’s problem is rooted in leadership, and unless we get our leadership right, we will keep groping in darkness.

President Tinubu must lead the way in engendering good governance, and hopefully it will be replicated in the states and local governments. That is the best place to start if we must tame the monster of insecurity in our dear country.

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OPINION

Of Randy Lecturers and Their Students

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By Zayd Ibn Isah

One of the worst things to happen to a country’s educational institution is to have teachers and lecturers who cannot tame their sexual urges around students. Surely, such a country’s educational system will end up breeding students who are not only vulnerable, but possibly dysfunctional and likely to continue the heritage of abuse and mediocrity.

And why wouldn’t this be so, when such students were deprived of the safe and conducive learning environment which is the basic right of any student seeking enlightenment.

Normally, schools and other educational institutions, whether at primary, secondary, and tertiary levels, are supposed to be hallowed citadels of learning.

Within them, students are trained and equipped with the tools needed for them to become leaders, critical thinkers, and agents of positive change in society. This ensures that beyond the walls of the school, students would have imbibed enough moral instruction to contribute to national development.

However, when these institutions are infiltrated by predatory lecturers who sexualize students for their depraved gains, campuses become jungles where only those who are ready to play by the rules survive, establishing a hierarchical sense of predatory dominance over helpless prey. As such, those who are not ready to submit to the whims and caprices of randy lecturers are frustrated, and their dreams of acquiring knowledge to better their lives quickly turn to ashes. When these things happen, the very essence of education is tarnished, trust in academic institutions is shattered, and the potential for meaningful learning and personal growth is gravely compromised.

Recent events unfolding in our tertiary institutions call for grave concern. Last month, a lecturer at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka (UNN), was caught in the act of trying to sexually molest a female student at the university. The predatory lecturer’s victim is even married, but this was of no concern to the lecturer, Mr. Mfonobong Udoudom. Although his act is no less severe regardless of the victim’s marital status, one would have expected the man to act more like a professional and shun the act altogether. But apparently, such reasoning and logic must have eluded Mr. Mfonobong Udoudom at the level of depravity he no doubt felt comfortably assured within.

The irony of the whole situation is that the lecturer works at the General Studies Programme (GSP) Unit of the university, where he teaches Peace and Conflict Resolution and Nigerian People’s and Culture. I wonder if he thought anything at all about what his actions could mean to the outside world, especially about the Nigerian people and our culture, by threatening to fail his student if she fails to yield to his sexual advances. Did he ever think on how, by pushing ahead with his evil agenda, he would have been implying that in Nigeria, part of the educational culture maintains that students must sleep with their lecturers in order to pass exams?

According to reports, the lecturer is notorious for sleeping with his students to pass exams. In fact, once he sets his interest in you, it doesn’t matter how many hours you spend reading his courses and attending his lectures; as long as you have not followed him to the other room for practicals, you are on your own. But as the saying goes, every day for the thief, one day for the owner.

Even the king of the jungle runs out of luck eventually. And so it went for Mr. Mfonobong. It appears his alleged victim arranged with her husband and others to get the man into a trap, and part of the strategy was for her to play along. This is why, just when the lecturer thought his food was ready, the tables were turned against him and everything came crashing down hard.

“You can see. We have been following this case from day one. We have all the tracks, all the voice notes and everything,” a voice said in the background of the viral clip that was posted on social media to document Mr. Udoudomʼs disgrace.

This was the same strategy that was used for another predatory lecturer desecrating our citadel of learning. Mr. Theodore Shey, a lecturer at the Department of English and Literary Studies, Federal University, Lokoja, was caught in his house while trying to sleep with a female student. According to reports, the lecturer had been on his victim’s neck for sex, but the lady failed to yield. He failed her as a result. She reported the matter to her father, and she was told to play along. And that was how the cookie crumbled for Mr. Theodore.

There is a popular adage that if the hunter learns how to shoot without aiming first, the bird will also learn how to fly without perching. While it may seem that these predatory lecturers are beginning to get their comeuppance, it is quite unfortunate that we are still talking about sex for grades in our schools and that this is happening at a time when parents are encouraged to educate their girl-child to foster an environment of safety and respect. Our campuses are supposed to be a sanctuary for female students, not a jungle where predatory lecturers prey on their bodies.

Although there have been concerted efforts to tackle the menace of sex for grades by the government, at the wake of the BBC Eye undercover investigations into the activities of lecturers in both Nigerian and Ghanaian universities in 2020, The National Assembly passed a bill for the prohibition and punishment of sexual harassment by teachers/lecturers in tertiary institutions.

Unfortunately, this law, like every other law criminalizing crimes in Nigeria, does not deter some lecturers from sexually harassing their students. According to a recent report conducted by Women Advocate Research and Documentation Centre (WARDC) with support from the Open Society Initiative for West Africa, the rate of sexual harassment in our schools remains high, and it is not just a case of lecturers to students; it is even more prevalent among students, likewise non-academic staff.

The report observed that, “There are different manifestations and prevalence of SGBV among different categories of people in the university community. All forms of SGBV are present on campus and with unacceptable frequency. The most prevalent forms are sexual harassment followed by rape. The main perpetrators of SGBV are predominantly students and academic staff, although it is also common for non-academic staff to sexually harass students during the admissions process and when securing accommodation. There is also grossly under-reported sex for promotion and other SGBV amongst staff.”

What this suggests is that a lot needs to be done to stem the tide of all forms of sexual harassment in our schools. There should be an avenue for victims to report incidents of sexual harassment without the fear of victimization. Those caught in the act of sexual harassment should be prosecuted to serve as a deterrent to others.

Only through punitive measures can we maintain the sanctity of our educational institutions. And these recent incidents should not serve as an avenue for people to surface and blame the scourge of sexual harassment in schools as consequences of indecent dressing. Even if female students were to be restricted to the hijab in terms of dressing on campuses, corrupt minds would still fantasize, lust and scheme to perpetrate dastardly acts.

As much as students are expected to dress decently as a reflection of their duties within the school environment, staff should be held up to much higher standards of professionalism, morality and duty. If we must get things right and eliminate the malaise afflicting our learning spaces, everyone must be held to the highest standards and expectations. By doing this, excellence will thrive and mediocrity, along with inane depravity, will become a thing of the past in our educational institutions.

Zayd Ibn Isah can be reached via lawcadet1@gmail.com

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OPINION

WANTED: A STATE OF EMERGENCY ON COST OF GOVERNANCE

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By Tunde Olusunle* 

The lobbies and lounges of the *Nicon Hilton Hotel* (now *Transcorp Hilton)* and *Sheraton Hotels and Towers,* (now *Abuja Continental Hotel)* were very boisterous in the early days of the Olusegun Obasanjo/Atiku Abubakar administration in 1999. Both hotels were the biggest and best, those years and they accommodated the cream of the political class who gravitated to the federal capital territory, (FCT) at the outset of the Fourth Republic.

Conjectures, rumours and spins swirled in the breeze of both hotels throwing up the names of potential ministers, advisers and prospective government functionaries.
As the names of potential top-ranking operatives became public, the question arose about the number of aides they would each be entitled to, and where such assistants will be sourced from.
The civil service was poised to populate as many positions as may be thrown up in the new dispensation. They fancied themselves a reservoir of trained and ready bureaucrats who could be called upon at the snap of two fingers, the way a military parade is summoned by the sound of the bugle. 

First, it was proposed that appointees at the level of minister and adviser were entitled to two aides, a “Special Assistant” at the level of Deputy Director on Grade Level, (GL) 16, and a “Personal Assistant” at the level of a “Chief” in the civil service on GL 14. But for the insistence of senior and influential members of the emerging Obasanjo administration, the civil service would have had its way. For an Obasanjo who is famous for frugality, whatever governance model which would conserve resources for government, suited his desires. The President was, however, reminded that the minimum compensation that could be accorded the foot soldiers who made his ascension possible, was to avail some of them positions in the new government. 

Obasanjo was also admonished about the fact that democratic governance as different from an insular military government, should expand the space for qualified and competent Nigerians by way of sustainable engagement. Members of the national assembly agreed mutually that they should each have five legislative aides, who were of necessity drawn majorly from their home constituencies for obvious reasons. With a total of 469 in both chambers of the federal parliament, over 2000 jobs had thus been created. If Obasanjo’s cabinet was to be composed of 42 members and each of them took two people from the unemployment market, such tokenism will at least keep many hands from becoming workshops of devil.

Since Obasanjo was a newcomer to popular politics who was still undergoing demilitarisation from his erstwhile professional fixations, the new President was also reminded he could seek reelection in 2003, as provided for by the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. If he nursed any such ambitions, the real groundsmen at the grassroots in the polling units, the wards, the local government areas, the federal constituencies and so on needed to be practically cultivated. If they were not physical appointees themselves they will be glad enough that they have their eyes and ears where decisions concerning them were being made. Obasanjo consented and to a substantial extent, his prototype was in place until the expiration of his rulership in 2007. In several instances, qualified loyalists of the party were also appointed and deployed to departments and agencies under the supervision of various ministers.

Obasanjo’s equally frugal successor, Umaru Musa Yar’Adua inherited and ran with his benefactor’s template. Yar’Adua by the way, purportedly appealed to Obasanjo as baton-changer among other reasons, because of his predilection for thriftiness. In the course of Obasanjo’s state visit to Katsina State Yar’Adua’s erstwhile address as governor in 2002, the former Nigerian leader was delighted with Yar’Adua’s good works as with the impressive balance sheet of the state. Obasanjo has also noted elsewhere that he was also swayed in the direction of Yar’Adua because of the absolute loyalty with which Umaru Yar’Adua’s elder brother, Shehu, served him when he was military Head of State. He desired to honour the memory of a colleague who died desiring the democratisation of his country and on whose political platform he largely profited en route the presidency. Atiku Abubakar was Yar’Adua’s de facto Number Two man in the Peoples’ Democratic Movement, (PDM). He it was who led that critical political tendency to coalesce with other groups, to become the bedrock of Obasanjo’s success in the 1999 presidential poll and thereafter.

A certain liberalisation of the preexisting archetype of engagement of personal aides by top appointees began to take root during the administration of Goodluck Jonathan. He succeeded Yar’Adua who passed away in May 2010 and was somewhat soft on certain goings-on in the governance apparachik, his gaze trained on a shot at the presidency on his own steam in 2011. Call cards in the public domain during that era reportedly alluded to new coinages in the Jonathan milieu hitherto unheard of. His police aide-de-camp in his years as Vice President, Matthew Jitoboh, for instance gave way to a military officer, Ojogbane Adegbe, following Jonathan’s concurrent designation as President, Commander-in-Chief. Rather than report to the Inspector-General of Police, (IGP) for redeployment to regular police duties Jitoboh transmuted into a “Chief of Personal Security to the President” under Jonathan’s watch! What with the numbers and diversity of security personnel who hitherto secured the seat of government? Every such needless creation, pitched for operational resources thereby diminishing government capacity to provide basic services and infrastructure.

Things went on a perverse descent with the advent of Muhammadu Buhari as President in 2015. Buhari was never famous for hands-on leadership, a fact which soon became very evident as his rulership began. Ministers, advisers and so on were at open-ended liberty to populate their schedules with as many aides as they desired. Some public officers indeed fancied a whole bureaucracy of personal aides which could include a Chief of Staff! There could also be: Special Advisers; Special Assistants; Technical Assistants; Personal Assistants; In-house Consultants; Resource Persons and so on, engaged by top government officials. Buhari, renowned for never being *awia* of goings-on around and about him, was not in a position to check or moderate such excesses. Sadly but interestingly, government at sub-nationals like the local government level, equally ape existing precedence at the higher rungs. They cram up the space with all manner of frivolous appointments. Local government chairmen also have their chiefs of staff and a retinue of preposterous aides all remunerated from resources transmitted from the centre. It got so bewildering in my local government at some point that the “wives of councillors” were allegedly paid a month’s stipend of N50,000 monthly, for being “first ladies of their wards!”

Government finances are strained by these overloads which come with specific fiscal requirements. Emoluments have to be paid to those purportedly offering services to government; residential quarters or hotel accommodation has to be provided for them; means of travel have to be provided or paid for. Where such officials are allocated official vehicles and there is a shortage of chauffeurs in the pool, new drivers are hired, the costs consolidated on the hunchback of government. The entourage of our modern-day big men on local or foreign travels ballooned with appropriate *per diems* or estacodes, imperative. Officials themselves concot all manner of trainings, conferences and similar offshore engagements, flying in comfy classes. They savour the best hospitality facilities in their global junketing at our collective expense and the discomfiture of our already be-laboured resources. 

Despite this dampening scenario, unfeeling officials prefer foreign destinations for such mundane convergences as interactive workshops and meetings. Early March this year, the Accountant-general of the Federation, (AGF), Oluwatoyin Sakirat Madein herded Commissioners of Finance from the 36 states and FCT to the United Kingdom for an early-in-the-year rendezvous, in the name of a week-long workshop! The theme of that engagement was “Public Financial Management International Public Sector Accounting Standards,” (IPSAS). The AGF who should be better apprised than the rest of us about the country’s most disturbing fiscal situation was the orchestrator of yet another pipe-leak in the name of a foreign engagement for the nation’s exchequers. 

Last April, governors of 10 Nigerian states congregated in the United States to discuss security issues ravaging their various states! All governors from the North West: Sokoto, Kebbi, Zamfara, Kano, Jigawa, Kaduna, Kano and three states from the North Central, Benue, Niger and Plateau, participated in the three-day parley. If their homes have become metaphorical furnaces in the grips of bandits, kidnappers and similar miscreants, couldn’t they have moved over to another state, say Akwa Ibom which would provide the necessary serenity and security for engagement? The resource persons with whom they engaged in the United States could as well have flown to Nigeria.

Public officials are not sparing a thought for the sustainable rehabilitation, upgrading and operationalisation of our existing touristic capital and other facilities which should easily earn foreign exchange for the country. What happened to the *Obudu Cattle Ranch* and the *Tinapa Resort,* both in Cross River State? The state indeed opens the window to a myriad of other pristine treasures including the *Slave History* and the *Old Residency* museums; the scenic *Tortuga Island,* not forgetting the archival home of the famous female Scottish missionary, *Mary Slessor.* What have we done with the *Yankari Game Reserve* and the *Kainji Wildlife Park* in Bauchi and Niger states, which harbour some of the world’s rarest fauna? How about the *Lekki Conservation Centre* and the *Badagry Coconut Beach* overlooking the regal Atlantic ocean, both in Lagos State? 

Under President Obasanjo, Abuja became the unofficial “conference destination” in Africa. It subtly displaced Cairo, Johannesburg, Nairobi, even Kigali in the contest for this designation. Back in 2003, Nigeria very competently hosted the *18th Meeting of the Heads of Government of the Commonwealth of Nations, (CHOGM),* which was attended by the Head of the Commonwealth, Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth II at the time. Fifty one out of the 54 Commonwealth member countries attended meeting, a measure of the global regard with which Nigeria was viewed. Today, however, our senior officials are ever pliable in flashing cigarette lighters to our very scarce resources, in their oftentimes frivolous gallivanting. They don’t seem disposed to helping to build our own endowments to the world class standards which will compel the world to come probing. 

Last January, Bola Tinubu, Nigeria’s President directed the reduction of the number of officials on his entourage to foreign destinations to 20. This was in response to public outcry about Nigeria’s typically overblown delegations to offshore events. This cutback was also extended to the travels of his deputy. In March, Tinubu issued a presidential order restricting foreign travel by government functionaries for an initial period of three months, starting from April 1, 2024. While these measures are commendable, government needs to take a holistic view of the question of unsustainable public spending particularly in a milieu when government is gasping for fiscal oxygen. 

All arms of government are directly or indirectly guilty of various infractions on the national till. Justices of the Supreme Court of Nigeria mid-2022, petitioned the Chief Justice of Nigeria, (CJN), Tanko Muhammad. Led by the incumbent CJN, Olukayode Ariwoola, the judges correspondence stopped short calling out seething malfeasance under Muhammad’s watch. Nigeria’s parliamoent remains the most pampered anywhere in the world, presumably operating a most opaque accountability regimen. Mammoth sums are voted for the procurement of bulletproof, luxury automobiles for leaders and members of Congress. The President of the Senate, Godswill Akpabio is said to have dozens of aides servicing his office in the name of “inclusiveness.” He never probably met most of them and may never do. We are told inexplicable provisions are made for “constituency projects” which are directly overseen by the legislators themselves. This subhead is said to have become a conduit for the pilferage of public resources. 

Wasn’t Abdul Ningi, a ranking congressman representing Bauchi Central recently suspended for playing the whistle-blower on the expenditure proclivities of the same parliament to which he belongs? Undocumented allowances are made for the various breaks and holidays of parliamentarians, the type described as “prayers” by the Senate President the other day. Let’s not forget the jumbo millions in foreign exchange which the federal government annually votes for some agencies of government, a part of which was found cooling off under uninterrupted air-conditioning in a flat in highbrow Ikoyi, in Lagos, a few years ago. In that 2017 incident, $43.4m; £27, 800 and N23.2m, totalling N13 Billion at the time, were discovered in that singular instance!

Pointed and pragmatic pruning down of government expenditure transcends piecemeal orders and instalmental directives. Government should ideally declare a “state of emergency” on public expenditure which should bring all the arms of government at various levels of administration to a roundtable. More than ever, it is necessary for us to lay the issues bare, agree on subsisting profligacy in governance and administration, and deploy the scalpel without sentiments and biases. We must agree we’ve been collectively profligate. We must concur to the fact that there are services and developments we can avail our people without the humongous budget paddings which have become the norm. We must re-commit to serving the mass of our citizens to whom we are primarily obliged. We must re-dedicate to working for this country with every altruism. We must be resolute in exerting ourselves for its sustainable growth, to the standards of other forward-looking nations.

*Tunde Olusunle, PhD, is a Fellow of the Association of Nigerian Authors, (FANA)*

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