The Nigerian political elite thrive on a salad of lies, deception and looting. Politics is an investment for most of the politicians of our land, not to pursue lofty nation-building ideas, but a platform to take inordinately from the commonweal. And as in such projects anywhere, this basic truth is protected by a bodyguard of lies, as Winston Churchill used to say. So they devised what they celebrate as “Democracy Day”, and that occasion to lose a whole day of national productivity, came again last week, on May 29th. If a visitor from outer space had chanced upon this land, he might have taken the outpouring of speeches as a genuine reflection of commitment to the country’s well being. Nigeria celebrates “Democracy Day”, handicapped by the fact that it is not led by democrats. Almost without exception, none of those who rule us today stood to be counted as an opponent of military dictatorship; they however inherited the state with the retreat of the military and instituted a mongrel ‘democracy’, rooted deeply in the psyche of military dictatorship and carrying the baggage of a civilian leadership that never converted to the ethos of democracy. Processes tend to get better with practice, but not in Nigeria. Obasanjo provided the template that has ruled the roost ever since: an authoritarian complex; a messianic delusion; unbridled corruption and constant preachments about how well-meaning they are about developing the country.
The ‘democracy’ that was celebrated last week is so lucrative for those on the inside that they need to keep up the charade of the system they so handsomely profit from. The media for example reported on May 26th, 2010, of a leakage of an agreement within the House of Representatives to collapse the capital vote in the 2010 budget and then increase the quarterly allocation for each member to N42million from N27million. Last year, the press had similarly reported each senator collecting N500million, between October 2007 and June 2009. So much money goes into the upkeep of individuals ‘employed’ to make laws for us that one of them, Smart Adeyemi, in what must be a moment of over-indulgent satiation, was reported to have visited the EFCC to state that the National Assembly is corrupt and he wants the EFCC to probe the body! It was obviously a Eureka moment for the smart Alec (no pun intended!), but he apparently forgot that he has been part of the “chop-chop” that he wants probed. And since those living it up at the high level glasshouse of comfort, at the expense of the Nigerian people must maintain a code of self-preservative silence, “a high-powered ad-hoc committee to investigate allegations of corruption”, was quickly set up. The “anti-corruption” whistle-blowing Smart Adeyemi made a volte-face of denial and has been eating his own vomit! It was also last week that a minister of the current government, Labaran Maku, confessed that public contracts in Nigeria are 30 per cent higher than in neighboring West African countries.
And if you are getting angry, you better rev up the anger, because last week also, the chairman of the ICPC, Justice Emmanuel Ayoola, told a public lecture that a total of $300billion was stolen by corrupt Nigerian leaders since independence. These sums, he said were enough “to build many standard schools equipped with all facilities”; but the brazen looting ensured we did not, and consequently, according to Ayoola, “we now send our children to private schools and universities and that is why when they come out of these schools, they have no love for their country”. It is clear that one of the downsides of the corruption central to the process of politics in our country is the erosion of patriotism in broad sections of the citizenry. So pious preachments about the importance of ‘democracy’, deformed as it is in its Nigerian incarnation, does not cut ice with the Nigerian people; frankly, I think the time has come for us to interrogate the inordinately high cost of this political process. Can Nigeria continue to maintain a parasitic political stratum that contributes very little to the nation, yet takes so much from it? Isn’t it possible for legislation to become a part-time process, while those who end up in legislatures go back to gainful employment, when they are not examining legislation?
It is in fact the costs associated with the assumption of political power and the opportunity to go on a stealing frenzy that made for the do-or-die attitude which Obasanjo confessed is the essence of his politics, and we all know that is the central dictum of Nigerian politics, in the past eleven years. It is not likely to change, for as long as the ultimate prize of power confers mind-blowing privileges on the lucky chaps who get in. Come to think of it, what are the ideals which hold the political parties together? They are non-existent, beyond the fact of being vehicles of access to government houses and legislative chambers. Again we might argue that the times of great political parties built on ideals expired during the Twentieth Century, but the Nigerian political space has exhibited the worst expressions of the disappearance of ideals in political life.
And because of the breakdown of basic values and absence of a national ethos of patriotic service or recruitment, we have often ended up with throwing up the lowest common denominator in the process of leadership recruitment. Those recruited therefore see themselves in a perverted sense as a privileged caste which must be subsidized in every aspect of their existence. It is also one of the reasons that those who have had the opportunity to be within the loop of governance, become completely addicted to the privileges of access. This is the basis for the emergence of a tribe of what our greatest musician Fela Anikulapo-Kuti called ANY-GOVERNMENT-IN –POWER (AGIP), personified by Jerry Gana, Ojo Maduekwe and Nasir El-Rufai. The cost of running the civilian administration is stifling the development of the country and unfortunately, it has not become more democratic. It is double jeopardy for Nigeria.