Power, they say, belongs to the people! This may, indeed, be true where there is respect for the rule of law, and where equity and justice underpin in the free association of people and communities. These are, inalienable characteristics, which positively impact human capacity development and social welfare, in enduring democracies. Indeed, in such progressive ambience, political power becomes a tool for public service rather than the pursuit of self or partisan interest, regardless of the odious collateral of social deprivation and oppression.
Nigeria’s political history, since we became self-governing in 1960, has been grotesquely smeared by the usurpation of power, through electoral fraud and the barrel of the gun; consequently, the people’s voice has remained largely mooted, except for a brief flicker, before the result of a popularly accepted, free, fair and credible election, was brazenly annulled by the army in 1993. The net product of electoral fraud and military brigandage is mass disenfranchisement, with disastrous consequences for the rule of law, particularly, when these aberrant beneficiaries of political power also determine what is equitable and just. This obtuse culture, unfortunately, also permits public office holders unfettered access to the public treasury; regrettably, the cancerous seed of corruption is already generously cultivated, nationally, in place of the expected growth of public wealth for the common good.
Nigerian billionaires (in all currencies) have blossomed without any antecedent in industry, commerce or family inheritance, while some have also been listed among the world’s richest! Nigeria’s economy has, however, become blighted with the gradual erosion of an emerging middle class, such that more Nigerians, now reportedly, live on less than $1 a day! Furthermore, our infrastructural base in all sectors has fallen into decay with merely cosmetic efforts at sustenance and rehabilitation. Sadly, high unemployment, armed robbery, insecurity and general lawlessness have also become abiding features, while the judiciary and police have been emasculated by poor remuneration and poor social infrastructure.
Furthermore, there is also blatant disregard of court orders by the governments itself, while the celebrated independence of the judiciary, as a bastion against tyranny, is unfortunately, now only in the letters of an imposed military constitution, than in the spirit of its application. Over time, the public psyche and social values have been turned upside down, and the Nigerian identity, now sadly, also connotes all that is negative in International social consciousness.
The candidature and the campaign mode of the 2007 elections campaign leave little hope that political power will begin to truly flow from the electorate, so that public office holders will become accountable to the people. The undemocratic twin instruments of intimidation and ‘hot money’ have been weaponised to produce pliant electoral candidates, in virtually every political party primary. The political class has also become, arguably, estranged from an electorate, who have been reduced to mere rubber stamp of candidates pre-selected by a party elite, which may not favour genuine ability and desire to serve the people, as a preferred job requirement. Consequently, those who agree to sharing of public funds when elected, are often favoured for elective posts in party primaries. However, God help such victorious candidates, if they failed “to perform” while in office, as the big stick of impeachment will be quickly deployed to flatten such ‘traitor’, while a more ‘co-operative’ candidate will be quickly selected, by a rapacious party-caucus, notwithstanding the constitutional provisions for such impeachment exercise.
The masses are not deceived that liberal campaign spendings are borne out of a desire to serve. They recognise that funds ‘invested’ by sponsors on any election, will be recouped, from the public treasury, once the candidate is elected, even if deepening poverty becomes the inevitable product of such syndicated greed. But what can the masses do? The choice they have as electorate, is as that between the devil and the deep blue sea! They are resigned to the fact that their votes may not count when party cabals have their private agenda for self-enrichment after victory at the polls. Consequently, the street wisdom for the helpless masses is the opportunity for immediate self-gratification from political partys’ paltry mobilization ‘fees’, which may provide a meal for the day and possibly even also, a free campaign vest and cap plus a brief distraction from their daily misery, in a jamboree or carnival atmosphere?” Furthermore, there are really no significant differences between the various political parties, as their manifestoes –where such exists–make the same promises without any realistic preparation or expectation to fulfill these promises.
Sadly, despite the abysmal apparent failures to deliver the expected “mass dividends of democracy”, outgoing Governors, and indeed also the Presidency, have all dug deep into their pockets (some say public treasury) before the election to support their chosen candidates who will protect their interest and sustain their legacy (of profligacy and corrupt governance)!
There is no way that a candidate with good intentions, for the common good, can match Naira for Naira, the seemingly inexhaustible campaign chest of anointed opponents! Similarly, the power of incumbency at the highest level of government, may also be abused to edge out formidable opposition. Ultimately, the masses become the real losers and their hope of a ‘better tomorrow’ will, invariably, sadly remain a mirage.
The press, the fourth estate of the realm, true to their calling, continues to report the News; regrettably, however, there is little affinity for investigative analysis, and there is also no sustained attempt to condemn oppressive policies and conspicuous irregularities in governance. This is really not surprising, as most media houses may not survive, without the patronage of political money bags who have cornered all the commanding and most lucrative heights of commerce and industry, with funds looted from the nation’s treasury. It is quite telling on media alertness, that it required, for example, a fall out between President Obasanjo and his VP to reveal the disturbingly sordid details of the abuse of the PTDF (Petroleum Technology Development Fund).
Notably, billions of dollars have been and will continue to be laundered through our banks; however, it is also disturbing that, despite the critical revenue generation significance of NNPC and CBN to our economy, these Government Agencies have, not been audited for so long. Notably amongst such parastatals are, PHCN, NITEL, NPA, Ministry of Works, and Education respectively, (the list is endless) who have received trillions of Naira of public funds, in addition to their individually internally generated revenue, without making any tangible social impact; sadly, it is unlikely that any media investigation of these pervasive scams will ever be undertaken!
The Okigbo report on the oil windfall of the 1990s, for example, has audaciously disappeared; sadly, even when Mister President also doubled as Petroleum Minister between 1999-2007, despite the related constitutional limitations, the performance of this billion-dollar ministry still brought so much anguish and economic distortion, in place of the expected blessing to the masses.
Honestly, the press cannot save the masses under such circumstances, as the emoluments of journalists and other media practitioners are also inadvertent victims of the subjugation of the system to corruption; arguably, most media owners, for their own survival, dare not take a firm stand on the side of the people or, indeed, knowingly cross the path of our untouchable oppressors! Lord help us, to bring the reign of this charade of opportunism to an end.
POSTSCRIPT MARCH 2019: The above article was first published in April, soon after the General Elections in 2007. Painfully, however, nothing has changed as an International Research Group, lately concluded that six more Nigerians, will join the rank of over 100 million Nigerians who, reportedly, presently earn, below poverty wage of less than N1000/day ($3/day). Conversely, however, more than 90 percent of Nigeria’s wealth may also now be controlled by an enduring, favoured, amorphous cabal, made up of strategic, unrepentant rent-seekers.
SAVE THE NAIRA, SAVE NIGERIANS!