By Dele Olowu
In Nigeria, watching the mighty fall from high office has become an intriguing spectator sport. The loss of incumbency produces grist for gossip, and an opportunity to gloat on the reported meanness, of the individual, who has just bitten the dust. Nigerians are familiar with this trend and can even be said to expect it. But nothing in all this, has prepared any one, for the dancing on the grave, which followed the recent removal from office, of Princess Stella Oduah, until lately, Minister of Aviation and Chief Mike Ogiadomhe, now rested, as the Chief of Staff to the President, considering the controversies surrounding Princess Oduah’s tenure and in particular, considering the intense public scrutiny to which she was subjected, her fall from grace, was only a matter of time. But once she was offloaded, it would have been futile to expect that she would be left alone.
No. From all quarters of the sky, came vultures flocking to the prey. Reports speak of rejoicing in aviation circles and of professionals who have come out to observe that Princess Oduah’s removal was bound to provide a new lease in the sector. In one fairly memorable assessment, a trade union leader described Princess Oduah’s sack as a fitting Valentine gift from President Jonathan to the Nigerian public. For the Princess royal of aviation, these surely, are extremely difficult days. But she must however draw some solace from the fact that the grumbles provoked by her ouster, have not come from her own people. Whatever we might feel for Oduah, she may still have the warm regards of her people to fall back upon.
But an entirely different but bizarre treatment seems to have been reserved for Chief Mike Ogiadomhe, once the almighty Chief of a Staff. His sack was applauded not only in the presidency, but also in Fugar, his own hometown, where his removal, provoked delirious street jubilation. This reaction has left very many people bewildered. Not even, Ogiadomhe, the victim of this noxious home-grown hatred, can explain this persecution.
Yet all the sufferings of Chief Ogiadomhe, like those of several other fallen stars before him, need not seem as unfathomable as they might appear. The truth is that the Nigerian state, right from colonial times, has always been perceived as an adversary of the Nigerian citizen. Those who work or serve the Nigerian state are consequently perceived as enemies of the Nigerian people. The relationship between the colonial state and the subjugated people was, therefore, characterized by this tension between the vision of the masters and the continual yearning for freedom by the people. However under the colonial fiat, there was little or no corruption at the personal level. What corruption there was concerned the bias of the colonial officers for carting away our resources for the benefit of the United Kingdom. But there were no significant instances of personal corruption on the part of the white managers. There are no records for example, of private estates, or priceless property acquired by the likes of Lord Lugard in violation if their oaths of office. But even under this regime, mild as it might now seem, Nigerian citizens remained alienated enough, to regard the state system with enough hostility.
Nigeria, today as an independent nation, is effectively managed by our own countrymen and women. If our citizens responded to the Nigerian state with some amount of residual hostility because of what transpired in the past, successive governments since independence have not given enough proof that a new dawn has broken. The mask may be black, but the faces are whiter than in the past. Our new leaders have taken over government and have merely succeeded In transferring our resources into their own hands. This has been the trend over these several years with over 70% of the annual budget being appropriated for recurrent expenditure. The rest of society lives not only in awe of those in government but are also extremely jealous of the creature comforts they enjoy. Who will not be jealous of a restricted aristocracy which has its own health delivery system, its own transport fleet complete with its own planes and of an aristocracy, which at some levels, now proposes to have its own embalming machines. Government was supposed to be for the people. In the present dispensation, however, government is for itself and for itself only. It is therefore no surprise that people see incumbents as aliens, and feel nothing but relief when they get kicked out of office.
We do not have to react with incomprehension to either the violation of Ogiadomhe’s memory by his own people, or to the jeering experienced by the fallen Princess Oduah. If we express surprise, it must be because we do not sufficiently understand the dynamics of public service in Nigeria today. Those who enjoy power and authority, do so at their own personal behest. The rival regional, ethnic and confessional rivalries which exist are frequently invoked merely to give legitimation to individual claimants. In the end, what matters is to what use, incumbents deploy the discretion at their disposal. This is the reason why power mongers are in the end, such lonely entities. Do we require to shed any tears for Ogiadhomhe,or for Princess Oduah, or for many others, who have passed through the road to Golgotha? I doubt very much. Political office mongers are a tough breed. They know how to reincarnate. And unless our countrymen, go beyond merely jubilating or jeering, and are able to really reject incompetents, the bad old coins will have a way of coming back. We must demand service from those who serve us and expect accountability from those who are responsible to us.
Dele Olowu is a former Editor, Nigerian Observer