WEDNESDAY COLUMN by USSIJU MEDANER
In the virtue of both default and evolved endowments, Nigeria ought to be ranking among the great countries of the world. Blessed by a huge population, innumerable natural and human resources, it requires only concerted efforts on the part of its citizens and leaders alike to place the nation where it rightly belongs. Unfortunately, and ironically, the supposed big giant is but a struggling snail. Few decades ago, the United Arab Emirate started off with a similar natural endowment found in Nigeria – of which the latter even has far more – and gradually climbed to the enviable global position they occupy now, all because their people and leaders yearn for growth for their nation above all other considerations including selfishness and personal aggrandisement.
As it becomes more glaring by the day, one thing this nation seems to have missed from the outset is the conglomeration of enough and sizable citizens who truly believe in it and are ever willing to sacrifice all for it at the same time. We have had them randomly but never till now in enough population to matter.
Ironically, and of concern, are the jackals and whoremongers lurking at all corners to prey on the nation including every drop of sugar. It becomes worse and disturbing when the population of those who believe that the nation’s resources are meant to be plundered increases alarmingly.
Because the central problem has become the growing population of creepy Nigerians who are more interested in all they could get off the country notwithstanding the accepted code of conduct, procedure, legality or otherwise. The number of unholy cases of abuse of trust and power by political office holders in cahoots with like-minded citizens to hurriedly get rich by illegal and unscrupulous means at the expense of the state and disregard for the wellness and national development has been on the rise.
One case too many; that is the reality now. We spend more of our time and days ruminating on new cases of aberrations against the nation, state institutions, and the Nigerian people.
The problem of Nigeria definitely began and has been worsened by the caliber and population of unpatriotic politicians parading in the corridor of power. The crass lack of enthusiasm and unpatriotism manifested by these politicians has been so huge that there appears to be no hope of resuscitating Nigeria. Virtually every other dire challenge facing the country is an offshoot of this very basic anomaly. The drive to assume position of power and control of the nation’s resources at all levels, has invariably led these men to commit unimaginable atrocities against the country; including sponsoring insecurity and unrest to create the atmosphere that would aid their assumption of power and discrediting all other noble oppositions. The much propagated disunity and separation along religion and ethnic lines we suffer are not natural and were not with us until the politicians saw it as an avenue to polarise the public for political purposes. Even at the height of the consequences of these ignoble acts, they seem to have only resolved to perfect the use of such tactics.
The nation, and its predominantly poor populace are burdened with the consequences of corrupt endeavours of the few opportune among us, but unfortunately, even the victims, locked in Stockholm Syndrome, now prefer the regime of corruption to the fight against corruption. Today, a greater population of Nigerians prefer and would encourage the culture of affluence without work, actions without consequentiality, politics without principle, fame without honour, and pleasure without conscience.
That is why even the malnourished poor celebrate known thieves and corrupt public office holders that are responsible for their sorry state of living and would defend the later including carrying arms. Allison Madueke, the former Minister of Petroleum under Goodluck Jonathan’s government,for instance, still boasts of huge sypathisers in Nigeria despite the weighty Olympic level allegations of graft against her. But alas, the poor man who cannot afford to educate his children because government could not pay his entitlements would castigate a government going after Mrs. Jonathan, who has already coughed up billions of currencies of stolen Nigeria money, that would not only have cleared all their entitlements but also provide amenities that could have redefined the existence of their households including their children.
After celebrating the thieves and looters of the nation’s treasury, we would turn on the system and government to make demand for working infrastructures and amenities. We want good roads, solid education, a working healthcare system, and many more, yet we felicitate and identify with those who pilfer the very resources meant for what we clamour for. It is either we have qualified as a society of hypocrites or delusionists or a wounded nation. And it might be a combination of all the options.
How we come to celebrate wealth without work is unexplainable. How the likes of Hushpuppi and even Dino Melaye became the standard reference and ideal figure of success for us remains a mystery in Nigeria. We virtually no longer believe in hard work and related work ethics. The politicians would kill, maim, and incite divisions to access political power that allow them unfettered access; to enrich themselves without work. The youth would rather devise unethical ways to become rich and famous without taking the path of hard work, not even innovation; vices and illegalities are more attractive as long as they produce money.
Why has not even a single Nigerian asked questions about the sources of wealth of Momphai, Hushpuppi and their likes? How will a man like Dino Melaye flaunt affluence, that is out of sync with what his services and few work records could ever generate and yet many a person without scruples celebrate, hail, envy and support him and his ilk. Is it not amazing that the court recently acquitted Tompolo of corruption and some elder statesmen were the first to begin merriments?
Impunity and gross indifference for established rules and principles all the more depicts the wounds inflicted on the nation. Certain individuals berate the constitution, accept and implement sections that favor their desires and abandon others aspects they consider detrimental to the realisation of their selfish agendas. Is the constitution of Nigeria, and the Acts that establish government agencies such as EFCC and NDDC ever silent on control and oversight powers on the agencies? No. Yet these institutions operate overtly as independent and exhibit total, audacious autonomy. Does the Office of the Minister of Justice and Attorney-General of the Federation have control over EFCC? Yes. But why the hullabaloo about the ongoing administrative investigation of the EFCC chair? Mr. Magu remains the longest serving acting chairman of EFCC occasioned by the refusal of the preceding Senate to confirm his chairmanship. President Muhammadu Buhari entrusted him to deliver on his anti-corruption mandate in the Commission. Now, the same President, after receiving complaints, as usual, in his manner of sparing no one, no matter how close you are to him, has ordered the investigation of acting Chairman Magu. That is a big credit to President Buhari and his Administration; it is something we rarely see happening in Nigeria in the past, where the presidency submit its serving appointees to investigations.
We must all take note of the supremacy of the Nigerian Constitution above all other extant laws in the nation. According to Section 174(a) of the nation’s Constitution, the Attorney-General of the nation is the Chief Prosecutor of the Federation. The Section expanded that the Attorney-General can initiate and can undertake criminal proceedings against anybody in Nigeria. While section 12 of the EFCC Acts of 2014 – which for emphasis, is subordinate to the Constitution – invests prosecutorial power on the Commission, it is still subject to the power of the Attorney-General of the Federation. By the doctrine of supremacy in law, the Attorney-General is empowered to override the operations of EFCC by withdrawing, and or reassigning any criminal case filed by any agency or Federal organisation in Nigeria, the EFCC and ICPC inclusive.
As it stands, Chairman Magu has not been found wanting; he remains under investigation; and in his presumption of innocence, he has the right to defend himself. So, as at today, regardless of the usual media sensationalism and reputation attacks on both the Attorney-General and Chairman Magu, no one knows what the allegations against the latter are as the panel has not made it public beyond not denying the fact that it ordered the temporary arrest of the EFCC Chairman in response to the series of petitions against him. The Attorney-General is appropriately performing the duty of his office; and the Presidential Panel, theirs. If Chairman Magu is innocent, as I wish he is, he will walk out free with raised shoulders; but, it will be wrong for us as a nation to shirk investigation when the need arises for whatever reason.
What we must take home from the ongoing investigation of Chairman Magu is that all supervising ministers and presidential aides need to rise up to their duties and to ensure accountability of operations of parastatals under their control and oversight. This, hopefully would lead to less corruption and the National Assembly would have less oversight duty to perform.
The Niger Delta, the hen that lays the golden egg remains in a very bad shape developmentally. Consequently, the region has been in agitation mode for a long time. We blame the federal government purportedly for discriminatory tactics against the region but at no time have we ever looked inwardly, in circumspect to see where the real problems are. We seem not to ever want to recollect that the governors of the region on behalf of their people have been collecting monthly 13 percent derivatives from the sales of all petroleum products by the government; that the governors then collect normal monthly allocations for the management of their states; and then NDDC got as much as N346.4 billion yearly of which approximately N306.4 billion is always earmarked for developmental projects across the region. In the last 20 years, the region, through NDDC has accumulated over N12 trillion in development funds; and yet the region is bereft of notable signs of noteworthy investment in infrastructures. All these are exclusive of federal government direct projects in all the states of the region, yet Niger Deltans are not seeing how their leaders and government appointees who are also their own people are responsible for the woes of their individual states and the entire region. The impasses that have engulf NDDC in the last five years as a result of forensic auditing plan and the current one between the Minister of Niger Delta and the former managing director of NDDC coupled with all the Olympic level allegations and exposure of endemic corruption in NDDC over the year should be an eye opener to all of us.
How did we get to the point where NDDC became so unaccountable to the nation? Who supervises or exercises oversight over it all these years? Nothing short of a full blown investigation of the Commission would suffice for Nigeria, Nigerians and in particular, Niger Deltans. Whoever is found culpable of undermining the noble agenda of the government to develop the entire Niger Delta through funding of NDDC must face the full wrath of the law. A scenario where a sitting governor is barricading an appointee of the government from appearing before the nation’s lawmakers call for serious concern. We must be careful not to erode the respect for rule of law and constituted, hierarchical authorities. The minister and all other parties to the matter must appear before the lawmakers to answer questions Nigerians would want answers to. I am still trying to grasp the rationale behind Governor Wike-led attempt to use the court to shield Joi Nunieh from possible prosecution. Regardless of the impasse she might have had with the Federal Minister of Niger Delta, her assertion that she, under pressure, used her office to dispense money illegally is weighty. The rule of engagement prescribes that if she cannot refuse to bow to pressure, she then has two options of filing a report to the effect of the pressure or resign from the office. This is not an APC problem as much as it is not an Akpabio issue; this is about Nigeria. I do not see what Governor Wike and PDP want to achieve from this filthy illegality; or rather what they are afraid of. Or is it the classic case of the powerful protecting one of their own against the commoners?
The mockery of our unified intelligence; they decided to use N1.5 billion to take care of themselves; N3.75 billion was paid for the supply of PLASTIC CHAIRS By NDDC and after investigation, the plastic chairs were found to be delivered to the warehouse of the same company that handled the contract and which coincidentally belong to the chairman senate committee on the same Niger Delta, the very man that we sit on the panel that probe the commission. The minister dropped the bomb again; about 70 percent of all NDDC contracts are handled by members of the National Assembly. While we are getting angry, MD Pondei was hit so hard by the hot request to explain what happen to unaccounted fund, how daft do these people think we are? The lawmaker become the lawbreakers; the mastermind appear before the mastermind, fainted and excused to leave; matter end. PDP is getting crazy over Magu EFCC but chose the silent treatment over the NDDC; elder statesmen Clarks and the rest are resting, they cannot respond to it all. What a wounded nation.
Every Nigerian complains about the rot in the country; we all point at what is externally wrong, but never to what we as individuals are contributing to the national rot. The teachers and lecturers who are supposed to be in the forefront of education are more preoccupied with selling study materials, engaging in favour for marks, and yet would roar and protest against the hopelessness of the country. A typical rice seller would carefully open the bag of rice for sale and remove three bowls from it, rebag and then resell it at the price of a full bag. But in the evening, they join the discussion on the wickedness and rot in the country! The chronic absentee Civil servants who show up at work twice in a week – and sometimes not at all – and yet collect full salary at the end of the month are the vocal voices complaining about how nothing is working in Nigeria; how the politicians are cheating and pilfering the nation. Then we have the youth who often spend most of their useful times partying, playing football bets, surfing the net and always on social media, turn around to complain about how the ineffectiveness of politicians is destroying their potentials and dreams!
Our hospitals seemed abandoned without adequate professionals; but the doctors at the private hospitals and clinics we run to are mostly also on the payroll of the government. It is their unavailability at the public hospitals where they are getting paid that creates the vacuum, yet the doctors have the moral rights to condemn the government and expose inefficiency of the nation’s healthcare system. What a nation? A wounded country.
On the security front, we are being ravaged despite federal efforts to contain insecurity in the country. Criminality is becoming common; killing and maiming of the innocents, banditry, robbery, rape, kidnapping and the likes, yet this is the same nation where state governors collect hundreds of millions every months as security votes. Who will believe that Nigeria governors receive as much as 75 percent of the Nigeria Police Force(NPF) annual budget as security votes annually? The Governors collectively receive security votes which is more than the budget of Nigeria Navy and Airforce combined annually; about 13 times the entire United Kingdom counter-terrorism support budget of four years. This huge monthly allocation is curiously – and erroneously – excluded from audit and any oversight, and yet many of these states have severe insecurity cases. But everyone including the governors are pointing fingers at the President. The security votes meant to augment the security efforts of the federal government in the states are now assumed to be the regular possession of the governors without any fear of present or future accountability since the fund is excluded from public scrutiny and oversight. What a wounded society. Nigeria therefore has a severe case of ostrichism at hand.
Some forty years ago, Nigeria Naira was the stronger denomination compared to the American dollar, at an exchange rate of 80K to $1. Today, a dollar exchange for as much as N460. We hit the social media, castigating a government that has just been around for five years. The only thing we don’t want to do is recollecting the things we did that turned the table against us. We pretend not to remember that forty years ago, we were net exporter of refined petroleum products, we rode in locally assembled cars, buses and trucks made in Nigeria; Peugeot was bubbling in Kaduna, Volkswagen in Lagos, Leyland in Ibadan, ANAMCO in Enugu and Steyr at Bauchi, not just assembling but were also producing many of the components locally. We had Vono products in Lagos producing the seats, Exide in Ibadan producing the batteries for the entire West Africa, Isoglass and TSG in Ibadan producing the windshields, Ferodo in Ibadan producing brake pads and discs, tyres produced by Dunlop in Lagos and Michelin in Portharcourt from rubber plantations located in Rivers State.
Those years, we were using refrigerators, freezers and air conditioners produced in Nigeria by Thermocool, listening to radio and watching television sets assembled by Sanyo in Ibadan, putting on clothes produced from UNTL textile mills in Kaduna and Chellarams in Lagos, from cotton grown in Nigeria. Those days, our water was flowing through pipes produced by Kwalipipe in Kano, our toilets fitted with WC produced in Kano and Abeokuta. Nigeria wire and cable Ibadan and Kablemetal in Lagos and Portharcourt made sure our electricity flowed through locally made cables. Lennards and Bata were producing the shoes we wear from locally tanned leather. Nigeria Airways was flying Nigerians to most places in the globe. Then, Nigerians were farmers and we were growing almost everything we eat.
Today, we import virtually almost everything and yet we expect a favorable exchange rate in comparison to the exporting nations. You can see how we engage in ostrichism.
We operate a nation where the minimum wage for ordinary working citizens is N33, 000; with an average monthly salary of about N80,000 for the majority of civil servants. Yet a state has three senators, entitled to a monthly running cost of N13.58 million, and making N162.96 million yearly. Each is further entitled to a consolidated salary of N750, 000 monthly summing up to N9 million yearly and a whopping N200 million yearly fund to execute projects that are never done. In total, each of these senators take home N372, 000, 000 every year. The three senators altogether earn N1.116 billion yearly, excluding the N7.45 million furniture allowance, N9.94 million motor vehicle allowance and N7.43 million severance gratuity. By implication, the three senators from a state, earn approximately an equivalent of the salaries of 1,163 government workers in a year.
The hypocrisy and ostrichism of many a Nigerian has risen yet to the highest. In 2015, Nnamdi Kanu, for one, was on the campaign train of President Jonathan, yet he became a menace to the nation in 2016 demanding for separation that was not in consideration in 2015. For another, Mr. Sowore celebrated Buhari in 2015 and yet became a “super critic” in 2018 because he apparently wanted popularity and power. This is a norm for all Nigerians that want to amass sudden recognition and popularity – attack the government, turn the cities upside down and you are there. That is the usual format, in Nigerian parlance. The common denominator for all of them is the quest for control and access to the corridor of power and they are nuclear-ready and willing to use all means possible to that end even at the expense of the nation and commoners.
Of a fact, Nigeria has been bastardised and inflicted with deep, sorely wounds, not by external forces but from within. The way forward right now is to begin with the full realisation of the stagnation in the functioning of Nigeria which I often laboured to pen down and to recognise the parts we have individually contributed to the problem; then altogether, we must begin to retrace our acts and attitudes as they affect Nigeria. And surely on the whole, with time, we would begin to see the change and goodness we desire for Nigeria.
GOD BLESS THE FEDERAL REPUBLIC OF NIGERIA