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This story often summons a smile to my face. About 20 years ago, we took my little cousin, Motunrayo, to a studio for a photo session. She sat in front of the camera and we started applying some make-up to her pretty face. Make-up done, lights on, camera ready, preamble finished, she innocently stood up and headed for the exit door. We laughed and informed her that she was yet to do what we actually came for – a photo shoot. The three-year-old girl probably thought we only came to glamorise her face. This, tearfully, reminds me of Nigerian politicians. They so often fail to understand that the main reason for getting political power is not the glamour of sirens and convoys. Power is not an end in itself; it is, alas, a means to an end.
While Nigerian governors were busy meeting and strategising non-stop on who should be the next chairman of the Political Billionaires’ Club, popularly known as the Nigeria Governors Forum (NGF), the Ruler of Dubai – a state in the United Arab Emirates – was busy unveiling plans to build three world-class hospitals and 40 new clinics to promote “medical tourism”. His Highness Sheikh Mohammad bin Rashid Al Maktoum said the plan was to build hospitals comparable to any medical facility anywhere in the world. They will also build five-star hotels next door to the facilities for the relatives of patients. The objective is to add another dimension to the Dubai story – trade, travel, real estate and now medical tourism. That is vision. That is leadership.
About the same time in my dearly beloved country, our multi-billionaire governors and other politicians were meeting day and night and night and day over who controls the meaningless Political Billionaires’ Club. Their disagreement was not about building world-class hospitals and world-class schools. It was not about fixing the potholes that litter our roads all over the federation. It was not about ending infant and maternal mortality. It was not about making Nigeria a land of trade and tourism. It was not about turning Nigeria to an exporter of mobile phones, like South Korea, or dairy products, like the Netherlands. The goal of political power, as far as they can see, is intrigues. Politics starts and ends with elections. Development is a distraction.
And we keep asking why Nigeria is like this.
I have been very amused – let me use the word bemused – by the NGF intrigues. If you believe what you are reading in the media, President Goodluck Jonathan, who wants a second term in 2015, is trying to stop Governor Rotimi Amaechi from getting a second term as chairman of NGF. To complete the irony, Amaechi, who is serving a second term as governor of Rivers State and also seeking a second term as NGF chairman, is against a second term for Jonathan. And so a civil war has broken out. It has now been presented to the gullible public as a fight between democrats and dictators, a battle between principled men and unprincipled men.
You believe that crap? So our politicians are now symbols of credible elections and role models of integrity? Seriously? Since when? Many Nigerians are selling and buying that line. Have we been so bewitched to forget that this fight is but a mere disagreement between soul mates? These same politicians will soon meet over bottles of expensive champagne and thereafter announce to the world that they have “resolved” their “differences” – while millions of Nigerians will continue to wallow in poverty and disease. Why do we always allow these politicians to fool us? I hereby officially announce that I, Simon Gbenga Kolawole, refuse to be hoodwinked. I have seen all this drama before. I don’t know about you.
Instead of the rest of us to gather and pelt these overfed politicians with rotten tomatoes for always placing political intrigues above good governance, we are taking sides. Can’t we all see that this NGF thing is all politics? Can’t we see that this political game is not about the progress of Nigeria? Why are we so easily excited in this country? Why do we always allow these politicians to distract our attention from the purpose of politics? How I wish all the energy being dissipated by these pot-bellied politicians was for the comfort of Nigerians! How I wish it was about how to provide safe water to the poor and jobs to the millions of youths who are hopelessly and haplessly roaming the streets! How I wish Nigerian politicians were quarrelling over how to tackle guinea worm, malaria, diabetes and kidney failures!
If these politicians devote just 10 per cent of their intrigues to making our country a better place, I bet Dubai would be like a ghetto compared to Nigeria. With all the trillions of naira that the three tiers of government have shared since 1999, we should not be here lamenting about electricity, education and health. But here we are, stuck with leaders who think only for themselves, who think that getting political power and playing high-wire politics are all that should count. Of all the troubles afflicting Nigerians today, NGF chairmanship and 2015 should be the least of our worries. But our politicians, like my innocent little cousin, like to adorn the make-up of political power and then walk away when it comes to the real reason they are in office – to turn Nigeria to a civilised country.
Now, with all the emotion and passion being exerted in the polity in the past few weeks over the NGF election, I will not be surprised if many of these politicians end up with high blood pressure and stroke by 2015. Well, I’ve got news for them. By then, Dubai will hopefully have opened one of their world-class hospitals, complete with the best equipment and the best medical personnel the world has to offer. Nigerian politicians can go there to receive treatment after the elections. With no world-class hospital in Nigeria, Dubai will eagerly welcome our leaders with open arms. After all, are these chubby-cheeked politicians and their fronts not the ones buying up the choice property in Dubai while millions of Nigerians remain homeless?
And Four Other Things...
WAGING THE WAR
It’s a shame that Nigerians have spent more time discussing the minor rift among our multi-billionaire governors, thereby relegating the more important issue of Boko Haram to the background. What we’ve been hearing in the last few days is chilling. The army authorities confirmed that some military insiders are working for the insurgents and have often tipped them off and put our soldiers’ lives at risk. There are allegations that Hezbollah, the Lebanese group, has links with Boko Haram. This raises more questions about our border control. Did you hear the Boko Haram leader, Abubakar Shekau, calling on Arabs to team up with him in his war against Nigeria?
ALIYU THE JANUS
If there is one governor I have never been able to understand since I was born, it is Dr. Mu’azu Babangida Aliyu. The Janus-faced governor of Niger State attended General Ibrahim Babangida’s declaration of intent to run in the 2011 presidential race. Shortly after, he was also at President Goodluck Jonathan’s declaration. During the Nigeria Governors Forum (NGF) chairmanship election, Aliyu was for both Governors Rotimi Amaechi and David Jang. Then last Tuesday, he shamelessly told Jonathan that all his criticism of the president was meant to attract federal projects to Niger State. And, by the way, this man has a PhD.
ANGO MUST GO
Remember Professor Ango Abdullahi? He was Vice Chancellor of Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria. In 1986, ABU students staged an “Ango Must Go” protest, asking for his removal over his draconian rule. The police moved in to quell the riot. Reports said dozens of students died, but Professor Abdullahi infamously said “only six students” were gunned down (none of his children was among the dead, so you could understand his use of “only”). Well, he is now the spokesman of Northern elders. That is exactly the kind of spokesmen and elders we need to transform the North. Wayyo Allah na!
DEMOCRACY AT 14
At a public function recently, a professor from the University of Ibadan bitterly lamented that Nigeria had nothing to show for democracy. He listed a million problems and two million challenges. He almost called for the military to come back. The governor of Anambra State, Mr. Peter Obi, who spoke shortly after him, asked the professor not to take such a dim view of things. “Prof,” Obi said, “the fact that you could say what you have just said and there is no security operative waiting outside the auditorium to arrest you is a sign of progress.” Yesterday always looks better than today. God has blessed human beings with the ability not to retain memory of pain.