Guest Columnist: Japheth Omojuwa
El-Rufai on Friday - Young Voices (4) - Introducing Japheth Omojuwa
I met Japheth Omojuwa on Twitter before we met in person a few months after. He is one of those young Nigerians that are brilliant, courageous and detribalised and express these philosophies passionately using social media. With nearly 40,000 followers on Twitter, Japheth is both a thought leader among his peers, but gives sleepless nights to President Goodluck Jonathan’s media managers. His blogging website www.omojuwa.com is one of the most popular amongst young people.
He writes today on the lackadaisical attitude of our elite focusing on the indifference of our middle class as one of the root causes of our failing government. He believes that unless our middle class rises up, organises and demands decent governance and public accountability, it will be squeezed into joining the ranks of 112 million Nigerians currently in poverty.
It is my honour and privilege to introduce Omojuwa, an alumnus of Kings College, Lagos and graduate of Agricultural Economics of the Federal University of Technology, Abeokuta. He follows the tradition of Yemi Adaomlekun, Auwal Sani Anwar and Elnathan John in writing on a subject of concern to young people. Indifferent Middle Class and our Failing Government - By: Japheth Omojuwa
Every day, Nigeria’s presidency – excluding the vice-president - will have a bazaar-esque table of food and refreshment worth N2,010,000.00 excluding special events. The 2012 budget reserved N951 million for the president’s foreign travels and the president promised to cut on this after the Occupy Nigeria uproar. In keeping to that promise, the president has averaged two travels per month since then but that is nothing compared to the N2.6 billion dedicated to his 2013 foreign travels - N7.1 million for each day of 2013 including weekends. N2.6 billion is the salary of 12,037 Nigerians on the minimum wage working for the whole year.
For a government that says it has transformed our power challenge, one would wonder why they had to budget N72,510,832 to fuel the state house. Aso Rock expects to burn some 1,300 litres of diesel per day based on the pump price. The budget contains more irresponsible allocation of state resources to political office holders, including National Assembly members who get to spend some N150 billion up from not more than N50 billion from the Olusegun Obasanjo years. It was established in a well-publicised paper how the worth of an average bill passed by the National Assembly is N10 billion! Each legislator costs Nigerians over $2 million per year.
How can this not be criminal in a supposed representative democracy? This sheer irresponsibility and obvious disregard for the people’s yearnings will continue as long as those who should demand at least the application of common sense in the governance of Nigeria decide to keep quiet.
The world over, you’d hardly find any country that ever survived the domination of a few over many without the rise of a people who are neither at the top of the pyramid nor essentially at its bottom, those who find themselves between both ends of the socio-economic divide. You cannot get to any Promised Land worth the travel without getting to cross bridges as we cannot bank on the miracles of going through water. The bridge of progress and development in any modern nation is the middle class. If a nation stays stagnated or retards in development, check the bridge.
Read tales of the Industrial Revolution, the American Revolution and other mass movements including the several movements across Europe and even more recently with the likes of Rudi Dutschke in Germany and the Arab Spring and you’d find the middle class at the end of it if not at its beginning. This is because this class has the number and the resources to make change happen. Unlike the poor, they have resources to spare for advocacy. The poor live from hand to mouth and are the worst hit in case of any campaign that halts production one way or the other.
That Nigeria needs saving is a foregone conclusion and that there has to be a mass movement that seeks and demands genuine transformational change is a long delayed reality. Easterly, William, 2001 defined a “middle-class consensus” as a situation of relative equality and ethnic homogeneity, he went on to show empirically that such a middle-class consensus facilitates higher levels of income and growth, as well as higher levels of public goods. This may sound counter-intuitive especially considering the fact that the finger of blame for our national woes have always been pointed in the direction of those directly involved with governance but we are at fault for the woes of Nigeria because we are too docile and we have come to accept nonsense from our office holders as the norm.
We are the ones that live in homes with generators that have sworn an oath of war with silence. We don’t care if the roads to our houses are passable, we just ensure our second Tokunbo car is an SUV and we never bother about lasting solutions. We create a cocoon around ourselves against the many menaces of our society. We sit at beer parlours and gist about what is wrong with our country without ever really doing anything to be part of change. And now who do we blame for having a president whose policies look more like documents drafted from such beer parlour gatherings? Our government has policies with sounds without meaning, words without power and trillions of naira without value to the people.
Every Nigerian leader has been from the middle class or from an even more wretched background. They get to the top by hook, crook, coup or luck and don’t give a damn if the people die or live. They could care less about the people where two out of three are poor. We can dress all up and go to church giving praises in empty stomachs that may never be filled except we get a chance to attend a church related event after that. We invest in cheap London-America outfits - wash am, press am well, spray perfume and we look good to go. If you are lucky to add a few fats on your cheeks then your money has indeed come. We wallow in poverty and have become so numbed to this abnormality as though we were pigs destined for dirt so would find calm where others find discomfort.
We are progressing and transforming Nigeria. We are progressing on our known path of mediocrity and transforming from a people that though did not have everything, had values and the basic things of life. Where the laws did count, to a country where the lawmakers are the chief lawbreakers, transforming to a land where to steal in a better and more rewarding position you must loot and loot well in your current position.
A minister spends over N2 trillion on what the people agreed N260 billion should be spent on, she could still go ahead to make the laws that make her even more powerful. Every other presidential broadcast results in protests and every presidential broadcast either makes you angry or sad. You are angry about the fact that the Presidency has become the mascot for national intellectual poverty and sad that a nation, in all its glory and human resource endowment has been limited to being led by its dross.
Nigeria is what it is because we are who we are…mostly selfish, short-sighted, parochial and a grab-your-own mentality obsessed group of people who make noise when not positioned to steal, who steal when positioned to do greater good. We have hit rock bottom even though the realities of modern day Nigeria make us feel our current office holders will breach even this bottom and take us further down. God forbid! We can forbid it too.
We need to organise ourselves and start right from our local governments. One person takes up the challenge, gets others together and pays the local government chairman a call. You want to know all there is to know about what s/he has been doing with your money. We cannot just live in patience for the day someone from our family will get the chance to steal.
As bad as that sounds, it is even more statistically impossible compared to if we ensure our country works for us all at the same time. As for those of us who cannot see beyond a need to divide Nigeria, let me state that James Ibori stole Delta people’s money. The people of Oyo State are not looking for the Hausa governor that stole their money and the people of Edo State are not cursing an Igbo man for the development they seemed to have had a divorce with until the Adams Oshiomhole years. The homogeneity of language is essentially a need for us to see beyond our differences as a group and at least get involved.
We must fight to cut down the size of government. This is killing development. Recurrent expenditure has barely changed despite what the statistics intend to tell you. N2.425 trillion in 2011, N2.47 trillion in 2012 and N2.41 trillion for 2013 is not change. Cut this big government and for every cut, we cut down its failures. We need to reduce its obstructive size for a people-driven economy and system. What Nigeria needs is an army of active citizens because activists and CSOs are always going to be limited. What we need is an economy free from cronyism and incessant government control. Are we ready to get involved yet or do we just wait our turn to chop?