Lessons From America (2)

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THIS REPUBLIC By Shaka Momodu shaka.momodu@thisdaylive.com 0811 266 1654

I did not think I would write the second part of the above titled article published a fortnight ago on this page. But I felt the compelling need to avail readers an update on a major lesson I referenced in the article about the immediate-past Vice-President of the United States of America, Joe Biden. On Friday January 20 after participating in the inaugural activities and peaceful transfer of power to President Donald Trump, Biden headed to Amtrak Washington Union Train Station for a ride back to his home state, Delaware. “Back to Amtrak,” he was said to have announced with thumbs up before entering the train. It is one of those humbling moments that force one to question why things are so very wrong here.

According to The New York Times report, post-presidency, Biden plans to get a small house in Washington to maintain close contacts with the Obamas and to maintain his wife’s teaching job at a community college in northern Virginia; while he would be partnering with the University of Delaware on domestic issues and the University of Pennsylvania on foreign policy matters. In between, he will be working on how to find a cure for cancer through the cancer “moonshot” initiative he is spearheading.

Biden, 74, carried his own bag and walked casually and jovially into the train. No busybody aides trying to help him because he didn’t need them. No haughty posture or superiority complex as a former “constituted authority”. Can anybody compare Biden’s humility and simplicity to the conduct of any Nigerian government official? I am struggling to think of any elected or unelected public officer in this country like Biden who tries to mix with the public to get a connection and relate with their daily troubles, fears and anxieties. Once elected they become inaccessible, chartering private jets and flying in the air until another election cycle when they buy a few bags of rice, salt, oil, etc, branded with their photographs; in addition to a few naira notes – to give out to voters in exchange for their votes. This has been the stuff of politics here. Without a doubt, we have the worst politicians in the world – totally idealess and visionless.

There is another important lesson I want to draw attention to: Though this time from a Western ally of the United States, Britain, the then Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, David Cameron was driven to Witney Used Car Centre where he bought a Nissan Micra for his wife. According to various reports in the Western media, in May 2016, a used car dealer, Iain Harris, took a call, saying the prime minister was on his way to buy a modestly-priced car. He assumed it was one of his friends playing a prank on him.

But soon after, Harris was stunned to see Britain’s PM pull up to take a look at a blue Nissan Micra. Owner Iain Harris was even more surprised when, instead of opting for one of the more expensive cars on the forecourt, Mr. Cameron selected a 2004 blue Nissan Micra costing less than £1,500 that has clocked up almost 93,000 miles. The car shop owner added: “It was a bit surreal, but likewise he was just a normal chap buying a car for his wife, a normal conversation, normal sort of deal and that was it.”

Well, in this clime our leaders are not “normal” people. Once they get into public offices, they quickly morph into thoughtless, arrogant, self-conceited constituted authorities. They wouldn’t build roads, provide healthcare or fund the education system. All they are interested in is paying themselves outrageous salaries, allowances and equally outrageous pensions when they leave office.

I watched the video of Emperor Governor Abiola Ajimobi of Oyo State assaulting our sensibilities recently with his bellicose rhetoric while addressing the protesting students of the Ladoke Akintola University of Technology (LAUTECH), and it left a nasty feeling in me. Who is this thoughtless, egocentric man? How did he come close to holding public office? From reports, some Nigerians wished he was beaten up by those students for being too cavalier in the way he treated them, and for being indifferent to the problems besetting the education system. He even dared the students to do their worst. Thankfully, they chose to mock his pathetic arrogance and make him look utterly foolish in his impudent and irresponsible behaviour that was so vainly on display on that day. Instead of explaining to the students his efforts (if any) in resolving the crisis, he resorted to bullying and threats. But his conduct was largely a reflection of the god-like mentality of public office holders across the country. And I dare say, it is the slave-mentality of the people that has emboldened public officials, elected or appointed, to continue to oppress the people.

The question to ask Ajimobi is, if his children were in LAUTECH, would he allow it to be shut down for eight months? Of course his children will never attend such a school meant for the children of the poor. Instead they send their children to the best schools in Europe and America. Public schools across the country under the supervision of constituted authorities lack qualified manpower and where available, they are poorly motivated. It is common knowledge that public schools are in a terrible state of disrepair and lack basic amenities due to a lack of funding. Ajimobi, aka “constituted authority”, has become the symbol of all that is wrong with Nigeria and its leaders who immediately detach themselves from the same very people they purport to represent after elections. How he won a second term in office is a testament to the foolishness of voters in this country and they share in the blame for the mess we have all found ourselves.

As I was writing this piece, I stumbled on a report in the Vanguard newspaper that despite the appalling state of public utilities, 21 states spent a whopping N37.4 billion on servicing just 47 former governors and their deputies in pension payments and provision of houses, staff and vehicles which are replaceable between three and four years. This is said to be aside their medical bills, which according to the report, run into hundreds of millions of naira. These self-serving entitlements are besides the massive stealing they perpetrated while in office through security votes and end-of-tenure payouts they approved for themselves. Some even made away with assets belonging to their states such as cars, furniture, real estate, etc.

The pension laws which some state governors railroaded through their various Houses of Assemblies also require the governments to acquire and maintain two houses for the former governors, one apiece in Lagos and Abuja. Of course some of them went on to become senators. Still, they collect housing allowances from the federal government, while drawing pensions and salaries from the state and federal governments simultaneously every month. Where else in the world does this happen?

This is a country that claims it wants to make progress. Even in this dire time of economic recession, state governors haven’t shown any commitment to prudency and frugality, nor have they cut down on their frivolities which are a huge drain on scarce resources. The economic hardship in the country has only served to energise our governors, senators, and ex-presidents’ thirst for luxury cars. Their only qualification for these personal benefits is that the people gave them a mandate to serve. And instead of doing that, they robbed them and retired with pensions that ensure they continue to fleece the states until they die having installed their stooges as their successors.

We did not hear that former President Barack Obama or Biden left office with massive severance packages. Obama used his personal money to acquire a property in Washington. The US government did not buy him a house in Washington and in New York. But here our leaders are in competition to outdo each other as to whose house is bigger and better, not from any benefit of personal savings.
Former President Ibrahim Babangida ignited the race with his luxurious Minna hilltop mansion, Abdulsalami Abubakar built his not far from Babangida’s, Olusegun Obasanjo’s own welcomes you to Ota in style and of course, Goodluck Jonathan’s in his sleepy Otueke village.

There is yet another lesson from America. Within days of Donald Trump’s stunning victory in the recent United States presidential election, even though he was somewhat unprepared for the win, he had started to name top officials to his cabinet. By the time he was sworn into office on January 20, 2017, the cabinet picks were already undergoing Senate confirmation hearings. From his first day in office, it has been a flurry of activity, signing one executive order after another, and making good on his electoral promises. No matter how unpalatable his actions may be to many, he is doing what he promised during the campaigns.

Now, compare him to Buhari who finally won the presidential election on his fourth attempt and promised to hit the ground running. And so, he was expected to have a blueprint for the transformation of the country. But what happened? He hit the ground and instead of running, he sat down. The two months preceding his inauguration were wasted doing nothing. He eventually bowed to pressure from some Nigerians to name a cabinet after another four whole months. Obviously irritated, he described ministers as “noisemakers”. And perhaps out of cluelessness, he named people plagued with allegations of corruption or with track records of wasting taxpayers’ money on personal political projects.

While he wasted time appointing a cabinet, the masses were celebrating and encouraging him to take his time. They called him the long-awaited messiah, some danced for him, some trekked great distances to demonstrate their love for a man who had no clue about governance. Where are those trekkers now? Suddenly, body language entered our political lexicon and became the fixer of anything that seemed to breathe or function minimally in government. Where are those who said Buhari was a born-again phenomenon? Where are those who said he was building the Nigeria of our dreams? Where are those that told us that Buhari was the messiah, a no-nonsense anti-corruption crusader? Haven’t they heard that he cleared Babachir Lawal of corruption allegations despite the fact that he was caught with his hand in the cookie jar? According to Junaid Mohammed, in just two years, the country is now in worst shape under Buhari than he met it.

Some of us that saw through all the elaborate gimmickry were attacked for warning that Buhari lacked the competence and capacity to govern Nigeria. I was branded a plague among friends who were just too blinded by emotion to see what was so clearly obvious from day one! He took his time appointing a cabinet. And has taken his time over nearly every other decision of his government and we can see the result: Our finger-pointing president has dragged Nigeria from the Olympian height into a morass.