Stocktaking: As May 29 Looms

Okey Ikechukwu
Guest Columnist: Okey Ikechukwu (EDIFYING ELUCIDATIONS)

May 29, the day a new government will be inaugurated in Abuja and several state capitals, looms. Perhaps ominously, in its lumbering approach! Not reassuring, not covered in any sacramental dignity, not even possessed of a passably coherent defining, or celebratory, ambience! It is just coming. Only those who have peculiar designs around new government portfolios, headship of various agencies and, especially, headship of the National Assembly, are prancing about with cheerful disregard for introspection. You do not need a soothsayer to tell you that the National Assembly is not a department of the executive arm of government and that it should see itself in that light. The limited maturity of our democracy shows in the current inattention to propriety and separation of powers.

What will change about our lives and our country on May 29? Will the date suddenly remove the rot in the land, which rot has been, perhaps inadvertently, nurtured over the last 20 years? Will it do anything about the declining gains of our democratic enterprise? Will a political elite that is born of the rot, feeding off the rot and reveling in the rot suddenly become any different? Will May 29 remove the fact that all indices of development are in the red – and still dropping? Will it take away the misery and perplexity walking the land, as most states brandish massive backlog of unpaid ` salaries. Will it help one particular governor, a man who would have been the best argument for youthful leadership because of his biological age, but who has over two years of unpaid salaries to his credit? This governor has shown that the biologically young can be steeped in the old evils and thus not belong to the knowledgeable and forward-looking youth of the 21st Century.

But the political elite is still upbeat, in a strangely delusional sort of way. Is there something they see that we do not see? How many of them really believe in God? Will an elite class that is densely populated by people who pay marabouts to bury live cows for their electoral victory, or performs all manner of rites and visit sundry fake prophets, take any modern governance template seriously? Many business organizations are still being owed monies for services rendered, products delivered and advertisements put out and acknowledged during the elections. This is costing jobs everywhere. But it is all part of politics, they say.

Our people say that a man who sets out on a journey with a bag of salt on his head, and who simultaneously gets a rainmaker to bring down a downpour, is his own worst enemy. That is what our leaders who are threatening to deliver good governance, but who are doing everything conceivable to abort it, are doing. This is like someone procuring a talisman to protect him from being killed by others, but forgetting that the talisman is not primed to prevent him from deliberately or accidentally killing himself.

And, amid this incubus of un-calm, the decibel of elite clamour for positions in government rises ever higher. Widespread acts of murder and the routine wiping out of villages all over the nation is also proceeding apace. The Kaduna State governor`s convoy had a shootout with kidnappers on Abuja-Kaduna expressway the other week. Two days ago, scores of travellers were kidnapped, and many killed, on the same route. Should this be happening after 20 years of trillions of dollars presumably spent on education, job creation, youth empowerment, social infrastructure and much more? Should malignity continue to claim wider frontiers, after two decades of allegedly wonderful leadership?

Did the PDP not score itself very highly in its 16 years in power, even as many PDP governors were said to have re-executed the same water schemes and other infrastructural projects allegedly completed and commissioned by their predecessors? Is the APC, which is partly an alliance of aggrieved PDP members and sundry political interests, not doing the same? Is it right that we should receive regular assurances about government not being happy about the insecurity in the land, while marauders overrun the polity? Is there really anything to celebrate now, or look forward to after May 29?

The PDP today epitomises the refusal to learn and mature into a genuine political party with a clear ideological focus, after 20 years. Small mindedness, lack of cohesion, mistaking newspapering and low-grade public relations pranks for political mobilisation, in-fighting for pointless visibility, absence of a measurable vision, and a never-ending epidemic of wordy, windy and painfully hollow press statements are being passed off as indices of political vibrancy. When will all the big men in that party realise that a mongoloid is a retard and not a giant? Who will tell the mostly self-seeking individuals and consumption-driven leaders that the distended stomach of victim of kwashiorkor indicates a near-terminal state of malnutrition, rather than a “big man`s stomach”?
The report, two days ago, was that governor Seriake Dickson of Bayelsa State had declined assent to a bill seeking life pension for members of the state House of Assembly. But should it require the governor`s refusal for the lawmakers to know that the bill is inconsistent with Section 124 of our constitution? Does it fall within the remit of a state House of Assembly to determine the categories of public servants who are deserving of pension? But these are not the real questions. The real questions for us here are (1) Are the Bayelsa lawmakers actually creating any precedents in leadership tomfoolery here? (2) Did Jigawa State speaker not say, in the past, that the reason for their bill giving every former governor, speaker and their deputies the basic salaries of the incumbent as pension was to curb corruption? (3) Did the bill in question not provide for a fully furnished six-bedroom apartment, drivers, two personal assistants, a furnished office and two vehicles, renewable every four years? (4) Were we not told that this was in order to “…discourage stealing and looting of government treasury.”

Brilliant! We must bribe “leaders” who stepped forth to serve, so that they do not steal!
The Revenue Mobilisation, Allocation and Fiscal Commission (RMAFC) is said to provide 300 per cent severance package for former governors, brand new cars renewable every four years, accommodation in the state capital and sometimes Abuja, 30-day paid holiday outside the country, etc. Yet, the aggregate cost to states of the jumbo pensions provided for former governors runs into billions every year. Former labour leader, and now Chairman of the ruling party, Adams Oshiomhole, caused a law to be passed under his watch, which entitled him to the provision of a building worth N200 million for himself, and N100 million for his deputy. Obaseki who took over from him had massive protest on his hands when he approved the construction of the buildings.

It took sustained protests for Senate President, Bukola Saraki, to stop collecting his pension as governor, in addition to his entitlements as Senator and Senate President. After eight years as governor, Godswill Akpabio of Akwa Ibom State signed into law a pension Bill that granted him and all former governors of the state N200 million annual pay. For Lagos State, the Pension Law of 2007 provides that a former governor is entitled to two houses at state expense, in Lagos and Abuja, respectively. This is in addition to six brand new cars, replaceable every three years, furniture allowance of 300 per cent of the annual salary (payable every two years), free medical treatment for himself and members of his family, utility, house maintenance, car maintenance allowance and other personal and domestic staff.

After 20 years, and trillions of dollars down spending street, ostensibly in the name of the people and the nation, Nigerians have mostly a new string of billionaires who produce nothing and sell nothing to celebrate. These new owners of Nigeria are on both sides of the strongest political divides of today – and also two sides of the same coin. Yet the PDP is blaming the ruling APC for everything that is wrong with Nigeria, while the APC is claiming that it is dealing with the mess left behind by the PDP.

It is against the background of the foregoing that we state and declare as follows: (1) Most of the beggars and herders all over the north are within the age brackets of four and 15 years. (2) Most of the young men and women arrested, or shot, for armed robbery, kidnapping and sundry crimes all over the country today fall within the age bracket of 16 to 40 years. (3) The number of jobless Nigerian youths has grown progressively over the last 20 years. (4) Most of our youths will not be beggars or criminals today, if they had education/vocational skills, economic opportunities, funding, security, social infrastructure and responsible leadership and good societal role models in the last 20 years.

The beginning of another four years of democracy will not remove the fact that members of our National Assembly live on a roundly unconscionable pay packet. The privileges are inconsistent with our economic realities and also with the profile of a National Assembly that displays a record number of vacant seats at every sitting. As Adolf Hitler once said in contempt for some aspects of the modern European legislature: “…these men, otherwise decent all along in their lives, simply get used to being paid for doing nothing; and this is what ruins their character.”

We are walking into a looming inauguration with governors and states Houses of Assembly that are completely at home with massive “security votes”. This discretionary slush fund which makes no impact on state security, and which is also not accounted for, will be re-inaugurated on May 29. It is democracy without democratization. It is a democratic enterprise with questionable democratic credentials. It is perhaps even a grand scam. But these are not the worries of the elite – as May 29 looms.