BACKPAGE BY OKEY IKECHUKWU
To look closely at the achievements of Governors Adekunle Ajasin, Sam Mbakwe, Lateef Jakande and many others of the Second Republic within the short period they were in office is to ask what is wrong with the crop of leaders bestriding the nation today. They all have more money than the erstwhile governors, even by present-day exchange rates. They are in charge of far smaller spaces, both in terms of physical size and responsibility. They run their tiny spaces with five times the amount of administrative infrastructure and other resources used by their forebears. Yet they are running it all very badly. Yet they have more aides, more commissioners, more meetings and more sundry helpers than all their past equivalents put together. So why do they deliver next to nothing? Why is it that not even a quarter of the number of industries set up by the governors of yore has been attempted by their current progenies?
The development partnerships entered into by the old breed of governors often had greater value than what we are seeing today. Except in a few cases, a lot of noise and fanfare, rather than substance, accompanied the paltry efforts of the latter breed of leaders. A look at the implementation of free education in many states, the quality of roads and bridges constructed and the overall impact of government on the life of the people puts the current leaders to shame. Yet there is so much swagger and empty braggadocio. The governors of the second republic who did well while in office were not overwhelmed by resources, no! They were known to have stepped forth to serve their people and did not come across as people who did not see public office primarily as a means of livelihood.
It is because of the foregoing, in addition to the fact that they had clear ideas about what they wanted to do, planned for it, worked out the details and set about it with the requisite sense of responsibility, that they made such impact. Many of them ran their offices as if they were running their own private businesses, unlike many who are handling the same offices and responsibility today; with a different orientation. That is why we cannot say in all honesty that the problems of underdevelopment, insecurity, ethnic tension, rudderless elite engagements and questionable democratic processes facing the Federal Republic of Nigeria today are all due to paucity of resources. All the money in this world cannot convert ignorance, folly, rigidity and insularity into a 21st century school of thought.
Our response to the refrain of “The problem is that the government is facing financial constraints on all fronts” should therefore be to stop it in its tracks. The military regime of Sani Abacha sang this song, while cleaning out the national treasury. So did the Presidencies of Obasanjo, Yar’Adua and Jonathan and, now, Buhari. The fever has becomes a major national template for national conversation by all institutions of state. Every federal government ministry and parastatal, every state governor, local government chairman and Councilor is a reflexive replication of the same malady. They all declare that there is no money, while peasants of only a few months and a few years ago stagger out as billionaires after a short stint in government. Can you have patriotic citizens, proper leadership recruitment, responsible youths and national cohesion in such a milieu? I think not.
Look around you, without thinking of exclusively about the party in power today. What is it that changed from one month to another in our nation, state, local government, or Ward for most of the years that the PDP was in power? Is it radically different today, except for increased insecurity and sectionalism? Are we not used to seeing billions burnt up routinely in all these financial bus-stops, every month – and for 20 years now? And is that not because we have been running a nation-state that no longer knows the difference between “records of expenditure” and “impact of government policies, programmes and activities on the welfare of citizens.”
For the record, what we are seeing today is what happens when an otherwise promising nation goes ahead to progressively replace National Development Plans with limited regime programmes and propaganda, as it is overrun by the wrong of leaders? The NEEDS and SEEDS programme of Obasanjo gave way to the Seven Point Agenda of Yar’Adua. The latter gave way to the Transformation Agenda of Jonathan that transformed nothing, other than ensure that the PDP became so fractious that it lost an election it had no business losing in the first place? The current Change agenda is a joke at best. Yet, we are told that our leaders are moving the nation forward. Yes, they are … downhill maybe!
The various regime programmes were nothing short of miserable propaganda, often designed to flatter and delude the incumbent president into a false sense of both relevance and achievement. Therewith, holistic notions of nation, national interest, national development and informed leadership also disappeared. So, make no mistakes about it, the increase in “sweatless” income, with no attempt to revalue same through investment so that it can drive development and yield more in other spheres, is what has brought us where we are today. It is the perfect recipe for multi-faceted destruction.
Our present national situation is the proof that money without ideas, or money with the wrong ideas, always delivers nothing. If this were not true, northern Nigeria would have turned into paradise by now. A nation with a lot of resources over which there presides a largely reprobate leadership cannot be made peaceful, prosperous, or developed by the mere fact of its possession of the resources. The mere possession of money also cannot give an individual happiness, peace of mind, long life, wisdom, a happy home, well brought up children, or even personal dignity. Money, unaccompanied by ideas, plans and implementation strategy with expected outcomes, will always deliver missed opportunities, heartache, reverse evolution, debauchery and uninhibited philistinism. That is certainly not something to brag about. That is also why a person with a lot of money, or a nation with a lot of material wealth, but without the right knowledge and plans about what to do with the resources, may turn out to be their own worst enemy.
Hollow ceremonies, momentary pleasures, undigested youth programmes and entrepreneurship without a sense of “national values” are sporadically and spasmodically invented and unleashed, with no attention to deliverables. That is why the false mantra about funding being the major drawback in the efforts of successive governments to save the Federal Republic of Nigeria from itself, is balderdash. Leadership irresponsibility, collapse of National Development Plans, absence of national interest or national values and a consumption-driven elite that is more concerned about expanding avenues for plunder than offering true leadership must not be allowed to shelter under this weather-beaten umbrella.
We are governed by presumptuous, largely immature, not so refined and consumption-driven leaders. Most of them are guided by their appetites and whatever people around them recommend as the in-thing. Thus the more they spend, the more they are likely to be digging their own graves and that of the nation. The more they speak of development, the more they are likely to be talking about expenditure on contracts and nothing more. The more they talk about solving problems, the more they are likely to be deluded into thinking that they can spend their way out of problems by bribing people. Were they familiar with Socrates and his teachings, they would since have internalized what he told Thrasymachus, the Sophist in the Greek city of Athens: “A man is not necessarily happy because he has fierce appetites and the means for satisfying them.”
It is time to call the fraudulent refrain about lack of funds to question, and also to order. A rigorous interrogation of the Nigerian State, beginning with the last 20 years of democracy, shows that trillions of naira has been spent to build our roads, give us regular power supply, educate our children, eliminate corruption and make the Nigerian State adopt international best practices in all government and governance templates. But, as I write, the national report card on all these spheres of social infrastructure shows impressive failures. So what is the issue here? New billionaires are springing up in every neighbourhood with political leverage, while contracts awarded for social infrastructure in the areas were either abandoned or not attempted at all after payments were made for them. We have seen governors owe salaries for between six months and three years, without any explanation for what the money was used for.
Not one of ALL major federal roads, all over the federation has been fully functional in the last 20 years. Abuja-Kaduna road has always had bad spots and patches since 1999. The story is the same for Abuja-Lokoja road, Lokoja-Ajaokuta-Ayimgba road, Makurdi-Otukpo road, Enugu-Port Harcourt road, the road to Kano, Enugu-Onitsha road, the federal highway to Badagry, the Adeje-Yenagoa road, Port Harcourt-Calabar axis, etc. And billions of Naira have been spent on roads, with the last-and-also-incoming-Minister, Raji Fashola, telling us that his first tenure was barely enough to design a road. It must be a road that will lead to the doorstep of Armageddon.
Look at power supply, water supply, housing, food, education, environmental protection, social harmony, national values, youth development and much more. If there is no direct correlation between government expenditure, or alleged expenditure, and the welfare of the average Nigerian what should the people do? The Nigerian State is corrupt, and has been corrupt for a long time. Wrong decisions, wrong choices and wrong leadership and public paradigms have become the norm here. In sum, our current situation is a choice and not an inevitability. It can change, but not from what we are seeing right now.