BACKPAGE BY OKEY IKECHUKWU
Can national security be guaranteed by an agreement with bandits, marauders and sundry predatory forces operating outside the bounds of rationality and preying upon the state? I think not. It is good governance, an enlightened citizenry and strong institutions of state that could create the right mix of variables to ensure sustainable national security.
Wherever these variables are missing, the state is forced to invest more in the instruments of coercion than in real developmental projects. It is in such situations that public office holders are forced to measure their success as leaders by looking at their respective expenditure headings, rather than actual improvement in the things that matter. Once ad-hoc, jaundiced and puerile engagements are celebrated as feats of uncommon achievement, leadership is in grave and conspicuous decline.
It is against the background of the foregoing that the recent appeal of Governor Aminu Masari of Katsina State to bandits in his state to keep to the terms of their peace deal or face hostile action falls within actions and pronouncements that embarrass, rather than enhance, the profile of leadership and gives it a bad name in Nigeria. Many still recall the image of the governor and some leaders of various criminal groups, which had been terrorising the state, blazoned across newspapers and the social media. Other governors did the same, celebrating what should really be a scandalous indication of their failure as leaders.
Should a state governor negotiate with bandits and make such negotiation public? Should pictures taken during such negotiations be proudly displayed, to show that the government is “working”? Is law and order, or belief in the supremacy of the state, likely to be strengthened by a public display of armed criminals wielding banned assault rifles and cheerfully posing in a photograph with the supposed chief security officer of a state? How will the bandits who have agreed to suspend operations sustain themselves, other than by scaled down banditry or state ransom? And is this a sustainable template for survival and development?
I take us back, as I have had cause to do on this page sometime in the past, to the achievements of Chief Obafemi Awolowo, Sir Ahmadu Bello and Dr. Michael Opara, as leaders of the erstwhile three regions of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. They all performed well infrastructure, human capital development, investments, social security and overall societal development.
The same can be said in good measure for Adekunle Ajasin, Sam Mbakwe, Lateef Jakande and many others of the second republic who were in office for about four years. These former leaders came in with a sense of purpose that was largely focused on the people and the living environment. They had a certain sense of personal dignity, which is perhaps painfully lacking in most of our leaders of today; who lack the moral backbone, in addition to inner personal maturity, that would have altered the orientation and trajectory of the Nigerian state today.
These ones do not have the stature, focus and capacity for lasting achievements of our leaders of yore. The vision and leadership template they worked with helped. They also had the right indices for measuring the purpose and impact of public expenditure on eh people. That is why, even with a fraction of the humongous funds now at the disposal of our current leaders, the older generation of leaders managed far bigger administrative units and achieved much more than what we are seeing today. Practically everyone they employed around them had a definite task. There was more or less no replication of responsibilities, or schedules.
But their progenies of today have Advisers, Senior Special Assistants and other interlopers giving them feedback on all MDAs, for which there are substantive chief executives. This new practice and arrangement, which was introduced with brighter flying colours in 1999, has created grand redundancies and also hike government recurrent expenditure for no reason whatsoever. Rather than aid productivity and efficiency, it has become a metaphor for a consumption-driven federation, with a political elite that no longer know the real meaning of “job creation.” Thus, there is a steadily bulging clan of economically dependent, but essentially unproductive, elite; making up a new class of idlers, who mistake titles for responsibilities.
The simple question to ask here, in order to keep things in perspective is this: “How will someone who has a (1) minister or commissioner, (2) adviser, (3) senior special assistant, (4) consultant, (5) special assistant (and possibly others) all attached to a particular institution of state sift through the swelter of simultaneously reporting chief executives to take a decision on any matter?” More appropriately, we may ask how political leaders who are surrounded by over five hundred aides in close quarters, could be productive.
We may wonder many ears does a leader has, how many hours he has in a day and who will wade through the massive, but also hollow, reports of this plethora of support staff to distil actionable content for him to work with. That is assuming, of course, that there are even any such reports. How can our leaders retain their hoards of presumably useful officials and not develop the art of dodging most of them? How could they continue with the culture of paying salaries to people with who they do not have any contact whatsoever, sometimes for over six months? With these “government people” receiving regular stipends from the common till for doing nothing, new paradigms are being set about “public service.”
Further still on the inanity of leadership in many states today, once you take away some gestural engagements, a few outing here and there, as well as the photo opportunities associated with them, most of our leaders are on a perpetual, publicly funded trip of debauchery, self-inflation and aggrandisement. That is why state responsibilities are seen as favours whenever, as is not often the case, official duties are carried out at all.
There is a current national budget that will deliver most likely nothing. There is also a current national assembly that will maintain the motions of making laws to save the federal republic of Nigeria when, in real terms, it is probably the most blatantly fraudulent institution of state we have at the moment. The people know and the leaders have become the standard bearers and beacons for all who are on the wrong path. The state has become the naked body of a sleeping man surrounded by excited mosquitoes. It is a bazaar superintended by the very people who should save the day. That is why there can be no patriotism, proper leadership recruitment, or responsible citizenship in the short term here. That is why lecturers and other staff of the University of Maiduguri could afford to be on the payroll of Boko Haram insurgents. Yes! They had no idea what you mean by “citizenship”, or “the Nigerian State.”
It is no longer a question of which political party is in power, or whether a road was tarred or not. It is now a question of our collective humanity: the fact that debauchery has become the norm. It is the fact that the growing insecurity and sectionalism is more due to undeveloped human capital, elite ignorance and consumption, and the abiding practice of living of phony money. Is it not phony wealth for all the banks in a country to be posting huge profits in billions of Naira while they have no record of investment in the sectors that promote growth, job creation, industry, agriculture, etc.? The problem, or at least part of it, lies in the dominance of a progressively less enlightened elite that has lost every capacity to distinguish between “evidence, or at least records, of government expenditure” and “proof of the impact of government policies, programmes and activities on the welfare of citizens.”
It bears repetition here that “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 set of leaders.” It also bears repetition to state that the NEEDS and SEEDS programme of Obasanjo progressively morphed into the Seven Point Agenda of Yar’Adua and, later, into the incoherent Transformation Agenda of Jonathan that transformed nothing in terms of positive national values and morality. I refrain from making any comments about the alleged agenda of the current government, since I cannot call somnambulism, or an unconscious striving after nihilism, an agenda.
This is what you get when limited, and sometime jaundiced regime programmes and propaganda take the place of national development plans. Celebration of unearned income is the new goal of almost every aspiring public office holder, or politician today. Fraud now walks the land as a national philosophy of leadership, relevance and survival; while the nation is under the sway of people who without ideas talk about development. It is all an attempt to push the view that money, stolen or not, can bring transformation, development and refinement of the human person and the environment. Ceremonies and conspicuous consumption are being mistaken for prosperity here, just as many more people now mistake the mere possession of money for happiness, peace of mind, long life, wisdom, a happy home, well brought up children, or even personal dignity.
Wealth unaccompanied by knowledge is the best template for self-destruction. Desire for leadership unaccompanied by the right ideas and plans leads to missed opportunities and degeneration. We cannot say what our national values are today, because we cannot point to the positive developmental focus of our national political leadership across all the existing political parties. We are simply expanding avenues for plunder. Thus the Nigerian State stand diminished today; and the people with it. Governor Masari’s call to the bandits around him bespeaks much more than one would like to put into words. But one thing is clear from his call: our problems are more fundamental that democracy and elections.