Navigating the Road to Nigeria’s Treasury
By Okey Nwachukwu
With 2023 around the corner, the jockeying for public office has primed. The presidency, for obvious reasons, grabs primary attention, but other offices are also in play in the general elections. Governance, typically, takes a back seat. Even President Muhammadu Buhari appears to be on a farewell tour of the states.
Despite the elbowing, there is an unmistakable lack of faith in the outcome of governance in Nigeria. The country, rather than progressing, is actually stagnating or even retrogressing, despite flowery postulations by those who purport to lead it. It is a tale of poverty, hopelessness, insecurity and lamentations. Then the precipice!
A hurting bafflement is the first impression of a concerned foreigner, especially one from Europe or North America, when confronted with the Nigerian statistics. To them, it is unbelievable how people survive in such suffocating environment.
Just a summary of available data will surmise the circumstances. “Between 2016/2017, the country experienced grinding recession which a sizeable number of the population believes still pervades. The CBN and several international bodies have warned of a possible relapse. The Brookings Institution, quoting data from the World Poverty Clock, stated that Nigeria now has over 87 million people living in poverty, thus becoming the global poverty capital. The Universal Basic Education Commission also disclosed that Nigeria’s out-of-school children have surged from 10.5 million to 13.2 million under Buhari’s watch. Unemployment is still exceptionally high. Inflation, which steadily declined since January 2017, has resumed an upward climb, even as the rates remain in double digits. Inequality is growing at an alarming rate. In the latest ‘Commitment to Reducing Inequality’ index issued by the International Monetary Fund, Nigeria was rated 157th out of 157 countries. The Fund also recently revised the country’s economic growth to 1.9 percent, from the 2.1 percent earlier projected. Our debt burden is growing.’
The above quote was taken from an article I authored in 2018 titled, “President Buhari has actually completed his tenure.” The piece remains relevant almost three years later. The situation is even much dire today when the impact of the current COVID 19 pandemic, a second recession, secessionist agitations and rising food inflation are included in the mix.
The above indicators simply depict doom and depression. Without hope and help, crime and lawlessness are inevitable. That Nigeria is today plagued by high crime rate, terrorism, banditry, vandalism, bunkering, kidnapping, ritualism, bribery and extortion, and high suicide rates simply amplify the plague.
So, what’s the way out? The options are very few and very arduous given the low quality of leadership.
Since the restoration of democratic governance in 1999, politics has taken center stage as principal vocation. Seeking employment in the public service, political offices in particular, is the new norm, not for the sake of attaining national goals, but as a most lucrative route to wealth acquisition. On the flip side, the private sector has become the exclusive of foreign investors, exceptional and or crooked Nigerians and those unable to secure government jobs.
So the outcome: the political elite are richer than the business class, a situation illustrative of a society in retardation. Nigeria tragically presents a classic example.
Left without better options, if any, the dream of everyone now hinges on grabbing the national cake by all means. The most profitable route is political office, which guarantees unhindered access to the commonwealth.
There are two approaches to reach the treasury when vying for high political office.
The first, especially when the individual is a fresher, is to join the camp of a godfather. Going it alone would entail almost insurmountable huddles. The godfather may preferably be a former office holder now statue-barred from holding an office, but still commands considerable clout, often powered by stolen money, to determine who occupies an office. The godfather may as well be just a financier, whose motive is to reap returns from placing people in office. While in the camp of a godfather, the most important expectation, and often the most rewarding, is to remain fiercely loyal. You do not necessarily require any skill apart from the ability to execute any assignment, some of which are criminal.
If you are already in the corridors of power but want the top job, you should also adopt some strategic approaches. One, remain fiercely royal, pliant and anonymous before the boss. Never voice your candid opinion and execute any brief given to you diligently or even exceed it for effect. Again, pretend not to nurse any political ambition. Where you fail to get the top job, another handsome reward awaits you. There is immense reward for sycophancy in Nigeria.
Another approach, often laden with considerable risks, is to create and nurture a grassroots structure. Every politician craves the support of a grassroots mobilizer, for his benefit. So, build the reputation of a go-to politician in your area. Position your structure as independent, if you want to stand on your own, with the attendant risks, or situate it as bargaining chip when the need arises. The risk in this approach is the possibility of being seen by the boss as angling for his position. There would be consequences. If you are a deputy governor, for instance, and you hope to succeed your boss, this approach will pitch you against the boss and may trigger your exit or estrangement. But there is always the argument of zoning, agreement, alliances, mandate, equity, etc and other contrivances to advance your mission.
Yet another approach is to always offer sound and dispassionate views on issues, adopting a polite and unobtrusive attitude. Establish yourself as the main man when it comes to informed discourse. Don’t display arrogance or show interest in the top job. Be professional and be good at your core duty. People in this category often get into the power play through political appointments. Often educated, professional, and enlightened, they however lack the disposition and structure to play in Nigeria’s do-or-die politics. They usually get appointed when the top man wants to create the impression of quality and more importantly, the beneficiary will not rock the boat. Chances of being chosen for the top job come by happenstance, which is when other players, especially career politicians, start jostling for the position, and cannot be controlled by the boss when they assume office. The Oga inevitably looks out for the quiet professional, someone who will be grateful and also cover his tracks. People like Goodluck Jonathan, Babatunde Fashola, Sullivan Chime, Willie Obiano, Celestine Omehia, and Godwin Obaseki, etc, emerged from this scenario.
Another broad approach is to be an unrelenting critic of the existing order and its leaders. For effect, be trenchant and enlist the media to deliver your strikes. Since your goal is to be reckoned with and ultimately co-opted into the power mix, you can invoke the evils of tribalism, segregation and sectionalism, while flaunting your concern for the masses. Mallam Nasir el-Rufai became a columnist dissecting the ills of the economy under Goodluck Jonathan. It worked. He emerged the governor of Kaduna state. Other people took a similar path.
The aggressive jostling for public office in Nigeria has major motive: it is the only job requiring little or no credentials to secure. In a system lacking in accountability and transparency, political office paves a one-way traffic to ‘constitutional’ corruption, which is characterized by the unrestrained and mindless looting of public funds. Nigeria is a country that lives in denial. Those benefiting from the chaos hardly admit something is amiss in public. Instead, they are thankful for outwitting everyone to reach the common patrimony. To them, development means personal wealth accumulation.
The inability to run the country effectively may also be due to lower intelligence quotient of blacks, as other races insist. Prejudices have been elevated to a norm, while mediocrity enjoys constitutional backing. It has become a soulless space to be captured and ransacked by tribes, cabals, cliques, warriors and crusaders, but never leaders. It seems unfruitful and unnecessary toiling away in the private sector when government work, available on the basis of zoning, conspiracy and conquest, offers unearned income and fame. Education, training and certificates have become non-essential when people with nothing are calling the shots and living in opulence. What a way to build a nation.
Nwachukwu can be reached via email@example.com