Gift Giving and our Nascent Democracy

by Michael Oluwagbemi II

The accomplice to the crime of corruption is frequently our own indifference” (Bess Myerson)

There is fraud in the land, and this fraud has been escalating in bountiful dimension since the beginning of this democratic dispensation. The fraud I talk about is a fraud masquerading as goodwill: a fraud of gift giving. How can gift giving be a fraud? Well, this is Nigeria, anything can be anything. Our public officials have since elevated the game of bribery and corruption and have come up with a system that has turned the African culture of giving on its head! They have again demonstrated their willingness not just to commit fraud in monumental proportion against the constitution, but to loot the public treasury for their own selfish use.

Last week, in the resource rich yet monumentally impoverished state of Ekiti, the current governor otherwise known as a thug amongst many loyal Ekiti citizens residing at home and abroad came up with a fine gimmick. It was a gimmick of gift distribution. From brand new cars to royal fathers, to impromptu Christmas bonus to civil servants and even more laughable a three million naira gift to the opposition party in the state (the Alliance for Democracy), Governor Fayose elevated the game this new year! While the royal (jeun-jeun) fathers accepted the gift and became automatic second term campaigners for Fayose, the AD and even poor civil servants had the moral fiber to reject it! Shame onto you, my dear Kabiyesis! Truth being said, Governor Fayose started this practice before he even assumed office. A very generous giver by any standard, he wisely gave gifts into the government house when he confronted the scion of the Adebayo family in the last election. But can Ekiti people be bribed with gifts? Yes they can. Before we subject the Governor let us examine the legal implication of what is going on, as well as its history in our nation.

Since the inception of the current term of public officials, gift giving has come in three main shapes and sizes: constituency projects are the most favored method. This method allows the Governors to buy their legislators and compromise them. It involves including in the annual budget an amount for legislators to implement specific projects in their areas. Being the usual thieves that they are, most legislators forget that this power exceeds the provision of the constitution regarding the separation of powers. Indeed, instead of legislating they enter the murky world of contracts award and kickbacks. The high powered Governor’s cronies also pretend to be looking away while these legislators loot their community coffers while ensuring that the boss of the state is also preserved in due time. Compromise indeed begets compromise.

The second method is association by marriage. May be you have not noticed yet, all the political elites are marrying their third, fourth and sixth wives. In a continent where agrarian Benin republic and Togo just outlawed polygamy, the Nigerian elites are expanding the frontiers of this age long tradition into the field of political gerrymandering and bribery. This is how it works; you marry the daughter of your godfather and donate state funds (surreptitiously from the Governor’s office or Local Government Chairman’s security votes) to your new in-law all in the name of the state. The normal speech given at this public show of shame usually credits such gift to the good works the political godfather have been doing for the state or local government since inception, including looting the treasury with you. Chikena! Who can say never? It happened in Kogi, Borno and Katsina states and it will happen again! Even the President’s own men have done it, and expect more of it as 2007 draw nigh.

The third and newest method is the one the classless governor of Ekiti has elevated to a level never seen before. But he was not the first to do it; he has just elevated this to another dimension. Many public officers have been giving gifts in the name of their constituents from public funds since the beginning of this dispensation especially since 2003. The launching of the President’s library as well as other many such launchings, ceremonies and political confabs have given rise to this fad. Governor of Ogun state donated hundred million naira to the Obasanjo library, haba! The questions that the voting public is yet to ask, are these monies indeed budgeted for? Alas, we have handed the legislative power of the purse to Governors and political godfathers in the state level, and to little brained chairmen on the local level. The same vice will be going on the federal level if not for the renowned Ijebuness of Mr. President. The man thought giving calendars/diaries or even advertising contracts in news dailies was too expensive and cancelled them. God bless anyone that he catches giving ministry money to launch a new book – his lack of moral astute to reject the nation’s governors 360 million naira gift (Governor Tinubu later disavowed his participation) is however a question mark on his integrity . But our governors including the now caught ‘thief at Yenagoa’ were masters at this game and they should be called to order.

At the beginning of the current democratic dispensation, the administration at the federal level signed the Anti-Corruption Act into law, and very conspicuous amongst its provision was the prohibition of gift acceptance by public officers including traditional rulers and civil servants. Let it be said, that given the comatose status of the commission charged with enforcing this act, the EFCC was created. Well, since the EFCC has been prosecuting the high thieves among us – the area of gift giving in another form has come under their microscope. In this case I talk of constituency projects. The legislators of Ekiti, Benue, Taraba, Bayelsa and Plateau states are culprits (and have been answering questions) and many other states across the land have been putting monies generated by the blood of our compatriot’s to waste, instead of investing the same for the future of our children and prosperity of our land. Funny is that the most wasteful states are the ones that don’t know the environmental disaster of oil drilling or exploitation of a repressive federal military force.

The law is very clear on the separation of power: the legislature should be left to match revenue with expenditure, while the executive should be left alone to match budgeted revenue to worthy executors or contractors! State monies should not be diverted for bogus projects or donated for bogus enterprises! The constitution is very explicit on the limits of gift giving and issue of personal gratification. In addition to this, the unlegislated s

pending under ‘miscellaneous’ subhead remains a cankerworm in our governmental accounting system; this needs to be brought in line with public expectation. The government of Ekiti need to be called to order, a state that cannot generate up to thirty million naira internally per month spending twice the same amount in one fell swoop to buy gifts is sheer waste and against the law. It is only when we start checking the governments that are closer to us, that the one at the center will get the message: that enough is enough!

Last Line:

Money is your means of survival. The verdict you pronounce upon the source of your livelihood is the verdict you pronounce upon your life. If the source is corrupt, you have damned your own existence. Did you get your money by fraud? By pandering to men’s vices or men’s stupidity? By catering to fools, in the hope of getting more than your ability deserves? By lowering your standards? By doing work you despise for purchasers your scorn? If so, then your money will not give you a moment’s or a penny’s worth of joy. Then all the things you buy will become not a tribute to you, but a reproach; not an achievement, but a reminder of shame. Then you’ll scream that money is evil. Evil, because it would not pinch-hit for your self-respect? Evil, because it would not let you enjoy your depravity? Is this the root of your hatred of money?

Ayn Rand (Russian Philosopher)

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Anonymous January 11, 2006 - 6:49 am

What are you really saying you have just been beating around the bush .

Anonymous January 10, 2006 - 8:52 pm

No denying the fact, corruption attained a dangerous proportion during Obasanjo's government considering the ways its appointees flaunt their ill-gotten wealth. The shame in all this, is that the president knows all those involved in "robbery" in his government, yet,he chose to protect them under the questionable immunity provisions. The president, Vice president, ministers, governors, State and Local government officials are the richest sets of human beings in the world today, yet, some of them are seriouly being protected by the president. Mr. president, Nigerians are still waiting for you to probe IBB, Chief Tony Anenih and many others that stole billions of Naira and other foreign currencies while in government. Sadly, even when most of the so-called rich and powerful men cannot account for their riches, the president is failing to bring himself and his cronies to justice and sincere investigations. Obasanjo is a man of no dignity and has shown that he is too childish and dubious to run the affairs of that great country for a third term. He now wants absolute loyalty from all his appointees just as he got while in military uniform. The president should be told that Nigeria is now under a demcratic system and the era of "Yes sir" is already a thing of the past, and the era of military mentality is over for good. Obasanjo is no doubt living in the past by tell all and sundry that the principles of: "he who pays the piper dictates the tune" must be upheld at all times. It shows that he is still behaving like a dictator. Wake up Mr. presido this is the twenty first century.

Anonymous January 10, 2006 - 7:55 am

Corruption , Corruption! Naija factor


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