Nigeria And The Greed-Ridden Democracy

Nigeria And The Greed-Ridden Democracy: Does Armed And Aimless Government Count?

NIGERIA! What does that mean to you? To a lot of people, it means opportunity, unity, peace and freedom, and a place where everyone is treated equally regardless of background. To me, Nigeria means a place full of ideals where few individuals are actually put into place. Nigeria has a lot of potential to be the fairest nation, where everyone has equal opportunity and everyone is treated fairly and equally. But it seems that everyone is more concerned with themselves and how they can benefit, not about everyone else and how everyone can benefit. I think it would take a liberal democratic standpoint to make Nigeria become what most people actually view it as.

I understand that a lot of people would try to hold me back because of my race and probably wouldn’t let me have a job or position because I am African probably, Nigerian, that is just the way some people are. Not that you have to lower standards to accept being black, seen as global minorities. For most Nigerians the term welfare is associated with any number of negative images: laziness, illegitimacy, family breakup, irresponsibility, and wasted tax money. The rich and higher corporate organizations get large tax breaks because of business and personal reasons but the poor don’t get anything. I happen to be African and Nigerian as well, which is a minority group among the races in the world all over, and I have relatives that are on social safety net programs. I feel that some of these stereotypes are true but they are only true for a vast minority.

I feel that affirmative action should be enforced more than it actually is. I understand that some people believe that by enforcing affirmative action, Nigeria is degrading the poor citizens among us by having to lower standards to admit them but I don’t think it s a fact of lowering standards. But there are more people that actually use this mindset for what they were intended for than people who take advantage of them.

Although this regime has a 7 point agenda to create vast amounts of wealth for the nation, unchecked, it does a poor job at redistributing the wealth. Under a complete laissez faire economy there are inevitable large wealth gaps between the political office holders and the poor citizens. When these office holders, such as the wealthy, have so much control over the citizens, such as the poor, it is a government’s duty to protect its citizens from the often tyrannical politicians. Unfortunately, Nigeria, fails to put in place some provisions to help the poor, which brought about lagging behind the rest of the industrialized, rich countries in terms of social welfare.

Government employees and the contractors are all act in their own self interests. When they spend many billions building new roads they are doing so because a construction company is trying to make money and government employees are trying to improve their personal position. Contractors are constantly trying to create new ideals that will make the facilities presently owned by the government obsolete. It is very naive to think that the government has some super intelligent group that carefully assesses the dangers of the world, determines the technical devices needed to combat these dangers, and then writes a purchase order to the contractors for these devices. Doesn’t work that way at all! Instead, what the government buys is driven by what the contractors can draft.

That is, what the government buys is primarily driven by one-sided developments — just as businesses are and just as you and I are. There is an economic blunder! However: you and I and the businesses are limited by economic return. The government is not. Businesses will generally only purchase new technology if it results in a better profit for them — which it often does.

Many people see the Federal Government and the Niger-Delta face-off as a hopeless morass, a maelstrom of hatred with no beginning or end. Both sides are victims and victimizers, so goes the refrain. The moral of all this is not that government should let economies collapse in order to teach militants a lesson. The risk to all of us is too great. Instead, the moral is that democratic theory is just that, a theory. We need much softer government regulations that will prevent the region being under crisis. These can be readily achieved if those who undermine the economic well-being of the states will have to personally face the consequences of their actions even as the institutions involved are bailed out.

It is true that both sides are lingering, but on closer examination this neat symmetry of blame breaks down.

In our country, whichever way one looks, one sees rampant corruption. Anybody who handles any paper in the government uses his authority to convert it into cash. In fact, there is no department which does not have its share of rags to riches stories. The departments that earn revenue are reputed to be offering vast opportunities for corruption. Surprisingly, despite the fact that their top brass has been caught with its pants down, and arrested in the process of accepting kickbacks, there is hardly any impact. The new entrants in the services are as audacious and as corrupt as their predecessors.

If any proof was needed about the massive scale of corruption in this country, it has been provided by the latest Transparency International report. Its Corruption Perception Index 2005 has placed Nigeria at the 125th position among 159 nations. In 2005, Nigeria scored 2.9 on a scale of zero to 10, compared with 2.8 last year.

It is no satisfaction for us that Colombia has been branded almost doubly corrupts than Nigeria, as the 144th most corrupt nation in the world. Political Leaders in Ghana and Lebanon are a bit more honest than their counterparts in Nigeria. Afghanistan and Zimbabwe are less corrupt than Pakistan at 117. Burma is the 155th most corrupt nation in the world. Iceland is said to be the least corrupt country, while Bangladesh and Chad are right at the bottom as the most corrupt. The countries having the lowest levels of corruption are Iceland, Finland, New Zealand and Singapore, with scores ranging between 9.8 and 9. The United Kingdom has been placed 11th with Netherlands while the United States is number 17.

The latest report by Transparency International, ‘Africa — Insights & Benchmarks from Citizen Feedback Surveys in Five Countries’ identifies high levels of corruption encountered by citizens attempting to access seven basic public services. In Nigeria, Zimbabwe and Gabon, 100% of respondents who have interacted with the police during the past year reported encountering corruption. In Senegal, this figure was 84%, and in Kenya, 48%. In their experience with the judiciary, nearly all households polled — Nigeria (100%), South Africa (100%), and Liberia (96%) — reported paying bribes. Judicial corruption was also significant in Senegal (75% of users) and Uganda (42% of users).

After the police and judiciary, land administration has been identified as the next most corrupt sector according to the experiences of South Asian households. In Pakistan, 100% of respondents have reported corruption in their experience with land administration authorities, and in Sri Lanka this figure was 98%. Land administration was somewhat cleaner in Senegal (73% of users reported corruption), Nigeria (47% of users) and Sierra Leone (17% of users). The report also shows that even when public services are meant to be freely available, bribes and delays keep many from receiving them. It is, chiefly, the poorest in the society who suffer most.

The report also shows that bribes are a heavy financial burden on households, both due to the high frequency of bribes and because of the large sums paid. Bribes had to be paid for availing almost all facilities, including hospitals and education. The survey report also revealed that bribes were extorted by public servants and never paid willingly. Middle and lower level bureaucrats have been documented as the key facilitators of corruption in all sectors probed.

Another little noticed form of corruption in our country — where government money has been sunk — is by the top 10 defaulters to the banking industry who owe more than N20billion as outstanding dues against their names. Out of the top 10 defaulters, four belong to the steel industry, notwithstanding the buoyancy in the sector which has substantially improved the profitability of steel companies. Apart from that, the total Non Performing Assets, or bad debts, with banks stand at about N 55billion. In the last five years, out of a gross profit of N115billion, about N45billion have been utilized for providing bad loans or writing off the money due to the banks. In the last 10 years, approximately N75billion of bad loans have been written off.

When it comes to government contracts, waste and fraud are nothing new. But the degree of waste, fraud, negligence and incompetence by government contractors in Nigeria is staggering. Billions of Nigerian taxpayer money has been frittered away on failed projects, stolen by venal contractors or lost in the miasma that is the Nigeria road, hospital, urban and or state construction and development effort. The latest example is the $16 million mambilla energy upgrading expenditure that was so poorly constructed it can never be used and may have to be demolished.

All the huge investments intended to create conducive environment for meaningful development have been mismanaged and wasted. Nigeria’s infrastructures have been further degraded. Over $16 billion invested in the power sector has resulted in decreasing its generation capacity from 2600mw in May 1999 to 2300mw in May 2007. Both transmission and distribution have also suffered similar decline. Our transport infrastructure has also worsened. Such infrastructure decay continues to militate against the growth of the real sector. For example over 60% of our industries have been forced to shut down with the remaining operating below 45% installed capacity. Inflation rate has been galloping at an annual rate of over 20% in the eight years. We can only speak of employment in the crime industry. Our educational system is facing imminent collapse due to the administration’s failure to adequately invest in the sector. Less than 10% of the total annual budget has been allocated to this sector in eight years, far less than the 26% recommended by UNESCO. There is also serious decline in private sector investment in education which drives the elite to seek alternatives abroad including places like Malaysia, Ghana, Togo and Benin republic. By most estimates, government oversight of the private contractors in Iraq has been lax and accountability wanting. American taxpayers deserve better than that. It is their hard-earned billions that are being thrown away and stolen.

Questionable contracts should be investigated fully and contractors found to have broken the law should be prosecuted. And every effort made to recover funds stolen from Nigerian taxpayers. It is obvious that government has been soft on all those involved in such transactions. The loser is the common man. It is pertinent to point out that all this money has been wasted on the well-off sections of the country. There are about 119 members in the present Ajaokuta Steel Complex deal, which according to their own affidavits had some case or the other pending against them at the time of contesting the recent 2007 elections. This number is higher than 40 in the previous dirty-deals.

The present situation has caused great disappointment among the people. It appears that the issue of corruption in public life has become a non-issue. Large sections of the people are greatly worried about the nexus between crime and politics as well as administration in the country. I am saddened to observe that politics in the country has to a large extent become criminalized and crime has become politicized. Nigeria, more often than not, only offers the bare minimum to keep its poor from complete misery. In order to create a more harmonious society, the government needs to spend more money on social welfare, but not to the extent that it provides no incentive for the recipients to become employed, self-sufficient members of society.

Good people are not non-existent nor in short supply. They have been overshadowed and sidelined. The ideal of ‘simple living and high thinking’ has been replaced by ‘high living and simple thinking.’ While we cannot do without the bureaucracy, what we need is a dynamic and accountable bureaucracy, instead of a static democracy which is propelled only by speed money. Before it gets worse, the leaders of this country should be reminded what the late President John F. Kennedy said, ‘Take time to repair the roof when the sun is shining.’ Is it too late now?

It is very sad to know that all this confusion, death and destruction occurred simply because a group of very poor and destitute men have no other means of survival, except to use political office to obtain food from equally poor but helpless citizens. This goes on almost every day all over our country, 47 years after independence. Because of senseless politics, resources that could have been spent to create jobs and improve our living conditions are being used by the people in power to kill and dehumanize innocent civilians, to destroy our families and create free avenue to loot the whole nation dry. The stealing and high 85% unemployment have encouraged Nigerian mercenaries in search of a better life to become one of the country’s greatest exports. Furthermore, as a result of growing Niger Delta conflict, international relief agencies have not been able to reach and assist thousands of internally displaced people with food, medicines and other basic items. Fellow Nigerians, you will agree with me that this is too much. It must stop now!

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