The Gofers And The Governors: In Defence Of A Mandate

by L.Chinedu Arizona-Ogwu

Internationally, Nigeria had become a pariah nation: loans and foreign aid dried up and investors abandoned the country. There were restrictions on the liberties of citizens abroad. International organizations withdrew their cooperation with the country as she was expelled or suspended from one organization or the other. The creative and productive energies of our people abroad were constrained by the repressive and contaminated environment in the nation. Within Africa, Nigeria had given up her leadership role, became ineffective in continental organizations, and was no longer the arrowhead in issues of peace and conflict resolution. Irrespective of the limitations of the present, things are changing. The challenge today is how to join hands to engage pedestrian, opportunistic, and backward ideas that have been responsible for Nigeria’s underdevelopment, marginalization in the global order, poor and insensitive leadership, and other avoidable afflictions that have become the lot of our people. In Nigeria our people have cause to feel angry and alienated. They have been taken for a ride for too long. Clearly, in spite of efforts by some governments to respond robustly to the conditions of the oppressed and exploited masses, the entrenched cabal of crooks, 419 kingpins and their agents, drug barons, scammers of all sorts, political profiteers, and persons with no vision and no sense of nation have tried to resist progress and consolidate anti-people strategies of reproducing the system.

At the federal level, we are poised for a peaceful democratic revolution. It is a revolution that would be challenging, painful and demanding. It would close or block leakages in the system. It would demystify some of the invented basis of power, accumulation and politics. The revolution would require us all to strive for the highest points of our creative abilities and make us work harder than ever before. In fact, we might feel the pain and reap no reward but only lay the foundation for the future. The truth is that we just cannot go on like this. This nation has been turned into a cesspool of corruption, arrogance, waste, indiscipline and undemocratic conducts. We cannot continue like this. It does not matter whether you like President Yar’Adua or not. True, some mistakes have been made and things have not worked out as expected in several quarters. But no one ever thought that it was going to be easy. There is no short cut to good governance or development. The inheritance was bad, very, very bad and the gestation period for the task ahead would be long. Our people can be impatient. This is understandable, but we must and can only move forward in the true spirit of tolerance, accommodation and sacrifice. Let me now just mention some of the cardinal reforms being undertaken by the new Yar’adua government.

You would all notice that a lot of thinking and calculation went into the selection of the current Yar’Adua cabinet. If President Umaru Yar’Adua had followed the advice or succumbed to the pressures from political opportunists, you would have seen a different type of cabinet today. Today we have experienced, exposed, highly motivated, creative, and loyal cabinet members. They have direct instructions on targets, and strategies for meeting those targets set by the President. The objective and mantra is performance, service delivery and productivity. In a short time, I can assure you that the output would be there for all to see. In health, works, science and technology as well as trade and agriculture, you would already see the results of serious-minded hard work. President Yar’Adua has also designated six core areas where the ministers and advisers are not expected to sleep: oil and gas, solid minerals, agriculture, manufacturing, and works. Economic and management issues are subjected to vigorous debates and strategies for moving the economy and related sectors forward should be addressed . , Unlike Obasanjo,the President has been able to attract some of “his own people” so to speak and this is bringing new perspectives, new ideas, and new ideals into policy making. Many of these technocrats do not owe any debt to any political party or godfather as their appointments were based solely on need, track record, merit and commitment to established reform objectives.

We must go back to the drawing boards to revisit the basic structure and policies that prevent Nigeria from engaging the inherited conditions of conflicts, poverty, foreign domination, underdevelopment, institutional fragility and inefficiency. We must discuss those structural distortions that have made us exporters of products that we could have refined within Nigeria thus adding value and creating jobs for our people. We must examine why the military and security forces we inherited and nurtured since political independence appear to be opposed to the people rather than being with the people. Why do we distrust each other so much? Why do we distrust our leaders? Why have Nigerians become so cynical? Why do we accommodate our so-called kith and kin who have stolen or privatized what should belong to us all and why do we honor them with religious and traditional titles? We need to look into why leadership in Nigeria has become so bad that you wonder why some appear to dislike their people so much — else, how could local government councils and state governments explain the limited changes in the lives of our people to such an extent that everyone now looks up to the federal government for everything?

It is critical that we look into the reasons why corruption, waste and mismanagement that have contributed in large measure to the recycling of poverty and underdevelopment are not being addressed decisively. Why are local and state governments behaving as if the anti-corruption war is a purely federal affair? Equally critical is why primordial differences especially gender, identity, language, religion and ethnicity now divide us and precipitate massacres rather than serve as platforms of unity and collective struggles to challenge underdevelopment. We must not shy away from examining why a nation with such fertile soils cannot produce enough food to feed its people and why a market of close to 130 million people continues to attract such limited foreign investment. Why are our children begging on the streets and we drive by them in our heavily tinted and wickedly air conditioned jeeps and Mercedes cars and really sleep well at night without a care? What sort of so-called leadership are providing? Why can’t we ensure basic services: good roads, drugs in hospitals, teachers in the schools, payment of salaries to those that have worked, caring for the disabled and disadvantaged, and maintaining security even as we draw billions of dollars in foreign loans? Many of us think that security is just a police affair — nothing could be father from the truth. It is a community or collective affair. Armed robbers, smugglers, assassins, thieves, pick pockets, area boys, currency traffickers, kingpins, drug smugglers, and pen robbers live amongst us. Many are our relatives, clients, friends, parents, neighbors, etc. How many Nigerians have reported these criminals to the police? Rather, we give them reserved seats in Churches, praise them to the high heavens, give them numerous chieftaincy titles, struggle to become their friends, and recommend them for national honors. This is how we all encourage corruption, waste, arrogance, indiscipline and the reproduction of mediocrity and underdevelopment. If we are serious about moving Nigeria forward, we must all join hands to cleanse our souls, clean up our lives and communities, and re-dedicate ourselves to collectively rebuilding our country. We must, as a matter of commitment and rededication avoid the creeping culture of fatalism, I-don’t-carism, opportunism, cynicism, and accommodation to what is clearly evil.

Nigerians as a people and our governments and leaders cannot shy away from these threats. We must learn to admit that we are in deep trouble. Government is not working and sustained critical reforms are needed. If government were working, things would have been very different. People wont or don’t pay taxes because they are poor, alienated, and believe that the funds would be stolen by those in government. Yet, by not paying taxes, government cannot generate funds to provide services. We are back to square one. People have no regard for government that they perceive as an arrogant, wicked, distant, inefficient, oppressive and irrelevant force that should be cheated, avoided, attacked, and dismantled as opportunity permits. Yet, with such attitudes, it is impossible to mobilize the people for collective struggles and sacrifices to challenge poverty, insecurity, underdevelopment and corruption. We are caught in square one.

The elite have devised a short-cut to the problems that their poor leadership have precipitated: move about with fierce looking and very well armed police officers or thugs, use sirens to speed through town like people running from the devil, build prisons and call them homes fully equipped with close circuit televisions, bullet proof doors, burglary proofs, very high walls and iron gates, starving dogs, and motion sensors among other security gadgets. Many have discovered that these pseudo-security gadgets have not kept away the criminals and the angry and hungry. Finally, the elite, rather than improve on the situation, have decided on a strategy of creating a parallel state: they send their children abroad while local schools are closed; send their infants to private schools while teachers in public schools are unpaid and neglected; they use private or foreign hospitals, airlines, courier services while local equivalents are neglected; they sink their own water boreholes while public taps remain dry; and they purchase their private generators for electricity while the nation remains in darkness. Then in the day time, they come out of their “prisons” in expensive, fast and bullet proof or at least heavily tinted cars and speed through the cities in the hope that the poor, unemployed, oppressed, hungry, homeless, unpaid, and alienated majority would not be able to stop them. As we know in Nigeria this has not worked. Armed robbers even stop convoys of governors and have made life unbearable for everyone. What can lawyers and the legal professions do to help out in this situation?

Many of us reading this write-up right now are part of the problems of Nigeria. Many of us are guilty of most of the crimes highlighted above and more. In some situations, circumstances compel us into committing those crimes against the people and in other cases it was often a deliberate and well-calculated crime. I still do not understand how one could call him or herself a leader when the community or country is riddled with so much frustration, hopelessness, disillusionment, anger, disease, corruption, waste, indiscipline, arrogance, and bad-belle. Many of us know the right thing but we just find it so difficult to stand with the people and struggle for social justice. It is not too late to change: to move from belief in personal security or money security to social and collective and community security; it is not too late to believe that we can do better and make progress when we work together, sow together, harvest together and care for each other. I am not trying to moralize here. I know the drawbacks and evils of capitalism. But there is a way in which a right leadership can exploit the underlying social and cultural foundations of our society to promote values that encourage social responsibility, accumulation, patriotism, and social justice at the same time. I know that resources are scarce and must be carefully deployed to meet the basic needs of the majority. But the little we have in Nigeria appears to be dedicated to improving the lot of the small elite and their families or communities. As well, our elites have not even explored half of the opportunities for revenue generation and wealth creation. They are unable to do this because of the gulf and distrust between them and the people. A corrupt, insensitive, arrogant and distant elite cannot mobilize the people to make sacrifices or contribute to development. More importantly, such an elite and government cannot encourage the people to reach the highest points of their creative and productive abilities in the larger interest of society. Thus, the linkage between leadership and followership must be revisited as a starting point.

We are on the threshold of change for good or for retrogression. Leadership is important. If leaders fail to help move the nation forward, ordinary people would take the initiative to struggle for change. The truth is that at the federal level, government is working on new strategies for socio-economic and political reforms. These policies would be rolled out shortly to complement the on-going monetization programme. The commitment to quality governance for contemporary Nigeria is total. I can only hope that at the other levels of government, we would all join hands to make government relevant to the lives of our people and to the current democratic enterprise. Let me therefore reiterate the salient issues: We must rise above narrow thinking and interests. We must expose and challenge indiscipline. We must respect our youth and women. We must build new leaders and new platforms of democratic politics. We must build and strengthen civil society and we must build strong, democratic, transparent and accountable institutions and structures. I am sure that if we work together and focus on the positive, Nigeria would be great again.

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