This Government and the Need for a Convinced Public Perception

by L.Chinedu Arizona-Ogwu

Our government… teaches the whole people by its example. If the government becomes the lawbreaker, it breeds contempt for law; it invites every man to become a law unto himself; it invites anarchy. ~Louis Brandeis

Unfortunately, the Nigerian people are not suffering only from bare-resource; they are suffering from their continued acceptance of an irresponsible ‘government’. Man-made catastrophes have always occurred in these areas, and will continue to do so. Their ability to cope depends only on their ability to choose an appropriate government.

What happened to Nigeria? Simple. It’s been run by thieves and morons for decades and ignorant Nigerians keep on electing them. The phrase “Giant of the Africa” is a make believe fascination of scholars in the past. Nigerians were better of under the governance of the British, but Nigeria leader’s ego of Independence is not to enjoy Independence, but to take over the country’s wealth for personal gain. Look at Puerto Rico today; Nigeria should have been a part of the wealthiest and powerful country if not for the grueling selfishness and idiotic character of Nigerians who would like his own independence with out knowing the consequences first. Nigeria leaders must make a CHANGE NOW for the sake of our children’s children.

All political systems need to mediate the relationship between private wealth and public power. Those that fail risk a dysfunctional government captured by wealthy interests. Corruption is one symptom of such failure with private willingness-to-pay trumping public goals. Private individuals and business firms pay to get routine services and to get to the head of the bureaucratic queue. They pay to limit their taxes, avoid costly regulations, obtain contracts at inflated prices, and get concessions and privatized firms at low prices. If corruption is endemic, public officials, both bureaucrats and elected. officials, may redesign programs and propose public projects with few public benefits and many opportunities for private profit.

Of course, corruption, in the sense of bribes, payoffs and kickbacks, is only one type of government failure. Efforts to promote “good governance” must be broader than anti-corruption campaigns. Governments may be honest but inefficient because no one has an incentive to work productively, and narrow elites may capture the state and exert excess influence on policy. Bribery might induce the lazy to work hard and permit those not in the inner circle of cronies to obtain benefits.

However, even in such cases, corruption cannot be confined to “functional” areas. It will be a temptation whenever private benefits are positive. It may be a reasonable response to a harsh reality, but, over time, it can facilitate a spiral into an even worse situation. “Corruption” is a term whose meaning shifts with the speaker. Quality of secondary education cost of starting a business and the lack of government effectiveness are among the reasons why Nigeria ranked was tattled among 104 nations on the World Prosperity Index (WPI) 2008.Nigeria has a relatively entrepreneurial culture. It requires government effectiveness and tackling corruption. Increase in capital and education contributes directly to the value of physical and human capital and thus directly increases economic output. Poor governance and excessive bureaucracy impose costs on business and thus restrain growth.

Democracy simply cannot survive without the contribution of ordinary Nigerians in the street corners. You look at the world’s strongest democracies today, the political system is so stable because of ordinary citizens expectations. Of course, Nigeria has this problem, but so does Argentina, Brazil, Indonesia, Vietnam and so on. Nigeria needs to concentrate on getting the poor into the middle class yet it’s having difficulty because of two things 1. Bad governance 2. Bad media. Editorials like this achieve absolutely nothing apart from destroying people’s hopes. The media should be giving hope. This country can pull through, but only if the people want it to. Giving up and leaving is not the answer. Being depressed is futile.

This government got off to a slow start, primarily due to the lack of conceptual as well as operational clarity surrounding the relationship between the advisers and the chief adviser on the one hand, and the chief adviser and the president on the other. Much of this has stemmed from the union of the two key offices of the chief adviser and the president. The existing one is rather an abnormal type of governance structure. Under a normal structure, the caretaker government with a chief adviser and advisers separate from the office of the president would assume responsibility for day-to-day governance. The executive decisions as in the past would continue to be taken in the name of the president. The president would come into the process of decision making more as a figurehead as required under the rules of business.

The operational style adopted by Mr. president and chief adviser sparked a lot of misgivings in public perception about who holds the reins of the government. The elements of this style include (a) running the affairs of the government from outside the designated State – House Abuja; (b) questionable transfer and posting of key officials without seeking any advice from relevant advisers; (c) keeping some of the key ministries under the control of the president and chief adviser; (d) not holding regular weekly meeting of the advisory council (cabinet) to thrash out important issues of governance, let alone prioritizing the same. Such a style of operation must have had a dampening effect on the enthusiasm of the advisers, some of whom made no secret of their feelings when they spoke to the press. To top it all, the president and chief adviser also made no secret of his feelings when he told the secretaries to the government that it was like a presidential form of government which they should bear in mind. As some of the advisers publicly differed with this line of reasoning, some clarifications, weak though these were, came from somewhere.

Why did Nigeria skid down, from a modestly prosperous country in the early ’70’s to one of the poorest in Africa today? Aside from pervasive corruption, overpopulation, political dynasties, the other reason for our country’s rapid decline is bad governance. From one president to the next, we only get Grade F-corrupt leaders whose allegiances were NOT with the Nigerian people but with their political allies. Aided by ignorant voters who sell their votes to the highest bidders, inept scions of political dynasties and unqualified movie actors get elected to offices across the land. For the mess our country is in now, Nigerians have only themselves to blame.

I don’t blame people complaining how bad the situation is in Nigeria; how different it was way back then when a bottle of Coke and a cab ride cost N50 each. Many lament the widespread poverty, corruption, uneven distribution of wealth, high birth rate, etc. and other forms of injustices. Instead of breaking one’s head finding solutions to the causes of poverty why don’t people ask themselves the question: “What causes wealth?” Focus instead on Skills, Opportunity, Means, and Desire.

The rather weak clarifications which were designed to clear up public misgivings were completely reversed by a notification issued under the signature of the secretary to the Government of the federation, which confirmed the government’s decision to deploy army into the Niger Delta region in quest to fight civil uprising. This was done without the knowledge of the advisers. Some of the advisers rightly argued in public that this was not only an unwarranted and unilateral decision but also one that militated against the existing rules of business.

Prior to meeting the secretaries to the government, the president and chief adviser met senior army officers and sought their cooperation and assistance for the upcoming Supreme Court electoral matters ruling. It was aired through the electronic media that he had done this in his capacity as the supreme commander of the armed forces. What has been left unsaid is that he is the supreme commander because he is the president and not vice versa. It is difficult to say without further evidential corroboration whether this address to officers of the army was a prelude to the unilateral decision for army deployment. Thanks to the intellectual integrity of some of the advisers who protested against such a move, the order of deployment had either been cancelled or kept pending. The official vision appears to point out that the government was yet to decide on the issue. The PDP-led administration was quick to seize the opportunity to denigrate the decision for deployment to cow down the downtrodden citizens involved in a peaceful mass movement to realize their 7-point agenda.

In the real world of government and politics, the age-old practice is to find a scapegoat whenever something goes wrong. Consistent with this practice, the government has been indicted. Reports have it that they were summoned to the first formal meeting of the council of advisers, held at the office of the chief adviser. It is not known to the citizens if they are the real scapegoats. This is because the Armed Forces under the president as well as the Ministry of Defence are not in the picture. And the president also holds charge of the ministries. The truth will probably never be known. The situation reminds us of the opening paragraph of one of Bacon’s essays. It says, ‘What is truth, says the jesting Pilate and would not wait for an answer.’ Like the jesting Pilate, the president and chief adviser will also not wait for an answer but the citizens’ expectation is to have an answer.

While addressing the secretaries to the government, the president thought it fit to equate public criticism against some of his personal staff with outside interference. A former cabinet secretary to the government, Alhaji Babagana Kingibe found such observations unwarranted. It is a well-established administrative convention that the president’s personal staff cannot be changed unless he wants it. At the same time, probity demands that the personal staffs so chosen be above all controversy. This is necessary to keep the highest public office of the republic above all controversies. Contrary has been the case. Worse still, the president did not rest content with unwarranted defense of personal staff. He thought it right to upgrade the status of a staff to that of an adviser with the rank and privileges of a state minister. How such an action would conduce to more efficiency and that too for less than three months remains an open question, especially from the viewpoint of value for money from public funds.

Taking into account the trend of public decisions so far, one is tempted to say: ‘Enough is enough Mr President, too much is too much. Despite the highly controversial public actions by the previous government, the only silver lining in the dark cloud is the probity, transparency, and commendable forthright conduct of some of the advisers, supported by their other colleagues in the advisory council. Collectively, they have been struggling hard to bring back sanity and coherence in what essentially is an amorphous structure of governance exacerbated further by some injudicious and unilateral actions by the president and chief adviser. Their hard work, immense patience, and intellectual and moral sense to separate the right from wrong have led to some optimism about how to move forward to put back on the rails the political process which has consistently shown confrontational trend. Their actions are consistent with the people’s expectations.

As is known to all, the crux of the issue lies in the retention or resignation of the INEC chief, Mr. Maurice Iwu and three other state election commissioners who are seen to have lost public credibility. This perception is not limited to the PDP-led regime only. It is equally shared by the international observers as well as the Nigerian civil society at large. The widespread public perception is in favour of the exit of the INEC chief and his other colleagues, either through removal or forced resignation. Some of the leaders of the ruling party, PDP initially made some adverse comments on the conduct of the INEC chief. The Supreme Court also reversed most of the INEC chief election’s decision to have a change of baton in some states like Anambra and Rivers States. He ought to face a contempt of court charge. Any sane man with an iota of self-dignity would have volunteered to resign in the face of public criticism. For the INEC chief, however, it does not matter at all. He remains unconcerned, not stoically, but defiantly with a bull-headed obstinacy that remains without precedent in the political history of Nigeria. He made no secret of his feelings only the other day when he told reporters that he was not concerned at all over the public protests and the long siege program that had brought the country to a complete halt. This is enough evidence that the elections are not safe in his hands. He is fortified by his constitutionally guaranteed security of tenure. He appears to be further fortified by the resolve of the PDP-led administration which would oppose any move for his removal.

It goes without saying that time is running out. There is no provision in the constitution to defer the mandate of the April 2007 election. Even in the face of such a situation, it is not understood why the political parties are unable to reach an agreement on that issue. Then there is the question of 14 million fake voters’ photos and fictitious names in the list. How can it be corrected? An equally important issue is the set of nearly 300 INEC-recruited election officers with questionable political background.

What happened? Nigeria got very greedy, humbug, power hungry, manipulative, acting-like-gods leaders. In short, most have gone through that moral evolution from being humble and simple to being humbug and powerful. This is evident inside public media. Listen to the TV hosts at all times, the senators, the common street bums, rebels, even some hypocrite ‘Men of God’. Worst is yet to come!

I recommend a reformed Nigeria anti-graft agency emerge and freeze bank accounts of the leaders of Nigeria’s wobbling government. And make them persona non grata in the world democracies. Either the leaders allow the world to help the Nigerian people or there should be an embargo on the leaders’ checking accounts around the world as well as ‘no entrance’ in Europe, USA and other countries.

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