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Nigeria: Conflict of interest

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Senate President, Bukola Saraki

Conflict of interest is a social vice which degrades right ethical conviction, moral decency and behavioral fortitude among people of a nation. In Nigeria, conflict of interest encompasses selfish pursuits and mundane interests of politicians and those of their cronies. Political leaders understand that they have limited time to operate as public office holders.

Today, Nigerian administration is dominated by theories while hoping that the situation will soon reach the level of operational maturity. The nation is still struggling in disarray under the political struggle occasioned by rough fragmentation of parties and divergent group interests. The importance of professionalism as the core value of holding public offices has been greatly eroded. Hitherto excellence in service has been fraught with encumbered operations among experts and politicians alike because of skewed interests of leaders. Selfish pursuit at all political levels (local, state and federal governments) has sufficed with destructive transactional approach.

Conflict of interest is experienced in many insidious forms in our environment. Public officers eke out extravagant lifestyle with monetary gratifications from people who could otherwise have obtained public services for minimal charges. Tutors in public schools accept bribes before admitting new students. Lecturers in higher institutions obtain special favors from students in kind or cash. Employees of private organizations make dubious personal gains from official transactions – the list is endless.

All over the world, popular leaders have been involved in unbridled political crisis that dampened the efficacy of their government at one time or the other. The following are just a list of few leaders who experienced notable crisis during their tenures:
* Richard Nixon – Watergate scandal.
* Bill Clinton – Sexual harassment.

Nigeria cannot be in complete isolation of leadership tussle and its accompanied political hullaballoos. For example, the late Chief F.R.A. Williams, the legal icon, experienced humiliation during his trial. In a widely circulated press release vindicating the Senate president, Bukola Saraki, after his trial at CCT on June 14, 2017, he remarked: “I am immensely grateful to all my colleagues in the National Assembly for their abiding support. All through my trial, they demonstrated strong conviction about the choice we all decided to make two years ago.”

Two years down the lane of Nigerian political history, there is no gainsaying that APC party machinery had worked assiduously to emerge as the winner of 2015 federal election that ushered-in president Buhari as the Nigerian president. Thereafter, nominations of top functional politicians for ministerial appointments started immediately after the election of top ranked officers of federal legislature. Election of tactical officers of the national assembly involved deeply machinated political scheming and underground maneuvers to galvanize political hijack by the powerful clique of the ruling party.

Reasonable Nigerians have clamored for true democracy over the years. Most Nigerians have wished for quality people to emerge at high echelons of National Assembly instead of the perpetuation of puppets that will be instrumental to misrule the nation. Interested politicians showed keen interests for elective offices while demonstrating their commitments to the party’s success at the poll. This period witnessed acute display of strong bitterness among family members and long-standing friends because of divergent political views.

The period under review was considered as the proper occasion for sharing the national cake by political stalwarts clamoring for top positions. The leaning to this awkward belief had perpetuated destructive system of governance in many developing countries. Nigerian politicians lucky enough to win elections have towed the same irrational line of thought to siphon public funds to feather their own nests. Elective offices have become an easy opportunity to cut big chucks of the national cake to cater for their selfish interests.

This writer assumed that the trial of Bukola Saraki was not unconnected with his emergence as the Senate President. At the time of nascent democratic change when Nigerians were eagerly looking forward to good governance, it is improper to engage in political bickering that can destabilize the National assembly. The emergence of Bukola Saraki as the Senate president appears as a consequence of blatant political miscalculation that shamed many political pundits because it did not conform to preferred choice of godfathers. What could have informed the party directive to skew election of an in-house officer for the benefit of a powerful clique? Was the directive given to further the party interest or merely to satisfy some political commanders? These reasonable questions are yet begging for immediate answers.

Under the democratic system of government such as United States of America, elections of National Assembly officers are the absolute responsibility of members-in-caucus. Under reasonable conditions and drawing from the nation’s democratic system of over 200 years, it is well understood that elections rather than selections have caused political rancor among party bigwigs. This similar condition in Nigeria was almost responsible for the near ‘administrative torpedo’ of the ruling party. The American political system believes that the choice of officers in the Upper and Lower Houses should not be done under external influence. This is because members of both houses would be judged by their performances. The US Senate is regarded as a senate of equal men, made up of men and women with individual honors and personal characters but operate together with absolute independence.

All around the world, there is no “Upper House” comparable to the US Senate. In other democratic nations, the “Upper House” is either honorific like the British House of Lords but construed in power like the Upper House of the “Japanese Diet”. For that reason, the US Senate has long been referred to as the “World’s greatest deliberated body”. The Senate is to stand in principle and can oft to compromise for greater good of the people. They are expected to bring diverse wisdoms and independent judgments to bear on their duties in order to determine the best for the nation. The senate is meant to be an institution that can take collective actions in tolerance of opposing views, under principled compromise and willing to end debates with votes up and down, even if it meant sometimes losing while working on the basis of mutual respect. Because of the overriding national commitment, senate members usually visit themselves in their homes in order to know each other’s families and felicitate with them.

It is not surprising that the present Senate president, Bukola Saraki, has paid special attention to the unflinching support of his co-senate members throughout the period of his CCT trial. This action reasonably affirmed the principle of: “Stand by me in “Rock ‘n’ ‘Roll.” Now that the CCT trial is permanently resolved, members of National Assembly must make good their electoral promises to Nigerian people. This can be achieved if they devote their prime time and budding energies to achieving leadership relevance and good governance. This condition can receive further boost through the creation of diverse opportunities for full/fuller employment and poverty alleviation.

The passage of 2017 National budget in the middle of the fiscal year is far from being ideal for a country with over 150 million people suffering in the midst of plentiful resources. Nigeria government has always found it quite easy to generate funds from many internal sources, including different forms of taxation, but also found it pretty difficult to spend such generated resources on improving the welfare of less privileged people. It is absurd to understand that the bulk of generated public fund is spent on catering for political leaders at the detriment of downtrodden people.

A couple of decades ago, a former Head of State, Gen. Yakubu Gowon, in one of his then demystifying jokes during a National Council meeting demanded from members if it would be justified if every Nigerian was paid one million Naira each, especially if that move would bring lasting peace to the country. Similarly, an economist, Milton Friedman made a statement in his book when he said: “To spend is to tax.” Thus, every Naira spent by the government is derived from taxes paid by citizens, even if the total sum was not spent on their collective welfare. The government must find a lasting solution that can eliminate the poverty among our people.

George Bernard Shaw said: “Poverty doesn’t produce unhappiness, it produces degradation.” A common saying is rife that poverty and political power are two sides of the same coin. Those without power find it difficult to get it and other resources that they need to live a better life.” An Indian once said: ‘ If you are poor you will be thrown into the corner of a hospital.” Probably, such poor patient would die in solitude. On the other hand, political power and wealth are entwined in the Nigerian political system and assumed to be at the opposite sides of a coin. Once our leaders attain political power, spurious budget paddings and treasury lootings become the leverage for fulfillment of their selfish interests.

Furthermore, the rat race for wealth accumulation is intense among our leaders. Many of them built the state-of- art houses in highbrow areas, ride exotic cars worth fortunes, cruise in private yachts and also jet-out around the world in personal planes. Our social platform gives adequate room for undue competition and rivalry among political leaders. They showcase highly expensive private assets to the chagrin of downtrodden people. Recently, some political leaders were attacked by angry electorates for living in excessive affluence while they struggled under unabated poverty.

Nigerian politicking is fund sapping as poor and uninformed electorates obtain monetary inducements before voting for political aspirants. Hence, leaders amass huge funds to sponsor elections and when they lacked required funding, they resorted to taking private loans from their sponsors who expect full repayment with interests. This situation has pushed political leaders to loot public funds in order to repay outstanding loans before pursuing democratic dividends to the people.

The time is now rife in Nigerian political history that leaders attuned themselves to the reality of social happenings and adjust accordingly. They must support sound ethical re-orientation that can elicit preventive measures rather than presently applied curative measures against corruption. In Nigeria, we only recover the little that looters declared and not the actual amounts that they have stolen! Apparent loopholes for siphoning the national wealth must be properly identified and blocked to end the circle of corruption in the nation. The National Assembly must provide necessary framework to block the drain of national wealth.

To eliminate this developmental anomaly, Nigerians must imbibe holistic ethical re-orientation that can usher in opulence of national decency. Our leaders must consciously become ethical fore-runners that can set good examples for their followers on moral, social, tribal, religious, political and economic decencies. They must guarantee good standard of living for poor Nigerians to bail them out of the malignant ‘poverty loop’.



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