Reinventing politics, governance and society for 21st century Nigeria (2)
A keynote address delivered by Senator Abaribe, distinguished alumnus, to the 83rd University of Benin Alumni Association Worldwide Council meeting held at the Aba Sports Club, Aba, Abia State on Saturday 27th June, 2015.
The former president has clearly demonstrated that politics should never be do or die and other leaders in the country are emulating him. This is a PDP state, and you all will bear witness to the transparency of the elections that returned people like Governor Adams Oshiomhole of Edo State even though he was of the opposition. And you saw the beauty that were the governorship elections held in nationwide in April. We know this was never the case before.
President Goodluck Jonathan has deepened Nigeria’s democracy by his action of accepting defeat and averting what would have been a troubled future for Nigeria. And as we look to improve on other areas in our polity, commendations must be given to him for leading the change in the core determinant of true democracy: the people’s votes being able to count.
Primitive acquisition of wealth
I have had to ask myself so many times why people grab what they do not need. Much as I blame citizens for pushing their office holders into spending beyond their legitimate earnings, I also am not blind to the excesses of some politicians. It befuddles the mind why people grab from public treasury what they or their families will never spend. The greed for money must be bridled; because of the things that count most in life, money is the least. I choose peace of mind and community over and above money any day.
A former Chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, Farida Waziri, was so miffed that she observed, while delivering the keynote address on Transparency and Accountability in Public Service at a three-day workshop in Kaduna some three years ago, the level of stealing some politicians indulge in. I will quote Mrs Farida here; “Having dealt with many corruption cases, I am inclined to suggest that public officers should be subjected to some form of psychiatric evaluation to determine their suitability for public office. The extent of aggrandizement and gluttonous accumulation of wealth that I have observed suggests to me that some people are mentally and psychologically unsuitable for public office. We have observed people amassing public wealth to a point suggesting ‘madness’ or some form of obsessive- compulsive psychiatric disorder.”
So, apart from the stealing that is driven by societal pressure, there are public office holders, who steal to the point of madness. I’m sure it will help our society if you can devote some time on this and come up with recommendations on how to curb this monster.
The father of modern day Singapore, Mr Lew Kuan Yew, writes in his classic book, From Third World to First, on the secret behind what himself and his colleagues in government achieved in Singapore. I will quote him: ‘We made sure from the day we took office…that every dollar in revenue would be properly accounted for and would reach the beneficiaries at the grassroots as one dollar, without being siphoned off along the way.’
For me, the idea of each naira reaching the beneficiaries at the grassroots is key, because money that comes into the purse of the state belongs to everybody in the state. The government is only in position to decide how to spend it for the benefit of everybody. It must not – and should not – be shared to people as cash, but the money should be invested in social services that will empower people to improve their earning power. This is why I believe in quality education – subsidised by the state, and quality healthcare, also subsidised by the state. With these two, an educated and healthy citizen will be qualified in the current global economy to make wealth, or at least be able to keep a family. When money for these services are stolen, then we have a problem.
We are now in the Ramadan season and Governor El Rufai of Kaduna says he will not give out the traditional sallah rice etc. But he is being criticised by those whose money is being wasted this way.
Culture, religion and our own sense of modesty
because we aren’t used to participatory democracy, we have evolved a tendency to view those, who openly aspire to lead with suspicion. Sometimes, we conclude that the person who aspires to lead is all about power.
Somehow, we have come to see aspiration for leadership as arrogance and a declaration of superiority over others. So we end up with imposition and political leadership of unpreparedness. In your thinking about this, you may want to consider the role of dreaming, of visualizing, of aspiring before eventually ascending to a position of authority. I believe that our people should be made to encourage open aspirations into political positions. In our democratic culture, we should start seeing aspiration as healthy. It doesn’t make people bad or greedy or power hungry. It will rather form part of what moulds their personal conducts in preparation for the dreamed position. Preparedness for public office is always important. Always.
Sycophancy of those around political leaders
I have been in politics in Nigeria since the advent of this republic and I have seen first-hand what sycophancy does to public office holders. The leader, often times, by the demands of his office, may be unable to see quite clearly all the challenges the society is faced with. Many times, those he sees are amongst the elite, who do not represent those who need his attention most. The people around him owe him what I call the duty of truth.
Respectfully, they should call his attention to certain ills that need to be addressed. I have often said that a leader who prefers lies to the truth, from those around him, does not like himself, because the sycophants may be after their own political and economic interests. When the leader fails, they quickly move on to the next camp where the beat is loudest.
Next to sycophancy is what I term showmanship. Our society – and this is a very sad observation, I must say – does not encourage moderation and simplicity. Once you are in public office, you are expected to drag around the weight of your office before you are recognized and then worshipped. It goes to show how less we respect people except they are ‘something’ in the society. I don’t know what else we should be to deserve respect from our fellow men and women other than first being human. Naturally, we should treat every man and woman we meet with respect.
Relationship between our politics, governance and society
Given the earlier theory I espoused on the emergence of the modern state, we could draw a strong parallel between politics, governance and society. Politics drives every other thing, and that includes governance and society, because, it is politics that throws up those who govern. The society then either benefits from purposeful leadership or falls victim to purposeless leadership.
National development is the aspiration of the leadership of third world countries. Like I told the journalists when they asked me about Abia State, we are generally lacking in the quality of infrastructure needed for human capital development in the 21st Century. I will take national development through the lens of economic development, which deals with qualitative and quantitative changes in the economy expressed through areas like the development of critical infrastructure, human capital through qualitative education, health, social inclusion, environmental sustainability and regional competitiveness.
We have an urgent need to change our narratives, because we cannot compete in today’s world when only 31.28 per cent of our children who sat for the 2014l West African Examinations Council’s SSCE could only make 5 credits with English and Mathematics. I have read some commentators groaning about that result, and I wonder if they are aware that the performances of our children in the last three years has always hovered below forty percent. In 2012, it was 38.81 per cent. In 2013, it was 36.57 per cent. Yet even in its worst state, our children’s performances keep sliding south.
The implication for peace and security is grave. If we do not educate our kids today, what happens when they grow into early adulthood with all the energy and adrenalin? If we do not create jobs for our teeming youth now, what future faces the whole of us? I have personally had to pity President Jonathan and now President Buhari over the incessant and selfless killings of innocent citizens by the despicable enemies of our collective freedom who call themselves Boko Haram. The madness currently going on in the North East has grave implications for both private and public investment in those parts, which in turn affects the ability of residents to aspire for personal economic growth. The time it should have taken the government to concentrate on other pressing needs, it now devotes to finding a solution to Boko Haram.
And wherever I’ve been, I have not shied away from stating that Boko Haram is a fallout of issues of governance of many years past. These issues did not begin with the civilian governments from 1999. This understanding will help us appreciate the sincere efforts of President Jonathan’s government and equally give us reasons to support him and our military as they toil day and night to bring this sad situation to an end.
In the final analysis, we should aspire to elevate politics to the realm of the sublime, where the ultimate goal will be to do good and better the society. In so doing, we will be starving our society of the elements for the formation of future insurgencies. This is the last destination of a reinvented politics, governance and society.
Please bear in mind that you have more at stake if we do not change the style of political engagement, if we keep churning out of our universities graduates we do not have jobs for, if we continuously fail to feed ourselves and give our people hope to anticipate tomorrow.
Please get involved in ways of reinventing politics and governance, because if our country falls to the rage of the restless, if our streets rumble in the wake of spontaneous uprising, if the seething anger we feel from our young ones morphs into an insurrection, every one of us here will be a target.
You are the elite, and this you must remember: that lasting societal peace and security is the only guarantee for personal peace and happiness.
• Abaribe is also a former Deputy Governonr of Abia State