Thursday, August 4, 2016

Nigeria’s House Of Greed

By Paul Onomuakpokpo   
What is insufferably scandalous about the Nigerian condition is that the more it appears we are on the cusp of effectively routing a debilitating menace plaguing the nation, the more in reality, it becomes deep-rooted.
Nowhere is this more obvious in contemporary Nigeria than the frenetic campaign against corruption. For over a year now, the nation has been regaled with the prospect of the inevitability of victory over corruption as long as at the head of the campaign against it is a  new breed of politicians. But it is clear now that the more the fetishisation of the fight against corruption dominates public consciousness, the more there are revelations of seamy dealings of our leaders that underscore the seeming irrevocable flight of probity from public offices.
House Speaker Yakubu Dogara and
Senate President Bukola Saraki
As though to mock the brutal focalisation of the past administration as the sole embodiment of corruption in the nation’s political experience,  we are now confronted with a situation where those who are the self-declared precursors of a corruption-free era are the ones who are now smeared with the miasma of corruption.
Think of the racking allegations of the members of the House of Representatives being responsible for a massive manipulation of the budget the point becomes clear. Of course, no one inveighs against the statutory right of the lawmakers to  tinker with the nation’s budget. But what has justifiably provoked the ire of the citizens is that such a discharge of a statutory obligation is by no means for the good of the citizens. It is solely for the interest of only a minority of the citizens – the lawmakers themselves.
To be sure, there is no deployment of a newfangled method by the lawmakers for the alleged perpetration of  corruption. For to a large extent, the purpose of seeking a public office in these climes, despite all pretentions to altruism, is simply the padding of budgets. There have only been accusations and counter-accusations because the deal has gone awry.
The Senate has protested its innocence as though such scandals could only be associated with the House of Representatives. Yet, the citizens are aware that the special new breed of  politicians that former Military President Ibrahim Babangida tried to mint through his endless  transition, and that the current dispensation is expected to sire remain elusive in the Nigerian political space. Thus, we remain saddled with politicians  who maim, kill,  forge birthday and educational certificates, sell their houses and borrow,  become cultists, fawn on unscrupulous benefactors and scramble for juicy committees not  because of the big  positive difference they would strive to use their offices to make but the  prospect of self-aggrandisement through padding.

The lawmakers drove this point home by their riposte to former President Olusegun Obasanjo that as far as corruption is concerned, he holds the inglorious record of fertilising it in our post-1999 political dispensation. To the lawmakers, the evidence is handy.  It was Obasanjo who attempted corralling the National Assembly into endorsing his infamous agenda for a third term by bribing them with as much as N50 million in  Ghana-must-go bags.
  Thus as a nation, what should be of concern to us is not the accusations,  counter-accusations and the feckless attempts  by  anti-corruption agencies to probe, but the ubiquitous character of corruption and the fact that to defeat it, we need to deploy more efforts than the existing ones.
Or, how do we effectively fight corruption when it is clear that some past leaders who are suspected to be corrupt are not being hounded by the anti-corruption agencies and are rather being hallowed as elder statesmen and political mentors? How do we decimate this pandemic affliction when our political leaders are still allowed to have access to sleazy funds under the deceptive rubric of security votes? The president, the governors and council chairmen have security votes from which all manner of egregious tastes are catered to –  from acquiring more paramours including under-age girls and buying several vehicles  for them , to sponsoring the  weddings of  cronies overseas.
All this is happening at a time that there is a massive economic crisis ravaging the land with the attendant loss of jobs, grinding poverty and suicides to escape unending frustrations.  In this regard, although we appreciate the destabilising vision  of Dambudzo Marechera in The House of Hunger,  the  searing post-colonial condition would have been better captured if he had lived longer and reflected on Africa through the prism of  the Nigerian condition. Indeed, contrary to the modest expectations of the citizens who voted them into power, our current crop of leaders have capriciously bifurcated the country into the house of greed and the house of hunger. The citizens inhabit the house of hunger while our leaders luxuriate in the house of abundance and greed.
The lawmakers are not concerned with how to raise the bulk of the population to a higher standard of living.  All they are interested in is how to amass more wealth; how to  recoup their investments in their political ventures. To effectively stem the rampaging corruption that has rightly been acknowledged as a blight on our development, we must sincerely re-strategise our campaign against it. In this regard, we should begin by stripping our president, governors and others of the privilege of having security votes. The allocations to security agencies are enough to handle our security matters. We must not leave room for a governor to be receiving over  N1 billion monthly under the guise of security vote that is not accounted for. And if at all we must allow the argument that security votes have been used in some states to boost security through the provision of vehicles and equipment for the police, for instance, then  there must be a clear template for accountability for the president, governors and others who are given these allocations to make them invulnerable to misappropriation.  For as long as the executive has security votes as a means of self-enrichment, the  legislature would continue to justify its appropriation of all kinds of huge amounts of money for amorphous constituency projects.
Besides, corruption has remained vitalised by the warped electoral process underpinned by the breadth of one’s financial influence. It is such a process that throws up leaders who are not eligible for public office by their character and passion to serve. Therefore, there should be a transparent electoral system that would produce credible leaders who are not solely actuated by the desire for material acquisition as the case we have now.
The legislature would continue to pad budgets and devise other ways  of enriching themselves at the expense of the citizens as long as the executive that has the anti-corruption agencies cannot be said to be immune to corruption. The lawmakers would not take seriously the anti-corruption campaign as long as the president himself continues to open himself to the charge of being an embodiment of parochialism.
Again, our lawmakers are quite aware that they are only serving themselves by their actions that negate the constitution and the interest of the citizens  and that is why they are clamouring for immunity. If they have no immunity now and all they use their offices for is the perpetration of corruption and the plunging of the citizens into the mire of impoverishment through remorseless mis-governance, what would they not do to serve themselves when they have immunity?

 *Dr. Onomuakpokpo is on the Editorial Board of The Guardian

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