By Emeka Asinugo
I have often heard Nigerian politicians admit that the worst form of self-rule is better than the best form of foreign rule. I find the “axiom” difficult to believe. I am convinced that the mindset which can expound that sort of philosophy is not likely to move any society forward. On the contrary, it is capable of making those in public offices more corrupt and more insensitive to the desires and aspirations of those who voted them into office. Come to think of it. What do such politicians have in mind – the welfare of the ordinary families in the country or that of the families that are already rich and influential in the society?
Before my father translated some 20 years ago, he once asked me if I knew why Jesus’ ministry became an instant success. I said I didn’t. And my father told me that the reason Jesus’ ministry was able to spread worldwide was because he concentrated it among his people. He worked in Bethlehem, Bethsaida, Nazareth, Jordan and Jerusalem – just around his home. Had he been fascinated by the glamour of big cities like London, New York, Frankfurt or Tokyo and gone to establish his ministry there, the whole idea would have crumbled like a pack of cards soon after his translation. But because he lived and worked among his own, his own found it necessary to carry on with his message when he was no more with them physically.
I think Nigerian politicians have a lesson to learn here. Many of them will be most willing and happy to expend millions of naira in the purchase of nomination forms from their various parties. But go to their villages. Their young men and women walk or cycle miles to fetch a jelly can of water from the local stream. They ration the can of water they fetch to serve for drinking, cooking, bathing, and for washing clothes, plates and cooking utensils. The politicians are yet to see the need to at-least install boreholes in some central locations in their constituencies to ease the suffering of poor Nigerian families.
In all the years I lived in Nigeria, I never heard a politician talk about families during his or her campaign. They would talk about the roads, the airports, the hospitals, the schools, about industrialization and so on. Even as we speak, not one of them thinks that it is his responsibility to directly care or cater for the families that make up his constituencies. I have said this before. Nigerian politicians should endeavour to make a list of the families that make up their constituencies, get to know as many of them as possible on a one-on-one basis, ask after their welfare and take greater interest in how they live and what their problems are. That is what politics is all about – the index we place on human life given available resources.
A condition in which Nigeria is often defined as a paradox is not good enough. The country is very rich. In addition to vast oil wells and gas deposits, many of the states in the country have large deposits of gold, coal, zinc, iron ore, barite, talc, gypsum, betonite, salt, kaolin, glass-sand, limestone, bitumen, manganese, uranium, clay, lignite, dolomite, phosphate, marble, granite among many other solid minerals. They have such precious metals as ruby, aquamarine, emerald, tourmaline, topaz, garnet, amethyst, zircon and fluorspar which are among the best in the world.
But despite all these natural endowments, more than 62% of Nigerian citizens live below the poverty level. The country’s oil wealth has become more of a curse than a blessing to the vast majority of the people. Every week people die in their hundreds, struggling and fighting along pipelines for a share of the wealth that comes from oil. Seemingly helpless Nigerians continue to express their disgust and disappointment in what they see as the abysmal failure of the leadership of their country to salvage them from penury.
Of-course, it will be unfair to put the blame on the doorstep of any single Nigerian. It is the system, the Nigerian system. And unless the system is modified to harmonise with globally accepted best practice, it is difficult to see how Nigerians can come out of the woods.
The first step to achieve this essential objective would be for Nigerian politicians to cut down on their ostentatious lifestyles because it is making the country look stupid in the eyes of the international community. Take the British Prime Minister for example. He earns £142, 500 per annum. Excluding allowances and other perks, a Nigerian Senator earns £1.1 million, more than seven and half times the salary of the British Prime Minister. A Federal legislator earns £900,000 – more than six one third times the salary of the British Prime Minister. Nigerian legislators are the highest paid in the world. Recently they were said to have approved for each of them £84,000 as wardrobe allowance, whatever that means. Nigerian legislators fly first class, lodge in the cosiest rooms in the most expensive hotels in America and Europe, in a country where most families go to bed without food and at a time the price of oil has plummeted to an all time low.
It is true that President Buhari and his deputy, Professor Osinbajo have agreed to cut their salaries by 50%. That should send a message across to other public office holders that they should follow in the footsteps of the No 1 citizen, if for no other reason, at-least to harmonize governance. But that is clearly not the case. Some governors who should have followed the President’s well thought out precedence are still shuffling their feet, moaning over the merits and demerits of such a presidential gesture. Ironically, that attitude in itself could become a wakeup call for the nation in the long run. It is likely to put the needed pressure on the President to sponsor the motion that will peg legislators’ wages to an internationally acceptable peak and bring them home to the reality of the lives and welfare of the ordinary Nigerians they are supposed to be representing.
Over the years, public offices have become gold mines of sorts and Nigerians are killing each other, assassinating their real and imagined opponents, to clinch public offices. Maybe the change will come after-all, when public offices are made unattractive to greedy men and women who are ready to kill or die to get into them in order to grab the money accruing from there – when they are discouraged from vying for public offices or seeing them as their pecuniary heaven because the pay is low. In such a way Nigeria can get the best of their sons and daughters who have the welfare of the ordinary Nigerian families at heart into public offices as those who will sincerely represent them because they feel their pain.
We have an example in Rt. Hon David Cameron, the British Prime Minister. When he was campaigning for this last election that saw the Conservative Party win with a landslide, he told the British people, and I quote: “ I want to build a better future for Britain – more families with the security of a pay packet each month; the best schools and skills for young people; an economy that delivers for people who want to work hard and get on in life. Since becoming Prime Minister in 2010, I have been working through our long-term economic plan to build a stronger, healthier economy and secure a better future for families across Britain.” He then goes on to distribute a questionnaire to all the voters, sensitizing their desires and aspirations thus:
Which three issues matter most to you and your family (please choose three)
The level of taxes
Opportunities for the next generation
The environment & climate change
Crime & anti-social behaviour
Tax credits & benefits to support working families
The cost of living
Care & support for the elderly
Britain’s deficit & debt
University and tuition fees
Welfare (making work pay)
Here, as we can see, politics is centred on the welfare of British families. And that is what it should be in Nigeria. Nigerian politicians should begin to take the welfare and happiness of the families that make up their constituencies as their primary concern.