By Prof. Gbenga Olumekun
The much awaited list of minister designates is out and there has been a cacophony of voices from several quarters, some because of “disappointment” and some just for the sake of an opportunity to say something. However, I have come to realise that truth is constant hence a write-up of 24 months can still be appropriately classified as “Gospel Truth”. Have a read and see how relevant this article of yesteryears is still relevant, even today. Your interpretation is as good as mine.
THIS RECYCLING MUST STOP
Recently, I watched Manchester City FC play Chelsea on the football field. At the end Chelsea did the unthinkable, they defeated Man City right at home and broke Man City’s record of not having lost a match at home in the Premier League for two years or so. What interested me most was the team tactics employed by both coaches and the victory of Chelsea was no doubt due to players playing to instructions and also due to the strength of the bench. The commentator did an analysis of the Chelsea bench and the monetary value of players in reserve was enough to set up several premiership teams. What lessons does this purvey for our polity? The major question for our political system is “What is the strength of our reservoir of men from which leaders are picked?”
I was so disturbed when Festus Odimegwu was hounded out of the National Population Commission (NPC) even before he could begin work. For once I saw in him a bloke who knew the nature of the problem with our spurious and indefensible population figures and spoke his mind. All hell was let loose as if he had committed sacrilege. Of course he really had! Several political SCUD missiles were launched his way and he had no alternative than to protect his life and integrity. The question that must be asked is, “What is wrong in stating that past attempts to count our population had been failures?” Who can provide credible population indices to justify the official assertion that Kano State is more populated than Lagos State? Why would a man lose his job for daring to speak the truth? In 1981/82 I had traversed the length and breadth of the old Kano State ever before Jigawa was created and I did not see any settlement beyond Kano that could lay claim to being a town let alone a city. Truth is sacred but a nation lives in jeopardy when citizens can be harangued for speaking the truth. Now we have lost the likes of Odimegwu and we are forced to settle for second best. God help us!
I have reminisced deeply about the current political set-up at all levels in the nation but the painful conclusion is that good men are hard to find. The few good ones, apart from not being interested in the murky world of politics, prefer to lie low in defence of their lives and personal integrity. That is why we have no credible leaders. There is so much discontent about the performance of leaders at all levels but the issue is larger than them.
Do we have credible alternatives who will willingly abandon their peaceful solitude and venture into the lions’ den? What I see is a recycling of yesterday’s men/women who ought to be consigned to the refuse dumps. It is even worse when men and women who ought to have been goaled for gross crimes against humanity are reprocessed, repackaged and given appointments into sensitive offices. For some of them, those in authority never even make any pretences, as our leaders often appoint these people without any recourse to the sensitivities of the rest of us.
Very often our system treats political and strategic appointments as rewards for political support. Appointments are no longer given to men and women for the sole purpose of tapping from the positive attributes they possess. This is why we commonly see men become government ministers after having first spent more than 30 years in public service at the highest level. These same blokes end up serving several terms as ministers/commissioners, yet we still find them irreplaceable 50 years after! I remember a few men who became ministers way back in the 1960s are still offered executive positions when they ought to have transited to Old People’s homes in preparation for the call of death.
One of the things I loved most in Dora Akunyili’s NAFDAC is the idea of enforcing the labelling of food and medical items so that men are able to identify those items that have exceeded their sell-by dates. The wisdom is that items have expiry dates and consuming them will bring more harm than good to the body. Unfortunately we have not been able to bring that wisdom into the political arena where we ought to label such human beings as fit for the refuse dump of history. They would have been best left alone to live out their twilight years to enjoy their retirement and the loot attendant to high office in Nigeria.
Worse still, illegal repackaging of expired items for the purpose of offering them for sale to the general public under our statutes attract stiff penalties but this wisdom has not been extended to the political appointment process. If leaders get appropriately sanctioned for bringing expired cargoes into the government bureaucracy maybe they’ll think twice before making appointments that assault our sensibilities. Adopting this approach to governance would have prevented the development of the culture of impunity that so much pervades our land. A few years ago I witnessed the struggles of Dr. Rilwanu Lukman at remaining relevant in an age when the desktop computer is only less than 0.001% of the size it had when he became first became a Minister several decades ago.
I have looked deeply at ALL the political parties and I see one item of commonality: I see men and women labouring to attain relevance just for the sole purpose of enriching themselves and generations yet unborn, at the expense of the rest of us. I do not really blame them. We gave them the liberty to do so and we must therefore not complain. A nation will only develop when its citizens muster the boldness to challenge bad governance. Here now, it is not about whether a leader is doing right but it is about utilizing our own turn to the hilt.
One other feature of this deadly recycling process is the appropriation of the instruments of governance for the benefit of specific families in our political landscape, more like oligarchies. We have turned government patronage into hereditary titles that must be passed from one generation to another. Father was a Minister, son a Minister, daughter an Executive Director, son-in-law a commissioner and the family dog too is crooning for relevance to become the Chief of Security. Do not get me wrong. An appointment based on personal merit is very much desirable. I love America. George Bush Snr did a lot to hype the American spirit and the nation never felt the terms of the Bushs had expired, rather they granted his son an opportunity to rule. When he messed up, the nation waited duly to elect another person who they felt could do a better job. That’s why if I were the betting type I will stake all my fortune on Hilary Clinton becoming the next President of the United States, the fact that her hubby was a previous occupant of the White House notwithstanding. That is America where every man is judged on his ability and not on where he comes or does not come from.
There was a recent question posed to our politicians. Who amongst the current generation has what it takes to match Chief Obafemi Awolowo in his vision and dedication to the national cause? Which of our current pretenders is able to articulate a set of cardinal principles by which he or she is identified for decades? How many are able to make monumental pronouncements that outlive them in wisdom and precision? None. All we see are political calculations to capture power without any real intention to improve the lives of the great majority of the citizenry. That is the shame of our nation.
Many Nigerians, just like me, have worked for government for over 32 years and what have they got to show for their dedication and selfless service? Put a nincompoop into power and when he is asked to declare his assets he tells us of several billions he had worked for as if a billion Naira is chicken change. I have nowhere to run to again, that’s why I long to save my beloved country. And that’s why I will keep talking until someone listens.