OPINION: Let us stop this madness – Eze Onyekpere
Recent events in our polity, and the postulations of elected and appointed officials of government, seem to suggest that our development is held back, not by visionless and greedy leaders but by the sheer docility of the populace. Since the beginning of 2012, it has been one monumental scam and scandal after another. Perpetrators of these scams are all alive, walking the streets as free men (and women). Nigerians are used to the idea that things will remain as they have always been due to the lack of political will on the part of the leadership. A political scientist who presided over a panel discussion at a premiere of a documentary on corruption in Abuja a couple of days ago stated that what we call lack of political will on the part of the leadership, should not really bear that description. He rather sees it as the lack of sufficient push and demand from those who are the victims of the maladministration and greed of the leaders. This redefinition seems more apt as a description of what happens in Nigeria. It is a fact of life that Nigerians are a long-suffering people and very easy to enslave in virtually all aspects of their lives.
Related to this is the constant attempt at capacity-building in the public sector. Conference after conference, meeting after meeting and workshop after workshop have proverbially built the capacity of public servants on a wide array of subjects. Yet, in those endeavours where they have received the new teachings and capacity, they fail woefully to deliver services to the people. Essentially, what is lacking in these offices and officials is not capacity. It is clearly a lack of integrity. Virtually every Ministry, Department or Agency of government requests resources to buy library books which is also part of capacity-building in an anti-intellectual environment. But, how many ranking officials of the Nigerian state have in the search of new ideas, read a book in the last three years?
Why do we find it difficult as a people to ask for our basic rights and that things are done the right way? It appears that we have accepted that corruption is a necessity and a way of life to the extent that we see people in public office as having a socially accepted opportunity to steal and loot. We expect them to take their turn in the belief that it may get to our turn tomorrow or the turn of someone very close to us who can facilitate our access to the treasury. It is like a relay race and the baton is exchanged from one set of government officials to another in the full glare of the victims of the senseless race. Rather than jeering and taking steps to block the tracks and stop the race, it appears the victims are cheering and clapping. But it is self evident that the resources will never be enough to satisfy everyone’s greed and that the finite resources need to be very well managed to even satisfy our needs. Thus, from the size of our population and available resources, the opportunity to steal will only be available to not more than five per cent of the population thereby leaving the remaining 95 per cent in the lurch.
So, why are we, the majority of the population still clapping and cheering? Are we satisfied with the life we are living, the poverty, darkness and hopelessness that we endure? Are we satisfied with the gridlock in the system? We clap and cheer when we take no step to stop the race and pretend that it is well when everything is wrong. When our rights are violated, instead of seeking remedies to a logical conclusion, we hand over everything to God or we shirk from a fight to claim our rights because we do not have the time! Meanwhile, we have been created in the image and likeness of God who has given us all the powers and things we need to conquer and inherit the earth. And those in authority understand that we do have the stamina that is required for the marathon race involved in claiming rights – the scenario suits them perfectly as they continue with more impunity and violations. We clap and cheer when we refuse to be a part of mass action to protest inhuman and oppressive policies or even to show those in authority that we are angry with the system they have designed to enslave us.
Using the federal budget as an example, there is a rat race among the departments of government on who will use the appropriation process to corner public resources for private ends. The examples of these requests are legion. There is the huge and insensitive demand for travels, transport and training, the repetitive demands for refreshment, meals and welfare packages; agencies under the Ministry of Petroleum Resources that will demand hundreds of millions of naira for exactly the same project, statutory transfers that are not disaggregated and made known to the public, among others. Appropriated and available resources for capital budget implementation are deliberately withheld by the Government while salaries and overheads are fully drawn down. The NEITI Reports reveal that there are public and private agencies in the petroleum sector who withheld over $9.8bn public revenue since 1999 and no one dares to ask them to refund it. Yet, the executive is requesting legislative approval to borrow less than this stolen sum. The list is endless. But what is the reaction of the majority of Nigerians – silence. This silence cannot be golden because it is the silence of a slave who before his master cannot summon the courage to utter a word.
As we approach the one year anniversary of the fuel subsidy crisis, it is imperative for Nigerians to rediscover the spirit of the protest, to draw boundaries against official corruption, to demand accountability and to make it clear to those who have held us in contempt over the years that their time is over. Let us write letters, send text messages, and use the social media to approach our leaders. We need to file law suits, picket institutions, organise street protests in accordance with our freedom of association and movement and refuse to be intimidated by anyone, no matter how highly placed. Let us begin to use the instrument of recall against those officials who have let us down. Indeed, let us make life extremely uncomfortable for anyone who is in leadership position but seeks after his undue comfort to the detriment of the nation. It is time for the millions of unemployed youths to organise and strategise to face a common enemy. You need to organise across ethnic and religious boundaries. Taking to crime will not solve the problem. Nothing will change until we sufficiently demand for change. In history, there has never been and in Nigeria, there will never be political will for beneficiaries of the rot to clean the system. Our destiny lies in taking back our country and our future with concerted action aimed at cleansing the system of corruption and maladministration.
– Eze Onyekpere (firstname.lastname@example.org)