The Crude Politics of Underdevelopment By Tunde Fagbenle

Nigeria is a peculiar country. Peculiar and sad. The more one looks at the country, her political structure and her leadership, the more convinced one gets that we are not a particularly serious country. Of course there are many things grossly lacking in the country but the most gross, the most fundamental is the spirit, the eagerness, to develop as a country and the readiness to make it an overriding objective of governance.

True, one has written about this so many times; one has cried oneself hoarse hoping somebody is listening to no avail. Or as our Pentecostal pastors would say: “somebody shout Hallelujah!” – and all what one gets is a deafening silence. Not quite, rather a maddening rush of those at the top to grab what they can while it lasts or before the rocking boat goes under.

How else can one interpret a situation in which the Nigerian federal legislators are the highest paid in the world, as reported recently by UK’s The Economist magazine? The report, quoting data from the International Monetary Fund considered the salaries of lawmakers around the world and expressed them as a ratio of Gross Domestic Product per capita.

Would it change? Is anyone alarmed? Does it disturb the mind of anyone out there sufficiently to want to probe this and seek amelioration? Of course not, a shrug is perhaps the most you’ll get, and business goes on as usual. Those who could do something are those carting away the booty.

How else can one interpret a situation in which everyone, even the moron amongst us, recognises that the presidential system foisted upon us by the military several decades ago, and as being practised here, is a dead weight on the neck of the country that is bound to sink it and yet decades afterwards, we persist in it unable to summon the collective will to retrace our steps or make required drastic changes that would move the country forward?

Am I an alarmist? Then don’t take my word for it. But what about it coming from someone as high up and knowledgeable as the governor of Central Bank of Nigeria, Sanusi Lamido Sanusi, himself? Has he not on several occasions cried out that the country is heading for doom if she persists in the course she is taking, both in terms of the political structure and the emoluments of her leadership?

Let me quote from The PUNCH newspaper of January 12, 2012: “Sanusi said in an interview on Africa Independent Television that the political structure of a huge Federal Government, bicameral legislature, 36 states, 774 local governments is quite unsustainable.” At another time (delivering a paper in Kaduna in honour of Professor AdamuBaike) the Vanguard newspaper of October 30, 2011 quoted him as saying: “Ultimately, we will have to be confronted with the task of taking the difficult step of overhauling the political structure that we have.”

To be sure, both Sanusi and other serious economists in the country and abroad had severally decried the wasteful political system of the country, her unsustainable structure, the unjustifiable earnings of the legislature and the bloated civil service that mean over 70 per cent of the country’s budget goes on recurrent expenditure, wondering how any country can hope to develop under such scenario.

Yet nothing changes leaving one to wonder if there is really nothing intrinsically wrong with us as a people, or with us bounded together as a country.

However, it gets worse. Nothing demonstrates the pettiness, the wrongheadedness of our political leaders and their total disinterest in putting the people first more than the personalisation of “development” that goes on in the name of politics particularly at the federal level, which, again, buttresses the need to rework the country along true federation or confederation lines if we are to get out of the present quagmire of underdevelopment.

Here in London delivering a lecture on “Resource and Governance in Nigeria” at Chatham House, the presently embattled governor of Rivers State, Mr. RotimiAmaechi, narrates how as a result of his face-off with President Goodluck Jonathan, the Federal Government is forestalling several development projects of the state.

According to Governor Amaechi, “When the Federal Government suspects that you have an ambition, they do everything to bring you down. For instance, we have two helicopters to monitor security that they have refused permission to be brought into the country and they have frustrated plans we have to open a syringe- manufacturing factory in Rivers State.”

He went further: “Even if they have an issue with me, why should the whole of Rivers State suffer? We have numerous projects which we have signed agreements with the Federal Government to introduce and implement but since this crisis began, they have suspended all of them and the people feeling it are the ordinary people of Rivers State.”

Only to undeveloped minds in an underdeveloped country would blocking development programmes that would benefit the people be something to consider simply because you make an adversary of one political leader or another.

But that is the nature of politics in Nigeria, and as Amaechi said, “the political culture in Nigeria where politicians believe they are doing the people a favour is a huge impediment…”

No president in the history of Nigeria made greater mockery of the seat and personalised the presidency more than Chief Olusegun Obasanjo of whom I should say no more. Nothing we are witnessing today, no political brigandage, no chicanery, no resort to force over the will of the people, no denial of rights, no spiting of development imperatives, no negation of the constitution that that man Obasanjo did not visit on Nigeria and Nigerians.

We will recall how, just because he felt like it, he (Obasanjo) ordered the stoppage of the federal allocations to Local Governments in Lagos State under Governor Bola Tinubu. Obasanjo cared less even when the courts ordered that the funds be released. And the stoppage went on for a couple of years until the end of Obasanjo’s regime. Obasanjo was law, nay god, unto himself. It mattered little that the poor people of Lagos State were at the receiving end of his illegal action.

Similarly, virtually all development projects for Lagos State were stalled or cancelled outright simply because a federal president Obasanjo could not differentiate between personal interest and people’s interest. A case in point was the visionary desire of governor Tinubu to give Lagos State independent and steady electricity supply that, again, Obasanjo hindered.

Earlier, in military government period, Lagos State had also suffered a similar setback in the hands of a General Muhammadu Buhari who came in and stopped the dream of Governor Lateef Kayode Jakande to give Lagos (and indeed Nigeria) its first metro-line (rail system). That singular action had not only set Lagos State back decades, it has cost her incalculable sum in years hardship, accidents, and sundry losses.

Nigeria is a troubling country, but for how long more must our leaders allow their pettiness to becloud their judgment; for how long more must we as a people not wake up to the imperative of the country’s restructuring? As 2015 draws near we should seek answers to these and many more questions.

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