A former member of Rivers State House of Assembly, Monday Eleanya, has been murdered in Port Harcourt.
I have tried several times to pinpoint the reason there is too much suffering in our land and what can be done to remedy the ugly situation. Each time I embark on this exercise, I have always felt deeply troubled, disconsolate and fitful. Honestly, I have not been able to find any reason to justify why some Nigerians (as many as 70%) should live below the poverty line, in the midst of plentiful resources – both human and material.
In terms of human resources, Nigeria boasts of some of the best brains in the world. Talk of abundance of material resources, we rank among the most blessed in the world. So, then, wherein lies the problem? I have asked this question in the belief that somebody, as concerned as I am, could proffer the answer. Curiously, hardships and sufferings have persisted despite government’s numerous poverty alleviation programmes.
Such programmes as Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), SURE-P and others too many to mention, exist, yet Nigerians are suffering. The Transformation Agenda of President Goodluck Jonathan is also geared towards reducing poverty and placing Nigeria on the global map developmentally. But why have these programmes not worked, in spite of the enormous resources invested in them?
The answer is very simple. Nevertheless, before we look at the likely causes and solutions, it is important to first of all examine the attitude of our leaders to governance and the corresponding response by the citizenry. The reason for this examination is that the government and the governed have constitutional and civic duties to perform for the peace, progress and development of our fatherland.
As expected, the attitude of the citizenry to governance is closely connected to the disposition of the leadership. By implication, the behaviour of an average Nigerian in the socio-political cum economic milieu is a product of how well or bad he is treated in the context of national development and distribution of wealth.
This is why patriotism in citizens is usually stoked by justice, fairness and equity. Every day, we preach patriotism and the need for the citizenry to imbibe ethical reorientation, but have we pondered why a majority of the citizenry are not positively attuned to this national call? Even the National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) scheme was designed primarily to achieve this objective and stimulate the consciousness of our energetic youth to national development.
Contrary to the initial enthusiasm that greeted the scheme, what we have today are youths engaged in service with their body, while their hearts are miles away. The result has been a largely disjointed scheme, barely existing. In the same way, the majority of the citizenry are not responsive to the call to national sacrifice for the simple reason that the leadership does not live by example. How do you expect an average citizen to make sacrifices to national development when the rich are getting richer and the poor poorer?
Can there be development without justice and equality? Millions of Nigerians live from hand to mouth while a percentage few regale in utopia and opulence. The riches of our nation, from every statistical datum available, are concentrated in few hands. And these few nouveaux riches have refused to use what they have expropriated to help the poor and needy. What should any sane person expect from such an unjust society? Anarchy, retrogression and insecurity, of course! Go round the country and the level of injustice and greed that greets you will definitely set your heart on fire.
So much wickedness, so much avarice! Why have our leaders, especially the present-day ones, hardened their hearts to the cries of the teeming millions that do not have Abraham as their father? For you to achieve anything in Nigeria, you must have a powerful man or woman behind you. Nothing again is achieved on merit. Our national consciousness has been assaulted to a level that we have literally collectively lost our humanity. Many of us behave as if there is no blood flowing in our veins any longer.
All the social ills that afflict us today are products of this loss of national pride. There is embargo on employment in almost every state of the federation. It was only last week that the Imo State Government lifted its own embargo. I wonder if it will work. This is how many others see the whole thing. Their pessimism arises from the sordid experience of the past, where government promised many goodies and reneged. It seems as if the embargo has become a permanent feature of our national life.
Despite the embargo, our universities and colleges of education have continued to churn out new graduates, thereby worsening an already precarious situation. For anybody to secure a job anywhere in Nigeria is akin to the proverbial camel passing through the eye of a needle, unless you have a highly-placed or well-connected person behind you. Federal civil service jobs are shared by the top echelon of the power cadre, making it impossible for those truly qualified to be employed.
The same situation applies to award of scholarships. Were we all not witnesses to the scrambling for national honours by the high and mighty in this year’s exercise? Undeniably, many of the awardees did not merit to be listed, yet they got the choicest slots. Ask some of them to point to a single achievement that has had a measurable impact on the lives of the people, and the answer you get will blow your mind. The national honour has been hijacked by selfish, mindless persons that place personal interests above national pride.
They do not care about the negative impact their ignoble attitude would have on our image abroad. All they are interested in is to patronize their friends and paymasters to the detriment of our global character. The award event is always like a market-place, because of the large number of persons conferred with unmerited national honours. To me, the only award that still commands respect is the Nigerian National Merit Award (NNMA) given to distinguished academics. The award ceremony holds every first Thursday of December. I watched this year’s event and was greatly lifted.
Why can’t we make the criteria for the award of the National Honours Award as stringent as the NNMA? If tighter measures are introduced, I doubt if more than 20 persons will be qualified, instead of the over 300 we had this year. The lack of political sanity and development is also traceable to the absence of respect for human life and dignity. Many see politics as a do-or-die affair and carry their overbearing influence to extreme levels. This grab-grab attitude has indirectly influenced the way elections are held to feel vacant positions in town unions and Student Union Governments.
In the process, some people are either killed or maimed. Gradually, we are losing our sanity and very soon it will get out of hands. When will political contests be healthy and friendly in our clime? When will only credible and God-fearing individuals throw themselves up for elective offices? This brings us to the issue of emoluments for political office holders.
What political office holders currently earn every year is so outrageous that it is affecting very negatively the GDP. It was no wonder the governor of Central Bank of Nigeria, Mallam Sanusi Lamido Sanusi, was compelled to call for downsizing of the civil service across the nation. Even though his call has been greeted with acerbic reactions from the public, it did not diminish the inherent implication of the call. What probably Sanusi attempted to say was that emoluments of public officers should be drastically cut down.
I am sure he did not mean the civil service per se. I agree the size of the service could be said to be large, but that is not the issue. The main issue is that the bloated emoluments of public servants have eaten deep into our national resources, to the extent that all that most governments do is to pay salaries, with nothing left for infrastructural development. The civil service, apart from its role in catalyzing development, also helps tremendously in providing employment and livelihood to millions of Nigerians.
Therefore, it is misguiding for anybody to view the civil service strictly from the prism of an employer of labour. Civil service is a globally recognised phenomenon. And ours should not be an exception. Probably, why people like Lamido Sanusi hold civil servants in disdain is because of their lack of adequate training and orientation to make them fit properly into the demands of their jobs. I wish to state point-blank that our nation cannot exist without the civil service, which has been identified as the fulcrum of national development.
What should be done to bring them at par with their contemporaries in Europe and America should be the concern of Lamido and his cohorts. I knew what I meant when I advocated the scrapping of one of the arms of the National Assembly. At present, we have 109 Senators and over 300 members of the House of Representatives. Add their legislative aides and other ancillary staff and you see the larger picture of the waste that goes with the paying of their emoluments. I do not see also why their positions should not be part-time.
Part-time legislators are found all over the world. It reduces cost of governance and the desperation that goes with political contests. Make the legislature a part-time business in Nigeria and see the number and quality of people that will offer themselves for election.
In the interim, I advocate that every legislator –whether at the state or national level – should forfeit his or her one-year salary next year, and the proceeds used for development of specific infrastructure across the nation. When this has been done, thereafter, they should be made to earn only 50% of their emoluments for the remaining part of their tenure.
This is the only way they can show solidarity with the suffering masses. Natural justice demands that our legislators should not be richer than the people they represent. It is sad to see some legislators flaunt their wealth in the midst of the abject poverty that ravages their constituents. There is no justification whatsoever for a legislator to earn more than N1m annually, if he truly wants to serve. It is the largesse that legislators and other political office holders get that makes elections into such offices volatile.
I must not fail to draw attention to the Sovereign Wealth Fund (SWF). The hullabaloo it has generated is traceable to the greed of those opposed to it. As far as I am concerned, there is nothing wrong to save for the rainy day, which must come some day. What shall we do when that day suddenly comes? Many developed economies leverage on the fund for strategic reasons. So, Nigeria as a prominent member of the international community should operate within the permissible premises of global politics and development. I have been left wondering too why poverty should be on the rise when we earn additional revenue from oil. The period between 2009 and 2012 is the boom era. Nigeria has never had it so good.
Why not plough back the huge financial resources accruing from oil to infrastructural development, employment and security? What we need urgently to turn around the wheel of development is to raise men and women of good will who will be ready to forgo their personal comfort and interests for the well being of the nation and its people. We must raise such men and women now to drive the transformational initiative of the government. No matter how beautiful a programme may look on paper, it will fail if the necessary mechanisms were not put in place to drive such a programme.
This was the problem that stalled past initiatives to develop Nigeria. The Buhari/Idiagbon junta attempted it through its War Against Discipline (WAI). The programme helped tremendously in reorienting many Nigerians and arousing their consciousness to their civic responsibilities. Imagine what would have happened if the programme had been allowed to run its full course. At that time, it was a taboo for anybody to urinate in public, deal in illicit drugs, come to work late or engage in any act capable of smearing our national integrity. And things were moving with the required rapidity.
When will the good old days come back? President Jonathan has the inner zeal to re-skew the mentality of most Nigerians towards national service, with little or no attention to self. That is the whole essence of the Transformational Agenda. My worry is that many Nigerians are not keying into it with the expected enthusiasm. Sadly, many of them see it as the ghost of past failed programmes.
I expect the President to use the ongoing constitutional amendment debate to sensitize Nigerians on the need to offer selves voluntarily to national service. He can do this by championing the crusade for public office holders to make personal sacrifices for the good of all.
He should send a proposal to the National Assembly for all elective and appointive officers to donate their one year salary for the provision of social infrastructure across the country. If they really love Nigeria, as they claim, they should make this sacrifice.
If they did, definitely, God will bless and prosper them. This is the best time to demonstrate true statesmanship, patriotism and dignity for the peace, unity, and development of our fatherland.