BY DAN ONWUKWE
EVERYWHERE you go these days-at home and abroad-you will likely notice with stunned silence and pain, how Nigeria has become the butt of all jokes, a folder for sustained argument. The topic of discussion is diffuse by its very nature. It is storied on the foreboding state of affairs in the country. It’s our collective agony. You will be despaired. And I am.
You can’t but ask questions: Is this the worst imaginable way to run a government, or govern a country? Or has leadership failed to take responsibility in our country? Being away from this column for forty days (should I add, and forty nights?)did open my eyes to the realities of of our national shame. Within this period, I travelled to many inner cities across the country and beyond our shores.
I wish President GoodLuck Jonathan could undertake a “listening tour” of the country, with a serial notebook in hand with a handful of security aides in case of any surprise attack by government number one public Enemy, Boko Haram. The President would see, to his utter astonishment, a maelstrom of disillusionment in the people. Anger is fast eating deep like acid into the citizenry.
Majority of them are losing faith in the country and the ability of the Federal Government to steer the nation in the right direction, away from the present manifold problems of unemployment, particularly among the youth, high level of corruption and terrible insecurity in the land and spate of high-profile kidnappings. All of this points to a fact that our country may have reached a tipping point, a knife-edge situation where any untoward thing is possible.
All of these challenges require presidential leadership which Jonathan presidency remains suspect. The question remains: can Jonathan’s administration rise above the present timid approach to serious national problems? Rather than tackle problems besetting the nation with clarity of purpose, government approach can be likened to celebrating at a funeral, often living in a walled kingdom of denial and delusion. In a recent visit to Ghana, I met a British diplomat, who spent years in Nigeria. He wryly expressed profound dismay at the steady decline of Nigeria, a nation he described as a land of limitless possibility, a country once at the peak of its influence.
No longer. Today, Nigeria is perceived by many as a “lost civilization”. When a country is described in such uncomplimentary way, one can only strain to understand why a nation so endowed with both human and natural resources has now become a haven of corruption and the den of kidnappers. The answer to how Nigeria came to this present miserable state is found in what historian, Will Durant said of nations in decline.
According to him,” a great civilization is not conquered from without until it has destroyed itself from within”. It’s not unkind to say that most of Nigeria’s problems are self-inflicted. We are our own private enemy. The lack of purposeful leadership makes matters even worse.
Not strange though, the ruling People’s Democratic Party(PDP) is always behaving in an obtuse and unrealistic manner, completely hemmed in by these problems, incapable of finding realistic solution. History will record that Nigeria under PDP has created more jobless youths in 30 years. History will also record that for the first time in more than a decade, Nigeria has remained on the top bracket of the most corrupt nations in the world, according to Transparency International (TI).
Records bear witness that this perhaps one of the worst imaginable ways to run a government. Corruption, as someone noted, has become the “37th state in Nigeria”. When the Governor of the Central Bank(CBN), Mallam Lamido Sanusi decried the high-level of corruption in the country, and went ahead to suggest a sack of 50 percent of the workforce at the Federal level, some called for his head. The truth is that sometimes truth bites. Nigerian leaders always live in denial, refusing to accept the truth.
The truth, as stated by the CBN Governor, is that no country survives for too long where 70 percent of government revenue goes to just the payment of salaries and entitlements of civil servants. What that means mathematically is that for every naira earned,70 kobo is consumed by civil servants. In the same vein, a nation is at risk when its productivity base has been sacrificed for profligate spending. Yet the civil are neck-deep in graft.
I didn’t know the extent of corruption in the public service until lately during my annual vacation. In short, it is a revolving doors that involves the rank and file, from the messenger that carries file, to the top person, in virtually every department.
Three weeks ago, I had accompanied a consultant friend who had done some jobs for a agency in Abuja. For over two years now, he’s yet to paid the contract sum of N7.5 million even when a Payment Voucher(PV) had been raised since Sept 2010. Reason: he is asked to give a bribe of N2m.My friend is in a fix. If he parts with N2m plus 10 VAT & corporate tax, how much remains? My friend got a bank facility to execute the job and interest is mounting on the loan.But none of that would move the corrupt officials as my friend was reminded that same applies in all government ministries, Depts and agencies. They are right. My experience at the pension office where I went in respect of my sister’s pension, was even worse. This is what goes on there if you agree to play “ball”.
You agree to meet with their officials at your designated bank. This is how the deal is done. If, for instance, your gratuity is N200,000,they pad it to, say, five times the actual amount. What is your gain in the deal? If you are lucky, you receive double(that is N300,000)and N7000,000 goes to the pension officials. This fraud, I found to my chagrin, is known to the bank officials.
It was then I began to understand the monumental fraud in the nation’ pension scheme and why the man who was tasked to uncover the scam may have compromised himself. The truth is that corruption in the public service, together with the present insecurity, are enough to put Nigeria in mortal danger. This is why the inglorious profile of Nigeria as one of the worst corrupt nation by Transparency International speaks volumes about the reputation of Nigeria before the world.
Nigerians who travel abroad and pass through international airports will confirm that TI was not wrong in its recent report of corruption perception index on Nigeria on public-sector corruption. In previous reports, the anti-graft watchdog has warned about the pervasive reality of corruption in Nigeria. Though no country is immune to the perils of corruption, Nigeria’ agony is getting more excruciating every year. As TI captures the agony,” corruption is the abuse of entrusted power for private gain. It hurts everyone whose life ,livelihood or happiness depends on the integrity of people in a position of authority”.
All of these unsavoury developments speak volumes of the poor governance record in Nigeria at the three tiers of government. For two consecutive years for instance, the Mo Ibrahim African Foundation has returned a damning verdict on the state of affairs in Nigeria. In the same vein, major global economic and financial rating agencies like Fitch as well as Standard & Poor have rated our economic outlook as very vulnerable. All this ought to be something of major concern to government but like the ostrich, government continues to live in denial and its officials prefer to stonewall on the issues that really should engage government attention.
As long as government at all level fail to see leadership and governance as public service rather than a veritable means to feather their own nests so long will Nigeria’s lamentations continue. As the draws to a close, we might be consoled by the claim by President Jonathan that 2013 will be a year he will make amends and be “praised”. Talk is always cheap. It is only on performance that elected officials are assessed. The plain truth remains that hope is fast fading in Nigeria.