NIGERIANS used to be patient with their leaders until they stopped being patient with them. They used to be enamoured with those in authority until somehow they stopped being so. They used to revere those in power for a long time in the evolution of Nigeria whether they were rulers from the military branch or the ‘professional’ civilian political class, that unit of politicians who have no second address; whose only business is
jostling for elective offices or angling for appointments; and those who treat politics and access to government as easy and quick route to riches.
For many years Nigerians regarded politics and the offices therefrom as necessary and indeed beneficial for the catering or ministering to their needs and the development of the country. It appeared to be so in the first republic between 1960 to 1966. For the southern part of the country in terms of self-government, you can start the count from 1957.
It was recorded then that if the Eastern Region and the Western Region were to be independent countries, they would have been ranked amongst the top 20 economies in the world. Taken in its totality, Nigeria was also at that time projected as the likely beckon of hope for the black race. Until it wasn’t. The politicians faltered. The military pounced. And the rest became history. In spite of the inadequacies of the first republic politicians and the successive military regimes, it has to be acknowledged that many of the infrastructural facilities and other indices of development in the country, even up till today, had been the handiwork of the political leaders and military rulers from 1957-1999. To be sure, there were aberrant regimes in that span of 42 years including the roguish regime of the former Head of State, the late Gen. Sani Abacha. He ruled with iron fist and stole as though money was going out of fashion. The magnitude of his kleptomania can be measured by the fact that almost 30 years after his mysterious death in office, billions of dollars that he and his gang, which included at least one minister in the extant regime, stole and stashed abroad, are still being identified by friendly foreign governments and returned to Nigeria. The regime of the immediate past President, Maj.-Gen. Muhammadu Buhari, who practically swore with his life that Abacha did not steal, was a beneficiary of some of the repatriated Abacha loot.
It appears there has been a different side to Nigerians since the return of civil rule, not really democracy, in 1999. But that new side of Nigerians is confusing. It was a civilian populace that supported the abortion of the alleged attempted bid by former President Olusegun Obasanjo to violate the Constitution and run for a third term. It is a Nigeria where a section of the population allowed itself to be manipulated and misled to ‘occupy Nigeria’ in January 2012 to resist the removal of an alleged petrol subsidy by the administration of former President Goodluck Jonathan. It was also a Nigeria which citizens could not lift a finger while Gen. Buhari ran the country down for eight years. I have repeatedly written in this space for years that Buhari will go down in history as the worst President Nigeria would ever witness but I am not so sure again, not with the recent happenings in the country’s polity and economy and the desecration of its values and moral fabric. So it has been a mixed bag of citizen activism in the last 24 years. Now we have a new prescription for fellow citizens. Our activism ‘don do’. You will be right to say that this position is contrary to the battle cry of ‘our mumu don do’ which is a call on citizens to tackle their governments at all levels. But I am now persuaded that we should allow our local government chairmen or whatever title that they bear given that elections are hardly conducted in that tier of government [774 of them]; our 37 state governors [the Appeal Court and the Supreme Court recently ‘created’ the 37th state]; and the President to breathe. These rulers bear enormous burdens: the burdens of thousands of people in the council areas, millions in the states and hundreds of millions at the national level. It should be acknowledged that the paths to any elective office in our country, no matter how lowly, are paved and strewn with thorns and thistles. Aspirants are rest assured of bruises before they get there. And many do not get there at all no matter how much bruises are inflicted on them. Many die just trying. They also need tons of money in various currencies to even declare their interest for any office. To seriously aspire to the presidency, it is estimated that the candidate would require to devote and spend billions of naira. For governorship, it is said to be in hundreds of millions of naira while a candidate for the lowly council chairman should be ready to part with tens of millions. Among other things, the budget is to empower the campaign council; to build political structure; to oil the campaign machine; to buy votes; to mobilise roughnecks to intimidate opponents who actually are treated as enemies; to suppress votes in the stronghold of your enemies; to snatch ballot boxes; to bribe polling unit officials; and, to induce security agents deployed to election duties.
The politicians who perpetrate the above listed evils prior to, and during elections, are now saints. This year our politicians raised the bar in the ‘sacrifices’ that they make to ensure that they are ‘elected’ to ‘serve’ us. They are no longer content with the ordinary. The budget to get ‘elected’ has ballooned. The determination to win by all means has become even more deadly. The politicians who do some or all of the things we listed above are now classified as apprentice candidates with no vision and capacity. In short, unserious. To win especially at the federal level, you have to start years before the election by ensuring that your men are appointed to key positions in the election management body [EMB] contrary to the law forbidding such appointments; make sure such appointees help you to rig and corrupt the voters register; manipulate the delineation of constituencies; influence the appointments of police commissioners and the deployment of other heads of security agencies to states, among others. Even accomplishing these will be no guarantee that you will be declared the winner of any election, certainly not the presidency. You need to up your game by buying wholesale the EMB which in the case of Nigeria is the ‘Independent’ National Electoral Commission [INEC] and more importantly buy the courts and the judges so that when the bought INEC declares you the winner, you can confidently tell your aggrieved opponents or enemies to ‘go to court’, knowing that the courts are safely in your pocket. Nigerians will be grossly unfair and insensitive to demand anything, including good governance, of any politicians who had gone through this ‘valley of the shadow of death’ to get into office. And any citizen who resists the desire by any successful candidate to recoup his investments or upscale his lifestyle through indulgences and liberties with tax money or proceeds from the sale of crude oil must be wicked to the extreme. The politician has paid his dues and delivered on his promises even before he got into office.
That’s why not a few of us are surprised and amused about the bellyaching by some busybody citizens of how our rulers are gorging, entertaining and lavishing themselves and their cronies with foods and drinks running into billions of naira bought with our commonwealth. It does not matter that they have been in office for about six months. These wailers complain that the vulgar display is in the face of grinding poverty that majority of their subjects contends with daily. The wailers also grumble that gorging on food is not enough for our rulers and so they have upped the ante to voting billions of Naira to buy fragrances, rechargeable lights and fans, exotic vehicles including upmarket SUVs, renovating mansions and expenditures on sundry luxuries. Why not?
In the 1970s, the military regime appointed civilian Administrator of the East Central State, the late Ajie Ukpabi
Asika told those who envied him that ‘onye ube ya ruru ya racha’, which loosely means that you should savour that which a benevolent spirit has afforded you. Poor translation? Yes, because some sayings in our mother tongue cannot be adequately captured by someone like me who speaks English as a second language.
It is my considered submission, therefore, that we should spare a thought for our rulers. They need to feed well to have the energy to attend to the myriad problems, including starvation, afflicting the citizens.
They need rechargeable lamps to stay awake late into the night [they hardly sleep, anyway] to study and articulate solutions to the numerous societal challenges. They require solar-powered fans to stay cool because of poor public electricity supply. They also need to ride in SUVs because our roads are in very poor conditions and are death traps. They need armour-plated or bullet-proof SUVs to protect them from political enemies, armed robbers, ritualists, cultists, kidnappers, insurgents and sundry criminal gangs. And even from citizens who ‘elected’ them. We have to learn that the primary duty of the Nigerian State is the wellbeing and protection of the its ruling and governing elite. They are the state. We lose if we put them in harm’s way. So let us let them breathe.