For Ndigbo, another chance beckons in 2019. Yes, in 2019, Nigeria will go through another election process. After the self-inflicted tragedy of 2015, the coming election should be an opportunity for Igbo to mend or further mar their chances in a Nigeria that is built on multi-ethnic chassis. Will it be a period for Igbo to undo the mistake they did to themselves in 2015, which has worsened their fate? Will Ndigbo use that golden opportunity to make political peace with the rest of Nigeria and most importantly, signify their intent, their readiness, and their suitability to handle the baton in 2023? Or will Ndigbo fail to seize the current and rather make another egregious political miscalculation that will reduce their chances of leading the country in 2023? These are critical questions, whose answers are still whirling in the wind but which, one way or the other, must be answered by how well the Igbo play their card in 2019.
To be clear, Igbo made an egregious mistake in 2015, by packing all their political eggs in one fragile basket. Call it political naivety. Call it political myopia or anything but it was a costly mistake that boomeranged. The ripple effects of that regrettable political mistake resonate in the noisome clanging the Igbo have made their primary business in Nigeria since 2015. That mistake finds expression in a poorly articulated and awfully hatched Biafran utopia, whose contradictions charges fully at the chaotic demand for it. Ndigbo may strive to underplay the effects of the 2015 political mistake but the acrimonious darts and furious allegations of marginalization and dissenting clamors that emanated after the 2015 election show that Igbo is faced with the consequences of its political choice in the last election. As escapist as the Biafra agitation is, Ndigbo must stay in Nigeria and fight it out with other constituent units. Demanding to be given Biafra, with all the inchoate arguments and the real promises of a more conflicting life in the said Biafra, if granted, amounts to a defeatist way of walking away from a problem one inflicted on oneself and which one must confront.
To get what they desire or what belongs to them in Nigeria, Ndigbo must realize that there is no shortcut; there is no room for the self-pity, which had dotted most of their agitations since 2015. There is no room for beggarly appeal. There is no room for the victim mentality the race has stubbornly stuck to. There is no room for the kind of group think Ndigbo have adopted since 2015. Ndigbo must realize that they will make their bed in Nigeria the way they want to lie on it. In politics, power is never given on a platter of gold. It doesn’t come for free. It doesn’t land on your laps just because you have made enough appeal to be pitied by others. It doesn’t come to you because you have made the loudest noise. It doesn’t come to you because you have cried loudest. It is struggled for and the best way to struggle for power is for a race to first, embrace introspection. This is a time the race goes into its inner covens, reviews its moves and strategies so far, tells itself the home truth and adopts new, workable and acceptable strategies to get what it wants.
Sadly, one of the major deficiencies Igbo have is the lack of capacity for introspection. Igbo have not yet fangled out a forum where it looks itself in the mirror and tells itself the truth, no matter how unpalatable it may be. This deficiency has accounted for why any reprobate, miscreant and scoundrel seizes the center stage, with cheap popular mantra and every other person follows. This is the sad stage Igbo are today and this can never elevate the race in any sphere of human endeavor, talk less of politics. Igbo must recreate its society and allow the philosopher-king to assume his rightful place to dictate where and how the society is headed. Igbo must disperse the illiterate rabble that has seized its throne and get for themselves a credible leadership that would not shirk from telling them the unpalatable truth and exile the rabble from the throne to the lowest rung of the society where it belongs. A tail does not wag the dog, as we are seeing in Igboland today.
Next, Igbo must evolve a credible political leadership that is not ruled by selfish and narrow interests and who will not sink the collective ship for its self-interest. This blight has been the singular most portent atrophy that has held Igbo down at present. Those clubs of evergreen political profiteers who have made a life business of making a profit from Ndigbo must be retired. This emergent political leadership must sit down and mobilize the good brains in Igboland to chart a political way forward. No one should be afraid of hearing dissenting opinions on how best to achieve the goals. No one should seek to take the quest to the unthinking mob, believing to reap the aftermath. This is what led Igbo to the political valley it is in today. Whatever political roadmap Ndigbo comes up, en route and beyond 2019 should take full regard that Nigeria is a multi-ethnic and multi-cultural entity so whatever political course must adequately take care of the interests, the fears and the assurances of other ethnic groups. It must, while attending to the Igbo political needs, accommodate the fears and interests of others.
Then, Igbo must follow up by identifying political platforms that will make it practically possible for them to realize their interests and build support for that platform. This, by no means, will amount to outlawing other platforms but rather the concentration of efforts at supporting or building such identified platform. Such platform could be APC, PDP, APGA or any other platform but Ndigbo must ensure they live with the consequences of supporting such platform and living with the aftermaths and not sulk or seek dismemberment because their chosen platform lost in an election. That means more than a narrow perspective will come into play in deciding what platform Igbo need to back to realize their political ambitions in Nigeria.
Based on the choice of platform, which I presume, must be built on future strengths and prospects, Ndigbo should proceed immediately to repair and rebuild damaged bridges with every other ethnic group in Nigeria. Igbo should employ its brightest and best for this task and ensure that no stone is left unturned in cementing the deep crevices that have been carelessly created in the bridge that links Ndigbo and other ethnic groups in Nigeria. The aim is to eliminate mutual suspicion, anger, and acrimony with other Nigerians for the 2019 and subsequent elections. Bridges mended, Ndigbo should look deep enough to get the best Igbo that is not only Igbo enough but trusted by other ethnic groups to steer the Nigerian ship to fruitful anchor and prepare such person for the 2023 presidency.
With the foregoing, Ndigbo can go into the 2019 election with deep conviction that whatever move they make in 2019 will affect the future relationship between Igbo and other Nigerians and of course, prepare the grounds for the long expected Igbo presidency in 2023. Igbo should note that how well they play the 2019 card will determine how they achieve the 2023 goal. If they misuse their cards again in 2019, they must embrace the reality that their 2023 quest for the nation’s presidency will get greatly damaged.
On the other hand, if Igbo elects to approach the 2019 election with the reigning post-2015 election mindset, with the grudge, bitterness and deep-seethed anger they are carrying over from their historical mistake of 2015, then they should be prepared to warm that role longer than 2023. After 2023, they will realize the truth in the saying that power is never surrendered on a platter of gold. One has to work to get the power he dreams of. Again, it is very difficult in Nigeria today to get power while antagonizing or working at cross purpose with the majority of other Nigerians. It is impossible to get power while building a wall of hatred, antagonism, and bitterness. It is impossible to access power while erecting reclusive garrisons around one self. We must open up, reach out to others and generate a pan-country understanding that will tremendously assist us to realize our just political ambition. How we play our cards in 2019 will determine how ready we are for power and Ndigbo must start now to work towards making the very best use of that golden opportunity. Posterity will not spare Ndigbo if they fail again to make use of this golden window.
Biafra? Perish that thought. It is an unrealizable utopia for now.
Peter Claver Oparah
This article was first published in September 2017. The 2019 election has come and gone and the question of Igbo presidency in 2023 has risen to make the re-publication of this article imperative
In The Spotlight
The hailstorm of public condemnation that trailed media reports of the outrageous plan by the National Assembly to spend over N5.5b on imported Sports Utility Vehicle (SUV) has once again appropriately refocused public attention on the contentious issue of the emolument of Nigerian legislators. While Nigeria labors for breath under bureaucratic overweight, corruption, a shaky economy and an Islamic insurgency, the nation has been asphyxiated by the huge of cost of governance, especially the jumbo pay and perks of lawmakers. The disclosure by the ad hoc Welfare Committee of the Ahmad Lawan-led Senate of plans to embark on the purchase is coming barely four years after some senators staked about N6.6b on imported brand new luxury vehicles. It is pathetic that while the average Nigerian buckles under the yoke of poverty; unemployment and the failure of government to discharge its statutory responsibility to the populace, elected lawmakers would have so much leeway on profligacy and the mundane, which the SUV issue represents. The nation’s political leaders need to walk the talk; and must understand that service to the nation demands personal sacrifice devoid of self-aggrandizement.
President Buhari must bring the pressure of his office to bear on these “legislooters” to cancel what unarguably is an insult on the collective sensibilities of Nigerians. This is more so at a time government revenue is said to be dwindling. When juxtaposed with an economy in free-fall; and the rising insecurity and government’s failure to ensure safety of lives and property of Nigerians, the extent of government’s contempt and disdain for its citizens becomes obvious. It is just as well that over 7000 Nigerians have sued the Senate over the unsavory development, and the refusal by the lawmakers to opt for cheaper means of transportation or ploughing the funds into the local automobile industry, thereby preventing such a hefty amount from leaving the economy.
Worse even, the squandermania is a blatant breach of the All Progressives Congress (APC)-led Executive Order Three, which mandated patronage of made in Nigeria goods and services. According to stakeholders expending such a humongous amount of money on cars would further affect investment drive into the country, especially in the automobile sector and leave wrong signals for public servants at a time that concerns are being expressed against the high cost of governance in the country especially at a time that government is relying on borrowing to finance the budget and pay workers’ salaries.
In so many ways, lawmakers conduct themselves as if they were above the law to the detriment of public service ethics. This pathetic phenomenon has bogged down the nation, as lawmakers would rather serve themselves than serve the Nigerian people who elected them. It is unacceptable that Nigerians don’t even know the remuneration package of their lawmakers, let alone explain the source of funds for their conspicuous consumption and ostentatious lifestyles. Even from the little information available, there is nowhere in the world where people who do so little get so much pay. This is not part of the attributes of statesmen; rather it is a huge disservice to the nation.
That Nigeria cannot sustain the high cost of governance is incontrovertible. The planned N5.5bn expenditure is unnecessary, insensitive and a flagrant betrayal of the expectations of Nigerians. While the majority of Nigerians wallow in abject poverty, their elected representatives treat themselves so sumptuously that it rankles. This waste in government and the extravagant lifestyle of state actors, especially legislators, constitute such a drain on the treasury that it is impossible for any country carrying such a burden to make progress. This is further compounded by the annual budget; about 70% of which is appropriated to recurrent expenditure. Indeed, the emerging consensus is that lawmakers and their executive counterparts take so much from public coffers, with no such corresponding policy outcomes as could justify the squander; that it even borders on criminality.
In order to kick start his now comatose slugfest with corruption, President Buhari must reduce the high cost of governance. This was a key campaign promise. He promised to cut his own salary but failed to do so during his first term; he wouldn’t be the first to do so. Late President Yar’Adua cut his by 20% in 2009. French President Francois Hollande cut his by 30% in 2012; US President Barack Obama took a 5% cut in 2013 while Russia’s Vladimir Putin cut his by 10% in 2015. Kenya’s Uhuru Kenyatta had a 20% pay cut. The President honoring his promise to cut his salary might have humbled the present legislators and nudge them into taking similar measures. Unfortunately, with legislators seeing themselves as the repository of sovereignty, and not the people; the desired next level change can only be elusive.
Corruption is one of the main reasons lawmakers have failed to perform their duties creditably and dutifully. Their oversight functions – a crucial part of their legislative duties – has been transformed into avenues for rent-seeking as lawmakers “shake-down” Ministers and Heads of parastatals for bribes during budget and committee hearings. The 7th legislature took this obnoxious practice to asinine levels, and went the distance to settle scores with officials who “refused to play ball.” The legislators fought a long-running battle with SEC chair, Arunma Oteh after she openly accused the Chairman of the House Committee on Capital Market of demanding a bribe from the Commission. This allegation culminated in the arraignment of the committee chairman on corruption charges. There was no love lost as the Reps mounted sustained pressure on President Jonathan to sack her. Not getting their way, the legislators refused to allocate funds to the SEC. Of course, this was blackmail carried too far, which did little credit to the image of the House and that of its members.
Legislative powers in all civilized democracies are not deployed to gratify the ego and whims of the legislature or its members. The last legislature was known to pick on anyone who takes it to task even when there is justification for doing so. For example, former Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) Governor, Lamido Sanusi’s comment on the emolument of lawmakers put him at loggerheads with the legislators. In a brazen show of megalomania ostensibly to teach Sanusi a lesson, the Reps embarked on amending the CBN Act purposely to curtail the powers of its governor, disregarding the fact that Sanusi’s term as governor of the apex bank was near its end. This shows the extent to which the legislators could go to deal with perceived “enemies”.
Nigerian lawmakers remain bitterly opposed to disclosure of their salaries and allowances. Their emoluments have always been shrouded in darkness, like backroom dealings among the Mafia. The authoritative London-based magazine, The Economist, in a recent report, ranked Nigerian lawmakers as the highest paid in the world. The report revealed the annual salary of legislators in several countries, which include USA, $174,000; Ghana, $46,500; Indonesia, $65,800; Thailand, $43,800; India, $11,200; Italy, $182,000; Bangladesh, $4,000; Israel, $114,800; Hong Kong, $130,000; Japan, $149,700; and Singapore, $154,000. The Nigerian federal legislator’s annual earning was put at about $189,000 (N30 million) annually. This amount, scandalous as it may seem, is nothing compared to what they get from the system through other means. The sensibility of the people may be further incensed when the various allowances ostensibly for running their offices which include oversight allowance, recess allowance, wardrobe allowance and the bizarre constituency allowance, among others, are computed.
Nigerian lawmakers are quick to dismiss such figures as not factual, but it is instructive that each of them has always dodged questions about the actual salary and corresponding allowances suggesting that there is something to hide. Legislators are representatives elected by the people to create and pass laws, represent the people who elected them and also do oversight functions. They pass the budget and through the public accounts committee, scrutinize the financial transactions of government and through the approval of the report of auditor-general of the federation. It is an irony that the National Assembly, which ought to be the legislative gendarme of the treasury, has derailed in its function. Instead, it constitutes a drain pipe on the same treasury.
Nigerian legislators have subverted their role of ensuring transparency and accountability in government through self-enrichment and primitive accumulation. Lawmakers draw salaries on first-line charge on the federation account. There is nothing evident in their activities to suggest they are in office to represent the people who elected them and who desire the dividends of democracy. Nigerian legislators have not only lost their moral authority, they also have by their dealings transformed the National Assembly into an infrastructure of corruption. The matter has gone past the caution threshold.
The National Assembly has itself become part of the problem of the nation’s democracy and needs total restructuring. In the developed world where cost of governance is coterminous with concrete deliverables and not on padded emolument of public officers, the US spends 21% of its budget on running the government; Netherlands (47.7%); Sweden, (42.8%) and England (37.8%). Senegal scrapped its Senate in order to free resources for development. In Nigeria’s case, the bi-cameral arrangement is not only expensive and unnecessary, legislative business must be made a part-time activity so that it is only those Nigerians desirous of public service will seek public office. Amidst the abject poverty in the land, Nigerians can no longer tolerate a situation where a legislators feed fat on the commonwealth. The planned expenditure of N5.5bn on cars smack of a massive moral deficit on the part of the Senate President and should be canceled immediately as a sign of respect for the suffering people of this nation. If the NASS hopes to get away with this, it will not get away with the harsh verdict of history.