Friday Discourse (95)
Chasing Our Shadow (2):
The Bad Examples of Yobe, Gombe and Kaduna States
We are starting our discourse today, the continuation of the last, with two examples that illustrates how, if care is not immedi-ately taken, little difference would be achieved out of our present experiment in democracy. The democracy that we all had hands in instituting and practice will be proved by one of our illustrations to be inad-equate in solving the perennial problem of abuse of power; in the other, it is unable, in its present state, to confront corruption.
Our first example comes from Yobe State. The government there has decided to sell government houses to their occupiers. I heard a critic of the administration express-ing the fear that the whole project would be carried out in favour of the ruling APP. He also expressed concern over the rate at which the houses are sold out. He cited the example of the official residence of the Sec-retary to the State Government (SSG) which went for the paltry price of N1.6 million.
What surprised me was that his criticism did not question the aptness of the exercise; rather, it was only concerned with the prob-able bad deal his own party would get in sharing the booty. And when the state com-missioner of works spoke in defence of the government, he was glad to refute the alle-gation by saying that the exercise was not partisan as every occupier was allowed to buy the house he is occupying presently and that the SSG was not sold his whole house but a portion of it that consists “only” of a four bedroom house and a mosque, at N1.6million!
Price apart, what was the rationale of this exercise by the state government? The hon-ourable commissioner gave two reasons: one, that maintaining the houses has become unbearable to government and, two, it is done in consonance with the present trend of deregulation and privatisation.
Candidly, however, an outsider will not help jumping at the conclusion that the deci-sion was wrong and little sense is made out of it. For example, one could as well ask a simple question: would the governor also buy his official residence such that his suc-cessor would have no immediate house to occupy in the state capital in 2003 or 2007? If the governor is preserving his official residence and not auctioning it to himself, then the same should apply to any other of-ficial quarters. Damaturu is young as a state capital. His Excellency, Alhaji Bukar Abba Ibrahim is not its first governor, and I strongly doubt whether he is interested in becoming the last. The same is true with other staff of government. For a government to abandon the future necessity of its offi-cials for nothing better than sheer service of greed is, in my judgement, one of the most irresponsible acts it could commit.
Just as we would not like to witness a day when the successor of His Excellency would be stranded in the city of Damaturu, we would not like to see a single staff un-necessarily subjected to the same hardship after leaving Geidam, Gashua, Nguru or any remote town or village to serve his state in its capital, no matter how low he could be in the hierarchy of power. The America and Britain from whom we borrowed the con-cepts of privatisation are at a different level of infrastructure development. Over the past centuries, their citizens have built millions of houses for the rent. Their housing policy must definitely differ from that of Yobe State. So let us not attempt to run faster than our shadow.
This is a good specimen of a blatant abuse of trust deposited in the hands of poli-ticians, no thanks to democracy. A collusion has effectively been formed between the executive, members of the house that are responsible for checking the excesses of the executive, and the opposition that should serve as the watchdog for the masses outside government. Nothing otherwise could justify the sell of a four bedroom house and a mosque on a plot of land in a state capital for N1.6million.
The President and Mal. Nasiru el-Rufa’i must know that absurd actions like this are the logical conclusions of their IMF/World Bank-commanded privatisation and deregu-lation programs. The programs are set, even when not intended by the President and el-Rufa’i, to rob the country of the assets it has relentlessly laboured to acquire over the past century or so. They are providing politicians throughout the country the immoral license to auction anything that belongs to the pub-lic. By so doing, they have also immobilized themselves of the moral locus to advise any erring politician down the hierarchy of power, for example the Governor of Yobe State.
Yobe may not be the only state in the jamboree. As I was going through this arti-cle for the last time, I was told that other states like Gombe had already done the same and most of the houses were shared among government officials and some busi-nessmen. Of course, who among the workers can pay for a house? In one case, houses have been built for members of the house of assembly of a state. The honourable mem-bers have refused to occupy such houses on the condition that they must be sold to them. This greed knows no bound. As some other states are courting the privatisation bug on housing, we strongly doubt whether our politicians know the true implication of their recklessness.
The truth regarding housing in all the baby states of the federation points to the contrary of the assertions of the honourable commissioner. As I set out to write this piece, I heard the governor of Kebbi State, a peer of Yobe, making public the intention of his government to complete an estate of 250 houses and how, in addition, they are nego-tiating to acquire and complete the aban-doned federal houses in the state. Maintain-ing existing buildings and buying uncom-pleted ones from the Federal Government is the practice today even older states like Bauchi. The poor state of the economy ap-peals for government to sympathize with the conditions of workers, not stripping them naked of the small comfort they enjoy.
With this exercise, Yobe state gov-ernment is effectively telling the world that it does not intend in future to shoulder the ‘burden’ of providing housing to its work-ers. It is an unfortunate development worthy of condemnation by the moderate and emu-lation only by the voracious.
Our next example is the recent volte-face by the Kaduna State governor on the sus-pension of corrupt local government chair-men. Unlike state governors who are free to exercise their powers without any constitu-tional interference from the presidency, local governments in the 1999 and all previous constitutions except that of 1989, are to be supervised by their state governments. This is essential principally to ensure that they do not indulge in financial excesses similar to those of their predecessors in the Second and Third republics. But indulgence is one quality many of them were quick to inherit from their predecessors and master to per-fection. As for the hurdles placed to check them on their corrupt path, there seem to be a competition for who would jump over the highest, at a speed faster than that of his counterparts.
Thus when His Excellency, the Governor of Kaduna State, once suspended the Chair-man of Jama’a local government, it was re-ceived as a delighting signal that heralds the dawn of a new era of prudence in local gov-ernment administration. When he suspended many others afterwards, the confidence bol-stered the more. We thought that Makarfi, as he is shortly called, had set a good example for other governors to follow.
We did not know that politicians should not be given so much confidence because they can squander it on expedience. A dis-appointment was on the way. It now appears that the Governor has engaged forces he cannot adequate contend with, or attempted to stop a practice that does not seriously bother any of his partners in the trade of politics.
Last week, in a speech that was short of signifying the virtue of a pardon and less honourable than the relief of exoneration, the governor announced the reinstatement of ten local government chairmen he earlier suspended. The obvious contradiction was the immediate warning that followed, threat-ening that in future such practices will not be tolerated. This, in my judgement, is a clever way of imputing guilt and glossing with the magnanimity of a pardon that is outside his jurisdiction. Our hopes were thus quickly dashed.
It appears to us, as it has to many observ-ers, that in this case and as in many others happening all over the country, the prudence necessary for survival of the Fourth Repub-lic has been sacrificed for the idol of ta-zarce.
Our optimism has transformed into the misfortune that this ‘pardon’ would be inter-preted, correctly I suppose, as a sign of weakness of state governments to check fi-nancial recklessness of local government chairmen on the one hand and the indis-pensability of such chairmen to the realiza-tion of the tazarce dreams of governors and the President on the other. Both scenarios would only aggravate our wounds of corrup-tions and help shift the post of salvation fur-ther into the unknown, not withstanding the governor’s threat of tackling such problems with resolve in the future.
For the governor to surrender halfway through the battle is one of the most costly blunders in the game of power. The golden rule regarding such conflict is that once you cannot fight a battle to finish, do not start it. Even where defeat is imminent, the pride of leadership demands that the leader re-mains firm on his cause because a withdrawal would only expose leadership to ridicule, insubordination and perpetu-ation, with impunity this time, of the very practice he once set out to stop. We pres-ume that His Excellency did not rush to sus-pend the chairmen initially until after pos-sessing enough incriminating evidence of malpractices that will be considered as “be-yond reasonable doubt” in a court of law.
The dignity of his office demands en-durance and valour on the cause of jus-tice. Nothing else would have brought his victory in 2003 any closer. His name would have also gone into our books on constitu-tional and administrative laws for setting a good example for others to follow. He would have enjoyed the celebrity of a lead-ing case. Now that he has retraced his steps, all is gone – our optimism, the dignity of his office and the opportunity of living exem-plary.
I see the same chain linking the two hap-penings in Yobe and Kaduna States. Democ-racy is on trial, and it does not seem to be getting a good defence from the hands of its present councils, the elected officials at various levels of government, just as it was poorly represented by those of yesterday. While the military could be permitted, by virtue of how they came to power, the pleasure of dictation, politicians fuss over their extravagant display of insensitivity and absentmindedness because they feel, reasonably or otherwise, that they are the ‘true representatives’ of the people. Whose interest are they representing when they auc-tion a plot containing a property of four-bedrooms house and a mosque earlier meant to serve an important dignitary in the position of SSG? Certainly only avarice, not the people, was consulted while discretion and discipline were divorced to the remotest loci of the mind.
I have always made the observation that even the federal government has failed to fulfil its campaign promise. If we had known that the method it would adopt in wiping out inefficiency and corruption in the public sector is privatisation, we would have thought twice before voting Obasanjo to power. However, everything was concealed in a parcel of political rhetoric with a capti-vating glitter outside and a nauseating dull-ness inside. How could we know when the President evaded the presidential debate on the national television on the eve of the elec-tion? After capturing power, we are now faced on the one hand with an advancing titanic of selfishness and the long tentacles of foreign capital that has the notorious reputation of sinking the fortunes of nations into the abyss of servitude and deprivation. At any rate, the problem at any rate would not have been solved because his opponent in the contest was no less pervasive in the belief that IMF and World Bank hold the keys to our economic salvation, as proved by his mediocre architecture of the infamous structural adjustment program in the 1980s when he was the Minister of Finance. That is the irony of democracy in Nigeria today. Nowhere do you find solace as all heads in the political camps bow in submission be-fore the majesty of foreign capital.
This is not the first. The irony is on each occasion, there does not seem to be constitu-tional remedies and administrative structures strong enough to preclude recurrence. It is only after the collapse of democracy that politicians become awake and are disgrace-fully made to concede the disgusting limp-ness of the positions from which the pulled off their absurdities.
The constitutional means of checking one arm of government with another has not proved effective for many reasons. The judi-ciary is, a priori, passive by its accusatorial character and its financial dependence on the executive, of which it has come to be con-sidered an appendage. There is ample evi-dence from the interaction between the legislature and the executive that the most possible scenario is an alliance that will en-able each to have a comfortable seat at the dinner table where delicious dishes of our fortunes are served. Where democracy is to survive, the legislature must remain, with the cooperation of the judiciary, a moderator of the excesses of the executive and its dele-gated authorities. Democracy starts to wither away as soon as a confederation is forged between the executive and the legislature whereby the liberty of mutual patronage provokes the sacrifice of communal interest.
The other obvious option is the ‘oppor-tunity’ that democracy provides citizens to change their leadership in a subsequent elec-tion, if they could afford to wait. However, in a country where money is the means of winning elections and the goal of leadership thereafter, a successor would hardly be bet-ter gifted in prudence than his predecessor. People are often presented with a choice between twin candidates who vary only in their first names, but born out of the same womb of greed, regardless of the party they belong. The wheel of abuses therefore keeps on turning with little succour for the elector-ate, except for the ‘gifts’ they impiously col-lected during elections or the one or two projects done to placate their vision.
Democracy in Nigeria is in pains as a re-sult of its self-inflicted contradictions. It has failed to realize that in governance hardly would vanity of desire for worldly posses-sions take over the exalted stands of pru-dence, altruism and valour.
Last week we promised to present pos-sible suggestions on the way out of our pre-dicament. However, we shall postpone that until another date. Meanwhile, we have nothing to add but to advise our brothers in positions of authority not to be lured by the deceit of cleverness – that they can exploit the contradictions of the constitution to serve their interest, or abuse the privilege of being representatives of the people – into attending to the primordial impulses of greed and disrespect. They should rather respond to the three prerequisites of able leadership: knowledge, virtue and courage.
They are not the same though. We note that among them are some who are doing their best to improve on the condition of their people. May God forgive their mis-takes and reward them abundantly for their selfless service! However, the conduct of the majority attracts an ocean of contempt and only a drop of praise. It is to those that we serve the warning that they will definitely be called to account for every wrong that hap-pened under their leadership in the Here-after. And God, not the constitution, is Wit-ness over all that we do.
I would like to repeat my earlier assertion that governors who have professed Shariah must work harder than anyone else to over-come the evil of their own selves and live exemplary. Shariah demands more from them than from their followers. It is an irony that Yobe State government which, against our advice, had the piety to introduce a dressing code for its female residents, Mus-lims and non-Muslims alike, would allow the absurdity of selling government houses in their young state capital under the pretext of ‘maintenance burden’ to escape its judgement. It is unbecoming, very unbecom-ing, of a shariah governor.
We strongly advise that the decision be rescinded. We are all liable to commit mis-takes as a hadith said, we understand that as human beings. But the best of us, as the hadith says, are those who recapitulate and repent. We hope that next time the compan-ion of such governments would henceforth be reason and the fear of God.
As regards the obvious recklessness go-ing on under their offices and in any local government under their domain, they must remember their oath of office that exacts protection of the constitution. But if the con-stitution would not deserve their obligation, they should remind themselves that what-ever goes noticed but unpunished in this world must be accounted for in the Here-after. As for their return in 2003, I advise that they read our discourse titled “On the Path to Second Term.”
Lastly we did not intend to hurt anyone. Our discourse today is a candid expression of concern coming from an impartial citizen that understands and sympathises with them in their position of enormous responsibility where every decision taken has the capacity to bring both happiness and agony to mil-lions of people. That multiplies the reward as well as the punishment which such deci-sion will attract. An advice after all should only be voluntary taken, as it is voluntary given. If it is taken, the humility is appreci-ated. Otherwise, we must learn to live with the fate of chasing the shadows of material satisfaction and political stability to the grave. That cannot be disputed…
21 July 2001