The Unbearable Cost Of Political Foolishness By Okey Ndibe

I have written before about the profound pain that attaches to the vocation of commenting regularly on Nigeria. I wake up each day hoping, nay praying, that those who occupy the spaces of “leadership” in Nigeria would not sink to new levels of political foolishness. Sadly, all too frequently, one’s prayers are dashed. Nigeria’s leaders possess the genius of inventing new records in irresponsibility, thoughtlessness and craven greed.

For a year now, the vast majority of Nigerians have come under the heels of a harshening economic climate. Sharp drops in oil revenues have meant drastic cuts in allocations to all levels of government. Close to thirty states have become delinquent in paying public sector employees. The worst offenders owe their workers for several months.

Nigeria’s private sector has witnessed significant, even devastating, revenue shrinkage as well. Many small businesses that critically depend on foreign exchange have been tossed higgledy-piggledy by a meteoric rise in the value of the dollar. Unable to afford the ever-soaring dollar, many of these small businesses have laid off staff or closed shop altogether. Many others are tottering on the edge, terribly unsure of the immediate future, uncertain of their ability to hold on beyond any given day. Big businesses, including banks and oil companies, are not immune from the effects of the economic downturn. They have shed jobs. In the face of rising militancy in the Niger Delta, several oil companies have scaled back production. For the first time in several decades, even Nigeria’s wealthy class, habituated to conspicuous consumption, has been chastened.

Dare we talk about the 70 percent of Nigerians who, day after day, hang on for dear life on the lowest rungs of the social and economic ladder? For them—it can be imagined—life has become more brutish, more nasty, and shorter.

Yet, you would not guess, looking at Nigeria’s political “leaders,” that anything was amiss. There is little or no evidence that those who “rule” Nigeria realize what time it is for the rest of the country. You might think that these office holders would spend each waking hour contemplating how to bring the country out of the doldrums, how to halt the galloping rate of job losses, how to strengthen the country’s economic foundations in order to lift Nigerians to higher standards of life.

No! Many members of the country’s political elite remain as contemptible and self-absorbed as ever. They continue to splash on themselves, to maintain lifestyles that are not merely lavish—but obscenely, mindlessly so. President Muhammadu Buhari spent more than a week in the UK ostensibly to treat an ear infection. This, despite the fact that he and a few officials have near-exclusive use of the most generously funded clinic in all of Nigeria.

Most governors are doing their best to keep up. Each month, they still cart away hundreds of millions of naira in so-called “security votes,” a phrase that’s become a code for slush funds. How about lawmakers at the national and state levels? These men and women, who are often derided as legislooters, continue to earn that awful sobriquet. They have never seen a privilege or perk they didn’t covet or claim. Elsewhere in the world, where politicians take their work seriously, legislators see their constitutional role as that of using the instrument of lawmaking to identify and address issues that bear on the well being of citizens. In these wholesome settings, legislators view themselves as involved in the task of transforming their nations, building viable and thriving communities of shared ideals.

Such concepts as “ideal,” “nation-building” and “development” are foreign to the constitution of many a Nigerian lawmaker. Indifferent to their country’s economic misfortunes, Nigeria’s alleged lawmakers have found no reason to slow down on their eating ways. They would never contemplate checking their gluttony. Instead, their hawk-eyes are roving, scouting for new preferment, novel entitlements, and fresh privileges.

And as they look, they find. A headline in last Sunday’s edition of the Punch newspaper told a story of spoilt-rotten legislators who must envision themselves as deities. It read, “Senators demand life pension, immunity for Saraki, Dogara, others”.

The report began: “Some senators on Saturday demanded immunity and life pension for presiding officers of the National Assembly after their tenure in office.

“They made the proposals at a-two day retreat on Constitution Review organized by the Senate Ad Hoc Committee on Constitution Review in Lagos, the News Agency of Nigeria reports.

“The retreat was tagged, ‘Towards Ensuring Governance Accountability in Nigerian federalism.’

“According to them, presiding officers, who should enjoy life pension, are President of the Senate, Deputy President of Senate, Speaker of the House of Representatives and Deputy Speaker of House of Representatives.

“The lawmakers also said the presiding officers in the legislature ought to enjoy immunity since the executive and judiciary are enjoying it.

“The Deputy President of the Senate, Sen. Ike Ekweremadu, spoke in favor of the proposal for the pension.”

The reasoning in the legislators’ recommendation is—let’s not mince words—wacky. It’s a case of some fools who found themselves, as a result of the grotesque nature of Nigerian politicians, at the helm of Nigeria’s legislative business. No fabulist could have invented the men and women who waste their country’s time and resources on such farcical thinking. Nigerian senators engage in a comical type of self-inflation, addressing each other as “Distinguished Senator This & That”.

To tell the truth, their recommendations bespeak distinguished and grand foolishness. They spoke in form: as men and women who have lost every sense of shame, irony, and proportion. Forget a sense of responsibility or history. Most of the occupants of legislative seats in Nigeria can neither spell responsibility nor recognize a historical moment if it thumped them on the nose.

Times are bleak in Nigeria. Yet, Nigerian senators who gathered to think about the subject of “governance accountability in Nigerian federalism” could not see beyond their noses. Their first and last order of business had to be to protect their own who may have committed grave crimes. For them, Nigerian governance is reducible to legislators’ comfort. Governance is the same thing as legislators’ privilege. It is about more seizing more comfort for themselves and their cohorts, never about the millions of Nigerians who make do without the barest comforts of life.

According to the Punch, “Sen. Stella Oduah (PDP-Anambra) also said there was no reason why legislators should not enjoy such benefits when other arms of government enjoyed it…‘The executive enjoy it. Let us stand by our leaders. They should enjoy this benefit.”

Yes, the word is “enjoy,” never work, never responsibility, never commitment to something outside of their pockets! Nigerians should hand the red card to this form of senatorial folly. The cost of this manner of foolishness is unbearable.

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