A Pervasive Culture Of Insanity: Senate SUVs And Nigeria’s Smash-And-Grab Democracy -Tope Fasua

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My hope was that immediately after the new government came, they would ask for people who want to volunteer – work for free or next to nothing. The enthusiasm then was that high. I knew many people who supported the ‪#‎CHANGE who would have done that at the drop of a hat. Let us think back to the heady days when we all felt a sense of satisfaction and great achievement. Perhaps every man and woman on the streets who supported change felt they were partly responsible for the victory at the polls. We had great moments of anxiety and fear. Some – like me – waited in the darkness to vote at 12 midnight, and used whatever resource was available to us on social media to track the votes and broadcast everywhere so that PDP will not spring any surprise.

The views and opinions expressed here are those of Tope Fasua and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of 360Nobs.com.

Remember the days. They seem so far away now. We could never imagine that so soon we would have cause to entertain any complaint. Not from any Nigerian, least of all from those who struggled and took risks within their capacity to ensure that a change in government came to reality. Sometimes I want to just play it all back and remain in those moments of great joy. Those incredible minutes, and hours, the drama of Orubebe and how he was subdued, the fear in the eyes of PDP backers and stalwarts, the anxiety over whether Goodluck Jonathan will concede or not, the rough figures as they tumbled out of states and local governments. I was glued to different TV channels, and newspaper live broadcast. We felt we had finally done the right thing and backed the right horse. We still feel so, in part. Well, one day the story will be told.

Many have forgotten. Sometimes, reality deals such a painful blow the best thing is to revel in fantasy. It helps. For in this instance, it must be said that reality has given birth to a monster. We the people cannot recognise that monster. In fact, we are scared by it.

Nothing indicates and underlines our predicament better than the saga at the Senate. The Senate President, Bukola Saraki is busy answering to his past misdemeanours at the Code of Conduct Tribunal (I wish he would answer to more serious charges of corruption with a proper court or EFCC not this thing that daily looks like a charade). And as if that is not enough, the Senate decides to go ahead with what was rumoured a few months back – the purchase of Sports Utility Vehicles for its members, in a time when government has been telling the people how bad things are, even as they owe workers across the length and breadth of Nigeria. The senators insist that they need their cars, else no work will be done.

Again, let us remember the heady days when we thought we owned this government. Let us remember the amount of sacrifice we were prepared to give for Nigeria. The Senate and House of Representatives, whom we hear has also concluded plans to purchase its own cars (N3.6 billion worth, as reported by Daily Trust of April 19th, 2016), have not wasted time in confirming to Nigerians that governance here is still largely transactional; it is all about what you can grab and run with. If any of us had any illusions of what it is all about, that illusion has now flown outside the window. As it was in 1999, 2003, 2007, 2011, so it is today. Maybe even worse. And we are meant to be under a #CHANGE government? What did we do to deserve this nightmare?

We should have known. When the rumour first filtered out, with the president even mentioning it in his first media chat, Senator Gbenga Ashafa, representing some constituency in Lagos State, among other senators, granted an interview where he stated categorically that they will not be able to work without these luxury cars. He asked if they were to trek in doing their ‘oversight’ work. Someone suggested they buy Coaster buses that can convey several of them, but they scoffed at the belittling idea. Now they have gone ahead, in the middle of this famine in the land, to buy luxury cars for their glory and splendour, each car worth N35 million – or $175,000. Ehmm. Mention this story anywhere in the world today, from the USA to Kathmandu, from Australia to Russia, and people will hit the roof. It is the height of outrage, a totally criminal, unfeeling, disgusting, and outrageous act.

But the Senators have put up their defence. As asinine as it sounds: “others are doing it”, it is worthy of note. Yes, even among presidential advisers, while we were being regaled of the ‘unprecedented’ malfeasance of the Jonathan era, these new people, whom we thought will go there and make sacrifices on behalf of Nigeria, have since settled themselves. Nigeria is kukuma the world’s biggest per capita and perhaps absolute purchaser of sports utility vehicles. In the height of the global recession of 2009/10, Toyota announced in Japan that they could have gone under if not Nigerians purchasing shitloads of their Landcruisers and Prados. Carlos Ghosn’s ears picked that up and pricked like an Alsatian dog, and he headed to Nigeria to start a plant… and produce Nissan Pajero, to take some of the market from Prado at source. We gathered, deceived ourselves and hailed our achievements in ‘industrialisation’. Some of us said it then but who listens?

Pervasive Mental Illness

Nigerians are not corrupt, I have always insisted. A friend recently made a statement that we were all born as thieves, to which I strongly objected. We weren’t born corrupt. But many of us have not attained a certain level of intelligence and altruism, the type you don’t learn in any university in the world, despite our claims to fame and knowledge. Nigerians are exactly as Lugard described them in 1912; many, if not most, of us have no inkling of the results that our actions will bring in the near future to our society. We have no sense of the collective. This translates into bad governance and everything else we see. And like Reuben Abati revealed last week, once you are in government, forget about acting differently, you are one of them, signed into a cult of secrecy and mass robbery of the commonweal.

Nigerians are not corrupt. A correct diagnosis of our situation with these guys in government may reveal other ailments; a mental problem perhaps. Megalomania. Yes, it is a mania. And like nymphomania or kleptomania, it is a disease that can be managed over time, if not cured. It is this hubris, this ego-tripping, that leads to this mad grab for Nigeria’s resources at that level. Describing it as ‘corruption’ befuddles the problem, belittles it, confuses it, and helps us to lose the opportunity of managing or curing it because we haven’t quite identified and isolated the symptoms and causes.

As an aside, other causes of corruption at a lower level include fear: fear of the unknown, of illnesses, of job loss, of being stranded in old age, of debilitating expensive diseases, of shame from not being able to meet obligations to family. There is also corruption that stems from expired cultural pressures. Nigerians easily spend N20 million on each wedding these days, and even more on burials. No one in developed countries spends like that and we are on this same planet! Add to these the fact that if we don’t put devices in place to block people from stealing money, many would because the money is just there for the taking.

But I digress. My concern is: it is only a mad man that acquires what he does not need, and we should really start examining our leaders’ mental capacities for correctness. There are senators that are there for their third or fourth term. Each four years, these guys buy themselves these luxury cars, and the not-so-luxury ones as pool cars. The Nigeria legislature – as well as the executive and even judiciary – looks like some gathering of vultures to despoil the cadaver called Nigeria. So, these people who have been buying these cars, what have they been doing with them? We know our senators and reps are exceedingly rich people – all of them. Why do they need more of these cars?

My former friend Mr., sorry Otunba, Dino Melaye alone has at least 20 luxury cars, ranging from this same Landcruiser to Rolls Royce, en route Bentleys and Ferraris. Please let us beg Jesus Christ to help us ask: what does Dino need another car – worth N35 million at the expense of dying Nigerian paupers – for? How many cars does a sane man need? Why are they doing this to us, and who did we offend?

My heart is broken because the onus to show direction and display that it is a new day, rests squarely on Baba. Without mincing words I don’t think he has done enough in showing example. All his ministers are reveling in the same open display of luxury. Baba has never even mentioned – unlike Obasanjo, Yar’adua and Jonathan – that they should not use sirens. So we find, in an era of #change, that we are still being pursued off the roads and into gutters, by people we elected or appointed to ‘serve’ us; by rows of cars and convoys bought with the people’s blood, sweat and tears!

 

One day the story will be told. Was it not possible for Baba, in the true spirit of #change to have called for volunteers who were ready to do work with him for free or for next to nothing as a way of forcing a change of paradigm? What would have happened if he had laid down the rule of frugality from Day One? Why has he left his flanks open and allowed his traducers to mock him for keeping 9 or is it 10 presidential planes? Why? Were we conned? Was it all a ruse; all that talk that the lives of the poor will change? Ok, if this was how it will be played, why keep asking the poor people for sacrifice and more sacrifice? Who should be doing the sacrificing really? Who did we offend?

My thinking is that no one should aspire near the seat of a senator if they don’t have a functional, serviceable car or two. Desperadoes seeking to get rich from political positions, and without a conscience on whether it cripples the nation or not, cannot be senators, or advisers, or ministers. Politics should not even be a full-time job. And let me say, as someone with a car and another as occasional backup, that these cars start to cough when you park them without use for a few weeks; especially the big SUVs. A friend told me some time back of resuming in this government parastatal to discover that there were cars they had bought for years and were not using. The engine oil had caked in the system and would need major surgery for the cars to resume work. There is no way Dino, my former friend – for he has now progressed to greater heights – can drive all the cars in his garage in a whole month. Now he adds another. Well, we hear some of them have started selling their cars in fire sales, though they deny these.

Let me conclude this by telling us about a place called London. Many of us visit London. Some of the senators have their breakfasts in London, lunch in New York, and dinner in Indonesia when they are on the roll. London has eight million people living within its territory. Its annual budget is over N6 trillion’s equivalent (GBP12 billion). With this budget, the Greater London Authority – being anything like a state government here – takes care of just a few things: it pays its staff, tidies up the environment, does policing and provides subsidised transportation for its people through trains, buses and ferry. The Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, earns 127,000 pounds sterling as salary and another 491,000 pounds from writing articles for newspapers. His taxes per year, is 247,000 pounds. He therefore pays twice his salary as taxes! He seems infinitely satisfied with the 340,000 pounds he is left with and the sacrifice he is making for his city, and country.

He is the governor of London, where our big men rush to for their medicals, tourism, and the education of their children.

Whereas we may not be able to muster the sense of humanity or refinement to fully emulate London – I mean that sense of higher responsibility to society that stems from an apparently higher level of Intelligence Quotient and Emotional Intelligence – it doesn’t seem like we are even trying. Are we learning from those who have progressed ahead of us and invented the wheel already? What new thing is expected of us apart from our willingness to adopt these examples that a freely available. The budget for the Greater London Authority I found online. I am presently on a PhD programme at Walden University USA and this semester we are studying Public Finance Management. I found out that in the US, every level of government prepares and publishes what is known as Comprehensive Annual Financial Reports (CAFR), which is as detailed as any publicly quoted company should be about its financial affairs. The USA, as old a democracy as it is, does not take the people’s money and taxpayers sweat for granted.

But back to this SUV business and the manner in which we shout to the world that we are yet to fully evolve – not as a democracy, but as human beings. Recall Mayor Boris Johnson, and other London Mayors before him. There is a video on Youtube where a reporter accosted Boris on the streets of London and was asking him about #Panamagate. They wanted to know his views but he wasn’t going to give one. The next thing we saw was that he went inside a tube (train) station, tapped in his oyster card like every other passenger, and proceeded into the train to sit like every normal person. If he didn’t find a seat on that day, he would stand in the train and no one will stand up for him to sit because ‘he is doing a fantastic job, his Excellency’.

 

Nigerians! Nigerians!! Nigerians!!! Especially the politicians, and men of power and money; you people are not living right. You are not setting the right examples. You are not preparing a good country for your children unborn. You are living like Neanderthals, or at best, like the corrupt, dirty and decadent Byzantines, who ran Constantinople aground in the Dark Ages – gorging themselves on food, wine, sex and disease, and banishing the acquisition of knowledge. To understand mathematics and science was punishable by death. I laugh when people use the fall of Constantinople to justify some nonsense about Islamic aggressiveness. It was actually the decadence of the so-called Christians of that time that led to the fall of Constantinople. Nigerian politicians and big men are more interested in the Towers and monuments of self-condemnation and abomination they build for themselves. They ignore their environments and watch their people starve. They backslap and gallivant. They look at themselves in the mirror, turn left and right and nod their heads in approval of their prowess. You are merely being foolish, says the Lord.

And so Reuben Abati gave us an insight into how government runs in Nigeria in his recent article ‘Who Governs Nigeria’. Insightful article if ever there was one. He told of how once in you can’t get out; how governance in Nigeria is all about ceremony, fear of the powerful and all that. He asked why Nigerian leaders cannot be ordinary people. He mentioned how prime ministers in Europe still function as part-time lecturers in universities. Before Abati, Segun Adeniyi had documented his experience. Between the two of them, we can see the futility of trying to ‘serve’ in government, at least for now. It’s just not worth it.

So on balance, tell me, between people like the Londoners who prudently conserve and manage N6trillion annually, and assiduously provide public services for their eight million people, and another set of people who go ballistic with the same N6trillion, acquiring everything exotic that moves, at the expense of their 170 million fellow citizens who are falling dead in the street; of heat, hunger, disease, stress and despair, which one will make progress into a glorious tomorrow? Your guess is as good as mine. I know what you will say next, ‘God will do it’. If it was in the days of Moses, he will smite you where you stand!

Lest I forget, let me comment about the bill trying to amend the Code of Conduct Law. I have not joined the frenzy to crucify Saraki. I am not about to. Like I stated above, I want stronger stuff than the Code of Conduct and Asset Declaration. Imagine, in this country people stole N2.3 trillion by falsifying and forging documents to collect oil subsidy. Till date no one is convicted and the cases are growing cold. And then someone brings in the Code of Conduct? Who is fooling who? There are harder, straighter cases we have ignored. Anyway, I believe it is criminal of the Senate to want to bring the CCT/CCB under its purview and supervision. But I think it is equally repugnant for that Court (judiciary) to be under the Executive (Secretary to the Government). I think that is outrageous and must be redressed immediately. More importantly, I support the idea of having timelines. Why would the CCB collect asset declaration forms from people and then go to sleep? Why is it Saraki’s form that was whipped out 13 years after? This stuff stinks, to the extent I don’t care how criminal Saraki is. Where is the tact? The world is watching and laughing at our charade. Let us get serious please. Thanks.

‘Tope Fasua, an Economist, author, blogger and entrepreneur, can be reached at topsyfash@yahoo.com.

The views and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of 360Nobs.com.

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