The Nigerian politician and the fear of tomorrow by Chuks Oluigbo


Cart13OCT-001cThe other day I ran into an old friend and classmate in the university who is now a local government chairman in his home state of Cross River. Just like me, he was in Akure, the Ondo State capital, for the 2013 convention of the Association of Nigerian Authors (ANA). Way back at the University of Nigeria, we belonged together in The Poets’ Quadrangle, an association of budding writers. While I was really surprised that in spite of his deep involvement in politics he still found time to write, I had another bigger concern that I wanted to talk to him about. So, on the sidelines of the closing ceremony/award night of the ANA convention, I cornered him. My question to him flew straight like an arrow: “Why is there so much looting and stealing of public funds going on among Nigeria’s political class?”

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To buttress my point, I told him a joke I read many years ago in one of Daniel A. Offiong’s great books – I think it must have been Globalisation: Post-Neodependency and Poverty in Africa. The joke was about a Nigerian politician and his Chinese friend and counterpart. The Nigerian politician, on a visit to China, marvelled at the kind of luxury his friend lived in and inquired about how his friend made such stupendous wealth. “Well,” the Chinese said, “when funds are released for a project, I execute the project with 90 percent of the funds and keep the remaining 10 percent for myself.” (I guess that must have been in those days before corruption became a capital offence in China.) Many years later, the Chinese as well visited his Nigerian friend and beheld with awe his massive palatial mansion which was almost the size of a village in China, with all its appurtenances. When he asked about the source of wealth, his Nigerian friend informed him that in his own case, he executed projects with only 10 percent of the available funds and kept 90 percent for himself.

After listening to me, my friend had a good laugh and then said to me: “Unfortunately, my friend, that’s the sad truth. Sometimes people even keep the entire project funds to themselves, not even caring to commit 10 percent to the project.”

I didn’t want to go into why nothing is done to those who engage in these sordid acts, leading to so much impunity. So, I asked him what he thought was driving the craze for looting of public funds.

“I think it’s simply the fear of tomorrow,” he told me. “There is so much uncertainty in the country, so everybody wants to pile up so much wealth so that in case of any happenstance, at least their future and that of their children would be guaranteed.”

I admired his honesty, but I also pointed out to him that such thinking among the Nigerian political class was faulty. I made it clear to him that the fear of tomorrow was a universal phenomenon. The future, for the most part, is both unknown and unknowable, in spite of advances in science and technology – for which reason it is viewed, the world over, with both apprehension and trepidation. However, the fear of tomorrow elsewhere in the world has elicited a different kind of reaction. Countries of the world have gone ahead to put in place systems and structures that guarantee that tomorrow’s needs are met – at least within the limits of human capabilities. These countries have made life liveable for everybody – today’s people and tomorrow’s generations, the poor and the rich, leaders and the led, politicians and ordinary people. They have also instituted stringent, enforceable laws that make stealing of public funds less attractive.

In Nigeria, on the contrary, because such systems and structures are not in place, the fear of tomorrow and its uncertainties is driving leaders (and the people as well) into all forms of thievery. And because there are no stringent laws against such acts, the existing ones being observed more in the breach, there is really no incentive not to steal.

While he listened with rapt attention, I painted the following mental picture: Imagine you are an ordinary Nigerian, you have a mortgage that guarantees that you will eventually own the apartment you live in, meaning you can be a homeowner without necessarily having to save for a lifetime in order to buy land and build a house of your own; you have a health insurance that guarantees that you don’t need to bother about hospital bill each time you or any of yours are ill; you have other forms of insurance that mean you don’t have to worry about what happens to you in case of fire outbreak, auto crash, or other happenstance, including death; there is stable power supply so you don’t need a personal generating set that you will be sweating to fuel; there is regular water supply so you don’t have to worry about sinking your own borehole; you have available some form of consumer loan whose repayment is deductable at source with insignificant interest rate; you are sure that the monthly deductions from your pay by your organisation in the name of pension are promptly remitted to the appropriate pension fund administrator and that you will get your money handy in due course whenever retirement or old age knocks, guaranteeing you stress-free ageing process (financially speaking); the roads are good and the rail lines are working and the aircraft plying the nation’s airspace are not potential caskets and the transport system is okay such that a personal car becomes a luxury item rather than a basic necessity; and there are in place systems and structures that ensure that your children after you will also enjoy these same benefits, and much more in response to the changes of their time, what will you be stealing public funds for? What will you be piling up those stolen billions for? What will you even be saving for if not occasional holiday to the Caribbean to see beautiful sights on the beachfronts?

I went further to say that these things have been achieved elsewhere and are therefore achievable in Nigeria. Our leaders just need to eschew greed and selfishness and open their minds to the welfare of the entire citizenry. Trying to safeguard the future of only their children is a cosmetic measure that is bound not to endure for too long. Hassan Kukah, now Catholic Archbishop of Sokoto, said that much to Bamanga Tukur when he was the book reviewer at the launch of Tukur’s book in 2011. Indeed, it often boomerangs. As the saying goes, when the rich eat up the wealth of the nation, the poor will eat the rich.

By the time we went back into the hall to listen to the speech by Olusegun Mimiko, the governor of Ondo State – who, by the way, has been good to ANA, hosting the association twice in four years – my friend told me how touched he was and pledged to make a difference in his own little way. I only hope he would stick to his promise, hoping too that other politicians would take a leaf from him when he does.

Babatunde Akinsola
Babatunde Akinsola
Babatunde Akinsola is aNaija247news' Southwest editor. He's based in Lagos and writes on the Yoruba Nation political issues, news and investigative reports

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