New Telegraph

February 26, 2024

As Politicians’ Shameless Squandermania Continues

The locusts pillaged our common harvests and blessed us with a thousand seasons of famine and fear. “They married power with pleasure, with the bride- sisters of indiscipline in full attendance –-Ayo Oyoze Baje (Excerpt from the poem titled:’The Question’, Nigerian Herald,1984)

My dear reader, how do you feel as a concerned Nigerian, and a writer as such, if the critical issue of maladministration, characterized by crass corruption in high places, impunity, unjustifiable jumbo pay packages for political office holders in the midst of mass poverty, that you wrote and warned about over four decades ago keep rearing their ugly heads as at this day? Sad, of course! For instance, back in 2005 yours truly had an opinion essay titled: ‘The Colours of Corruption ‘ published by ‘The Integrity Magazine’ of London.

It was written then in response to the fear raised by one Nicoletta Battini, an IMF expert who was shocked to the state of utter disbelief about the graphic contrast between Nigeria’s wan- ton wealth of the conscienceless political elite and mass poverty of millions of helpless citizens. It was the worst Human Development Index HDI of all the countries’ economic spectrum he had ever studied. He was aghast that the inflation rate stood at 17% and projected that it could escalate to 22% in a few years. Now, it is much worse, hovering between 27% with a food inflation of about 30%.

Lest we forget, in 2004, a year before Battini raised the alarm there was a United Nations Report about Nigerian politicians stashing a whopping $107 billion out there in foreign vaults. The UNIDO Report singled out Nigeria as the country with the worst case scenario of capital flight in the world. Fast forward to December, 2011 some 12 years ago. Back then, my article was titled:’ Our politicians’ shameless squandermania’. The concern then was the report in the ‘Sunday Sun’ of December 11, 2011 with the caption: ‘Nigerian leaders paint Dubai red’. It did mention how a former military administrator, who later became an ambassador owned a 35-storey tower, named after him.

And of course, it also touched on the lavishly stupendous lifestyle of the filthy rich and corrupt political elite who celebrate weddings and birthdays of their children, with guests flown from Nigeria to enjoy colourful receptions at the Amani Club, atop the 159-storey Burj Khalifa hotel there in Dubai. Though Prof. Itse Sagay, stated then with utter disgust that:” The Fourth Republic has recently brought into power, gangsters. They have raped the economy. They have raped the people.They have completely taken over everything and left us destitute, wretched and hungry”, is the situation any better as at today? The answer is as obvious as the wavy lines on the palms of your hands.

Only recently, the mass media was awash with the steamy news item that the Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) is saying an emphatic “no!” to the budget proposal made by the Minister of the Federal Capital Authority, Nyesome Wike. His aim is to spend (or do we consider it, squander) a mouth- watering sum of N15 billion to construct a ‘befitting residence ‘ for Vice President Kashim Shettima. SERAP has stated in unequivocal terms that the National Assembly should not kowtow to the weird wishes of the self-serving political elite.

Indeed, it is calling on the Senate President, Godswill Akpabio to outrightly reject the proposal. According to its Deputy Director, Kolawole Oluwadare: “The National Assembly cannot continue to fail to fulfill its oversight functions. The Senate must assert and demonstrate its independence by checking and rejecting all wasteful and unnecessary spending by the executive”. While in a similar vein, Peter Obi, the presidential candidate of the Labour Party, (LP) in the 2023 election described the proposal as “shocking and disheartening ” adding that”99 percent of Nigerians can only dream of living even in the current official residence of the Vice President,” Shettima on his part, considered the views of those opposing it as “warped opinions”! That is Nigeria for you.

But how do you, as a people- friendly Nigerian politician stand on any moral ground to justify the profligacy at a trying time such as this? How do you accept the payment of humongous salary package at a time 133 million citizens are so multidimensionally poor that they can hardly afford one square meal a day? How do you go to sleep in peace at this moment that the federal government is to spend N8.25 trillion, an equivalent of 30% of the 2024 budget of N27.5 trillion on debt servicing? Certainly, this obnoxious, conscienceless and cruel spending spree on the part of the political leaders must stop!

Yes, it must. In fact, the painful part is that of the preventable poverty of a people living in the midst of plenty natural resources. In 2018 ‘The Economist’ magazine of London, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank, all expressed concern over the jumbo pay packages of our legislators. In specific terms, they stated that with the basic salary of $189,500 per annum it was ranked as one of the highest in the world and 52 times what their counterparts in Kenya were being paid. It was also equated to 116 times the Gross Domestic Product, (GDP) per person,at $1,600.

Though the Chairman, senate Committee on Information and Media,Eyinnaya Abaribe rubbished the report as incorrect, the Revenue Mobilisation Allocation and Fiscal Commission (RMAFC) had no reason to castigate another report in 2010 when it was revealed that 17,474 political office holders were setting the country’s economy back by N1.13 trillion annually. Unfortunately, as at 2023, members of the 10th Assembly feel no sense of remorse whatsoever with each driving home with N160 mil- lion SUV along pothole-riddled roads. And that is because they paid millions in naira to get their nomination forms and do not care a hoot if 71 million citizens stew on in extreme poverty!

As Hillary Clinton rightly warned in 2005: “The most immediate source of disconnect between Nigeria’s wealth and poverty is a failure of government at the federal,state and local levels. Lack of transparency and accountability has eroded legitimacy of government.” As she highlighted back then, this situation has contributed to the rise of the groups that embrace violence and reject authority of the state. Currently,millions of Nigerians are hungry and therefore angry, worsened of course by the cruel removal of the fuel subsidy by President Ahmed Tinubu, without considering the serious implications on their quality of life.

One’s piece of candid advice this time around is for our political leaders to lead by example by making the needed sacrifices. They should humble themselves to wear the tattered shoes of the common man and feel their pains, because patience and endurance have their elasticity limits.

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