ColumnsDuro Onabule

Burden of governance (especially) in Nigeria

In any society, governance is a difficult, very demanding and yet thankless business.And when that country is Nigeria, the magnitude of the problem is better imagined. In such circumstances, there should be no enthusiasm for governance, which ironically is deemed a do-or-die affair.  The violence, which featured in the 2015 elections in many states is a case in point.

Criticisms are inevitable and acceptable part of governance, lest those in power sleep-walk into complacency. Even then, the standard in Nigeria is mostly ridiculous. It is a futile exercise unleashed first on President Olusegun Obasanjo for allegedly junketing round the world. Foreign trips were compelling for Obasanjo because Nigeria had just emerged from prolonged military rule and potentially helpful nations had to be acquainted with Nigeria’s new situation. Obasanjo had foreign ministers – Sule Lamido (later governor of Jigawa State) succeeded by among others, Ngozi-Okonojo-Iweala. Did that stop Obasanjo from foreign trips?

These foreign trips are even more compelling for President Muhammadu Buhari, who, unlike Obasanjo inherited at least two major problems of concern to international community – corruption and Boko Haram insecurity. Boko Haram was recently listed as the most vicious insurgency in modern day world. Who, therefore, is best placed to assure the outside world of measures being or already taken to contain Boko Haram than the President of the Federal Republic?

Proceeds of corruption in Nigeria had been traced to and confirmed by major continents in the world with the hope of getting the looted funds repatriated. Without such amount or, at least, substantial part of it, how does Nigeria embark on any economic recovery? Should Buhari sit inside Aso Rock and expect to be taken seriously?

On the international scene, if leaders of United States, Britain, France,Russia, Iran, Germany, India China and others attend annual or special sessions of United Nations, why not Nigerian president? Occasionally, Nigeria hosts meetings of Economic Commission of West African States (ECOWAS), Commonwealth Heads of States and Governments, African Union or State visits of foreign leaders, foreign heads of states and governments consider it inevitable and scramble to ensure attendance as a mark of recognition of Nigeria’s standing in world politics. If, therefore, such countries, in return host similar meetings and invite Nigeria, why should our president be absent?

By the way, virtually every state or official visit, especially to Nigeria, is reciprocated with an invitation or a similar visit abroad. Such invitations are neither turned down nor passed on to the foreign minister.

Later this year, Britain’s Queen Elizabeth will celebrate her 90th year birthday and world leaders, especially of Commonwealth countries of which Queen Elizabeth is the nominal head, will be invited. Nigeria has to be represented at the highest level. Among the guests will be Canada’s new Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau. The gathering will offer the Canadian leader the opportunity to meet his Nigerian counterpart, an event at which mutual invitations for official/state visit could be issued.

Since the past few years, Nigeria, as well as about three other African countries, has been aspiring for permanent membership of United Nations Security Council earmarked for an African Country. Nigeria, with a sit-at-home president can never attain such  aspiration. In any case, whether such aspiration will succeed or not, foreign visits by a Nigerian president will always offer opportunities for direct face to face lobbying.

One other burden of governance is the untenable criticism that government policies are being disclosed abroad during Buhari’s visits. Policies? Not exactly. Instead, what so far, is regularly dished out is ordinary latest information on events at home, to which Nigerians abroad are entitled. Even if it was policy, what was such policy that had not earlier been announced here in Nigeria and long before Buhari commenced foreign trips? President Buhari set up the Ahmed Joda panel to look into the government’s financial situation, moreso as the out-going administration was alleged not to mention anything on that score in its handover note. In his comment on the reports here in Nigeria, President Buhari described the findings as “mind-boggling.” What, therefore, could be new or government policy, if, during his American visit, he was asked by a Nigerian citizen what really was the correct financial situation and he (Buhari) repeated his earlier observation in Nigeria? The only addition Buhari made was that from what he discovered within a few weeks after taking office, his earlier assessment of Nigeria’s financial situation as “mind goggling” was an understatement.

Current report of EFCC’s investigations into allegations of misappropriated public funds confirm the information Buhari gave in Washington, United States to the Nigerian questioner. It must be noted that EFCC is yet to investigate the key government agencies, which are the real goldmines of the Nigerian federation. That Nigerian Armed forces had at least seventy different accounts or that NNPC had not less than forty bank accounts or that big megidas at Central Bank were major owners of Bureaux de change to where they were diverting Nigeria’s limited foreign exchanges, information of which Buhari gave to Nigerians inBritain?

The entire information was known to everybody in Nigeria before Buhari travelled abroad.  It was not without reason that single treasury account was compelled for various sources of federal government revenue. This particular decision was taken in the early days of the administration and before Buhari travelled abroad. If, therefore, Nigerians resident abroad raised issues during his visit, it was only logical that Buhari should explain reasons.

Similarly, Central Bank’s policy of allocating foreign exchange every week to Bureaux de Change operators was scrapped because of the apparent abuse. That was a policy announced in Nigeria and ordinarily explained to inquisitive fellow citizens abroad.

Overzealousness, if not mischief of the elite, is what government has to put up with.  However,  on the pressing issue of burden of governance, the executive must not allow itself to be bogged down or indeed be discredited by crude exploitation of the principle of Separation of Powers, a principle which cannot justify financial misconduct of supposed representatives of the people while innocent Nigerians groan under ever increasing hardship.

Buhari, at least, according to his lamentation, inherited a virtually empty treasury, a situation in which innocent Nigerians were demanded to prepare for huge sacrifice. A bad taste of such sacrifice was the recent rise of forty-five per cent in the tariff of power supply. Nowhere in the democratic world would ordinary citizens be subjected to such a huge hike while National assembly members are pampered with opulent provocative lifestyle. On the other side of society are prevailing poverty, unemployment, insecurity and ever rising cost of living.

Separation of powers? Yes but whatever  consequent financial recklessness by selfish National Assembly members would still be blamed on the executive. The most irritating aspect is the complete lack of information on the cost of maintaining members of National Assembly. There was the initial report of proposed new official residences for the Senate President and Speaker of House of Representatives. Both were lately quoted to have rejected the white elephant projects, which would have cost over one hundred billion naira.

Who proposed the construction of new official quarters for the Senate President and Speaker of House of Representatives in the first place? What happened to the official quarters of their predecessors? Must Nigeria be constructing new official quarters for every Senate President and Speaker of House of Representatives, only to sell such edifices to the occupants at give away prices? If Aso Rock had been similarly sold to a previous Nigerian head of state, how many of such would have been constructed by now?

President Buhari cannot escape responsibility for public disquiet in the matter of new vehicles for members of National Assembly. What really is the position? Have the vehicles been bought or not? Nigerians being asked to make sacrifice for the current economic disaster have a right to know. When picked up on the matter during his initial press chat, Buhari initially poopooed the very idea by claiming that he doesn’t have such money (with which to buy such luxurious vehicles for National Assembly members).

If National Assembly members led by Bukola Saraki, have commenced, rather clandestinely, buying the vehicles, the conclusion is that either President Buhari is  unaware of the recklessness of National Assembly members or he (Buhari)  misled Nigerians in his claim that there was no money for such luxury. Meanwhile, from where was the money with which the vehicles were bought? From the same budget Buhari presented to Nigerians? Or from the budget National Assembly prepared and passed for itself all in the name of Separation of Powers? Or burden of governance?

Does the same burden of governance inhibit Nigerians from the legitimate information on the remuneration of National Assembly members? Buhari must take the immediate necessary step to let us know the facts. In the absence of such, various figures are bandied about. Two hundred million, four hundred million or three hundred million naira annually for each member of National Assembly?

All too often, Nigerians are deceived with the falsehood of reduction of twenty per cent of the salaries of  members of National Assembly. The chunk of the earnings of National Assembly members is deliberately hidden in their hideous allowances, which are never touched by any reduction. Such dubious and questionable allowances are for newspapers, clothings, accommodation, vehicle and, wait for it, constituency projects, all totalling hundreds of millions of naira for each member.  How many of National Assembly members read newspapers? Generally, Nigerians have poor reading ability.

President Buhari will do himself and Nigerians a great favour by disclosing the annual gross earnings of each member of National Assembly, unless he does not know how much. In which case, Buhari does not have to wait till he is confronted by Nigerians abroad during his numerous visits. He will then be faulted for disclosing such information abroad, admittedly legitimately.

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