By Olusegun Adeniyi
Against the background that there is no fresh recruitment in the already over-bloated civil service—at both federal and states—where salaries are no longer guaranteed and at a period most of the private companies are downsizing as a result of the harsh operating environment, it is no surprise that many Nigerians are now looking for the easy way out of their economic challenge. That perhaps explains why there are more people seeking political offices than at any other period in our history, going by the list of those contesting the 2019 general election across the country. From presidency to the governorship to the state and national assemblies, hundreds of thousands of Nigerians are now pinning their survival hopes on winning, by hook or crook, elections into public offices.
Even those that are not directly involved are conspiring with politicians to “purchase” their forms in what has become a lucrative enterprise, especially since Nigerian politicians don’t take responsibility for anything, including their own ambitions: They are always being ‘begged by the people’. Instructively, Senator Shehu Sani (who else?) said at the weekend that he was approached by “a group of youth struggling for daily bread” to announce that they bought a nomination form for him as part of the ongoing drama of deceit while another politician offered him pepper spray and handkerchief to rub his face to induce tears that would be attributed to his concerns about “the plight of the masses” while collecting or submitting the nomination form at his party secretariat.
In a milieu where the only thriving industry is politics, all kinds of tricks are being conjured by office seekers though it must be said that Nigerian politics has always been an Abracadabra game: The more you look, the less you see. That perhaps explains why we are in the season of spiritualists and marabouts even when I am inclined to believe that as our democracy progresses, our politicians will also begin to see those charlatans for what they truly are. Afterall, it took Harry Houdini, a famous illusionist who testified before a subcommittee of the United States Congress in February 1926, to expose the futility of “fortune telling” and sorcery to which many American elected officials and politicians were addicted at the period.
However, the real challenge of our politics is the role of godfathers: the political contractors who help people to power as an investment on which they seek bountiful rewards. This is also their season. Not too long ago, I encountered a professional who left to serve his state before getting a rude awakening in politics. From the position of a powerful aide to the governor who eventually completed two terms, he sought to succeed his boss by becoming governor himself. After preliminary consultations, he was directed to go and get the endorsement of a prominent godfather in the state (which I will not disclose to protect my source).
The meeting with the said godfather, according to the man (let me call him Dr X) who recounted the tale to me, started on a convivial note, especially when the first request sounded seemingly harmless, in the circumstance: “You know people like us invest in politicians with the expectation to secure contracts and make money when you people get to your cosy offices…”
That is not too much to ask for, Dr X told the godfather, “after all, as our fathers would say, those who serve in the altar must also eat from the altar.” With that sorted out, the godfather said, “There are a few other things you should understand. The party will pick your running mate and all the members of the State House of Assembly. When you become governor, the party will also pick two thirds of the commissioners with specific portfolios like works, finance, education, health and a few others.”
At this point, it was dawning on Dr X that this “party”, which clearly meant the godfather himself, was determined to run rings around him as governor but having come this far in the negotiation, he decided that it was better he concluded it. Dr X told the godfather that the demands of the “party” were not too much but that they were subject to further negotiations. Then the godfather went back to financial matters. “On contracts, I think you should know that the profit margin has to be 70 percent. Meanwhile, your monthly security votes will also be shared 50-50 with the party.”
To these propositions, Dr X could not hide his anger as he asked the godfather how anybody could possibly offer a 70 percent profit margin for contracts but all he got by way of reply was a mere shrug, a sort of take-it-or-leave it response. All the market analysis made by Dr X made no impression on the godfather. As far as he was concerned, this was not an issue subject to negotiation. From that point, Dr X decided it was pointless arguing as more and more ridiculous demands were made by the godfather. After the list was exhausted and Dr X said he would consider the terms, knowing that no right thinking person would follow such an agreement, the godfather shook his hands warmly and said: “If you agree, we will put everything in writing and both of us will sign.”
This, to Dr X, was carrying the whole thing to a ridiculous level. Assuming he signed, how can anybody enforce such agreement? So, he verbalised his thoughts. “Sir, I know a little bit about law. This sort of agreement is not binding and I cannot sign it. But if I really want to deceive you, I will sign such document because I know that it cannot be enforced anywhere.”
For a while, there was silence before the godfather then offered what Dr X thought was a reassuring statement. “I think you are right. We can then proceed to the last stage which is to take an oath in three shrines, one in each of the three senatorial districts in the state.”
When Dr X expressed shock at this demand, the godfather smiled and asked, “Why do you pretend to be shocked? Did the governor, your friend who sent you to me, not explain these things to you? How do you think he got to office?”
Undaunted, Dr X made a counter offer: “Sir, you are a Muslim and I am a Christian. I can swear with the Bible but if you prefer the Quran, I can also swear by the Quran. In fact, I can swear with both the Bible and the Quran if that will satisfy you. But I won’t go to a shrine.”
Shaking his head, the godfather said neither the Bible nor the Quran would help his cause. The oath had to be taken at shrines. That was where the conversation ended and I can report that Dr X, who is back to his professional calling, did not do a deal with the godfather. But many politicians in our country, including those who give loud testimonies in Church, have at different times succumbed to such deals and diabolical methods to achieve their goal as Dr Reuben Abati explained in his “Brief Manual of Nigerian Politics” on Tuesday.
While we will come back to this issue another day, the lesson is simple: When politics is not driven by a desire for positive change in the lives of ordinary citizens but rather by desperation for power in pursuit of private interest, the godfathers and their collaborators in the occult world will always be in the business of determining who gets what – to our collective detriment as a nation.
Fayose’s Challenge to EFCC
Whatever you may say about Governor Peter Ayodele Fayose, there is no doubting the fact that he has the courage of his convictions, regardless of what those convictions are—and that includes the fact that he does not like this reporter, as he last year told me at a Nigeria Governors Forum session to which I was invited by the Director General, Mr A.B. Okauru. But it doesn’t really matter. On Tuesday, Fayose submitted a letter to the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), pledging to make himself available on October 16 to clarify whatever issues the commission may have with him.
Fayose’s move came against the background that shortly after the result of the June gubernatorial election in Ekiti State—won by the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) candidate, Dr Kayode Fayemi—was announced, there was a gloating statement from the EFCC official Twitter handle: “The parri is over; The cloak of immunity torn apart, and the staff broken. #Ekiti Integrated Poultry Project/Biological Concepts Limited N1.3bn fraud case file dusted off the shelves. See you soon.” Although the statement was deleted after public uproar, it was clear enough evidence that the EFCC had targeted Fayose for the selective justice for which the institution has become notorious.
Meanwhile, I have over the years been very critical of Governor Fayose, especially over the manner in which he has attacked the person of President Muhammadu Buhari, even before the election that brought the man to power. There is a measure of public decency that I expected of the governor which unfortunately he never displayed and most of the things he did and said against Buhari were disrespectful and bordered on hate-mongering. That was why I never spared the governor and the reason he also doesn’t like me, even though I have never lost my sleep over that.
Since it is an open secret that the EFCC is interested in Fayose, whatever may be the motivation, the commission had better put its act together with concrete evidence that they can take to court for a diligent prosecution should they have any case against him. But given what has transpired in the past three years and the Tweet that has already given the game away, there should be no media trial or any attempts at public humiliation of Fayose when he is out of office. A commission whose responsibility is to fight corruption in the public space cannot become a partisan instrument for the blackmail and coercion of opposition politicians in the hands of a government in power.
Anything Can Happen Here!
In the aftermath of the earth tremors that hit Abuja last week, the federal government assured residents of their safety but it is important that Nigerians do not get carried away by all the assertions that our country is immune from earthquakes. We are not. Where such natural disasters are concerned, nations and territories are categorised into high risk, medium risk and low risk. That Nigeria falls into the low risk category does not in any way rule out the possibilities of an earthquake.
In their book, “The Changing Earth: Exploring Geology and Evolution”, James Monroe and Reed Wicander stated very clearly: “No place on earth is immune to earthquakes, but almost 95 % take place in seismic belts corresponding to plate boundaries where plates converge, diverse and slide past each other.”
Therefore, while earthquakes may be unlikely in Nigeria, and my prayer is that we never experience such tragedy, we should dispense with the notion that it is impossible. That explains why we need to change our attitude to occurrences like the Abuja tremors and natural disasters generally. Incidentally, as I write this, at 9PM Wednesday, there are reports that the water level in Lokoja, capital of Kogi State, is rising to a very dangerous level with serious implications for the safety of residents.
As I pointed out in a piece published on this page eight years ago, on 1st September 2011 to be specific, we must be mindful of the forces of nature. Titled ‘It can never happen here’ and published in the wake of the bombing of the United Nations building in Abuja, I consider it very instructive for times like this so the edited version is excerpted below.
First, a confession: I do not own the copyright to today’s headline. It belongs to the late Chike Akabogu, one of the most gifted writers Nigeria has ever produced. He was a member of the defunct National Concord Editorial Board in the late eighties and early nineties. Unfortunately, he died at a very young age. Akabogu once wrote about how Nigerians like to delude themselves that they are different; that bad things that occur elsewhere have no place in our country.
I remember when the wave of terrorism heightened at the beginning of the last decade, it was considered too distant a phenomenon to worry about in Nigeria even when there were explosions at the United States’ embassies in Kenya and Tanzania. When Farouk Muttallab was caught trying to blow up a Delta Airlines flight in December 2009 and the United States’ government wanted to link our nation with terror, we easily wriggled out by claiming that Farouk caught the bug abroad; afterall, he was not schooling in Nigeria. We all took the ugly incident in our strides, believing it could never happen on our shores. Now, the chicken has come home to roost with last Friday bombing of the United Nations head office right here in Abuja. With no place to hide anymore, we can no longer live in denial as a nation: In Nigeria, as in other countries, anything and everything can indeed happen!
The philosophy of ‘it can never happen here’ is actually responsible for the state of our nation today because both the leaders and the led have come to certain conclusions that feed not only the culture of impunity that has become a national ideology but also our state of unpreparedness for any eventuality. Yet for us to develop, we must accept that anything can happen here. For instance, our leaders must accept that the ’Arab Spring’ which has consumed several leaders from Egypt to Tunisia and has now birthed at Muammar Gaddafi’s shores in Libya can happen here. We should also never lose sight of the fact that the road to Mogadishu began with the orgy of violence we have witnessed repeatedly in Jos where no fewer than 20 people were killed with several property destroyed in a renewed hostility last weekend. We should expect that we could have an earthquake, a Tsunami and other tragic occurrences as forces of nature fight everywhere in the world.
As pessimistic as all these may sound, that is the way most serious countries now think by building negative scenarios and working to ensure they do not happen; while also planning towards mitigating such occurrences in the event that they do. But by living in denial of anything and everything, we prevent ourselves from learning useful lessons. That is why we were surprised that we now have suicide bombers in our midst. Because we never came to terms with the fact that if it could happen elsewhere, it can also happen in our country.
However, the tragedy of our nation today is not that we don’t learn from the example of other countries but rather that we don’t learn even from our own experiences. We can use a recent incident to underscore that fact. Just a few weeks ago there was heavy downpour which practically sacked the city of Lagos. Last weekend in Ibadan, we witnessed a far bigger tragedy. If we find it difficult to deal with the simple issue of rainfall and flooding, how can we handle bigger tragedies?
As I write this, I just received a mail from one Mr. Dayo Akinuli which speaks for itself: ‘Please we the residents of Alpha Beach and its environs are appealing to you to help us use your column to sensitise Governor (Babatunde) Fashola and President (Goodluck) Jonathan who came to the Ocean almost two months ago with a promise that everything would be done to make the place habitable. Between then and now, over a thousand residents have packed out. The ocean has gradually found its way into our neighbourhood through Bode Ajakaye street very close to the GLO Building. All these claims can be verified by paying a visit to the beach. We all know the project is beyond what the state government can handle but they must not wait until the ocean sweeps all the residents to the great beyond before they do something.’
The forces of nature and that of terrorism represent the biggest threat facing mankind today yet experience of the past few weeks has shown very clearly that we are ill-prepared to tackle either of these challenges. On the first one, as a former resident of Ajah, I never fail to entertain fear about the vulnerability of the Lekki Axis of Lagos. Not only do we have no capacity to handle emergency in the event that nature strikes along that coast but indeed that we may not even have anything to warn of an impending danger. That explains why somebody must begin to think along that line: Anything can happen here!
NOTE: Need I say more?