The election campaigns and debates in Kenya have been so interesting. It reminds one of perennial issues in the political field of the whole of Africa, Nigerian in particular. The clamour for change in Kenya is so loud, particularly with calls for good governance and responsibility. In the 25th of February 2013 Kenya Presidential debate one of the candidates, Mohammed Abduba Dida, bared his mind as to some of the measures that could be taken to cope with the issue of bad governance and irresponsibility in the country. For him, public officers strive and do all sorts of things possible to get top political posts because they are very lucrative, lucrative than even being in business. Thus it is a rational desire to go after such a venture. No one can doubt this clear logic: to do or spend the barest minimum for maximum profit is one basic principle of business. Dida’s suggestion was to make public remunerations and benefits for such political posts so low as to make it hardly desirable. That way, only individuals with genuine intention to serve and lead the people would ever consider going for such posts. Dida described public positions in Kenya as ridiculously monetized and canvassed that such “madness” be brought down. Now that for me is so interesting, it is very telling and appropriate not only for Kenya, perhaps much more for Nigeria, the supposed giant of the African continent.
The truth of Dida’s assertion that most of our top political leaders are in such positions because of the juice that could be sucked from the same positions is incontrovertible. In the year 2012, with a wave of rising consciousness amongst citizens seeking better governance, the media was awash of news of the ridiculous and excessive salaries and emoluments of Nigerian government officials, particularly the executive. In fact Prof. Itse Sagay had in his lecture delivered on November 5, 2010 actually posited that the Nigerian Senate members and its House of Representative counterparts earn much more than the President of the United States. That is surely ridiculous, but Prof. Itse provided clear statistics to illumine his statement. Now this is just as far as the salaries and emoluments are known. The fringe benefits(which are as a matter of reality are far from that adjective fringe) that a public official, in the Senate for instance, could have from being chairman of this committee, and member of the other committee could bring in even much more than his entire salaries. Of course, another category of self-enrichment by public officials, a category which has its own peculiar genre, is gratification. A telling example out of numerous is the shameful allegation of bribery levelled at the member of the Federal House of Representatives and erstwhile Chairman of the House of Representatives Ad-Hoc Committee on the alleged N1.4Trillion, Farouk Lawan. By the way, it beats one’s imagination that till today this allegation-case which rocked the nation seems to be going the way of several before it: unresolved mysteries. Farouk till today is one of the members of the legislators of the country, living large on tax payers’ sweat and successfully making a caricature of the present administration’s will to truly fight corruption in the highest levels. His excuse that the bribery was only part of an investigative sting-operation remains to be proven. Perhaps it only re-echoes the peoples’ voice that the way forward to fighting the ills of fuel subsidy does not lie primarily in removing the subsidy (even though eventually it would have to be removed/re-worked), but basically in fighting, head-on, the cankerworm – by name public officials – which keeps gulping the wealth of the nation. But we digress. The main issue in discussion is that executive emoluments and salaries in this naturally-endowed but humanly-cursed country precludes right individuals from getting to leadership positions in Nigeria. It overtly commercialises public offices and makes such offices do-or-die positions to be worn at all cost. Shamefully anyway a recent past President has said this is what elections are about: do-or-die.
The clarion call is sounding a high pitch for us in Nigeria to seek a drastic cut in the advantages, emoluments and salaries that public officers and, in particular, political office holders, are rewarded with. To bring down this madness, as Dida would describe it. It is evident that struggles for political offices even till the point of blood-shed shall not stop unless this drastic cut is vigorously effected. And much more, it is equally evident that dubious individuals with unserious characters shall continue to plague our national leadership unless this is done, denying the country of selfless and capable hands to lead her out of the big canyon in which she now painfully lies.
And not to leave the blame only on the door of the greed of these public officials, I equally recall another point that Dida made during that Kenyan Presidential debate. Precisely the fact that leaders from other sectors of the society outside of politics and particularly religious leaders, have a lot to do in this yet-fermenting revolution of best-practice that must be brought to bear on governance. In Nigeria I particularly salute the candid opinions and actions of some religious leaders in bringing about the needed change. The Catholic Church for instance has been at the forefront of a consistent clamour for good governance. It has always reiterated that our problem in Nigeria is not a dearth of people of integrity to lead us, but a blockage of such people from the corridors of power by individuals of less-noble intentions and by a blatant corrupt system. Commendable as these efforts by religious leaders are however, they are yet in want of even more efforts and drive. The current face-off between the Catholic Church and the National office of the Christian Association of Nigeria already speaks volumes as to the non-sufficiency of Christian interventions in proper governance. In simple terms, the Catholic Church has made it obvious that the executives of CAN are doing much more of hobnobbing with the government rather than ensuring best-practices in governance. But much more than the mud-slinging and blame-apportioning, it is now time for religious leaders to mend fences of indifferences and prove their mettle, tilting the public conscience from a grab-what-you-can spirit in public governance towards a spirit of true service and commitment to change.
It is the firm conviction of the writer that to achieve this, we should not wait for the election fever to catch-on later in the year or next year. It should begin right now. The chances of having the right people rule us come 2015 starts right now by ensuring that (1.) Such right people are now identified and encouraged to come forward and (2.) The public conscience is formed and worked upon to accommodate ONLY people with proven pedigree and history. (3.) Leaders of the different spheres of the Nigerian Society, and particularly in the religious circle, need to begin a massive re-orientation of the Nigerian society against this maddening-preference of political candidates based on language, tribe, religion or class rather than on history of performance and clear vision. Enemies of the Nigerian project are already sounding the drums of this maddening-preference even two years before the 2015 election begins. We must be wary of this and work towards eradicating same.
Our submission is that a serious push for true service and leadership in public administration must now be our priority. But to achieve this, leaders of different spheres of the Nigerian society must rise up to the call for change and guide the Nigerian populace to seek that change. We have hungered for too long in a country flowing with milk and honey. The era of visionless and clueless leadership while capable Nigerians mope has to come to an end.