By Tabia Princewill
Nigerians need to be more discerning. In a country filled with special interests and rapacious individuals who would stop at nothing to safeguard their predatory lifestyles, one must always analyse and think critically about political statements: who benefits?
This should be the question on everyone’s mind whenever any issue is raised in Nigeria. Does the political elite in the South-East truly support the idea of Biafra, of secession, or is the issue of Igbo marginalisation funded, used as propaganda to derail an administration which has made fighting corruption one of its central objectives?
It is interesting to note that under a South-South President, a time which might have been the best to raise and finally address all issues of marginalisation for the South-South and the South East, many politicians of this extraction chose to blindly support their “son” and partake in many of the scandals which have come to define the era. Why did the politicians of Igbo extraction not raise their voices to call for more development in the South East under President Goodluck Jonathan? Why didn’t they speak on behalf of the poor Igbo or Niger Deltan?
“Marginalisation” only becomes a trending issue in Abuja when political appointments don’t seem to favour Igbo politicians. The idea, sadly, has little to do with the average Nigerian. In truth, all Nigerians are marginalised. The well-being of the poor and middle-classes, from the North, to the South, has hardly ever been a political priority. It is therefore all too easy to manipulate sentiments of desperation and hopelessness thus benefiting, yet again, the same selfish politicians who squander their chance at leadership on comforts for themselves and their immediate families alone, rather than acting on behalf of their communities and the country as a whole.
It is ironic that the anti-corruption fight is also viewed through an ethnic lens. Because the past President is from the South-South, any attempts at unveiling corruption which occurred under his watch is viewed as an attack on the entire region and its indigenes which is curious because whatever money left Nigeria’s coffers illegally, as the many cases and corruption allegations which are now in court show, did not serve to develop the region. It landed instead in private pockets. It was easier to participate in the “sharing” of the national cake than to come up with plans to deal with the environmental issues of the South East and the South-South (from erosion to cleaning up oil spills etc.). Nigeria needs a counter-Biafra movement, a counter ethnic-manipulation movement, a truth movement, one which asks real questions of those politicians and their stooges who are suddenly very vocal: where were you when a Niger-Deltan was the President? What did you do for the region then? Besides congratulatory messages and promoting an empty Ijaw agenda which only benefited those in power, what did South-South and South East politicians do to bring development to these regions when they had the chance?
Beyond the Federal Government, greater blame should be laid at the feet of the state governors of the South East and the South-South. Despite the NDDC budgets (in fact, where is the OMPADEC money?) despite derivation, where did all the money go? Who are the contractors if not cronies of these same South-South and South East politicians? Nigerians need to ask real questions rather than hiding behind the spectre of wars which happened before many of those currently agitating were born. Unfortunately, the mind-set in today’s Nigeria, has it that only acts of violence produce results. After all, we only seem to pay attention to people’s demands or suffering in this country once groups turn to violence. When do we get serious?
We mustn’t only demand seriousness from our leaders. We the people need to think deeply and critically about the issues. Our short-sightedness is consistently manipulated by politicians who know exactly what buttons to press to get the right reactions from us. We keep talking about restructuring as if it were some sort of magic wand after which all our ethno-religious problems would suddenly disappear. Our wobbly zoning arrangements hardly allow the best man (or woman) to contest for office, further trapping us in a cycle of corruption, public anger and disappointment when the “son of the soil” doesn’t develop his region (or the rest of the country for that matter) because he never proved he had the intellectual capability or ideas necessary to come up with a real blueprint for progress.
We are yet to honestly answer the question of what truly went wrong with our regional system of governance, before the military coups. It was, in part, the inefficacy of those in power, their greed and corruption which served to justify the coup culture. What would be different if we returned to the regions of old? Wouldn’t it be the same crop of politicians we currently complain about who’d be up for elections? Let’s not deceive ourselves, they wouldn’t perform any better. We’ve heard all the arguments about “feeding bottle federalism” and encouraging competition between the regions and I’ve written quite a lot about them in previous articles available online.
The truth is, if not for corruption, which Nigerians, both rich and poor have curiously defended by shielding their ethnic kin from prosecution, even under our current structure, we could have attained far higher levels of development. We can’t account for two-thirds of the budgets at the federal level since 1999. Corruption is the true root of marginalisation, not ethnicity or religion. The next time you hear the word “marginalisation” ask yourself what the political motives behind the term truly are. Very few of today’s politicians are capable of leading viable stand-alone nations (or areas roughly the geographic equivalent of the South-south or South-East regions for example) without the help and support of the rest of Nigeria.
Many politicians have neither the credibility, the ideas or capacity to do so, without the Federal government propping up their structures. The most urgent form of restructuring should be at the party level, where candidates begin their journey. Greater scrutiny to ensure that only the best are fielded to represent us can only happen if we the people get involved at all levels.
It has the power to approve appropriated funds, not to decide (which is a function of the executive) what funds should be spent on. If legislators want to decide the specifics of budget line items, then they are in the wrong arm of government and should have pursued careers under the executive branch. The unspoken allegation here is that the running battle between the National Assembly and the Federal Government is in fact over constituency projects and other such amendments which allow many legislators leeway to spend money as they please.
The number of uncompleted and abandoned so-called “constituency projects” and fanciful donations of sewing kits, motorcycles etc. which are far below the monetary equivalent of the amounts the legislature claims its spends on its constituencies, are a bone of contention and represent just some of the issues Nigerians should be up in arms about. These are the wasteful, allegedly corrupt practices holding us back, not our ethnic origins or religion.
Three former officials of the Nigerian Ports Authority and a former special adviser of this former President were recently named in a Swiss corruption case involving a company whose top officials have already been convicted. According to Swiss prosecution, Mohammed Adoke, the former attorney general, claimed there were no grounds for prosecution in Nigeria.
Yet, the Swiss case alleges that the company in question was awarded $70million worth of contracts every year without any public bidding, cornered jobs worth around N717 billion and bribed Nigerian officials copiously. How much did the Nigerian state lose? Nigerians aren’t poor because of ethnic marginalisation, we’re poor because of corruption. It’s time we face up to reality and stop hiding behind ethnicity to excuse the enrichment of some at the expense of the majority.
By Tabia Princewill
Tabia Princewill is a strategic communications consultant and public policy analyst. She is also the co-host and executive producer of a talk show, WALK THE TALK which airs on Channels TV.