A vote against outsourcing change
THERE is a lot the personality of President Muhammadu Buhari has done to change the perception of Nigeria as a corrupt nation. However, the budget padding and the hullabaloos about it may trigger a change of mind and take us back to where we belonged, because of the grand scale in which civil servants and perhaps relevant parliament officials tried to continue with the practice of mainstreaming corruption in the budget. Now there is an opportunity for the government to propose, and for parliament to appropriate a budget that meets the hopes and aspirations of the citizenry. Again, unfortunately, this can only happen at the federal level, where government manifests some level of accountability. Unfortunately at states level, budget is a negotiation between what the governor wants and what he would concede to members of the state houses of assembly. For instance in Cross River State, the Chief of Staff at the Governor’s office, would rake in 15 billion naira this year, aside many other sundry expenditures of the governor. At state level, any governor can confidently repeat what Napoleon said: l’etat c’est moi – the State is mine; for truly, as long as a governor is in office, the state literally is his property. But for the social media, no noise would be heard about most states, because government controls the media and no state media dare carry anything against the government.
What the budget padding has shown is that the fear of Buhari is beginning to wane. His appointees would be measured in their approach to things and would want to preserve the integrity of the administration. Civil servants on the other hand, have summed him up and concluded that there is really nothing to fear, and so would be more daring in their tactics and even less tactful. They know the government is really after the big thieves of the past administration and there really is no mechanism for tracking day to day corruption. If state apparatuses monitor bank accounts, they would deal in cash.
For instance, till date civil servants receive upfront kickbacks for awarding contracts, and they do it as a matter of course, as the final criterion for the award of the contract.
Nigeria will remain a corrupt nation because the ordinary citizen does not like rocking the boat and the capacity of the citizenry to bear brunt, abuse, exploitation is very high. The average citizen would rather suffer in silence than report an abuse. And so, many rapes continue to take place unreported, sexual assaults in our universities continue unabated, and all forms of exploitation in the work place continue because of high rate of unemployment. In fact with regard to corruption, the ordinary Nigerian psyche is that breakthrough is a give and take; the ordinary Nigerian expects to part with part of the contract sum in order to get the contract in the first place because he knows that if he doesn’t deal, someone is waiting in line to take over.
Even the gateman believes that the favour of opening the gate for you deserves a share of the spoils. Only few Nigerians truly desire to stand up to an oppressive situation, because they have witnessed many circumstances where money changed hands, and the victim became the culprit. The most horrible of the lot is the Nigerian Police, whose officers epitomize a humongous heartlessness that doles out the most unfair deals to the Nigerian citizen. The Police service is never a free service as in other countries. You pay to facilitate investigations and if the victim pays lower, he could turn into an accused. I wonder if there is anything anyone can do to change the psyche of the ordinary Nigerian about the police force. I personally enjoy seeing them along our highways though, because they give me some degree of assurance of safety and I know that if they really want to work, they do work but I pray never to get into their trouble in any form.
What has therefore happened is that because of personal experiences with our inept and sometimes corrupt and abusive institutions, Nigerians have tended to outsource the fight against oppression and corruption and exploitation to anyone who stands out. This is why Brekete family in Abuja is inundated with cases, because our institutions are not effective nor reliable. And this is why majority of Nigerians voted Buhari, because based on antecedents, they believed he would take up the fight on their behalf.
There is so much one man can do, even if as in this case, he represents an institution. Nigerians would have expected Buhari to come up with a form of WAI, something that could rejig the national ethos, something that reminds them of the yesteryears about the need for discipline. But alas, the rot Buhari has seen in government is an abyss, and he seems consumed trying to fathom it. Besides I am amazed at where he gets the strength to travel around the world the way he does. As a man who will be fifty soon, I know the toll it takes on me when I have to make trips overseas; but this 74-year-old man is still able to fly about and keep his gait. Amazing.
Nigerians cannot continue to outsource change. Citizens need to realise there is something they can do about a situation and sometimes be ready to suffer harsh consequences in the process. The APC government could facilitate a process of transition where the ordinary citizen is empowered to be a change agent. They could do this by bringing out the report of the Jonathan conducted national conference. Though that conference was conducted by their archenemy PDP, APC can show love for Nigeria by backing the conference report. There is so much in change that may be personal, but a lot more is structural, and the conference may have suggested many things which could adjust the systems and structures for the good of Nigerians. Mouthing change, without the corresponding political will to tinker with unjust structures and systems would remain what it is, hot smelly air.
Fr. Bassey works at the Catholic secretariat as executive secretary of Caritas Nigeria and JDPC.
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