At each point in the national life, this unwholesome attitude to service manifests. Office holders who are supposed to hold the sacred mandate for the people in trust, appear to derive pleasure in seeing them suffer
By Emeka Alex Duru
A cartoon post on a friend’s social media Facebook Wall, the other day, made quite some sense. In it, an overtly overfed politician was lying comfortably on a couch atop four distraught and malnourished porters. With the sweat gushing down their mangled faces, the outlandish office holder, admonished the carriers to keep going, that they were getting closer to their destination.
It did not matter to him that those he was sitting on were being crushed by the impacts of his weight. All that he was concerned with was having his fun, living on their blood! There can be no better definition of a vampire. That is the relationship between Nigerian profligate leaders and the suffering masses.
In the next few days, the year 2023 will be over and we would be ushering in 2024. That would mean 25 unbroken years of civilian administration in the country – a quarter of a century in democratic governance. Come to think of it; democracy presupposes wellness and enhanced standard of living for a people. But for the average Nigerian, it is a different matter. In place of hope offered by democracy – the government of the people, for the people and by the people, as defined by the 16th President of the United States, Abraham Lincoln, the Nigerian people are presented with hardship; a case of the citizens asking for bread but being fed with stones.
There seems to be something inherently wicked with the Nigerian leaders. Long before now, Prof Chinua Achebe identified the malaise in his concise book, The trouble with Nigeria, where he wrote; “The trouble with Nigeria is simply and squarely a failure of leadership. There is nothing wrong with the Nigerian land or climate or water or air or anything else. The Nigerian problem is the unwillingness or inability of its leaders to rise to the responsibility. To the challenge of personal example which are the hallmarks of true leadership”.
At each point in the national life, this unwholesome attitude to service manifests. Office holders who are supposed to hold the sacred mandate for the people in trust, appear to derive pleasure in seeing them suffer. Two incidences in the last few days, demonstrate this sheer callousness on the part of the leadership – the 2024 budget proposals and the piteous prodigality in Dubai.
Some items in the budget were simply outrageous. They include the plan by the Federal Capital Territory Administration (FCTA) to spend N15 billion to construct a new residence for the vice president. The planned construction of the new residence is coming despite the allocation of another N2.5 billion for the renovation of the current residence of the VP in the federal government’s supplementary budget recently passed by the National Assembly and signed by President Bola Tinubu. The only explanation for the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) Minister Nyesom Wike, for the needless engagement, was that the project needed to give the VP “a befitting residence”.
Apart from the allocation for the renovation of the VP residence in the FG’s supplementary budget, there is another N3 billion for the renovation of the VP’s residence in Lagos State. In the same supplementary budget, the government will be spending N8 billion on the two official residences of the president in Abuja and Lagos. The budget also contains billions allocated for the purchase of cars for the Villa and the Office of the First Lady. The grandiose expenditure is despite the bad state of the nation’s economy.
As if the dust raised by the unreasonable budget proposals is not enough, the President took an army of delegates to the United Nations Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) in Dubai, otherwise called COP28. Figures were quoted on the number of Nigerians at the summit, with some insisting that over 1,411 were in attendance. In response to the obvious public anger over the matter, Minister of Information and National Orientation, Mohammed Idris, said only 422 were funded by the government.
Justifying the huge crowd to the event, the minister said the delegates from Nigeria included government officials, representatives from the private sector, civil society, the voluntary sector, state governments, media, multilateral institutions, representatives of marginalised communities, and many others.
“The Federal Government-funded delegation is made up of a total of 422 persons, as follows: National Council on Climate Change = 32; Federal Ministry of Environment = 34; All Ministries = 167; Presidency = 67; Office of the Vice President = 9; National Assembly = 40, and Federal Parastatals/Agencies = 73”, Idris stated.
He added that as the biggest economy and most populous country in Africa, with a substantial extractive economy and extensive vulnerability to climate change, Nigeria has a significant stake in climate action, hence its active and robust participation at COP was not unwarranted.
It did not matter to the minister that many of the delegates had no understanding of COP negotiation procedures or the complex climate negotiation processes. Everything here boils down to getting some jobs for the boys, wasting scarce resources on non-essential things when the people are suffering and dropping into multi-dimensional poverty in droves.
Nigeria is currently going through acute unemployment and inflationary trends. The cost of living is extremely high. A bag of Rice, depending on make and location, goes for as high as N60,000.00. A litre of Premium Motor Spirit, otherwise called Petrol sells for between N600 and N750 and in some cases higher, in some parts of the country. The public schools are in shambles, with other infrastructural facilities in various stages of dilapidation.
The other day, the House of Representatives Committee on Health raised alarm on the imminent collapse of the sector due to the decline in manpower in the system. The committee, which was on a visit to Lagos University Teaching Hospital (LUTH), disclosed that due to the relocation of doctors and nurses from the institution to various parts of the world, five wards comprising 150 beds have been shut down. LUTH is a cosmopolitan premier tertiary health institution and yet, experiencing this sordid exodus of personnel.
Before the LUTH incidence, 65 doctors had reportedly left Obafemi Awolowo University Teaching Hospital (OAUTH), Ile-Ife, while about three wards had stopped admitting patients over inadequate manpower in the hospital. The situation elsewhere can better be imagined.
Despite the glaring danger in the horizon, the leaders do not seem perturbed. They rather put up the annoying carriage of King Nero playing the fiddle while Rome burnt. Such gross act of insensitivity, is often an invitation to anarchy. It is high time Nigeria’s leaders departed their profligate life style and focus attention on attending to the needs of the poor masses. Failing to do so, may be catastrophic for all.
DURU is the Editor, TheNiche Newspapers, Lagos