Archive for June 2014

Oh Jonathan, Poor Jonathan…

June 6, 2014

First published in The Union Newspaper

Casmir Igbokwe

Jonathan has a strange character. And so is his mother, Madame Rosepettle. His father died a long time ago. But each time his mother embarks on her frequent trips abroad with him, she goes with the coffin bearing the corpse of his father. Rosepettle is very rich and domineering and always keeps her son indoors. She controls everything he does including what he eats.

This, however, has not stopped Jonathan from flirting with a lady called Rosalie, who always slips in through the hotel window where they are. Though Madame Rosepettle still deludes herself by trying to ensure her 25-year-old son remains ‘pure’, she also flirts with a drunken millionaire Commodore.

Jonathan is a creation of Arthur Kopit in his absurdist play entitled, Oh Dad, Poor Dad, Mama’s Hung You In The Closet And I’m Feeling So Sad. Our President is also Jonathan. Like Kopit’s character, he too is in some sort of a cage. And like Madame Rosepettle, many Nigerians flirt around but want him to remain pure.

A few examples will suffice here. Of recent, there have been variegated protests against the abduction of schoolgirls in Chibok, Borno State. Many of the protesters want Jonathan to bring back our girls. Some international media have keyed into that to brand the President slow and incompetent. They say he leads a corrupt government.

Elsewhere, especially on the social media, President Jonathan has received the highest bashing of his life. He bears the brunt of the corruption allegations flying all over the place. As the President and Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces, he is expected to tackle corruption, provide leadership and be more assertive and decisive in tackling the problems of the country.  These expectations of many Nigerians are not misplaced.

But then, let’s consider another scenario here. A few days ago, the Finance Minister and Coordinating Minister of the Economy, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, challenged state governments to show how they spent the allocations they have been collecting from the Federation Account. Speaking at Babcock University’s convocation lecture last Sunday, Okonjo-Iweala said, “A lot of attention is turned on the Federal Government. So we also need to ask what our states and local governments do with the resources they get.”

According to the minister, in 2013, states like Akwa Ibom got N260bn; Rivers, N220bn; Delta, N209bn; Bayelsa, N173bn; Lagos, N168bn; Kano, N140bn; Katsina, N103bn; Oyo, N100bn; Kaduna, N97bn; and Borno, N94bn.

The question is, what have these states done with these huge financial resources? Let’s start with Akwa Ibom. The state gets the highest federal allocation. The governor, Godswill Akpabio, is said to have done a lot in the state. Those who have been to Uyo recently, testify that the state capital has been tremendously transformed.

However, the governor shot himself in the foot recently when he made the state House of Assembly to pass the Governors and Deputy Governors Pension Law. As the law stipulates, a former governor and his spouse is entitled to N200m annually for life as pension and gratuity. In simple terms, a former governor and his deputy are entitled to a gratuity at 100 per cent of their annual salaries and pension at the rate of 300 per cent of their current salaries for life. The governor is also entitled, among others, to a five-bedroom mansion in Abuja and in Uyo, N100m medical bill per annum and N5m per month for domestic servants.

The uproar generated by this law forced the state House of Assembly to rationalise its action. According to the House, the law is not new but was enacted in the year 2000 during the tenure of Obong Victor Attah. All it did, it said, was to amend the law, which was open-ended on many provisions particularly the medical expenses, by putting a ceiling to it.

 As far as the House is concerned, it “acted in good faith and clear conscience to protect public income and curb wastages.” Akpabio has also announced that he is returning the new law to the House to repeal and revert to the old open-ended order.

Akwa Ibom is not alone in this perfidious act. Many other states such as Lagos, Rivers, Kano, and Gombe are also guilty. Some governors of these states have received accolades from some quarters for turning their states to what some hirelings call “huge construction sites”. But when you compare the roads and a few other infrastructures they have put in place, they pale to insignificance compared to the money available to them.

Happily, the ongoing National Conference is proffering some solutions. Last Wednesday, the confab decided that henceforth, legislators at national and state levels would operate on part-time basis. Conference also decided that former state governors and their deputies should be exempted from payment of severance allowances, life insurance and payment of pension.

There is need to also examine our local government administrations. The highest thing most of the chairmen do is to pay salaries and then share the rest of the money. The local government reforms were initiated in 1976 to bring development to the grass roots. According to the Fourth Schedule of the 1999 Constitution, the local councils are supposed to, among others, construct and maintain roads, streets, drains, parks and gardens. But do they do these?

Most of them don’t. When the chairmen are elected into office, the first major thing they do is to buy state of the art cars. They employ bodyguards and thugs who begin to harass and extort money from market women and other petty traders. Sometimes, these thugs mount roadblocks and begin to harass travellers under the guise of collecting radio and television licences.

Cashiers and treasurers of the councils have also perfected the art of manipulating their accounting system while some state governments have perfected the habit of helping themselves with council allocations.

The other arms of government, the legislature and the judiciary, are not better. Corruption has deeply permeated these institutions such that any probe instituted by the National Assembly is taken with a pinch of salt. Most times, the probe is to extort money from the person being probed. At the end of the day, nothing comes out of it.

As for the judiciary, we know of certain judges who have been sanctioned on account of dispensing cash-and-carry justice. Many innocent people are languishing in jails because they have no money to procure justice.

At our airports, frequent travellers tell tales of their confrontation with immigration and customs officials. And when toilet cleaners beam smiles at you, it is not as if they so much love you. All they are asking for is to grease their palms. If you don’t do that, the smiles immediately turn to hostility.

Even, many of us who blame government will do worse if we find ourselves in similar positions. Some of us have mastered how to inflate figures of any purchase we make on behalf of our companies. Yet, we sit in the comfort of our offices to blame Jonathan for all the ills of the nation.

In Nigeria, the honest ones are not yet born. If you have a car that is ageing, you are at the mercy of the mechanic. It could be that one of your plugs is not working. Some mechanics will tell you that you need to change your top cylinder, shaft and piston. They collect the changed ones and still resell them to make extra money.

The civil servant is in the office doing his own. If you have any need to visit, you are in trouble. Files relating to what you want will develop wings and disappear. But once you grease the palms of some individuals, the files will surface. The tragedy of our existence is that we have continued to move on as if nothing is amiss.

Poor Jonathan, because you are the President, you take all the flaks for our collective mistakes. Granted that the buck stops on your table, you are just an individual in the midst of wolves. We have all hung you in the closet and I’m feeling so sad.