Nigerian should always do fact-check on politicians —Sani

Anthony Sani, the immediate-past Secretary General and former Publicity Secretary of the Arewa Consultative Forum (ACF), now a member of the Governing Council of Sir Ahmadu Memorial Foundation and of Northern Media Forum, speaks on 21 years of civil rule in the country and other issues with KUNLE ODEREMI.

 

It is 21 years after Nigeria returned to civil rule. How would you assess the country a year after most governors and other elected public officials assumed office based on the 2019 general election?

The elections were largely adjudged as free and fair with substantial compliance with the Electoral Act 2010 (as amended) and the victors sworn-in according to the provisions of the constitution. They had barely settled in for six months to deliver on the electoral mandates when reports of the COVID-19 pandemic upset the world and upended the whole democratic processes. Our index case was reported on February 27, 2020. As a result, efforts of brain and brawn have been on not to preserve and improve livelihoods, but to save lives through lockdowns and restrictions that have stifled demands and supply, thereby bringing the economy of the world on its knees. This can be seen from the collapse of price of oil that has rendered our budget unserviceable. This is so because Nigeria is not an island onto itself but an economic microcosm within the economic macrocosm.

And because there is no vaccine for COVID-19, the attention of the governments are on management of lockdowns and the restrictions, in the hope of limiting the spread and buying time needed for putting in place sturdy infrastructure of health facilities, testing and contact tracing capacities, as well as isolation centres for containment and mitigation preparatory for any crises that may arise during loosening of lockdowns for gradual opening of economic activities. These are the freaks and vicissitudes of life which the democratic processes have been thrown into. Any fair assessment of the democratic processes is, therefore, not possible, because the world and the nation have been dealt a difficult hand by the coronavirus.

While not satisfied with the content and pace of our socioeconomic development, any assessment must take into account the fact that every country has its own peculiarity. That is to say we cannot just copy other countries precisely, because the exam papers may not be the same.

And in assessing progress against plans, we must also not lose sight of the fact that nation building is work in progress that has lots of sand bags on the path. This is because all the good things of life are never in natural order of things, but are attained through ceaseless hard work by not only leaders, but also the led.

The executive arm of the government inherited a dysfunctional setting in insecurity, corruption and over-dependence on oil wealth. They have not set out on the path of confronting the challenges. This regime has recorded some successes in limiting the activities of the insurgence to the fringes of North-East as against in the past when the insurgence transcended the entire North and almost overwhelmed the region with fear and sense of hopelessness. There has been less of the fear in favor of confidence and hope since the emergence of the regime.

The campaign against corruption has been in two fronts, namely, punitive and preventive. On the punitive side, there are the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) and the Independent Corrupt Practices and other Related Offences Commission (ICPC) as well as the courts. The anti-graft agencies have been doing their best, but it seems the courts’ proclivity for technical justice at the expense of substantive justice has been the bane, more so when not all the government functionaries are on the same page with the electoral mandate given to the regime by voters.

What is required more seems to be to reforms the judiciary so that it can deliver substantive justice that does not offend the peoples’ sense of natural justice and the capacity as well political will needed to identify those who commit infractions and deal with them as such, in order to avoid any allegations of preferential treatment.

I have noticed the government is confronting new insecurity posed by banditry, kidnapping, cattle rustling, clashes between herdsmen and farmers, ritual killings and cultism. I have the confidence the government is giving them the same treatment meted to insurgence which is capable of taming them. On the preventive side, the government is using TSA, BVN and IPPIS in order to reduce leakages and ghost workers. I believe it will take some time for the benefits to fully find expression. The executive arm of government has challenges of presiding over a divided presidency. For the other tiers of government, the governors have killed democracy at the local government level, using state electoral commissions to render it impossible for the opposition to provide viable opposition as alternative platform.

The legal corruption which makes it possible for governors to collect gratuity and pension contrary to the Pension Act that provides for minimum of 10 years of unbroken services has helped in no small measure in increasing the cost of governance at the expense of service to the people of the affected states. Even then, those former governors, deputy governors and speakers who are senators and ministers collect double salaries and allowances that offend both the Pension Act and public morality. These should be corrected.

 

Isn›t it provocative that millions of Nigerians still wallow in poverty, given the immense human and natural resources of the country and in spite of the promises made by politicians to turn stone to bread, if elected?

While I share the view that politicians should deliver on their campaign promises, it is important for the electorate to know that not all the campaign promises are possible, given the capacity and national resources of the nation at a given time. Some promises are too good to be true. For example, it is unthinking to believe any politician who promises to construct air conditioned roads or who promises taps or spigots flowing with milk and honey. In developed democracies, the elites do not just believe any campaign promise. They do fact-checking and enlighten voters for informed decisions during voting.

 

If after 21 years of civil rule, Nigerians still battle issues concerning the basic needs of man, what do you think is wrong with us as a people and country?

Nigerians are not inferior to other nationals physically, spiritually and intellectually. What seems to be the problems are collapse of national ideals and moral values that include the loss of sense of what is right and what is evil including the sacred inviolability of the individual, precisely because Nigeria is a Trust Fund State, funded by oil wealth that is not result of efforts of brain and brawn. This has been due to insouciant attitudes of leaders to the need to tax people and make them own the governments.

The leaders do this out of the understandable fear that when people pay taxes and own the government, they would hold the leaders accountable and even make judicious use of their democratic rights and vote credible leaders who can make poverty history. So, what we have now is a system where those in the gravy train of government help themselves with the commonweal, while those without the fete halls are waiting for their turns to get their share of the pie. It is this attitude that is the Achilles heel in President Muhammadu Buhari’s fight against corruption by slowing the pace.

Consider workers always say they produce the wealth of this country. Yet, whenever the price of oil falls, governments run short of money to even pay salaries of workers, as if workers fail to work and produce the wealth during collapse of price of oil. I believe if Nigeria was a productive economy using natural resources of primary commodities to reduce poverty by way of employment in the industries, it would not predicate the annual budget on prices and production quota of oil. Doing that amounts to open admission that we rely on oil wealth and not on productivity of the economy. And instead of Nigerians to be realistic, many of them believe the problems of the nation lies in the structure and form of government and call for restructuring, whatever that means, considering the country has been restructured several times, be it political configuration, forms of government that include military dictatorship and economic development models.

 

What are the worries about the future of the country in the face of all the challenges staring us in the face, or are you satisfied with the prevalent situation over the years?

Despite the horrors and the hardship, I do not fear because there is no country or individual without challenges. That is the fact of life. COVID-19 has broken barriers between the poor and the rich who can no longer spend their money off shore for holiday, personal health and for education of their wards. They have to come to terms with the reality by living up what Buhari said in 1984 that Nigerians have no other country than Nigeria which they must salvage together. After all, great leaders are defined by great challenges because they pursue causes greater than themselves as worthy impulse.

 

What is the way out of the quagmire for Nigeria, in view of the varying agitations by the ethnic nationalities making up the country?

The way forward is for Nigerians, irrespective of class, status, ethnicity, religion and region to come together and support President Buhari in the difficult task of salvaging it. After all, necessity is the mother of invention. No need of inflaming our worst instinct with politics of identity, considering no nation thrives on victory of its faction, but through ultimate reconciliation. Victory and defeats are never final. It is possible for Nigerians to make the most of our diversity by coming together and overcoming our differences. We can produce leaders who can exercise power that is humane in its spirit, moral in its purpose and wise in its uses in order to make politics, morality and economics intersect sect for larger interest and common good. The situation is never beyond redemption.

 

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