THE saying, usually, is: Who bells the cat? The story is told that rats met one day and the agenda was how to put a halt to the havoc the cat was wreaking in the rats’ midst. Suggestions after suggestions were considered before the rats, in their collective wisdom, decided on the one that appeared to them the most suitable: They will get hold of a bell and fix it on the cat’s neck so that any time this enemy approaches, the jingling of the bell on its neck will send an alert to the rats to vamoose and go into hiding. Good idea, but who will execute this plan? Who bells the cat? Which of the rats will undertake this very dangerous assignment? Your guess is as good as mine!
So, “who bells the cat?” is a hypothetical question, that is, a question whose answer is already known a priori! The answer is: No dare to do, pure and simple! So, the problem is bound to persist and the rats will have to continue their perilous enslavement to the cat or fall upon their various devises to escape its rampage. Because there was no rat bold enough to undertake the assignment of belling the cat or, better still, because there was no possible way any rat could have undertaken the assignment without coming to grief, the cat problem persists till date for rats and their generations.
If belling the cat is difficult for rats, reining-in our greedy, gluttonous, rapacious, do-nothing and good-for-nothing politicians by the hapless and helpless citizenry is no less hazardous, herculean and a mountain to climb. We have talked and yelled, but the deaf and dumb politicians would not yield. Impunity is the name of the game. Nigerian leaders take their own people for granted. Worse, they treat them as chattel. Who will arrest the politicians? They control the security forces! Who will call them to order? They are the ones who issue orders that must be obeyed! Think or talk of the law: They write and un-write the law and then ride roughshod over it. They are law unto themselves! To complete the cycle, they have made the judiciary their footstool!
But thank God for little mercies, the cat of rapacious, asinine and insane political leaders has been belled in the most unexpected quarters – Zamfara State. The Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) governor there – a governor, I must say, by fortuitous circumstances that we are all familiar with – working in tandem with, again, a fortuitous PDP-controlled House of Assembly, has repealed a law which gives humongous retirement or upkeep allowance to former governors (and deputy governors?) in the state. In some states, other categories of ex-political leaders have also wangled their way into these freebies – or are about to.
Immediate past All Progressives Congress (APC) governor of Zamfara State, Abdullaziz Yari Abubakar, quoting the law, thought he was on high moral ground when he demanded the payment of N10 million monthly upkeep allowance and a pension equivalent to the salary he was earning as governor from the incumbent. He had been paid the sum for June and July, but his so-called pension for August had not been paid. Responding, the state has now repealed the law in question, stating that Zamfara lacked the resources for now to pay. It should not only be ‘for now;’ it should, in fact, be forever!
Yari had reportedly paid himself N300 million severance package, as he left office, in addition to other perquisites like state-of-the-art limousines, houses in choice places, among others. To be sure, Yari is not alone in this rip-off of state resources. If anything, it is the standard practice all over the country. Yari may even be modest, if you get to know what other ex-governors awarded themselves. I don’t have the facts, but I have heard it said that this obscene and patently corrupt practice originated from Lagos. I stand to be corrected.
So many things are wrong with former governors awarding themselves freebies on their way out of office. One, while in office, they got everything free: Free accommodation, free feeding, free transportation, free medical care, free air, free water, free everything for themselves, their families, friends, and hangers-on. Two, they got paid their salaries as and when due. Three, they awarded themselves security votes in hundreds of millions of naira monthly. This is never audited and they applied it as they wished. Four, they presided over the state budget, always in billions of naira every month, which they applied or misapplied as they desired. Five, evidence is there that they did not perform satisfactorily, but wasted huge resources with little or nothing to show for it.
So, even the job they were given to do and for which they were given immense perquisites, remunerations and resources, they did not discharge satisfactorily. Six, there is hardly a state of the federation that is not neck-deep in debt, both foreign and local. This is the legacy that the ex-governors have left for their states. In some of the states, the debts cannot be fully paid in the next 50 years. Therefore, none of the states is even in a position to pay the freebies the ex-governors have awarded themselves. Seven, many of the ex-governors were selfish and self-centred in awarding themselves the allowances and pensions. Ask them what they gave to the deputy governor, the legislators and other political appointees. Many of the ex-governors only took care of themselves, while leaving the others high and dry or with peanuts at the very best. Eight, many ex-governors collecting these humongous allowances from their states collect other benefits elsewhere. We all know many of them have made the Senate their retirement nest, where they also collect mouth-watering salaries, allowances, oversight bribes and constituency project largesse. Many who are not in the Senate are party leaders and ministers where they also feed fat on state resources. Nine, civil servants who worked all their life, 35 years, among others, do not get a fraction of what these ex-governors award themselves.
To make matters worse, we have seen pensioners collapsing, fainting and dying on the queue to collect their own peanuts. Many die before their entitlements, meagre as they are, are paid. Ten, just for being in office for four or eight years, these set of people want the state to serve them for life. They want to maintain a lifestyle of the nouveaux riche at the detriment of the collective aspiration, social and economic well-being of their people. They are so selfish and mindlessly bigot they can’t see how pig-headed and untenable their action is, especially in the face of dwindling resources made worse by burgeoning people’s needs and expectations.
Now that Zamfara has belled the cat, let the other states of the federation follow suit. This is one issue civil society and labour, if their leaders are not the cretins that many say they now are, must fight and see to its logical conclusion.
What goes round comes around…
If a writer does not generate hostility, he is dead – Vidiadhar Surajprasad Naipaul, Nobel Laureate in Literature (2001).
In any man that keeps silent in the face of tyranny, the man dies – Professor Wole Soyinka, Nobel Laureate in Literature (1986).
Those who vote (in elections) decide nothing; those who count the votes decide everything – Maximum Leader, Josef Stalin of the now defunct USSR.
Those who fail to learn from history are often condemned to repeating its mistakes – George Santayana.
After the uprising of the 17th June/The Secretary of the Writers’ Union/Had leaflets distributed in the Stalinalee/Stating that the people had forfeited the confidence of the government/And could win it back only by redoubled efforts/Would it not be easier in that case/For the Government to dissolve the people and elect another? – Berthold Brecht.
First they came for the Socialists/And I did not speak out because I was not a Socialist/Then they came for the Trade Unionists/And I did not speak out because I was not a Trade Unionist/Then they came for the Jews/And I did not speak out because I was not a Jew/Then they came for me/And there was no one left to speak for me – Pastor Martin Niemoller.
EACH of the quotes above speaks to the Nigerian situation. Death for “hate speech” notwithstanding, conscionable people must still speak out because, speak we die; keeping silent we also die. Stalin, were he to live, would marvel that in Nigeria, not even those who count the votes determine the outcome of elections, but political thugs backed by partisan military and consenting Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC). In all of this, we pretend not to know that previous democratic experiments got truncated on the twin altars of election malpractices and corruption, both of which are not only rife, but also at an unprecedented level, the pontificating of the ruling party notwithstanding. With the way elections go today in Nigeria, the electorate have already been dissolved by government. And those who acquiesce, defend, promote, rationalise and overlook the shenanigans of today, because they are beneficiaries or are not yet the victims, should know it is turn-by-turn. Their own turn will come, by which time there will be no one left to speak out for them. What goes round comes round!
Nigerians generally are not analytical and methodical, but flippant and flimsy. Sentiments – and not reason – gauge our actions. We are the people Leopold Sedar Senghor, erstwhile Senegalese president and author of ‘Negritude,’ had in mind when he posited that reason is Hellenic (White/Euro-American), while emotion/sentiment is African/Black. Like Aime Cesaire, you, too, may disagree with Senghor but the facts speak to the point.
Do we have a sense of history? Olusegun Obasanjo, as military head of state, started on-going destruction of public education (witness the 1978 Ali Must Go students’ protests). He handed over power in 1979 knowingly to the worst set of civilians, saying the best candidate might not win in an election.
Are they destroying the judiciary today? It started with Richard Akinjide’s 12 two-thirds of 19 states, which legitimised the electoral heist of Shehu Shagari/National Party of Nigeria (NPN), just like we see the ruling party do today in cahoots with the judiciary and big lawyers. The Supreme Court gave a judgment, but said it should never be cited as precedent! Obasanjo handed the Presidency over to Shagari and NPN. Oh, how they ruined Nigeria!
Lacking a sense of history, we allowed the same Obasanjo back into office in 1999. This was after he had allegedly consented to the annulment of the June 12, 1993 presidential election. Obasanjo went to South Africa to quip that MKO Abiola was not the messiah Nigeria needed. He probably would have headed the Interim National Government (ING), but as editor of The PUNCH/Saturday PUNCH at that time, we got wind of the story and published it. The wily fox beat a quick retreat, only to make a comeback in 1999. Handing over again in 2007, he chose the worst of three sick fellows. He paired him up with a man who barely knew his right from his left. Again, better candidates were shoved aside. Nigeria almost collapsed as a result of the constitutional crisis engendered by Umaru Yar’Adua’s ill-health and subsequent death in office.
Obasanjo foisted Goodluck Jonathan on Nigerians. Between 2007 and 2011, we saw enough of Jonathan to know he did not possess the guts, ability and agility to run the country. Yet, we gave him the nod on sentiments. He wobbled and fumbled till 2015 when the desperadoes hounded him out of office. As bad as Jonathan was, Muhammadu Buhari, by his antecedents, should not have been an option. Like Obasanjo! We, however, did not, again, do due diligence.
Buhari was a dictator in his first coming. He is a worse dictator now. Buhari had no mind of his own in his first coming, relying on the now late General Tunde Idiagbon whom I described as his brain box. Today, the same Buhari relies on a cabal that rules from behind scantily-concealed veil. Religious bigot, ethnic jingoist, clueless and incompetent – everything that Buhari was in 1983/1985 he has been today with renewed vigour and vitality. Our calamity is self-inflicted.
How can PDP/Bayelsans weep that Jonathan dashed his home state to APC? If Jonathan could let the Presidency slip through his fingers in 2015, how dare you think losing a mere state would mean anything to him? Like Nero, Jonathan fiddled while APC put fire to his house. He who steps on his own dress will not mind tearing another man’s dress into pieces. We need to pay more attention to people’s antecedents before entrusting them with positions of responsibility.