By Simbo Olorunfemi
It is almost impossible to catch our political elite in this game at which they are masters, unless by some miracle there is an implosion in their ranks. Unless and until there is a willingness on the part of some of them to commit political hara-kiri, the best we get are occasional glimpses into the intrigues, desperation and volume of waste that is put to play in the power-game in the circles of the elite. There is so much that the ordinary man suspects of happenings in government, but there is very little he knows of a certainty.
But when there is drama in the camp, we get to know about the workings of the Okija shrines and the use to which public resources are put to. When Donald Duke, years back, in a profound moment of epiphany, opened up on the intricacies that make it almost impossible to have free and fair elections in Nigeria, many were shocked. He explained how it was that the INEC State Commissioner could not but be susceptible to the tunes of the governor, as the system was designed to make him practically dependent on the governor for upkeep and the meeting of routine needs of the Commission in the state.
That was before the introduction of the PVC and card-reader, but how much things have really changed is better left to the imagination. But if what we saw in many of the states in the 2015 elections, with Electoral Commissioners acting hand-in-glove with governors, not much might have changed. In the House of Representatives, Abdulmumin Jibrin has been on a roll for a while now. He seems not only to be on a mission for immolation but to bring the ‘house’ down with him. Some say he is no hero and that he is only on this suicide mission for his own selfish interest, as he was a major part of the rot he is exposing. Perhaps, they have a point there. But who says he is one? That you blow the whistle does not necessarily make you one. But it does take plenty of guts and sacrifice to be a whistle-blower, especially in our clime. Edward Snowden and Julian Assange are seeing first-hand what it means to stand up to vested interests, in another part of the world.
In the case of Jibrin, it will be most foolish to throw this baby away with the bath-water. In fact, this baby deserves all the care and protection he can get to ensure the bath water is properly drained and processed accordingly. For who else but an insider, especially one of Jibrin’s standing, could have unearthed the level of rot that is now in the open?
Have you noticed that the National Assembly has functioned more like a cult where members take an oath to never disclose anything to do with their salaries and allowances, even with the gun to their heads? It is that troubling that once there is an outcry about happenings in the Assembly, it is usually the ex-members of the club who often show up in as to out defence of the National Assembly. Regardless of party lines, they are usually the most vociferous defenders of acts that not even hardened criminals will find justification for. But for a few we know who are not cut of this cloth, one might be tempted to conclude that the water in the National Assembly is laced with something else.
The levity with which the leadership of the two arms of the Assembly handle allegations of corruption and misconduct is such that one would think there is something in their Rule Book that assures them they are above the laws of the land. They leisurely stroll back and forth from courts, carrying on like they only visited the loo. Direct allegations of graft have been made against the Speaker of the House of Representatives and he has simply waved them off, as if they do not matter. Of course, they don’t.
He is not bothered, he says. He needs not be. He does not even need to humour us with an explanation. The question of resignation does not arise for him. He only needs to carry on exactly as he has been doing. The lead antagonist, Jibrin, has been banished from the hallowed chambers for 180 days. That will likely take more than a year, as the House hardly ever meets the constitutional requirement on the number of days it ought to sit in a year.
If, with all that is in the open, members of the National Assembly will rather rally around the leadership and dig in to save themselves, what other evidence does anyone need of the depth of decay within their ranks? It is within the context of that conspiracy of silence among the political elite that the speech by Governor Peter Obi at ‘The Platform’ on October 1 sits. You might need to have experienced government or be privy to its inner working for you to properly situate the exposé. It is a surprise that he was able to survive eight years in government without any other ‘incident’ beyond attempted impeachment, for he clearly stepped on too many entrenched and powerful toes in the civil service and political class, with the way he claimed to have run the affairs of the state.
The governor is like a god with such an elaborate temple built for him, where so many people feed, steal and waste, in pretence at pleasing him; while in reality, many more are benefiting from the institutionalisation of corruption. Apart from the liaison offices in Abuja and Lagos maintained by many of the states, many of the state governors have the Presidential Lodge and a chain of guest houses in their state capitals, maintained at enormous expense to the government.
There is such an alarming culture of waste in government, with the same replicated by the different arms of government, parastatals and many of the MDAs at the federal level, that you might be forced to ask yourself if the country has not been cursed. What Governor Peter Obi did was to confirm public suspicion in graphic details. To see what use he claimed to have put savings made from his simple, common-sense measures in cutting the cost of governance and what difference it made in performance and quality of lives of the people is sobering. Indeed, the immense power that goes with executive office in Nigeria, protected by a culture of waste and corruption is such that without political suicide in the ranks of the elite, it is almost impossible to penetrate it.
That is why the insight by Peter Obi is important, if we can manage to keep our eyes on the ball. Some are already querying his motives, questioning his politics and the morality of his engagement with President Jonathan. Fair enough. I am not a big fan of his politics either. I do not know what to make of his inability to grow APGA beyond how he met it. I will not pretend to understand the decision to commit political suicide by leaving his party for the PDP. I cannot explain too how come he could not share his ‘araldite’ philosophy with President Jonathan, or at least influence the man he vigorously campaigned for, even employing some unfair tactics in the process.
However, I have known him, for a while too, as a man of means, who from what one had heard, which he has now confirmed, has chosen to live modestly and conduct himself in line with principles and values that were once cherished and celebrated in this land. It is also good to hear that he manages his family in accordance with the same principles, not indulging the children, as seems to be the fashion even for many less-endowed than the man. Now, that old-school philosophy of frugality with a common-sense approach to the management of public funds is most needed at this time, with the downturn in revenue. A Peter Obi surgical knife to cut the cost of governance might be of use to President Buhari with him coming on-board to head a Due Process and Good Governance Commission.
For now, Abdulmumin Jibrin is doing his bit, in hope that law enforcement agencies will finally step in to help the Speaker share with us how he can be so calm and confident in the face of such allegations flying all around. Abdulmumin Jibrin is no hero. He has not laid claim to being one. Not every whistle-blower is. No one says Peter Obi is a hero. But we need to do all we can to promote and encourage whistle-blowing within the ranks of the power elite.
Without an implosion and many more committing political suicide, it will be difficult to make an appreciable dent on the strangle-hold of corruption.
Simbo Olorunfemi works for Hoofbeatdotcom, a Nigerian Communications Consultancy and Publishers of Africa Enterprise.