Sunday, 19 May 2019 07:26

[OPINION]: Talking about a Revolution - Simon Kolawole

I always hesitate to use the “R” word because I don’t understand how it really works, but a lot of Nigerians have been talking about “revolution” for a while. They say Nigeria will experience a revolution at a point in time, given the way the society has been going: the rich getting richer, the poor getting poorer; the fat getting fatter, the lean getting leaner. One definition goes like this: “Revolution is a fundamental and relatively sudden change in political power and political organisation which occurs when the population revolts against the government, typically due to perceived oppression — political, social, economic — or political incompetence.”

It sounds interesting but many have also argued that a revolution is not possible in Nigeria because “we the people” are “docile”. Some say Nigerians deserve the kind of leaders they have. They collect cash, rice and vegetable oil at election times to trade their votes and are inevitably bound by the choices they make. It is said that morally, therefore, they cannot rise up against the same leaders they put in office after selling their votes. Nigerians are also sharply divided along ethnic and religious lines, meaning there can never be a consensus to rise up against the government in power because it will be resisted by those who have the incumbency advantage.

Revolution is too heavy an idea for me to discuss on the pages of newspapers, but Senator Dino Melaye got me thinking with his tweet on Thursday about the “revenge of the poor” and the “perilous times” that lie ahead. He tweeted: “I am afraid of the revenge of the poor, it happened in Russia, France and recently in Sudan. It can happen in Nigeria. Housing segregation put us the elite in jeopardy. Ikoyi, Banana, Maitama, Asokoro etc. Our leaders + me beware of violent revolution. Perilous times loading.” Coming from a senator who has more fancy cars than the hairs on my head, the warning hit me like a half-hearted satire but I managed to survive it.

 

In my previous article, “Whatsoever a Man Soweth” (May 12, 2019), I did warn that nobody is safe in Nigeria, including those who think they are covered by a convoy of armed escorts. I also said that the rebellion by the vulnerable elements of the society seems to be in full motion as Nigerians groan under the pandemic of kidnapping, banditry, terrorism, internet fraud and all kinds of criminality. Unfortunately, the security system designed to protect the high and the mighty is failing. It is not just the poor and the lowly that are bearing the brunt, although it is only when the big fish are victims that we make so much fuss over the calamity that has befallen us as a people.

I don’t know if Senator Melaye actually meant what he was saying but I will, all the same, give us a few examples of how our legislators are contributing to the state of union and how they are making “perilous times” inevitable — except they change their ways. As I will always argue, our leaders should stop thinking that Nigeria is like this because of some mistake or co-incidence. No. We are only reaping what we have been sowing. What we failed to plan for yesterday is coming back to bite us today and unless we plan for tomorrow as a matter of urgency, the harvest is going to be bountiful but unpleasant. The ruling elite must chew over this again and again.

The first thing the lawmakers must realise (and I refer to both state and federal legislators because I don’t believe Abuja is the only problem) is that there is a link between their greed — the obscene allowances, extortion-driven oversight activities as well as padded budgets — and the poverty and insecurity in the land. It is a very simple matter. In a country where tens of millions are unemployed and those who have jobs are struggling to survive, each senator is pocketing N13.5 million “running cost” in a month. We still don’t know what members of the house of reps take home every month, neither can we say anything about state legislators. Maybe theirs is even fatter and juicier.

Imagine if the lawmakers — at all levels — are determined to live a decent life and are not obsessed with grabbing every naira in sight. Imagine they are working round the clock to hold the executive accountable for the budgets that are passed every year. Imagine that the lawmakers make sure what is budgeted for roads goes into roads, every kobo earmarked for education goes into education, and every naira allocated to health goes into health. Imagine that those public hearings are actually meant to hold MDAs accountable and expose the rot in the system. Imagine that the auditor-general’s reports are used by the lawmakers to clean up the system rather than to extort.

Unfortunately, the lawmakers are a big burden on Nigerians. Not so long ago, the Bayelsa state house of assembly passed a bill granting themselves pensions. The speaker would take N500,000 monthly, the deputy N200,000 and the others N100,000. This, we must understand, is different from the severance package, which the rest of us are not privileged to know. We can only guess that it will not be miserly. All of this happening in a state where the majority of the people are struggling to make ends meet. So we run a society where the fat are getting fatter and are not ashamed to keep sowing bigger coats for themselves every day. But Nigerians are watching.

Not to be outdone, Kano state lawmakers have also passed their own law to award life pension to their principal officers. They will also be entitled to foreign medical treatment for life — while the people who voted them into office are not entitled to common paracetamol at the public hospitals. The lawmakers in several states, working as rubberstamps of incumbent governors, passed pension laws that awarded former governors new cars every three to four years, in addition to mansions in the state capitals and Abuja, foreign medical treatment and other sickening benefits. Nigerians are programmed to be exploited by their leaders in and out of office! The inequality is wicked.

The bazaar of budget padding by lawmakers is one of the most evil developments in this democratic dispensation. A former lawmaker once challenged me to define “budget padding” and I was wondering if he was pulling my leg. It so happens that an agency will prepare a budget of N10 billion and the supervisory legislative committee will tell the agency it can double the figure to N20 billion if they can bring a certain amount in cash upfront. Some lawmakers will even insist on nominating contractors for projects smuggled into the budget, and you and I know that the job may not be done at all. How can any society make progress that way? How can?

Melaye is talking about the coming “revolution”. Yes, the behaviours of the power elite are in the public domain. Nigerians are watching. They listen to the news everyday and can tell you what the lawmakers are doing with our commonwealth. They are seeing pictures and videos on social media. They are reading the charges filed against politicians in court by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC). They know all these things. Nothing justifies criminality and I will never vote for criminality, but maybe it is time for Nigerian politicians — not just the lawmakers — to see how their greed and lifestyles are hurting Nigeria’s progress and breeding criminals.

You can always argue that we should not use poverty to explain the growing criminality in the land. But we need to step back again and again and ask the question: why are certain crimes becoming attractive to our young people? Many of those being arrested are university graduates and brilliant people whose energies have been deployed for the wrong use because they have nothing gainful to do. I will, therefore, conclude with the same admonition: the time has come for the Nigerian elite to have a “meeting” and agree to change their ways. Things cannot continue like this. They must forsake their greed and redirect our commonwealth from personal comfort to communal progress.

To make my admonition simpler: let our budgets and resources be utilised to build a society that prioritises the welfare of the majority and not the pensions, wardrobe allowances and DTAs of a tiny minority. Governors’ convoys must grow leaner and the presidential jets must reduce in population. Tracy Chapman, the American singer, sang in 1988: “Don’t you know/They’re talkin’ ‘bout a revolution/It sounds like a whisper/While they’re standing in the welfare lines/Crying at the doorsteps of those armies of salvation/Wasting time in the unemployment lines/Sitting around waiting for a promotion.” Those who have ears, let them hear.

 

AND FOUR OTHER THINGS

CHICKEN CHANGE

Abdulgafar Ayinla, a member-elect of the Kwara state house of assembly, has been arrested by the EFCC over an alleged N26 million property scam. Ayinla, a legal practitioner, allegedly defrauded a US-based client in a property deal. He is accused of collecting the money without delivering service and has allegedly confessed to the crime, promising to refund the N26 million to the petitioner as soon as he is inaugurated and he — wait for this — collects his “wardrobe allowance”! The lawmakers are really feeding fat on the treasury. Of course, he will be sworn in as a lawmaker. That is the way we roll. And we still wonder why Nigeria is like this. Honourable!

LOOT AND LAUGH

If you are a public officer in Bauchi state, I have some news for you: you can now loot and laugh all the way to the bank. The Bauchi state house of assembly has repealed the law on the recovery of looted public funds and properties. The law was passed on the floor of the house with only 13 out of 31 members in attendance. Governor Mohammed Abubakar had signed the law establishing Public Property and Funds Recovery Tribunal in 2017 allegedly to deal with his predecessor, but now that he is about to become a predecessor himself, he does not want to have a dose of his own medicine. And life will continue as usual. And we will keep wondering why Nigeria is like this. Licence.

SMOKING HOT

Is the grass greener on the other side? Rotimi Akeredolu, governor of Ondo state, has joined Omoyele Sowore, former presidential candidate, in stressing the value of marijuana business, which is projected to hit a global value of $145 billion by 2025. “We all know that Ondo State is the hot bed of cannabis cultivation in Nigeria… we would be shortchanging ourselves if we failed tap into the legal marijuana market,” he said. Of course, there is a difference between medical use of marijuana, which has been identified as a cure for diseases such as epilepsy, and recreational use — which we regard as a vice. Marijuana is gradually becoming a burning issue in Nigeria. Highlight.

MYTH BUSTER

The full meaning of “sir” is “Slave I Remain”, isn’t it? It was a word introduced to Indians during the British colonial rule to make them subservient to their colonisers for life, according to the urban legend. While India was under various forms of British colonial rule from 1612 to 1947, the word “sir” entered the English language in 1297. That means it was in use about four centuries before India was colonised! Indeed, “sir” was a formal English honorific address for titled knights, not slaves, derived from “sire”. It was also used as a respectful address to “senior commoners”. Sir, sire, seigneur and senior all grew up together in the evolution of language. Fact.

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