Last Friday, the Supreme Court sent a strong statement to the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) as well as the entire political class in Nigeria. In declaring ‘wasted’ the votes secured by APC candidates in gubernatorial, national and state assembly elections in Zamfara, the message is simple: Only when rules and regulations governing elections are binding on political parties and critical stakeholders can Nigerians begin to repose confidence in the system.
Ordinarily, the essence of primaries is to strengthen the democratic process by giving party members the opportunity to have a say in their representation. But over the years, governors and godfathers have circumscribed the element of choice by imposing unpopular candidates. In the particular case of Zamfara APC, the entire exercise was marred by arbitrariness and lack of respect for democratic norms and competition. Hijacked by Governor Abdulazeez Yari, who shunned the party’s National Working Committee (NWC) and threatened their members with violence, all efforts made to conduct credible primaries were rendered impossible until the date for submission of candidates lapsed. Of course by then, Yari had come up with a list of his anointed candidates.
Since a free and fair process in electoral matters is a basic requirement of democratic governance and an antidote to civil disorder, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) had to intervene, following the violation of its guidelines. The commission announced that it would not allow the APC to field candidates for Zamfara State. Yari would not have that. He procured a black market judgement from a high court in his state which compelled INEC to put the party and candidates on the ballot. Meanwhile, in February this year, the Court of Appeal sitting in Sokoto had dismissed an earlier judgement of a Zamfara high court which granted APC the right to field candidates for the election. “Domestic affairs of political party activities must act within the confines of the law in dealing with party members and elections” said the court which held that the Zamfara lower court failed in its duty to properly evaluate the evidence before it.
That was the verdict affirmed last Friday by the Supreme Court.
Apparently in an effort not to be contaminated by people he described as ‘fornicators’, Yari has hardly spent three days a month in Zamfara. But when he wanted to install a successor, he never left the state. His desperation was not for the promotion of public good but rather to control state resources. This is the tragedy of Nigeria today. With everyone trying to take as much as they can for themselves, even an ‘executive’ prisoner, who probably still enjoys jumbo pension from the state he looted for eight years, is drawing a monthly N13.5 million salary from the National Assembly.
Bolstered by the frequency with which they are elected or appointed into various public offices, many of our politicians see no problem with profiteering from deliberate misrule. Contempt for the system, which they use for self-gain, is evident in the manner they sabotage its functioning. That has been the case in Zamfara State for the past eight years. But, as it most often happens, Yari ultimately overreached himself. Not only did he fail in his desperate bid to install a puppet governor, he can no longer join his colleagues in what has become their retirement home.
As we therefore mark 20 years of unbroken democracy, it is important for all stakeholders to reflect on how we arrived at the current sorry pass and where we are headed. Despite being blessed with abundant human and material resources, the ‘whole’ of our country is far less than the sum of its parts due largely to the unbridled greed of the leadership elite in a society where citizens are left to find a way to ‘survive’. Everybody generates their own power, provides their own security, erects boreholes for water supply while those who have the means conduct their medicals abroad where their children also school. With that, the communal sense to build a functioning society is lost.
When you have a nation where the accumulation of individual greed far outweighs the collective need, it is easy to understand why the law of the jungle has become the defining ethos, even for ordinary citizens. From man hole covers to electricity and pipeline cables to street light bulbs to bridge rails, pilfering of public properties has become the norm. Criminals operate in broad daylight without being challenged. During civil protests, public properties are often targets of arson by citizens who see them as belonging to ‘government’ from which they feel disconnected.
That our society is imperiled if we continue on the road we travel, is exemplified by a story told by the (former) Education Minister, Mallam Adamu Adamu at the prize-giving ceremony organized by the Joint Admission and Matriculation Board (JAMB) last Thursday. Although Adamu’s anecdote was meant to show the interrelationship between Islam and Christianity, essentially for the benefit of Vice President Yemi Osinbajo (who is a pastor), the unintended lesson that came out clearly is how a society where everybody thinks only of their own interest is endangered
According to Adamu, Jesus (Prophet Isa in Islam) and a traveling companion had three loaves of bread and at a point in their journey, they stopped to eat. When the companion brought out the loaves of bread, there were only two. Despite prodding from his master, he could not account for the third. After eating, they continued their journey until they encountered an antelope. Jesus reportedly bid the animal to come and slaughtered it. After cooking, they ate part of it and then Jesus commanded the antelope back to life. As the animal stood and was leaving, according to Adamu, Jesus turned to his companion and said, “I ask you by the One who has shown you this miracle, who took the third loaf of bread?” The companion answered, “I do not know.”
The journey continued until the duo reached a big river. Jesus, Adamu said, took the hand of his companion and they walked on top of the surface of the water. Jesus then said again, “I ask you by the One who has shown you this miracle, who took the third loaf of bread?” The companion repeated his earlier answer: “I do not know.”
They moved on until they stopped in the middle of a wide plain where Jesus gathered some sand and ordered it to become gold. When the sand became gold, Jesus divided it into three parts, and said, “One part is for me, another for you, and the third part is for the person who took the loaf of bread.”
At this point, Adamu said, the companion, with everything to gain, confessed: “I am the one who took the loaf of bread!” In fulfilment of the pledge, Jesus handed not only the third portion of the gold but his own. “You can take everything. But from now on, you can no longer be my companion.”
This is a metaphor for the way too many leaders in our country take public service while the promotion of self-interest has almost become a national ideology. Our society is now governed by the philosophy of Ayn Rand in which every man is “an end in himself, not the means to the ends of others”; and exists only for his own sake while “the pursuit of his own rational self-interest and of his own happiness is the highest moral purpose of his life.” Yet, if we pull resources together, we will have a more prosperous and peaceful society.
Let me conclude with Adamu’s anecdote. As the errant companion of Jesus was still rejoicing over his fortune, two armed robbers came upon him. To save his life, he offered each a third of the gold, leaving him with the remaining portion. When they became hungry, one of them was chosen to get food from a nearby village. Scheming to take all the gold, he poisoned the food. But when he returned, the other two (who also had their own scheme) attacked and killed him to appropriate his share. Afterwards, they ate the poisoned food and died themselves. So when Jesus returned, he met the entire treasure out in the open, surrounded by three corpses.
The moral: A society where everyone thinks only of their own interest will sooner than later end up in ruins. The greater lesson of course is for those who hold positions of public trust. While human nature predisposes people to act mostly in pursuit of self-interest, the essence of government is to subordinate the personal greed of individuals to the imperatives of the common good. The crisis of present day Nigeria is the absence of a code that makes it difficult or even impossible for that personal greed to override public good. Zamfara therefore provides a ready example of what can befall a state when a leader’s greed for absolute power and wealth overwhelms public interest. Fortunately, the Supreme court has stepped in to redefine the boundaries in favour of due process and rule of law.
It is a lesson that will serve all our politicians and public officers in a season such as this. I congratulate President Muhammadu Buhari and the governors, including Hon Emeka Ihedioha—since I am writing this from Owerri where I witnessed the Imo State inauguration ceremony—and others, who were yesterday sworn in, either for their first or second terms in office.
Ministerial Yahoo Yahoo
That some of our young artistes glorify advance fee fraud known as 419 or ‘yahoo yahoo’ in their songs does not sit well with many Nigerians because it presents us as a people who believe that only the end justifies the means. But when a serving minister acts in a manner that suggests we are a nation without abiding principles and values, there is a problem. More than two years after the Athletic Federation of Nigeria (AFN) account was wrongly credited with the sum of $150,000 (instead of a $15,000 donation) by the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF), the $135,000 difference is yet to be refunded, despite repeated promises.
Sadly, the (former) minister of sports at the centre of the sordid drama, Mr Solomon Dalung, is blaming the victim. “Did we steal money from them? Did we ask them to transfer money to us? They transferred money to us, they confirmed the transaction to us, then after two months, they woke up from slumber,” Dalung said in words that could easily be mistaken for the lyrics of a yet-to-be-released song by Naira Marley! Perhaps the only thing Dalung forgot to add is, ‘The money don enter voice mail’.
With Dalung now out of office, the presidency should intervene by returning the sum of $135,000 to the IAAF coffers. It is in the interest of our nation to do so.