- Post 16 January 2012
- Last Updated on 17 January 2012
- By Chido Onumah
“The administration would do well to ponder the principle that a government which refuses to submit to the will of the people, its sovereign, is a rebel government and, by its own rebellion, legitimizes and invites upon itself the rebellion of the people.” - Chiweizu
To say that the Occupy Nigeria protest which enters its second week on Monday, January 16, 2012, has exposed the bankruptcy and dirty backside of the ruling class in Nigeria is an understatement. It has become clear that public service in Nigeria is not about service to the public. If it were, our roads would not be death traps; there would be steady power supply to support our local industries; our educational institutions would be functional and we won’t have to go to Ghana to educate those we expect to run our country in the years ahead.
Public service in Nigeria is about whose Mercedes Benz (read bank account) is bigger at the end of the day. Public officers in Nigeria see their position as prayer answered by the good Lord and an opportunity to “come and chop”. I say this in light of the allegations against the attorney general of the federation and minister of justice, Mohammed Bello Adoke, who was recently accused by iReports-Ng.com of maintaining several back accounts running into billions of naira. The minister is also alleged to have investments in about 25 blue-chip companies in Nigeria.
The “honourable” minister has denied the allegations. He agrees to maintaining the said accounts, but says the amount is “nowhere near the outrageous figures quoted in the publication”. This is part of the defence put up by the minster according to his chief press secretary, Ambrose Momoh:
“We wish to categorically state that while the attorney general maintains accounts with Diamond Bank and First City Monument Bank, the balances in those accounts are certainly nowhere near the outrageous figures quoted in the publication. It is instructive to note that Mr. Mohammed Bello Adoke, has been a legal practitioner for 26 years and was in recognition of his achievements elevated to the rank of Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN) in 2006. As an investment lawyer, he made careful investments which yielded good returns. At the time he was invited to serve as Attorney General of the Federation, he was by the grace of God, a successful legal practitioner, by every standard”.
Regrettably, the minister deliberately refused to comment on his links to Oando Oil and Eterna Oil, companies alleged to have benefitted more than N230 billion between January and August, 2011 from fuel subsidy funds. The minister did not deem it necessary to disclose how much he really has in the said accounts to debunk the allegations. Of course, it will be foolhardy for Mr. Adoke to make his asset declaration public when his principal has refused to do so. That’s Nigeria for you. Everything about our rulers is shrouded in secrecy. We don’t know how many wives and children our president has. Can any agency provide information about who and how much was contributed to Jonathan’s presidential campaign?
Does it surprise anyone, therefore, that there is a serious trust deficit in the country? We don’t trust our rulers, not because they are not Nigerians, but because they have shown they are not trustworthy. When the price of petrol was increased under Obasanjo, it was the same Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala who told a skeptical nation that the proceeds will go into education, infrastructure, stemming the tide of maternal mortality, and other problems confronting the country.
I am amused each time I hear Mrs. Okonjo-Iweala talk about maternal mortality like she did recently during an interview with Al-Jazeera, when she kept repeating the mantra that it is unconscionable to watch thousands of mothers in Nigeria die during child-birth. Madam minster, what is unconscionable is for you to continue lying to us. Between you and me, by the end of the Jonathan administration, at the rate the government is going with its policy of impoverishment, maternal mortality rate would have doubled.
It’s been noted that under Obasanjo, a regime that was scandalously corrupt, the government spent N300 billion ($2billion) per year on fuel subsidy. Today, it is estimated that the administration of Goodluck Jonathan spends N1.3 trillion ($8.6) which is the fanciful figure being bandied about by Western media and disingenuous analysts. No one, not the loquacious governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria, Sanusi Lamido Sanusi, who thinks petrol is a luxury item; not our queen of bling, the minister of petroleum resources, Diezani Allison-Madueke, has been able to offer an explanation of how we arrived at this mind-boggling figures. The bejeweled minster never fails to remind us that petrol costs more in neigbouring countries, a statement that ought not be to dignified with a response. Government and its spokespeople are just content peddling figures. Nobody knows the exact amount that is paid on subsidy. We do not know the exact amount of petrol Nigerians consume every day. We do not know the quantity of petrol our four refineries produce even at 25% capacity.
The insensate increase in price of petrol may turn out to be a blessing in disguise for the mass of our people. Never in the history of this country, at least not in my own life time, have Nigerians been more united against our rapacious ruling elite. And we have just begun! No matter how this ends, and I hope it ends in favour of the Nigerian people, the country will not be the same. I believe this is a once-in-a-life-time opportunity. We must seize it to demand accountability from our rulers. This struggle has to go beyond the increase in the price of petrol. While demanding that the government reverts the price petrol to N65, the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC), the Trade Union Congress (TUC), and their civil society allies must develop a charter of demands that the government must accede to. That is the only thing that can give legitimacy to this government in the eyes of Nigerians. If in the months ahead, for example, there is justifiable reason(s) to increase the price of petrol, all stakeholders must agree that the increase is necessary and not as a result of corruption or inefficiency of government.
I have been scouring the Internet since the Occupy Nigeria protests began on January 9, 2012, and I shall attempt to briefly summarise the demands of Nigerians which should form what I call the Charter of Demands for a New Nigeria. There are so many things wrong with the Nigerian nation which can’t be corrected unless we have a new constitution which ought to emanate from a conference of “we the people”. The faulty constitution aside, we can still demand certain things from our rulers. They are supposed be to be our employees, and if they can’t do the job on our terms, they are free to resign. This is my charter and everybody is welcome to contribute to the list.
1) The government should tell Nigerians its plans for the country’s four refineries and how soon they will be operational. There is should no reason for the country to import petrol by January 1, 2013.
2) There should be steady power supply across the country by the end of June 2012.
3) A 50% reduction in the salaries and allowances of political office holders until May 2015 (if they don’t like it, let them resign, after all they claim they are serving us). This should take immediate effect.
4) Prosecution of those found wanting in the oil subsidy scam and immediate resumption of other cases of grand corruption.
5) An independent ombudsman that can receive complaints from Nigerians about the government, companies, and institutions, and forward same to the relevant prosecuting agencies and also have the power to investigate and make public its findings.
6) A clearly defined programme to implement the Freedom of Information Act which will ensure transparency in the way government operates.
Nigeria belongs to all of us. Nobody has a greater stake or right to the country or its resources than any other Nigerian, not Goodluck Jonathan, not Lamido Sanusi Lamido, not Mohammed Adoke; certainly not Ngozi Okojo-Iweala, and not Diezani Allison-Madueke!