Long ago, in my village church, an elderly woman was asked to pray. In her prayer, she strayed from the liturgical platitudes that mark such church prayers, and delved into politics. Obviously enraged by the then recent coup that overthrew the government of Shehu Shagari, she said that the military, in their arrogance are behaving as they like and riding roughshod over Nigerians because the civilians have no guns and bullets to fight back. But that they should remember that when the wrath of God comes, no one can dodge God’s own bullets.
Just as she lamented the military behaving as they like and treating Nigerians with contempt, many Nigerians, presently, are lamenting that our elected officials, including most governors, are overbearing, behaving as they like without any consideration for the Nigerian masses. They are saddened that at the economic strangulation of Nigeria, these governors steal public funds and maintain extravagant lifestyles - that will flabbergast even, the presidents and royalties of the wealthiest countries in the world. They are acutely conscious that the governors’ arrogance of power, grasping avarice, debauched profligacy and crass disdain for the common man contribute immensely to the social injustice, gross inequity, abject poverty and unmitigated suffering that pervade this country. Quite naturally, many Nigerians resent their governors. Why then would a governor believe that Nigerians are enamored of him and the other governors, and will be praying to God to keep them alive so that they will continue to lead the people? It must be a delusion, delusion of power.
Governor Rotimi Amechi, the Chairman of the Nigerian Governors’ Forum urged Nigerians to “pray that God will do something new in our lives and keep the governors alive (to continue) to lead the people…” Evidently, he is totally detached from the mood and sentiments of the generality of Nigerians, and therefore, cannot realize that most Nigerians are sick and tired of their governors. In addition, Nigerian governors are not just leaders; they are dangerous leaders.
Leaders seek power with a sense of mission. They desire power out of moral conviction, commitment to a cause and an unwavering resolve to better the lot of their people. As such, power can be subordinated to the public will and made accountable to the people; and thus, employed as a selfless servant of the people. Dangerous leaders seek power for selfish reasons: fame, pomp, self-enrichment and the entrenchment of the privileges and pretensions of the political class. And as such, power degenerates into an overbearing instrument of the self-absorbed power elite; and is invariably, deployed as a ruthless enemy of the people.
Power deployed as the enemy of the people steals from the people, undermines the public good, subverts a principled distribution of the national wealth, panders to the greed and selfish ambitions of an elite few and relegates the generality of the citizenry to poverty and misery.
Wielding their powers at the detriment of the Nigerian masses, they perfected the art of stealing from the people. Through variegated avenues, like the security vote, they divert public funds into their personal accounts. The object of the security vote is murky. After all, the federal government (through the police and other security organizations) is, primarily, responsible for security. The constitution does not empower the states to have their own police force. And the state governments’ quasi law enforcement agencies are paid from the state coffers, not the governor’s security vote. However, the security vote is money voted for the governor’s use by the state assembly which, constitutionally, he is not obligated to account for.
Through the security vote, billions of naira are handed over to the governors every month. Ikedi Ohakim, as the governor of Imo State, received 26 billion naira in four years as security vote. In 2011, the governors of Rivers, Kaduna and Ondo States received N7.5bn, N8bn and N6bn respectively as security votes. Governor Musa Kwankwaso of Kano State succinctly made the point when he said that security vote is “another way of stealing public funds”.
In their conspicuous consumption and wasteful spending, Nigerian governors now have a new fad. Their new fad is private jets. Godswill Akpabio of Akwa Ibom and Rotimi Amaechi of Rivers State amongst other governors are now jet owners. Godswill Akpabio, in June 2011, bought a $45 million (7.2 billion naira) jet. The cost of Rotimi Amaechi’s private jet is $45.7m (N7.31 billion naira).
Apart from gratifying his insatiable greed and indulging his outrageous fantasies, a state governor does not need a private jet - an almost redundant but inconceivably expensive gadget. A state has no foreign policy. Therefore the job of a governor does not demand foreign travel. With the abject poverty, crumbling social infrastructure, high unemployment, social deprivation, environmental squalor, etc that are the hallmarks of our beloved country, it boggles the mind to think of the opportunity cost of a governor’s purchase of a private jet. The money could have been put to more constructive use in: education, health, job creation, housing and other areas where it benefits the people directly.
The purchase of private jets by Nigerian governors is nauseating absurdity. Its preposterousness becomes more evident when it is considered that neither the prime minister nor the King of Norway owns a private jet; they travel on commercial airlines. Not even the British Prime Minister owns a private jet. He flies British Airways. The income per capita in Norway is about $72,000.00. In Nigeria, it is only about $2,700.00.
Under the auspices of the Nigerian Governors Forum, the governors constitute a formidable cabal that can effectively challenge the presidency and the federal government. They usurp powers not ascribed to their office by the constitution. They impede the functions of the local governments and in some cases, seize and misappropriate funds allocated to them by the federal government. Cringing at the overbearing presence of the governors, state assemblies are reduced to rubber stamp parliaments. And federal legislators knuckle under their state governors, taking permission from them before taking a stance on national issues. The powers of these governors in their home states are further reinforced by the spinelessness and gutlessness of the average Nigerian citizen who cannot raise a voice in dissent and/or protest.
Essentially, their powers are untrammeled, bordering on the absolute. And just as “power corrupts and absolute power corrupts, absolutely”, power also deludes and absolute power deludes absolutely.
Tochukwu Ezukanma writes from Lagos, Nigeria.
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of SaharaReporters