Sunday, 19 May 2013
What About Us? By Leonard Karshima Shilgba
I am not going to bore you with statistics about how the Nigerian public officers and civil servants take more than 70 per cent of Nigeria's revenues every year; probably, you know about that already. My intention is not to make you the Nigerian more discouraged about your country, for that would defeat the purpose of the passion I feel for this country. My desire or great expectation is to paint a scenario that is true of our situation, and which puts in clear relief the ineluctable judgment that our wrong actions and cowardly inactions would inevitably foist on Nigeria; then, I would make a call to action.
When a government consistently spends more than three quarters of its country's revenues on recurrent expenditures, here is the real but hidden information:
1. All citizens who are not part of the civil service or of the governing political class are not the focus of governance.
2. If the national wages are not living wages, the civil servants are not able to support the mass of citizens who are related to them, but who have no source of livelihood of their own.
3. The general mass of the people have no use for "government".
If five civil servants are employed by government to do the work of one civil servant for the only reason of "creating jobs", the excess four are a burden on society and not a solution. In Nigeria, the burden is growing for the simple reason that government is afraid of facing the consequences of poor governance. If we must have a smart and effective government (both at the national and local levels), we could do with just 20 per cent of the entire civil servants of the nation. But the result is that a massive social unrest will be created by the 80 per cent that will join the colony of the unemployed and unemployable Nigerians.
The tax revenues on workers (both in the private and public sectors) are so small, which is testimony to the fact that the political class, the judiciary, business leaders, religious leaders, and traditional leaders have appropriated the lion share of our commonwealth. The story is this, the collective wages of civil servants in Nigeria constitute a huge hole in public revenues, but the average remuneration is so small that the taxable income is a pittance. Accordingly, government revenues from workers' income are so insignificant. Therefore, taxes on workers' earnings in Nigeria are a very small fraction of the total tax revenues collected by either the Federal Inland Revenue Service or its state counterparts. I include taxes on private sector workers in Nigeria, who slave for the private business owners in this country that has recently been rated the worst country to live in, where prospects for healthy, safe, and prosperous living are discouraging.
In addition, we have a generally unproductive political class, whose professed service to the country does not translate to better roads (as they and their religious collaborators testify in their frenzied acquisition of private jets), world-class public schools and universities (as they would bear witness by the fact that they send their children and relatives to better equipped and funded private schools and universities in Nigeria and abroad), and safe, efficient, and well-equipped public hospitals and clinics (as they would agree by how they and the super-rich in society spend billions of naira annually seeking medical help in India, the UK, and other countries that have public officials who offer real service to their people). Nigeria's public officials (both elected and appointed) have failed to provide the needed public infrastructure on which the private sector should rely to create jobs and consequently, wealth. In a capitalist or quasi-capitalist economy such as Nigeria's, it is not the primary duty of government to create jobs, but it is the role of government to provide the enabling environment for the private sector to create high income jobs. Such environment should include elements such as a tax code that is neither harsh on low-income earners (which income range should be defined based on median and average family incomes) nor discouraging to private sector job growth, basic physical and social infrastructure that would contribute to reduction of cost of doing business (by social infrastructure, I am particular about reducing the drains and frustrations of bureaucratic corruption), problem-solving oriented education that is attractive to private sector employers, and fiscal and monetary policies that encourage both repatriation of profit by foreign investors and exports by local producers.
There is presently an oppressive League of Four in Nigeria. The political, religious, business and traditional rulers in Nigeria have all come together in the general oppression of the Nigerian people. I have used the word "rulers" advisedly because these are no leaders in Nigeria. They protect each other, encourage each other, and defend each other. What about us? It is impossible to rely on the same oppressors to deliver Nigeria from the sludge. Where then does relief come from? For those of us who believe in the teachings of the Bible or the Koran, we think God should intervene. For others who believe in "pragmatic" solutions, the people must rise up against the current system of poaching and corruption. What do I mean by poaching? In order to protect their positions of privilege and influence, the political class in Nigeria has learned and perfected the skills to scan through the land to pick and corrupt former "activists", "social critics", and "progressives" whom they believe are becoming increasingly a threat to their interest. Once they get into government, only few of them can resist the cultic broth. And once they taste it, they undergo a transformation both of the mind and spirit. And so, the Nigerian people have gradually lost warriors. Protest resignation is an alien phrase should there be a conflict of principles in the conduct of official duty. Thus have those "wretched of the earth" (courtesy of Frantz Fanon) always been betrayed. The people then find difficult to trust any of us "social critics" or "progressives" anymore. Recently, they suffered a serious let down in the January uprising. They shed blood in Ilorin for nothing. From Lagos to Kano, they protested for nothing. The Abuja and Kaduna displays brought them no profit as eventually their trusted "progressives" betrayed them at the night meetings in Abuja.
For any positive change to come out of governance in Nigeria, something new must happen to make the political class (being urged on by their religious, business, and traditional cheer leaders) undergo a complete make-over of the mind and spirit. The inquiry now should be about what can bring about this change. Some believe that our collective repentance and prayers can bring this about, and so the people must do nothing but "pray". But there are some that believe that faith without action is vanity. The solution to almost every social malady in Nigeria is publicly affirmed, both by those responsible for the social decadence and by those who are ignorant about the facts, to be "prayer". But I ask, “What should be the content of those prayers?” Should it be that God should kill the incompetent and corrupt president, thieving and incompetent governors, all corrupt politicians, compromised judges, unscrupulous businessmen and -women, immoral religious rulers, and unprincipled traditional rulers who are responsible for impoverishing Nigeria? Should we pray that unconscionable contractors and their accomplices in the civil service should perish in road accidents and plane crashes? Or should we ask God to "forgive them for they know not what they do"? Should we ask that all election cheats in Nigeria should go blind? Yearly, we budget tens of millions of naira for each kilometre length of roads to be constructed, which sum though outrageous, the roads are not even built, yet no one is punished; but we must "pray". Petty thieves, in collaboration with serving public officials, steal hundreds of billions of naira meant for fuel subsidy, which is intended to shelter the poor from the harsh economic weather; no culprit is sent to jail and made to refund with interest, and no public official is punished, but we must "pray".
Hundreds of thousands of barrels of crude oil are "stolen" daily in Nigeria, with the reported connivance of government officials, and no remedy is given by government, but we must "pray". In Nigeria, provision of basic public amenities for healthy and safe living has become a spiritual issue about which the people must “pray and bind the devil.” Enough of this mockery of God and of prayer! Are we not tired of this entertainment of comedy?
Have Nigerians become prayer machines, or are they simply taken for fools and people with slow memories and low intelligence quotient? If government is incompetent and corrupt, blame it on the people; they are not prayerful enough. So, not only are the people at the receiving end of corrupt public governance, they also bear the huge chunk of the blame for not praying well and praying in faith. If only Nigerians prayed without ceasing, Nigeria should suddenly become a great and efficient nation. But are the political rulers not Nigerians; couldn’t they pray for the efficient governance for which they are in public office? The religious leaders then make matters worse. They promise the people “Break-through” for the “new year” in exchange for “seed sowing” and “faithful tithing”; and by the end of the year the people are poorer than they were a year ago, and the moral life of the nation is more wretched. But the people love the lies and false hopes.
The civil, ceremonial, and moral laws that God gave the Jewish nation did not make provision for public prayers for corrupt and stubborn public office holders. God met corrupt public officials with judgement whether or not the people prayed. God stated clearly that because punishment against iniquity is delayed, men have not learned to do well. The people had the opportunity to collectively stone the corrupt in society and those that had broken their laws. Lack of punishment against abusers of public privilege is a great betrayal of public trust by a national or local leader. Then, in the New Testament, I read how Jesus Christ did not just "pray" about the corruption of the civil and religious leadership of his day, nor did he just lament the corruption of the temple. He publicly denounced and ridiculed the corruption and hypocrisy of the religious and civil leadership of his day, and enlightened the people about such corruption and hypocrisy. He also made a whip because the “zeal for his father’s house had consumed him.” Away with corruption of prayer in Nigeria! Every tree which our heavenly Father has not planted must be uprooted.
UPROOTING THE CORRUPT TREES
Our rulers at all four levels have broken the Sabbath of the Nigerian people, their Sabbath of rest from their afflictions. The people must take up stones.
First, those who read must instruct the people they have influence over to uproot from their mind any respect for the Ill-gotten wealth of those polluted trees. The wealth they have acquired without production or job-creating activities is cursed. Nigerians must hate such wealth. It is time to carefully cultivate hatred for corrupt wealth if Nigerians want deliverance.
Second, Nigerians must boldly start causing embarrassment for those corrupt trees at public functions, in the mass media, and at every opportunity they have got. They love honour, but we must give them dishonour. They love high places, but we must offer them low seats. Intellectuals who are so afraid of the hard life, that they must be obsequious to those corrupt trees have put their education in dispute. Shame on all of you who have delayed our redemption by your sell-out! Woe to your betrayals! If our redeeming grace as a nation has been delayed, it is because of quasi intellectuals such as journalists, lawyers, and other professionals who have cheaply sold themselves to visionless rulers in the corridors of power in exchange for wealth and positions that they will never enjoy in peace.
Third, print out and distribute fliers that question the roles of your pastors, bishops, overseers, general superintendent, imams, and papas in pricking the conscience of public leaders. Those must not be allowed to continue straining at gnats while swallowing camels. Let them recover their lost moral voice and point the accusing finger at failed political leadership. Let them wag the finger at President Jonathan and your state governors and say, "You are the troublers of Nigeria!" With immense political powers, Mr Jonathan and many of the governors have simply washed their hands and looked away like Pontius Pilate. With awesome executive powers to punish and bring down the gavel on corrupt public officials and contractors of failed public projects and their collaborators, Jonathan has instead chosen to hide under useless and preposterous committees which he has regularly used as either lullabies or red herrings.
What about us? Who in the political leadership of Nigeria will seek to please us? Nigeria needs just one man with the powers of President Jonathan, who will effectively use such powers to rescue us and not to harass us. But alas, Jonathan cannot because he has already corrupted himself. He has compromised his office by running greedily after gain. A thief cannot punish other thieves. Tens of billions of dollars of public wealth have been stolen and wasted under Jonathan's watch and he looks away; why? It is because he is part of the thieves. He is guilty! He defends evil; he takes not seriously the misuse of public office by his appointed public officials. Nigeria deserves better.
Prayers cannot save us, but prayers with steady actions will. Prayers cannot make a better nation for us, but prayers with bold actions shall hasten the day of reckoning when the shepherd shall beg the sheep for mercy, and when the sheep shall come under a new shepherd. Any opportunity of provocation that Nigerians shall get in the days to come must be used as the last stroke.
Nobody on earth shall redeem Nigerians but themselves. The leopards in political power will never change their spots. They are too greedy to think about us. The country is wasted and is yet wasting away. For the sake of your children, throw off fear. For them and your loved ones alone, hold not your peace. Let no one deceive you; help cannot come from outside of you. Help is within you. The leader is within. What about us?
Leonard Karshima Shilgba is an Associate Professor of Mathematics with the American University of Nigeria (www.aun.edu.ng) and chairman of the Middle Belt Alliance (www.middlebeltalliance.org}
TEL: +234 (0) 8055024356 EMAIL: firstname.lastname@example.org.