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Mixed Metaphors: Damnocracy Dividends By Sonala Olumhense

I have three stories about our democracy. You know it is a damnocracy when the Governor of the Central Bank (CBN) can casually donate any sum of money to anyone.

I have three stories about our democracy. You know it is a damnocracy when the Governor of the Central Bank (CBN) can casually donate any sum of money to anyone.

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Lamido Sanusi Lamido did: N100 million to the people of Kano, his own hometown.  He evidently cares about his people, which should have cautioned him he might be misunderstood.  He went ahead anyway, and has emerged as being more foolish and more dangerous than the politicians he despises.

He has now asked the “CBN,” once the very symbol of institutional respect in this country, to clean up after him and convince Nigeria he is not an ethnic or religious bigot.  But in one of the most inane “explanations” I have ever heard a public official tender to the public, Professor Sam Olofin of the CBN Board said last week that the “plan” had been to visit both Madalla and Kano to make donations to the victims of the bomb attacks there. 

But—listen to this—the Parish Priest of St. Theresa Catholic Church in Madala was not available for the visit so Governor Sanusi led his delegation to Kano to see the Emir and make the Kano donati0n. 

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I do not know if Olofin bought his professorship at the Alaba International Market, but he did not sound like someone who is comfortable with clear thinking.  Asked to justify Sanusi’s donation within the CBN Act, Prof. Olofin said, “The Act, in ‘Functions of Management,’  said that the governor, or in his absence, the deputy governor nominated by him, shall be in charge of the day-to-day management of the bank and shall be accountable to the board for his acts and decisions.”

How does this provide for the CBN Governor to spend the bank’s excess on donations?   If the Pastor of St. Theresa’s happened to be unavailable, that does not mean that the parish was dead; the cheque could have been given to the parish office or the bishop.  In any event, what has a visit got to do with a donation: why could the donations not simply have been announced together so as not to give the impression that something nasty was in the offing?  Is this the quality of intelligence with which the CBN executes fiscal and monetary management?

What Sanusi’s conduct confirms is that the rules by which we are playing at the highest levels in this country are no rules at all.  It is a jungle in which we make our own rules. 

Speaking of jungles, you know it is a damnocracy when the chairman of the electoral commission—in this case the “Independent” National Electoral Commission, in this case Professor Attahiru Jega—announces critical violations of the electoral law but does nothing to uphold that law.

Almost one year ago, on March 2, 2011, Professor Jega bragged at the National Summit on Free and Fair Elections, organized by Vintage Press, that his painfully-expensive electoral register had been violated by some top Nigerian politicians.

“I must tell you that we have caught some high-profile double registrants and we may be able to start with them in terms of prosecution,” he said, casting himself as the sheriff who would conquer the impunity by which Nigeria’s Big Men “feel confident that they will get away with whatever they do.”

And then he boasted for the world to hear: “For the first time, we are saying that if you violate the law, we have the capacity to apprehend and prosecute you.”

The Professor was lying, of course.  He knew the joke was on the ordinary Nigerian who registered only once, within the law, and intended to cast that one ballot.  Jega soon left the hall and left those multiple-registering politicians to vote—multiple times—or to be voted for, or to be appointed to high office.

It is evident that Jega was playing games: there wasn’t one genuine bubble of outrage in him.  Better still, the elections went as designed and none of the favoured candidates and parties were hurt anywhere between registration manipulation and ballot profiling. 

In retrospect, the multiple registrants were really “approved” violators, and the Nigerian experience tells us such animals are above the law.  Only that can explain why, one year later, Jega is in no hurry to “apprehend and prosecute.”  And it does not matter what he does now: if justice delayed is justice denied, Jega has not only denied the past, he has also poisoned the future.

My third story about this monkey democracy is about the National Assembly.  If you are a current Senator of the Federal Republic of Nigeria and you are salivating at the delivery of your new N16 million Toyota Land Cruiser car: shame on you.

If you were a part of the planning of this purchase, or knew about it but never said a word on the record in objection, shame on you.

If you knew about it at any point, Senator, but did not think it was scandalous, shame on you.  If you knew about it at any point, and thought it was shameful but still planned to accept yours, shame on you. 

Yes, the Toyota Land Cruiser is a beautiful luxury SUV.  The 2011 model practically oozes luxury and comfort.  It was designed to assert superiority over bad roads and make its occupants long to drive. 

But it is not bullet proof.  That is unless you self-serving legislators had yours customized in the hope of gaining protection from the bullets of armed robbers, kidnappers and such hands-on protesters as the man who attacked President Olusegun Obasanjo at the Murtala Muhammad Airport last year.

Neither is it contempt-proof.  In a country where the ordinary man is convinced that nearly everyone in a position of power is there to grab as much as he can from the hallways and byways of government, the budgeting of nearly N2billion for these cars is new proof.  

Still, even if those rugged machines were bullet proof and contempt proof, they do not cost $100,000 each.  The basic vehicle actually costs $68,000, and the higher end models about N80,000.  That is still a ton of money in a country where poverty ravages the majority and each Senator inherited a fleet of cars bought over the past 12 years that has not been accounted for. 

That is a lot of money in a country in which 100 million people now suffer absolute poverty and we lament the lack of funds of funds for development; where hospitals are so bad we seek medical relief in India and our schools so poor our kids beg for Ghanaian school spots. 

The insensitive and arrogant investment of such vast sums of money on a needless item is another reminder that the very idea of governance has collapsed, and that the objective is no longer public service, but service of self.  It is the regular precinct of the hypocrisy of our political elite, whose very greed is the mission, and who hold the poor in contempt. 

It was only last October, at the inauguration of the Senate Committee on Communications, that Senate President David Mark criticized the executive arm about the collapse of NITEL and NIPOST, saying they had “just simply died and nobody is saying anything about it.” 

Said Mark, one of Nigeria’s finest hypocrites, “That is tax payers' money that has gone down the drain and nobody is doing anything and we will just fold our hands and people will still talk nonsense.”
Yes, it is a damnocracy.  Nobody really cares for Nigeria.  The dog is in the hunt for the dog, and nobody is in charge.

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