By Bolanle Bolawole
For good reasons, South-westerners are nostalgic about the tenure of Chief Obafemi Awolowo as the first premier of the Western Region – what with the ‘first this’ and ‘first that’, and the free education policy especially! While that age remains golden, it is usually eulogised to the point of faultlessness. These days when we talk of run-away corruption, the impression is usually created as if there was no corruption in the First Republic: That is baloney!
The breakdown of law and order apart, corruption was another reason for the first coup of January 15, 1966. Major Kaduna Nzeogwu, who led that coup, labelled the politicians of that time as “ten percenters…who made the country look big for nothing” So corruption was one of the cankerworms that ate deep into the fabrics of the First Republic. But as damning as Nzeogwu’s testimony was; the corruption of that era pales into insignificance when compared to what we witness today. Politicians these days not only eat by the altar, as it were; they gobble the very altar itself!
As a Senior Reporter with the now-defunct Ibadan-based Sketch newspapers, I covered the Justice Uwaifo panel that tried some of the politicians of the Second Republic. I make bold to say that cases of corruption were established against some of them from the South-west. While some were eventually sent to jail, others, in the wisdom and magnanimity of the panel members, were left off the hook. The mild corruption of times past does not compare to the hurricane that we witness today.
Basically, the cases were those of diversion of funds: Contracts were awarded with advanced payments made; the party in power needed money to prosecute a fast-approaching election; the contractors were thereafter prevailed upon to loan the money to the government with a promise to pay back. That was the kind of corruption, and not that the governors put the money in their pockets. Needless to say that the party at the Centre at the time had no such constraints or compulsion as it dipped its hands freely into the public till.
The First Republic primarily, and the Second Republic to some extent, was the age of innocence in the South-west. Drifting into the so-called “mainstream” of Nigerian politics raped and violated the region, sucking it into the vortex of uncontrollable and unimaginable corruption. The South-west leadership class of yore were disciplined and appeared to have operated with an understanding: They might have added 10 percent to the cost of government contracts but contracts were not as mindlessly inflated as they are today; quality was not compromised as we have it today; the contracts were actually executed and not just signed off on paper, etc. That was why we had the enormous jobs done by the Awo government despite the lean resources available in those days; and that was also why the quality of the jobs shone like a million stars.
Today, what do we see: Contracts are criminally inflated; even at that, many of them exist only on paper; and the few they pretend to execute are done wishy-washy! That is why we have budgets of billions and trillions every year but no value for money. Budget of madness, as Prof. Akintola Bello, one-time Commissioner for Finance in Ogun State under a military governor, called it! We have seen contracts and projects duplicated year-in, year-out; money is voted; money is released; yet, no work is done. Some projects are 10, 20 times more expensive here than in any other part of the world!
Ex-EFCC boss, Nuhu Ribadu, complained of “direct looting” of the treasury during his tenure. Now, it is worse as corruption has gone viral under the watchful eyes of APC/Muhammadu Buhari! Recovered loots are reportedly being re-looted with reckless abandon; the anti-graft agency itself not left out of the bazaar. Government officials, cronies, friends, associates and their family members shamelessly fight over turf; the tales of corruption trailing them beggars belief. Despite the omnipotence of God that He demonstrates now and again for us to behold and be wise, some have carried on as if they will never die!
The foolish gather riches but do not know for whom, says the preacher! I need not mention names from our recent experience. Under a government that pretends to fight corruption, the dam has gone burst at the seams! Unfortunately, the South-west got sucked into that vortex. Our condition was better when we played opposition politics which, with the advantage of hindsight, appears to have been our strong point or, in the parlance of the newspaperman, was our unique selling point.
Take for example: The greatest contribution of Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu to the South-west was when he played opposition politics and roared back at erstwhile President Olusegun Obasanjo. But the moment Tinubu joined himself to the idol of mainstream politics, like biblical Ephraim, he ‘died’! We lost our senses when we joined the Joneses!
What had always operated at the Centre, but which we were insulated from for a long time, now operates here with virulence. Community transmission of corruption has overwhelmed the South-west. We now put our wrong foot first. Our rulers are no longer the best of the best like it was in the days of Awo. The worst of the worst now rule over us.
The South-west must return and put its house in order! Mainstream politics has been calamitous! It has served only the selfish interests of a few while impoverishing and subjugating the entire region. We have reduced ourselves to second class citizens to feudal overlords; our leaders, illustrious in the past, are today treated as “banza” foot-soldiers and servile boot-lickers. Little wonder, then, that George Awoonor-Williams’ “Songs of Sorrow” pervade the entire South-west.
Awo and his colleagues were passionate about developing the South-west. They had a blueprint. They harnessed available resources for the betterment of their people. They did not mindlessly enrich themselves. They did not run to Sokoto or Kaduna to take orders. They did not turn a blind spot to the suffering of their own people to please overlords in faraway lands.
Many of today’s South-west political leaders behave like emperors and act as tin-gods. They ride roughshod over their own people while placing themselves beyond control and reproach. They take orders from Abuja. But the Yoruba have a saying: Agba o kii wa l’oja k’ori omo tuntun wo! Pray, where are the elders? Have they eaten sour grapes? Where did the tail begin to wag the dog? We must locate where the rain began to beat us to get our bearings right again.
Until the political class is brought under control and weaned off its perfidy, nothing will work well in the South-west. The other day as Gov. Kayode Fayemi signed the Ekiti State supplementary budget; a retinue of officials stood genuflecting around him, among them my comrade, who is the Speaker, Ekiti State House of Assembly, Hon. Funminiyi Afuye. Haba, Comrade! Dust up your books! You are the head of the Second Estate of the Realm, an arm of government called the Legislature, which is equal and co-terminus with the Executive. You are supposed to hold the Executive accountable, not kow-tow to it. If in doubt, consult Montesquieu and his theory of separation of powers. Without checks and balances, we cannot get the best out of democratic governance.
Before you think these shenanigans are limited to Fayemi/Afuye, let me report that in the same Ekiti, I watched another speaker grovel before another governor! It is all over the place – and that is why there can never be good governance, regardless of who is in the saddle. Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely, says Lord Acton. The Judiciary appears a shade better but the Legislature in most of our States is an apology and a disgrace.
Until we re-engineer the template that governs our politics, mere change of baton will not do. Our political class all appear like birds of a feather. You think one is bad, the next is worse!
Back to Akeredolu: For the many weeks that these series have run, I have been inundated with a litany of allegations against the Ondo State governor such that, if you push the allegations into the ocean, like my Grandma would say, the ocean will be unable to wash them away! There have also been robust defences put up for Akeredolu. Let the electorate judge!
But for the purpose of my advocacy for a new template, I have said that virtually all politicians, left unchecked and unrestrained, will be corrupt. I stand to be corrected! I have also said there is no assurance that those complaining about corruption now will not be worse if they get into office – and are also left unrestrained. On the dividends of democracy, I have said that with the way our political leaders are allowed a free rein, not much will be achieved until we devise a means of moving them individually and collectively in the direction of a development agenda for the region.
On personal idiosyncrasies, I have said it applies in varying degrees to all men – and women. I have witnessed hubris and character flaws in many men and women of power. It appears a general failing which must be addressed holistically. Is there a ‘school’ where, once elected, our leaders are taken for training? An Oba-elect goes for training. The United States’ president-elect undergoes training. Do we have something similar here? We need it!
One of the lessons our leaders must be taught is humility and self-esteem. I have witnessed governors verbally assault those who work with them. This belittles such governors and compromises good governance.
Another lesson is for them to insulate their family – wife or wives, concubines or girlfriends, children and in-laws – from governance. No matter how competent, useful or relevant a family member might be, keep them off the stage. The best and most appropriate place for them is the backstage.
One-time military Head of State Yakubu Gowon started the profligacy of the First Lady with his wife, Victoria, whom he gave a State wedding. Gowon’s purported reneging on the Aburi Accord also tipped the scale in favour of the civil war of 1967 – 1970, in which millions of lives were lost.
Gowon was also the one quoted as having said that money was not Nigeria’s problem but how to spend it! The seed of run-away corruption – and of impunity – was planted under Gowon’s very nose. Remember the Tarka and Daboh episode? “If you Tarkah me, I Daboh you” became the closing glee or swansong of Gowon’s discredited regime!
Little wonder, then, that the allegations of corruption were some of the reasons for the overthrow of Gowon on July 29, 1975 while he was attending an OAU Head of States conference in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.
But we digress! The complaint is loud that Akeredolu’s family members are too visible in his government. This and other issues shall be our thrust in the final episode next week, God willing!
Mr Bolawole, a former Editor of Punch newspaper, can be reached via [email protected] 0705 263 1058
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