A sense of fairness
Perhaps the saddest aspect of the ongoing national conference is that it isn’t set to solve the basic problem plaguing of our nation. Listening to the various noises emanating from delegates it’s easy to conclude that they are on a journey to nowhere. The Lamido of Adamawa’s outburst at the conference brought home the fact that the real problem which we as a nation need to overcome is the lack of fairness in our dealings with one another. All the demands for State creation, resource control, self-actualization and balkanization of the nation are related to the prevalent attitudes of unfairness in our society. The nation is at a crossroads where correct decisions need to be taken to avert a catastrophe, and the delegates appear to be unaware of, or indifferent to, their role in the looming disaster. It’s all about fairness. It isn’t fair that Nigeria is a rich country full of poor people.
A recent African Development Bank (AfDB) report on Nigeria confirmed the extent of suffering in the land by concluding that the rate of poverty has worsened with the number of people living below the poverty line increasing daily. Progressively over the years the nation has seen its wealth and resources dwindle with little to show in terms of improvement in the lives of citizens. The prevailing poverty, lawlessness, and insecurity are all symptoms of an unfair society. There is nothing about the conference to suggest that it will address the fact that mindless materialism rules the thoughts and actions of our political leaders. Will they discuss how come all our past leaders have been devoutly religious yet haven’t been able to leave behind any positive legacies in terms of a fairer society? Will the conference decipher why without exception, all have failed to practice the selfdiscipline, temperance, tolerance, and fairness inherent in their religions? It will be difficult, if not impossible for the delegates to address issues of fairness, because they themselves were not selected on a fair basis. The majority of them are those who have spent their lives entrenching unfairness in our society and prospered from it. It’s unfair that 75% of our population is aged under forty, yet the conference is predominantly populated by delegates over the age of sixty whose future, as someone rightly pointed out, was yesterday! It isn’t fair that government has no real foundation in the lives of citizens other than to extort all sorts of taxes and levies without providing commensurate social services.
Where is the fairness in political office holders driving menacingly on the road and breaking all traffic regulations, misusing public assets, and contributing to the obscene cost of governance? Where is the fairness in the failed anticorruption war? Surely it isn’t fair that despite our creativity, large untapped markets and artistic talents the simple wielding of political power continues to be the most lucrative occupation in Nigeria? To be a fair society means that we as a nation must provide for the minimum comfort of the least person amongst us. That is the starting point. Our consistent failure to solve our problems is because we are not ready to be fair towards one another. Nigeria is a collection of proud and independent peoples and kingdoms who were made to sacrifice their culture and identity to accommodate the idea of “one Nigeria”. These differing peoples have yet to learn how to be fair towards one another. The size and cost of our government is unfair. For years socioeconomic experts have been advocating a change in the existing unwieldy political structure and bureaucracy in the country in order to significantly reduce recurrent expenditure averaging at over 70%. Unfortunately the trend is to expand government and approve frivolous expenditure.
The recent Oronsaye Report which, as usual, has been buried to gather dust, condemned our overbloated government and recommended merging many agencies whose functions overlap as well as scrapping others which are unnecessary. It isn’t fair that Government officials can budget billions for their own remuneration, welfare, and entertainment but cannot find money to fund hospitals or education. Recently Britain’s The Economist magazine highlighted the disproportionate remuneration of our Ministers, legislators and political appointees and expressed concern over the increasing cost of Nigerian democracy. Commenting on the opportunity costs, it pointed the unfairness of members of the National Assembly and ministers being paid more than their counterparts in every other African country and being amongst the highest paid globally. The real problem we need to address is that our nation with its growing class of indolent millionaires created by government patronage, is becoming a less caring and compassionate society and citizens are reacting against the trend. Is it fair that fourteen years into our democracy public finances remain opaque and public funds misapplied as a matter of course? How can it be fair that that legislator’s emoluments have no bearing on the profile of the national economy and no correlation with the general wage structure in the economy? Is it fair that the Judiciary soft pedals on corruption and political cases, that plea bargaining and injunctions are continuously used to frustrate the cause of justice, and that courts hand out hand punitive jail sentences to poor people while the rich go free? It certainly isn’t fair that the President travels all over the world with massive delegations comprising governors, ministers, a corps of aides and media personnel as well as his wife and her retinue of hangers on. It isn’t possible for a conference to address all the ills of the nation but we need to address this picture of a country tragically without focus. The average Nigerian is not a selfish or heartless person but Nigerian politicians have polluted the environment with their immoral, selfish behaviour. It would be far more important and beneficial if, instead of all the bellicose posturing, the delegates concentrated their efforts in ensuring that we become a fairer and more caring society. Then everything else will take care of itself.