I will start this discourse on a philosophical basis. In every society there would always be the struggle between superior and inferior principles. There is this competition in terms of choice among the people, which one is best suited or serves their purpose better. Majority of the people have this tendency to fall for the inferior. The trend can be explained from the standpoint that man is naturally attracted to areas of least resistance. If humans had their way they would not want processes that task their brains and efforts. Superior principles do. Inferior values don’t. How does this relate to us especially on the matter at hand? Simple matter! We take development models and turn them upside down. We enjoy doing the negative, forgetting that every human activity has corresponding effect on society. Today we would rather spend billions of naira to sponsor pilgrimages, take foreign trained athletes of Nigerian origin to tournaments and competition and host very elaborate and lavish ceremonies than give free, productive education and build industries.
Since Independence we have continued to accumulate debit on every side and it was such recklessness that led to a civil war and as part of the solution to a war that was clearly avoidable, and which later prove to be very costly, we chose to balkanize the country into atomistic entities without a thought as to cost implication. For the system manipulators, it was just a case of “we and them” not about the health of the country. These are just some of the many points which we will come to later as we go, suffice one to say that for a long time we have lived on credit eating up the future and suddenly the heat is on and everyone is crying and shouting, admitting the weight is much, our country can’t carry. The concern about big government and high cost of running same is not new in our country; we opted for presidential system partly for reasons that Westminster model of government was expensive and inappropriate to our situation. We took presidential system from America and few years after we began another round of cry. It has become a case of bad workmen quarrelling with the tools. It is not about system but practitioners. Our leaders don’t understand democracy.
Since we began to express concern about expensive government, several persons and groups have been making contributions and in many of the instances each suggestion always elicited one reaction or another, some of them comical. Senator Rochas Okorocha’s prescription few weeks ago brought the matter to the front burner again and it is catching on. Okorocha wants a unicameral legislature at the federal level and a cut in salaries and allowances of legislators. He also wants the House of Representatives to be scraped. His colleagues heard him loud and clear but must have been taken by surprise, so they kept to themselves. They have remained largely silent, indicative that Okorocha’s jab must have been an unjust blow at them.
Okorocha no doubt spoke up on a very important matter, issue one could consider of great national urgency given the poor finances of our country and developmental challenges on hand. Many factors watered down Okorocha’s prescription: legislator’s salaries and allowances is certainly an issue but it doesn’t rank high in the hierarchy of solutions. Lack of vision is. The other is curbing of deliberate recklessness. Impulsiveness, unreason, mediocrity and absence of merit are some areas that should bother us. Okorocha was selfish and bad example of a good cause. He would have won understanding of some Nigerians if he had suggested we do away with the Senate and for the reason that senatorial coverage is farther from the people than the House of Representatives. He didn’t go this way rather wanted the Senate to remain and one Senator to represent a state. Perhaps he wants an equivalent of a governor produced in senators. How would this look? The former governor of Imo State did not practice what he is now preaching while he was governor for eight years. He gave out appointments as if he was handing out sweets. A few other Nigerians have since added their voices and the arguments have centered round Okorocha’s prescriptions and reasons. President Muhammadu Buhari has indicated interest and said he would cut cost but in this second term he runs a big government running very high on cost.
When some of us who know the workings of government and idiosyncratic behaviors on the political stage hear our gladiators talk and pontificate on this matter we can’t help but laugh. We laugh at how our leaders hoodwink the people and misdirect them. Our administrative structure makes it a must that we must spend heavily. So many states and local governments, yet, none is productive, all wait for peanuts from the central source. We have very elaborate bureaucracy. The work force stay on routine, pay salaries and pensions then run a bureaucracy that runs on the frivolous like seminars etc. Everyone in the system wants to write off earnings on one stupid subhead or another. We no longer have rolling plans to operate for four or five years; every year non-productive projects are recycled and given new amounts, which are usually improvement over that of the previous year. We duplicate agencies. Few days ago President Buhari said he wants to give Kogi State that is about to go for election in the next three weeks N10 billion. What for?
In making of budgets, civil servants struggle to add subheads not relevant to overall development, accounts that would service their narrow desires. Our presidents and governors don’t spend according to budgetary provisions, they spend most times according to the kleptomaniac designs and impulses.They over spend the budget and still draw on supplementary budgets that sometimes could be bigger than the budget. Those of us who take the outcome of Federal Executive Council very seriously see an aberration that is not healthy at all. Projects running into several billions are approved in each sitting and for the knowledgeable you wonder how the financing could be efficiently done. Corruption is real; it is pervasive and very damaging.
Our culture in terms of how we relate to government is bad. We want money before we can execute everything including our civic rights. We need to be given money to support governments. Many collect very high fees. Until we are given money, party politics would not be, people in power must give money to get citizens to vote. They give security agencies and electoral officials money from public purse. During elections governors and presidents appoint nearly the whole population as aides without portfolios. We can’t solve this challenge by mere molting of popular sentiments; it can be solved by reason and deep sense of patriotism. We need restructuring. We must run a merit-driven system. We need to take another look at the leadership recruitment process. We need also a national vision. We need men and women with discipline.