Category: sunday column Written by Murtala Opoola Hits: 2550
Bill Clinton, the former United States president was in Nigeria last week as special guest of Thisday Newspapers Ltd on the occasion of its award ceremony for some Nigerians which took place in Abeokuta,
Ogun state. As expected he used the visit as an opportunity to tell Nigeria leadership that it has not done well enough considering the vast oil money at its disposal. According to him, Nigeria must strive to overcome three challenges: poor utilization of oil money, bridging the widening gap between the urban rich and the rural poor and making talented Nigerians stay home to contribute to development.
Former President Bill Clinton is eminently qualified to express his misgivings on the manner Nigeria is being governed. As president of the US, he was adjudged to be astute and highly efficient, such that by the time his two terms were up, he had reversed the mountain of deficits he inherited from George Bush (snr)’s tenure and replaced it with the biggest surpluses ever built up by any US president, put at 3.3 trillion dollars. His programme of social and economic empowerment contained in the book called the Clinton/ Gore Plan was nothing if it was not revolutionary. Its aim was to ensure the huge army of young people who had become dependent on the dole as a source of livelihood was gradually weaned from this dependency syndrome and made to earn a living through getting educated, learning a trade or a skill.
The result of all this was that mindless violence that was embarked upon by young men and women with nothing to do except to get high on drugs --an odious attitude that was on the ascendancy before his tenure, reduced drastically. Single motherhood that became a fad because young women, particularly Black women, who resorted to sexual orgies as an alternative to an aimless and listless existence and in the process produced children they cannot support, increasingly became less attractive in the face of the opportunity offered to make something of their lives. Through an adroit handling of the welfare system which supported single mothers as long as they agreed to get an education, learn a trade, or acquire a skill, many were able to eventually get off the dole to support themselves and their children.
Thus, Bill Clinton’s presidency was remarkable in reinforcing US’s foremost position in many spheres of life, so he should know when others that are in the position he had occupied are not applying the same grit and far-sightedness as he had done. The point he made that Nigeria is not utilizing the oil wealth judiciously, should not elicit any argument because inherent in it is the notion of corruption that has virtually sucked the life force from the nation. Indeed it is said that about 30% of Nigeria’s yearly budget goes to lubricate this hydra-headed monster that has stunted its growth and which as yet no one is ready to do battle with. And so, budgeted funds earmarked for projects are simply squirreled away by highly placed government functionaries and those whose duty it is to ensure the money is refunded and the thief adequately punished, literally simply look away and pretend nothing has happened.
A case in point is that of Abdulrasheed Maina and the police pension scam, over which the executive and the legislature are squabbling because the fellow has simply disappeared into thin air. There are several others that it will be otiose to repeat. Other well established cases of fraud that were taken to court were virtually allowed to go scot free, as if the courts are saying go and enjoy your loot. Yet, if Bill Clinton said anything at all, it is that such official cynicism and collusion in the several cases of corruption where the perpetrators have been let off lightly or allowed to go scot free, fuels a sense of disaffection toward the state among majority of Nigerians who see government and those plundering its coffers as one and the same people. And so through its own acts of omission or commission government has contributed to the alienation of its people, so much so that some of them get so radicalized that they are willing to resort to arms to do battle against the state. Now, saying this does not amount to an endorsement of violence as a way to correct real or imagined ills of society.
Bill Clinton explained it well when he said the insurgency in parts of the North is glibly explained away as fuelled by religion but in actual fact, he said “it is rooted in poverty’’ which may have been brought about by the rampant acts of official brigandage that have become the order of the day now. The fact that poverty helped a great deal in fueling the insurgency in the Northeast has been well documented. Sadly, this poverty is not about to disappear anytime soon because one of the outcomes of the insurgency was to further worsen an already bad situation as businesses relocate to more peaceful and violent free zones of the country and new companies in search for new market outlets are not likely to go to where others are fleeing from. Therefore, in the meantime at least, poverty is going to worsen, engendering bitter and deeper alienation which will further drive violent acts against the state and its agencies.
Practically therefore we have a vicious cycle in our hands where unchecked official malfeasance and graft have become the source of violence and anarchy in Nigeria. Bill Clinton rightly suggested that one solution to the challenge is to take economic opportunities to places where there is none and having executed similar programmes of mass empowerment at one time, he may be right. In Nigeria’s case however a concerted measure must be taken against official corruption before embarking on taking opportunities to the afflicted places. Unless that is done the whole attempt would be futile. And the reason for this is hardly far fetched. For example, there has been no shortage of poverty alleviation policy in the land. Everyday new ones are launched with fan fare to join the plethora of others already in existence but poor execution, official graft and general lack of commitment have rendered ineffective and comatose. Therefore unless government and its law enforcement agencies embark on bare knuckle measures to wipe out the insidious impact of corruption, the vicious cycle of malfeasance causing poverty would never be broken.
It is important to note that well aware of the sinister results corruption can wreak on society, China kills those involved in such anti-social acts. Greece currently battling economic failure and social and political paralyses caused by acquiescence of official corruption has started handing down life imprisonments to those found guilty in order to stop its age -old civilization going to dross. Nigeria would do well to following suit. It needs to do this to contain endemic armed insurgency and sundry despicable acts of kidnappings, armed robbery and the like and by so doing give Nigeria a proper chance to come to its own as a nation with glowing prospects.