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Nigeria, Corruption and Politics of ‘Winner Takes All’

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Corruption and Politics
Nigeria, Corruption and Politics of ‘Winner Takes All’

By Jerome-Mario Utomi –

Corruption and Politics

This piece primarily stemmed from a recent Nigeria-focused conversation with a Delta state but Florida, United States of America (USA) based practicing Lawyer who studied in England, Finland, Sweden, and Norway among others.

Aside from using the opportunity provided by the conversation to explain how today’s politics in Nigeria is not tailored to the development of the country, but to the individual players and their various interests, the Legal luminary highlighted the corruption challenge in the country with a sustainable strategy to arrest the monster. He deeply advanced approaches to sanitizing the nation’s political space in ways that will not only change the economic and public leadership narrative in the country but pave the way for well-informed, self-contained, and quietly influential Nigerians to participate in politics while bringing coordinated development in the country.

Beginning with Nigeria’s style of politics, he succulently captures; that seeing things from the vantage point of a technocrat makes it difficult to consider politics. I think today’s politics in Nigeria is not tailored to the development of the country but to the individual players and their various interests. Accountability is next to zero. I would like to see Nigeria raise a new crop of politicians who are ready to genuinely orchestrate the development of the country. It takes vision, planning, and implementation of the various components of the vision with deep-rooted transparency and accountability. I am not motivated to be a politician. I am more of a technocrat.

Above all, for Nigeria to develop, it must look inward. This means that our people must learn to believe in themselves and trust their people to make the shift from a primitive lifestyle to a high-tech economy. The level of distrust, in-fighting and desperation to distribute the affluence of the country is scary. From that standpoint alone, I don’t want to have anything to do with politics here.

Asked to comment on the current situation of the nation, he has this to say; the people in power right now are suffocating. Nigeria was hard before. But I think it’s harder now. When I left this country, the Nigerian naira was at par with dollars, and overtime, it deteriorated so badly. Now, it’s heading to 1000 or 1200 naira to one dollar. So, you can see that the purchasing power is very low and unfortunately, people are not able to afford imported goods.

The way the system works in this part of the world is that whoever is the governor takes care of his people. But something of general note is that politics has been alternated. The governance right now is unpredictable. Everything has gone wrong. I believe there is a need to usher in some changes. For instance, in the removal of the fuel subsidy, what I was looking at was the possibility of the President setting up some social safety nets for the people instead of palliatives. Why not channel the funds into mass transportation development that could lead to massive job creation – buses, drivers, mechanics, administrators, etc.? Why not free transportation on the buses for six months? You can’t expect civil servants under the present challenges in the country to transport themselves to the offices five days a week. Why can’t they (the government) make transportation free for one year? That is something I’m challenging the government to do.

On what the nation needs to do to end this politics of winner takes all as currently played in the country, he politely said; Well, I don’t see an end in sight on this. I am sorry to be pessimistic about this but the reason is that for things to change, the system must change. And for the system to change, something drastic has to happen. Let me give you an instance, how come every meaningful Nigerian that has succeeded beyond the shores can’t come and be Presidents and governors? Why was Emeka Anyaokwu who worked so hard as Secretary General of Commonwealth not supported to be president of the country? Why were people like the current Chairman of the World Trade Organization, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo Iwuala not invited to run as president of the country? There is one common denominator.

Politics in Nigeria as it currently stands can only be played by the Godfathers. So, you just have to be a hardened guy, swear or take an oath of allegiance to some groups or Godfathers and once you do that, you can no longer have a good conscience. That is my reading from afar. It doesn’t mean that every politician relies on the Godfather, but most do. So until something changes and we’re able to get the best of the best to compete, we will continue to have this problem. He concluded.

Away from ‘politics of winner take all’ and godfatherism to unemployment and social vices among Nigerian youths, he explained that whatever is happening in Agbor is not different from what is happening in Lagos, Benin, and other major cities. Except that they may be transpiring at different levels. This is as a result of bad governance and it is very sad when I talk about this because I just came back from Panama, a small nation of about 2.5 million people. Panama about 20 years ago when I went during my law program, I saw a country that was even less attractive than Nigeria. But going back there last week, because I have been following their development, I was so impressed by their level of development

He underlined something new and different that must not be allowed to go with political winds.

Yes, people are complaining of corrupt politicians but I tell them that there is nowhere politicians are not corrupt. There is corruption in America, the so-called region of justice and liberty, there are corrupt politicians. So, it’s not new. When you have corruption that is controlled, you will thrive. But corruption that is not controlled like the one in Nigeria is very bad for sustaining a social structure. So, what we have is the by-product of a system. Think of it this way, we have one of the most educated people in the country, the brightest in the world. They graduate from school, they don’t have jobs. What do you expect them to do? The graduates must resort to all kinds of things.

At this point, he said something interesting!

The problem in Nigeria is a systemic problem. A community where you see churches springing up more than homes, what does that tell you? Look at the situation in Nigeria, there are many churches in Nigeria yet there’s still corruption. How do you reconcile that? It shows that there is something that is fundamentally wrong if you rank as the most religious and most corrupt at the same time.

He offered a useful lesson to our leader. Let’s listen again.

Only a good public policy would change that. Talk of Panama for example. What did Panamanians do? To cross the canal, vessel users pay fees. They introduced systems that people coming to do business must incorporate 51% ownership for Panamanians and only 49% will be foreign investments. So, that catapulted the community in Panama to a lot of wealthy personalities because there’s a lot of money that comes from Colombia and other Latin countries, Central Europe, Eastern Europe to Panama. Also, for Nigeria to develop, we must close our borders.

Absolutely, if we’re suffering today that we can no longer import goods and boost the local economy, the suffering would probably not be more than five years from now. The country would transform. But unfortunately, people have seen this business of importation as a means to enrich themselves. He opined.

For me, I agree completely with him.

Utomi is the Programme coordinator (Media and Public Policy), Social and Economic Justice Advocacy (SEJA), Lagos. He could be reached via jeromeitomi@yahoo.com or 08032725374.

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