IDEAs Episode 137 One Year After the vote: IDEAs in the behaviour of POLITICIANS

IDEAs 23rd February 2024

One Year after the vote: IDEAs in the behaviour of POLITICIANS

Ayo Obe welcomed listeners to the last episode of IDEAs Radio.  She said that over the past four weeks the programme had looked at the IDEAs quotient in Security, the Electoral Process, the Judiciary and the Economy.  The last of the programme would be looking at Politicians, and what was their own Integrity, Ethics and Accountability contribution to our Democracy.  She introduced the guest who would discuss the issue with her: Jide Ojo who is a Development Consultant, Author and Public Affairs Analyst whom many listeners would know from his columns in Punch newspapers or television appearances.

Ayo said that when she was considering this matter, she was thinking that at a time when most of the nation is groaning under the increased cost of living, she couldn’t help thinking about the Ethics of our politicians, and that the picture that kept coming up in her mind was the National Assembly as they were grinning over the brand new vehicles that they said they needed.  It was not just that the vehicles were brand new, but that they were imported ones at that.  She thought that while she didn’t want it to necessarily be a matter of dump on the National Assembly, but that might be a good starting point for the discussion: Had the National Assembly displayed Ethics in this matter and others?

Jide said that the vehicles issue was a tip of the iceberg that the National Assembly considered it a priority to request and get N160m SUVs which were not even assembled or made in Nigeria, but were imported from abroad.  They also earmarked huge sums of about N50bn for the refurbishment of the National Assembly premises in the Supplementary Budget.

Ayo said that to her, when the National Assembly was spending all this money, the Integrity, Ethics and of course the Accountability were paramount, and she asked Jide how he saw it in the current climate.

Jide said that to him it was insensitive in the sense that this is a period when there should be a lot of sacrifice.  However, he did not want to scapegoat the National Assembly alone, because whatever the National Assembly did, the Executive was many times worse.  He said that all that was coming out of the Ministry of Humanitarian Affairs  was quite scandalous, and the preposterous amount that the Executive Arm budgeted for itself in the 2024 Budget, referring to the analysis that BudgIT and the Centre for Social Justice had made of the Budget, and said that the amounts set aside or earmarked for such items as the renovation of the President’s Lodge in Lagos, or the Vice President’s Lodge, and purchase of new vehicles etc. was very scandalous.

Ayo asked Jide whether explanations given that items such as the Presidential Yacht were not for the President to roll around on in luxury but were for the Nigerian Navy were good enough, given that these matters continued to appear in the Budget.  She wondered whether there was a problem of optics because in the end as the saying went, in public life, the appearance is as important as the reality.

Jide said that the office a politician occupied should not control him, it was the office holder who should be the one to control the office.  He said he knew that President Bola Tinubu was a billionaire – if not in dollars, certainly in Naira.  Similarly the Senate President was also probably a billionaire, given that he rose through the ranks, was a Commissioner, was a two-time Governor, was a former Senator, former Minister and now is President of the Senate.  So since it was clear that these are not poor people, one was bound to ask why they could not make some sacrifice?  He was not saying that they were not entitled to these perks, given that the Revenue Mobilisation and Fiscal Allocation Commission has approved these things, or the guidelines provided by the National Salaries and Wages Commission, but since the 1980s we have been talking about Structural Adjustment policies where the citizens are asked to tighten their belts, but what we have seen and continue to see is that the political class is loosening their belts because they are becoming overweight, and that was not good.

Ayo said that it had seemed at first that things were going to start off on a good footing when the President went to the United Nations and there were supposed to be strict limits on the size of his entourage to New York, only for him to turn up at the Climate Change conference in Dubai with a cast of thousands!  And that was in addition to the frequent overseas trips of the President.  She asked whether there wasn’t a case for there to be some public demonstration of belt tightening on the part of our political class.

Jide said that this is the point he has continued to make.  He did not begrudge our political leaders their comforts – they should be quite ok so that they could attend to national concerns …

Ayo interjected wondering ironically whether the rest of us who have work to do are all also living in the lap of luxury.  Do we really buy the argument that our political leaders have to be extra comfortable before they do their work that they sought election to do?

Jide said that one had to consider the huge amounts that they invested in the course of electioneering, saying that this was so huge that billions were spent seeking election.  He gave as an example the situation in Edo State where there was such an intense battle in both the All Progressives Congress and the Peoples Democratic Party in the primaries for the off-cycle governorship election, with allegations that money was exchanging hands in the effort to secure the ticket.

Ayo again interjected to ask whether it was the Nigerian people and public money that should be used to compensate them for their own decision to contest the election?  After all, it is supposed to be public service!

Jide agreed that it was called public service, but said that in actual fact it was personal aggrandizement.  He said that we should not accept it.  But there were several dimensions to the matter, and that was why he had raised the issue of campaign finance and political funding.  He said that the huge mindless amounts that people spend, no matter what level of advocacy there might be, they just want to recoup their and get their money back.  However, that was not the way it should be, because even in the United States of America, from where Jide said we had copied this system of government, that was not how it was done.  He reminded Ayo that just last week, the National Assembly was contemplating changing the political system of Nigeria from presidential system to the parliamentary system, but that that would not change anything.  What needed to change was the attitude and the character of  the political class that needed to change, not the political system.

Jide continued, pointing that (former US President Barack) Obama was poorer in office as President than he had been as a private citizen, even as a Senator he had income from his books.

Ayo observed that the amount that was spent on elections in the US dwarfed anything that was spent on elections in Nigeria, and when Jide suggested that this came from public contributions and was spent on political advertising, she said that they also had big donors, but the point was that they don’t expect to recoup that money from being in office or from to reimburse those mega donors.  At best they would make money after they left office.   Ayo also pushed back against Jide’s suggestion that that was an ideal system, saying that she didn’t agree that the US system was ideal.  Jide maintained that at least, it was far better than ours, contrasting the reports that Senators share apartments in Washington because rents are so expensive with the amount spent on housing our own legislators at Abuja, despite the monetization saga. 

Jide referred to Mahatma Gandhi’s warning against Politics without Principle or Ethics, saying that that was why the late Claude Aké lamented that in Nigeria we had democracy without democrats.

Ayo asked Jide about the political parties, saying that many people found it unpalatable for the government in power to blame every mishap on enemies, and sabotage etc., but she also wondered about the opposition parties.  Were they doing any better?  When the Federal Government is giving out palliatives to them, was their own behaviour any more transparent?

Jide said that Ayo’s guess was as good as his own, and referred to the sharing of official vehicles, noting that when presidential candidate Peter Obi said that members of the Labour Party should not collect those vehicles, the elected representatives rebuffed him and insisted that it was their entitlement and that they were going to collect.  So none of the parties whether NNPP, PDP, APGA or Labour Party had been known – at least on record – to have rejected anything that was meant for their office.  The same applied to governance, because none of the opposition Governors was performing any miracles that would make Nigerians say that this was a worthy role model.  All of them had fallen short of what the people desired and that is why we need to bring it to the attention of the people that while it is good and it is fit and proper to hold the Federal Government to Account, the State and Local Governments also owe some measure of Accountability because all of them get allocations from the Federation Account.  So finger pointing should not be only at Abuja. 

Jide said when we listen to opposition parties lampooning the ruling party, we are forced to ask what they are doing that is better in their respective States.  But the answer is that in many cases, things are even worse in the States.  He recalled that last December, a Member of the House of Representatives from Edo State revealed that each of them had received N100m  and Senators were given N200m to buy rice for their constituents.  And despite the fact that the Presidency confirmed this, many of them denied receiving the money!  Jide also referred to the ruckus between the Senate President and the Governors.

Ayo said that the ruckus and disputes are indeed so many, and she thanked Jide for being her last guest on the last IDEAs Radio show.

In closing, Ayo said that as we come to the final final end of the IDEAs broadcasts, she would like to thank the Macarthur Foundation for the grant that allowed her to present these programmes, and CITAD – the Centre for Information Technology and Development – which administered the grant.

She said that at the end of last year, the Guardian newspaper had asked her what she thought Nigerians expected from their government in 2024, and that apart from the areas we have discussed today, she had said that we needed to return to the ‘Low Profile’ ethos of the 1970s.  That was before many listeners were born, but really, what Nigerians want is to hear less of the obsession of our politicians with their status, what they think is ‘befitting’ them and what they deserve.  We want total transparency from them – whether it is about palliatives from the Federal Government … in short, Ayo said, what we want to see is our political leaders setting the best possible example when it comes to Integrity, Ethics and Accountability in our Democracy.


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