By Shaka Momodu
As I sit down to write this piece, I cannot but be amused by the change chorus around me. Even though I sense some genuine desire to have things go in a different direction, I get this sneaky feeling that a vast majority of Nigerians are being duped by some smart and clever businessmen masquerading as progressive democrats and agents of change. They sensed resentment and keyed in with the change slogan which seems to have caught on like a wildfire in the harmattan. But when you ask those clamouring for change; change to what? They just stare blankly at you unsure of how to answer. And when the answer eventually comes, it’s a disappointment, “we just want change.” That is the first inkling you get that some of our choristers of change hardly understand the issues at stake.
Now, are these promoters of change really agents of change? Are they really the democrats they profess to be? The evidence around me suggests otherwise. I think they are part of the problems Nigerians need change from. The values and virtues of democracy which they profess and claim allegiance are observed more in breach by these people who claim to be the long awaited messiahs destined to liberate our countrymen from the bondage of corrupt managers of public wealth.
They remind us every day of the rot in the system – corruption at the centre, growing unemployment, insecurity in the land, irregular power supply etc. Of course, these are facts that cannot be disputed. But what they fail to tell us is that they have been part and parcel of the rot and share in the responsibility and blame for the situation in the country today. They fail to remind us that they are among the greatest beneficiaries of the weak institutions that have made the country a wobbling giant. They fail to tell Nigerians that they have become richer and more prosperous on account of their holding public offices in this democracy. They want change not to serve the people but to serve their own interests and those of their cronies. They just want more money to increase their vast wealth to further their private benefits at the expense of public good. But they have found a strap line that resonates well with the people to anchor their quest for power, but no one is guiltier of practices detrimental to public good than these so-called agents of change. Their daily conduct is a mockery of their progressive hymn; the solemnity of their pledges to liberate the people is hollow, impiety and deceptive.
Now, let’s take a look for a moment at the promoters of change. Former Lagos State Governor Bola Tinubu at the Redemption Rally organised by the then Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN) in Akure to mobilise support for the party’s candidate, Rotimi Akeredolu, in the last Ondo governorship election openly boasted how he funded Olusegun Mimiko’s election with millions of pounds. He said: “Mimiko claimed that I did not spend money when he had problems with his mandate; this is not true. It is a lie. He came to me and begged for support, rolling on the ground.
“He collected money from me. I spent millions of pounds sterling but he betrayed me. It was Yemi Osinbajo who travelled to Israel and other countries to arrange the experts that helped him prosecute the case. Mimiko has called me a godfather, yes, I am a positive godfather and even, godfatherism is biblical and that is why Christians refer to God as their Father. I play godfatherism in the South-west for the good of our people. My godfatherism is for progress and mentoring. I have brought development to Oyo, Osun, Ekiti, Lagos, Edo and Ogun States and the people are better for it.”
Now, were the millions of pounds sterling earnings from entrepreneurship or money made from holding public office? We hear of his vast wealth spanning real estate, media, construction, hospitality etc. It is this same man that former President Olusegun Obasanjo, the “Navigator” of APC, referred to in his book, My Watch, as “having the worst case of corruption”. Till this moment, there has been no reaction from Tinubu.
Recall how he railroaded his wife into the Senate to replace a man who was far more experienced in legislative activities. Today, his wife merely sits in the Senate warming the seat, hardly making any meaningful contribution on the floor of debate. Lest we forget, his sister-in-law was also planted in the Lagos State House of Assembly. His son-in-law is also in the House of Representatives. This is the height of nepotism.
But nothing underscores Tinubu’s pretentious claim to the principles of democracy than his arbitrary appointment of his daughter, Sade, as the Iyaloja of Market Women and Traders in Lagos following the demise of his mother, Alhaja Abibat Mogaji, who held the position. A true and progressive democrat would have thrown the position open to elective contest. But that was not to be as he simply pronounced his 40-year-old daughter at the time, who is not even a trader, the President General of Market Women and Traders in Lagos, practically decreeing it a hereditary position. There is a saying that, “you can’t like the fruits of a tree and hate the tree.” A true democrat must not only preach it but practise it in all its manifestations.
Imagine if it was President Goodluck Jonathan that appointed his daughter as President of Market Women and Traders, all hell would have broken loose in the country. APC and those fraudulent human rights activists would have been shouting to high heavens in condemnation; lawyers – hundreds of SANs would have been jostling to represent the traders in court free of charge to challenge the imposition. But Tinubu did it against all known sense of decency and not a whimper from these hypocritical sets of people who by their own choosing lay claim to being the custodians of public good. From the pro-democracy activists to the constitutional lawyers who see two similar impunities with double vision and twin morality to the godfather goaded to continue to dupe the conscience of the people, there is no difference between their sins.
Governor Babatunde Fashola is on a swing after being initially at odds with his godfather’s preference to succeed him. He seems to have accepted the reality of his own near-zero political value and has embraced the man he initially kicked against. He fought his godfather through proxies, culminating in an open contest where he was roundly beaten. The old fox taught his godson a very bitter lesson on how not to challenge a benefactor. When the primaries were held, the distance between the godfather’s preference and godson’s were miles apart.
How can one explain that after eight years in office and with well over N4 trillion in revenue expended, pipe borne water is still a scarce resource in Lagos? An estimated 90 per cent of Lagosians have no access to this vital necessity of life. Nearly every household today self-provides this essential resource by sinking a borehole. Recall here that the situation wasn’t this bad before Fashola’s rise to power. Even if the situation was bad, the governor’s record on this score is a miserable failure.
Under Fashola, instead of more people having access to pipe borne water, what we are seeing is a rapid decline of access to this necessity of life. Many public schools have no roofs, toilets, tables, and chairs as students sit on worn-out tyres to take lectures in classrooms that have neither windows nor doors. This is the state of some public schools especially the primary schools in Fashola’s Lagos. The state of most roads in the state is nothing to write home about. Just visit a place like Ikorodu or Iyani Ipaja and you will understand what I mean. The health sector has deteriorated to the level of “mere consulting clinics,” i.e. if you see a doctor to consult. If you think I am lying, visit any of the public health facilities in Lagos and tell me if any, I repeat if any, befits our so-called “centre of excellence”.
I am also curious to know the policies Fashola initiated to help the unable become able and as such help lift more people out of the poverty index. Affordable housing is still a pipe dream in this mega-city state. What has he done to ease the challenges faced by the people in this regard? This is the man now at the forefront of change campaign. The man who could not change the dilapidated infrastructure in public schools, health sector or provide pipe borne water for Lagosians after nearly eight years in office as governor is the one telling Nigerians that help is coming from Buhari. Former Governor Lateef Jakande’s temporary school structures litter the state, almost 32 years after he left office. Lagosians should ask him, if he truly shares in their pains and identifies with their problems as he claims to be, then why are his children not attending public schools or using public health facilities like ordinary people?
Perhaps, more than anything else, Fashola’s hypocrisy played out last week, finally revealing the internal contradictions in their message of change.
When I read the statement made by the governor urging Lagosians not to vote for an old man, Jimi Agbaje (57), I chuckled, unsure of what he meant. Hear him: “You know what you have to do, open your eyes clearly. When I took this job, I was 44, I was counting the white hair on my head. Today, at 52, I am counting the black hair on my head. Akinwunmi Ambode is younger than me; you need youthfulness to do this job. That man (referring to Jimi Agbaje) is already 60; he cannot cope with this job. If you call him at night he may not take your call.”
The same Fashola, who feels Agbaje whom he claims, is 60 but whose actual age is said to be 57 is too old to govern Lagos, has been campaigning vigorously for Muhammadu Buhari (72) to be elected to govern Nigeria.
Now hear him defend his position on Buhari: “Some people are challenging me that if I say Agbaje is too old to govern Lagos, what about Buhari who is older? My response is this: We all agree that we have problem of insecurity in the country. Between Jonathan and Buhari who is the most experienced to tackle security issue? We all know Buhari is an experienced security expert. Then on corruption issue, who is the most credible among them? It is only Buhari. He has ruled Nigeria before and headed several positions without record of corruption and mismanagement.”
Did he really mean what he said about age? If he did then something is wrong somewhere. In one breadth, he approbates in another he reprobates. If a 57 or 60-year-old is too old to govern Lagos, which is less complex and a microcosm of Nigeria, why should it be okay for a 72-year-old man to be the president of Nigeria with all its multiplicity of problems? Will Buhari, who is steep in medieval times, pick Fashola’s call at night? Does Buhari have the vigour, stamina and mental alertness to govern a modern country with all its ethno-religious complexities and developmental challenges? The hypocrisy of these people surprises me to no end.
After nearly eight years in office, Governor Aliyu Magatakada Wamakko’s Sokoto State is still on the list of the 10 poorest states in Nigeria. This is according to the recent Oxford Poverty and Human Development Initiative (OPHI) 2014 report which revealed Nigeria’s poorest states. A man who failed to change the fortunes of Sokoto people for the better is on the bandwagon of APC’s change. His state is listed number four on the poverty index.
Look at Governor Rotimi Amaechi’s behaviour in Rivers State. What is ennobling about it that one can sincerely recommend as model to the youths to emulate? A progressive democrat who is so intolerant of opposition that he won’t even allow the use of the state’s stadium for a campaign rally a few days after he used the same facility to flag off his party’s campaign. Is this the change they talk about?
The truth is that Nigerians are not included within the pale of their glorious progressive dividends. Their posturing matched against the reality of their stewardship only reveals the immeasurable distance between them and the people whose interests they claim to be fighting for. They have amassed a rich inheritance for their own children, while condemning our children to hewers of wood and drawers of water. This is a generation of self-seekers whose motivation is primitive wealth accumulation. They must be challenged, interrogated and held to account for their public conduct lest the people are misled again by their new clamour disingenuously disguised as “change.”
According to Theodore Roosevelt, “The foundation-stone of national life is, and ever must be, the high individual character of the average citizen.” This is specially so for leaders and custodians of public trust. But what we have seen here is a succession of bad leaders who have profited from the misery of the people. And there you have it.
Shaka Momodu is a columnist for Thisday Newspapers.