BY DAN ONWUKWE
THE headline of this column is like the ringing question Ronald Reagan asked American voters in 1980 when he was seeking their mandate to succeed the then incumbent President, Jimmy Carter. Carter, of the Democratic Party was elected in 1976.It was a time despair seemed to have supplanted hope in America.
The country was reeling from the Watergate scandal that consumed Richard Nixon presidency. Carter knew the enormity of the challenge when he decided to run for the presidency.
He summed up the despondency among Americans as the “malaise of the spirit”. But once he took the mantle of leadership, he lost grip, or perhaps, he was overwhelmed by the problems. Reagan, a Republican (may God bless his soul), a master communicator looked the average voter in the eye and asked a provoking question: Are you better off now than you were four years ago? American voters agreed with him that indeed their country was drifting, dangerously.
He won by a landslide. Carter was gone. Similar question is asked in every democracy when the leadership has failed to provide solutions to the manifold problems facing the country and its citizens.
That’s because disillusionment has set in. It is apt to reframe the question that Reagan asked his compatriots 33 years ago: Nigerians, are better off now 14 years since the Peoples Democratic Party(PDP) came to power at the centre? Certainly, many will answer in the affirmative, particularly those that have benefited from the policies of PDP. So also will millions of Nigerians answer in the negative, especially those who are at the receiving end of what they might call the “flip-flop policies” of the ruling party.
Expectations differ, so is perception of any government in power. But one thing is clear: politics in Nigeria can be a cruel and fun. It has a flavour of the good, the bad and the ugly. The politicians provide us with the drama that soothes our frayed and tired nerves.
PDP is the arena that provides the fun and the follies that characterize Nigerian politics. PDP without crisis is like a doughnut without a hole.
Party members are not ashamed of dancing naked at the market square. Washing dirty linens in public has become a regular occurrence .The rank -and- file of the party resembles a broken family whose members would prefer to destroy their inheritance rather than share it. Yet, the party deludes itself as “largest party in Africa” and some of its members have boasted several times that the party will remain in power for sixty years.
Does the voter matter to them?. May be, not. It is not as if opposition parties have proved to be a realistic better alternative, but often, assessment of performance is based on the party that has been given the mandate to turn things around. The truth is that PDP is fast losing grip of present realities in Nigeria. Anger is eating deep like acid among the people.
And in the face of that, the ruling party has come far short on leadership, competence and effectiveness in the handling of critical issues in the country today.
I believe, it is in that context that five northern governors, Aliyu Babangida (Niger), Rabiu Kwankwaso (Kano), Sule Lamido (Jigawa), Murtala Nyako (Adamawa) and Aliyu Wamakko (Sokoto) issued red-alert on the state of the nation, in particular, the ugly state of affairs within the PDP to which all of them belong. They are not ordinary members of the party.
They are strong voices that we should listen to, not ignored. In the past two weeks, the five governors, already labeled by the party as “renegades” have held consultations with three former heads of state, Olusegun Obasanjo, Ibrahim Babangida and Abdulsalami Abubakar. Nyako said something instructive after their visit to Minna, hometown of IBB and Abubakar: “we will continue to make efforts to save the party(PDP).
But if our efforts did not work out, we have no alternative than to fold our arms and see PDP dead and help in burying it”. The presidency has since dismissed such comments as “grandstanding”. Similar dismissive comments by the presidency followed their solidarity visit to Governor Chibuike Amaechi of Rivers State who is currently under siege by the party and members loyal to the President.
This is a party that has repeatedly shown contempt for the laws of the land and liberty of individuals. No doubt, the rot that PDP has made of itself is like a virus that has now infected many facets of the country, with the exception of a few, including members of the National Assembly. This is evident from their jumbo pay that become folders of groundbreaking wastage. It reflects how Nigeria has faired under PDP.
A recent report by The Economist magazine says it all. Quoting data from the International Monetary Fund(IMF),The Economist reports that with an annual basic salary of N30.6m,(equivalent of $189,500),a legislator at the National Assembly is the highest paid in the world, while President Jonathan could be earning much higher than the United States President. That officially makes our democracy the costliest in the world and our lawmakers perhaps the least productive, in comparison.
Some years ago, the same magazine had described our national parliament as the “filthiest arena of politics” in the world. That may be an exaggeration. But may not be far from the truth. This report could be inciting, but the fact is a bazaar of sort that we knew before The Economist hugged the headlines with it. Expectedly, spokesman for the Senate, Enyinnaya Abaribe has described the report as “misleading and incorrect”.
Nevertheless. we know that to be the case, that our lawmakers across the states and local governments are paid so much and work too little to justify the amount being lashed on them as salary and other pecks of office.
About two years ago, Governor of the Central Bank, Lamido Sanusi raised a genuine alarm over the amount spent on the federal lawmakers, which he said was taking a big chunk of the budget.
They called for his head. He was forced to adjust his comment, but not the gritty truth of what this obscene jumbo salary means to the nation’s Gross Domestic Product(GDP). For months ago, the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS)released an astonishing data showing that the Federal Government in the last 12 years spent N18trn to service national “lifestyles”. Contrastingly, within the same period,N6.6trn was spent on infrastructure.
That is one of the reasons why our roads have become death-traps. Recently, a report by French wire service, AFP quoted Euro Monitor, a financial market derivative, that the rich in Nigeria spent N9.4bn on champagne in 2012.
This amount is equivalent of 849,000 litres of champagne. Recall that the presidency allocated N2bn for “entertainment” in this year’s budget. Why is all of this happening in our country? Why are politics and politicians different in Nigeria? Is it in our genes or in our stars or both? Please, answer.
Perhaps it will do our politicians and our polity good to heed the advice of the Catholic pontiff, Pope Francis, during his visit to Brazil last week. He looked at the rich in the midst of poorest poor and said:’ Don’t let money and greed steal your soul.
Money and greed bring the illusion of being happy’. Our politics has become staid and out of touch. Something needs to be done. And urgently.