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How to end rigging in Nigeria
By Simon Kolawole
Let us perform an experiment. Let us make a Super Law that says if you are an elected public officer at any level of government, you must enrol all your children in public schools. You cannot send your children to private or foreign schools. If they are already in private or foreign schools, you must withdraw and enrol them in Nigerian public schools after you are elected into office. Also, you and your family members must receive medical treatment at government-owned hospitals in Nigeria. Your wife must give birth at a primary healthcare centre. No member of your family, including yourself, can receive medical treatment in a private or foreign hospital, except treatment is not available in Nigeria, and this has to be confirmed by the Nigerian Medical Association (NMA).
You and members of your family must travel by road anywhere you want to go in Nigeria, expect it is more than 500 kilometres. You cannot be accompanied on the road trip by armed escorts. No elected public officer, president and governor inclusive, will be allowed to fly private or presidential jets even if they are going to Australia. They must all take commercial flights, and only the president and governor can fly first class if they so desire. No elected public officer is allowed to use a motorcade with more than three cars. No public officer is allowed to use siren — the wailing machine should be reserved for the emergency services, notably the fire brigade and ambulances. Nobody should block any road because a governor or president is visiting.
Let us take the experiment further. Elected public officers should be paid only “living” wages and evidently reasonable allowances. There should be no severance package beyond a defined, realistic pension judging by global standards. There should be nothing like “estacode” for travels. The state will bear your expenses — hotel, feeding and transportation — within predefined limits. There should be no foreign trips without clearly defined goals. You must appoint all your aides from the civil service, so we are not going to be bearing extra costs to provide you with special assistants and special advisers. Let the civil service employ and train the best. We have all the technocrats in the civil service so let us make use of them, in addition to raising the standards of recruitment.
Let us step it up now. We should design an accountability and transparency system that will make it virtually impossible for a political office holder to take one kobo out of the treasury. This system will be so crafted that you cannot even award contracts to your friends, families and fronts because your power will be whittled down and circumscribed. Inflation of contracts is virtually impossible as there will be predefined costing templates and predetermined profit margins. You cannot say you bought a can of Coke for N155, for example. Above all, if you steal public funds, a solitary bullet will be fired through your ear or between your eyes — depending on how you like it.
Now, let us begin to catch our breath a little. What would happen if indeed we make a Super Law to enforce these rules? I can assure you straightaway: there will be almost nothing to fight over again! There will be no more rigging, no more violent elections, and no more inconclusive polls. We will not have to shut down schools, impose curfews and deploy soldiers simply because we want to hold elections. The only people you will find in politics are those who genuinely want to serve the society. Anybody who wants to go to public office to accumulate wealth and walk on the heads of Nigerians will not even bother to pick the nomination form. Only genuine human beings will go into politics.
There will be uncountable accidental benefits to Nigeria. If the children of politicians are forced to attend public schools, all the schools will suddenly become excellent, trust me. We will have the best public schools in Africa. If the politician’s wife has to give birth at the primary healthcare centre, even St. Nicholas Hospital will become green with envy at the new standard of the centres. If our political leaders have to regularly travel by land without armed escorts and siren, not only will the police become efficient and chase away armed robbers and kidnappers from the roads, even ordinary potholes will disappear. It is an experiment worth trying!
Imagine that the punishment for awarding a contract to your fronts is a tiny bullet entering through your nostril and exiting at the back your head. You will most likely not want to kill to hold such a position. And even if you decide to seek office, the prospect of joining your ancestors so early in the day will strike the fear of God into your heart. You will not dare go into politics if your interest is not the development of Nigeria. It will not matter whether or not you are a member of the ruling party before the Super Law comes for you. Your sins will not be forgiven even if you are the founder of the ruling party. In the end, there will be enough money to spend on healthcare, education and infrastructure. In no time, we will not recognise Nigeria again. We will think we are in Japan.
If you think my experiment is Utopian, then you are a stranger here. When the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport, Abuja, was shut down for repairs in 2017 and the Kaduna airport became the alternative, did you notice that kidnappers and potholes disappeared from the Abuja-Kaduna highway? You guessed right: the moment the elite needed to use the road, government decided to do the right thing. No governor or minister wanted to be kidnapped. That is the way we roll. The Yoruba say a wicked man does not do wickedness to himself. Even when the French President, Emmanuel Macron, visited Lagos in 2018, suddenly all the bad roads in Ikeja were repaired and broken down vehicles were cleared from sight. Our leaders know what is good, believe you me.
I am sorry if I have upset you today with my proposed experiment. Remember, it is just an experiment, so don’t be too upset. I don’t even believe in capital punishment. Let me be kind a bit then. One, we should use four years to prepare for the experiment. It shouldn’t start immediately so that we can tidy things up. The schools and hospitals should be in a decent state before take-off. Two, there should be enough guarantees to prevent abuses. Three, the experiment should not last for more than 25 years. If there is still election rigging and violence after 25 years, the experiment will have failed. We should then return to the pre-Super Law era. But I am confident that this experiment will work. A trial will convince us. Finally, I would suggest that the Super Law should also apply to ALL civil servants and political appointees, not just elected officials.
As for those who don’t understand irony and might have concluded that ‘Simon has gone rogue this morning’, let me now say it in your language: elections are inevitably violent and atrociously competitive in societies where public office holders have unfettered access to public funds — with little or no accountability. By just becoming a lawmaker, even at state level, you can become a billionaire overnight. You can create perks for yourself. You can pad budgets. You can harass ministries, departments and agencies to employ your thugs, to pay for your accommodation, to buy you first-class air tickets, and to award inflated contracts to your fronts. You can, overnight, move from your shack in Mushin to a mansion on Banana Island. How on earth will elections be peaceful?
You see, people don’t fight over nothing. Why would elections be atrocious if you will be forced to withdraw your children from foreign schools and enrol them in Nigeria? Why would you want to kill for an office that will not allow you to fly private jets and chartered flights — even if you owned them before you were elected? Why would you hire thugs to snatch ballot boxes when you will not be able to take one kobo more than your entitlement? You cannot build an extra house, cannot use siren, cannot have a long motorcade, cannot jump queues and cannot get your family members into boards of agencies, so what are you looking for in public office if not that you really want to serve? You must really want to sacrifice for the progress of Nigeria!
Check out the countries in the world where elections are treated as warfare and you will find that (1) there is crime and there is no punishment (2) there is easy money in public office. These are the incentives for bad behaviour. If there is little or no accountability, it means when you enter public office, you can please yourself and your friends without consequences. Even where there are consequences, they are not applied uniformly. If you belong to the right clique, you will get away with rape and murder. Human beings are not stupid. We take calculated risks. If the risk is low and the reward is high, bad behaviour will become the gold standard. Until public office is no longer a shortcut to wealth and crimes are punished uniformly and swiftly across board, expect more rigging and more violence in future elections. Except, of course, we pass the Super Law. Experiment.
AND FOUR OTHER THINGS…
When I lost my elder sister and childhood friend, Bosede, in 2015, I despaired even of life. I kept asking: why would she die after all that she had gone through in life? A similar gloom overwhelmed me when I heard of the death of Prof. Pius Adesanmi, the respected writer and literary critic, in the Ethiopian Airlines crash. He was always so lively and extremely witty — two of the attributes that made his column unmissable. I can’t understand how Pius would survive a road accident in which every other passenger died — and then get killed in an air crash less than a year later. In my little mind, surviving the horrific accident meant long life was on the cards for him. Mystery.
Twelve persons, including nine children, died when a three-storey building collapsed in the Ita-Faaji area of Lagos Island on Wednesday. The building, which housed a primary school, caved in at a time pupils were in their classrooms. The building had been marked for demolition because it was classified as “distress” but any surprises that things still ended the way they did? We were still mourning the dead when another building collapsed in Ibadan on Friday evening. The BBC report on the Lagos incident perfectly sums things up: “It is not unusual for buildings to collapse in Nigeria; materials are often sub-standard and the enforcement of regulations is lax.” Shame.
Although there are serious complaints about malpractices in the governorship elections, we just have to be positive and see that we made some progress, no matter how little. That at least three governors have so far failed to install their lackeys as successors should count for something. For all the anger against the ruling APC, it appears PDP has gained more states in this election. I am not a supporter of APC or PDP, but I would say we need this balance of power to keep this democracy growing. I want giant strides, not our usual story of ‘one step forward and two backward’, but maybe we can still find a silver lining in the cloud. Prospects.
Nigeria has become such a dysfunctional society where senior police officers openly associate with glorified thugs and assassins. Even artistes are singing praises of political thugs, glorifying the exploits of miscreants that used to be classified as outlaws when we still had values. To be a thug and assassin is very rewarding in Nigeria. The rate at which we are going in this country, entrepreneurs will soon start registering companies to provide services of different breeds of political thugs specifically for elections. For now, it is an informal business. But we have so glorified the madness that it will soon become legit. They will even charge VAT. Calamity.
Simon Kolawole is the founder and CEO of TheCable. He tweets @simonkolawole.