Conspiracy, Nigeria, Kolawole




Sometime ago — I don’t know the exact date and time — the Nigerian political elite (some call it “elites”, but I’m more comfortable using the good old “elite”) held a two-day convention at an undisclosed location. After intense discussion, negotiation and feasting, they adopted a two-word vision statement: “Destroy Nigeria”. To actualise the vision, they also wrote a short mission statement: “To use our positions as elected or appointed political leaders to mismanage Nigeria, take excessive care of our personal needs, appropriate all possible resources to ourselves, cronies and associates, and ultimately under-develop Nigeria”.

The blueprint was developed. Committees were set up to implement the plan, in conjunction with the elite in public and private sectors. People were given specific tasks and assignments: you, go and destroy Kogi state; you, go and ruin the ministry of petroleum resources; you, go and make sure there is no electricity; you, go and derail the railway; you, go and make Customs a cesspool of decay; you, go and ensure that students are taught Chemistry without chemicals; you, let the roads be eternally unmotorable; you, go and work with the private sector elite to take out as much money as possible to buy property in Dubai, London, Monaco and New York.

The political elite also agreed to work as one, no matter party affiliation, ethnic origin, and religious beliefs. It was agreed that irrespective of the posting and position — federal, state, council, zone, ministry, agency, department, commission — the most important task is personal accumulation of wealth. Award contracts that are not meant to be executed. Start projects that are intended to be abandoned somewhere along the line. Inflate contracts, pay “mobilisation”, take the money and run. Finally, it was agreed that the political elite are one family, one fraternity: any insider who tries to spill the beans should be crushed. Injury to one family member is injury to all.

After the backslapping and glass-clinking, they brought the convention to a close and set out to work. From time to time, they do peer review. One will say ‘I now fly chattered jets across the country’. The other will say ‘I’m buying a private jet next week’. This one will say ‘my daughter’s wedding is holding in Paris’. That one will say ‘my birthday is in Venice’. Have you paid workers’ salaries? No, I owe five months, but my people understand that federal allocation has fallen. I’m travelling to China for one month with a 100-man delegation to go and woo foreign investors. I’m building an airport — to finance my re-election or retirement.

The sophisticated members of the political elite class are more creative, with the help of their friends in the private sector. They take 20-year bonds for ‘infrastructure’ and put their people in bondage, while the real infrastructure is the stomach or campaign finance. They concession public assets — and the concessionaire is their front. So they sit down to work out the inflated cost of the project, rig the cost recovery period (10 years can become 40 years after a bottle of cognac), and if anything goes wrong, they waste state resources to “buy out” the concessionaire — meaning a project that cost N5 billion can be bought back by the government for N80 billion. Conspiracy.

Meanwhile, the political elite also implement a well-perfected plan to keep the people busy: they play up ethnic differences, stoke regional and religious emotions, and create platforms and groups to promote or counter agitations. The people on the streets, largely unaware of the elite conspiracy, eagerly jump on the train, insulting and yelling at one another in the belief that one religion or one ethnic group or one geo-political zone is their enemy. The elite create narratives that becloud the fact that mismanagement is in every nook and cranny of Nigeria, the fact that incompetence is in every council and state. They just tell the naive people what they love to hear.

The hapless people are hungry and angry and will fall for anything. They are unaware that right on their streets, the elite conspiracy is being implemented through muddy roads, gaping potholes, clogged drains and marauding muggers. Politics is coloured as black and white to the gullible masses. They think that one party is good and another is bad, that one ethnic group is full of morons while their own is filled with geniuses. The plot of the political elite is to make sure the people never get to speak with one voice to confront them — and this is working just fine. If only the people knew of the conspiracy, they would stone these overfed politicians first, and ask questions later.

You are asking me: was there really a meeting where the political elite agreed to destroy Nigeria? Well, well, well… let us put it this way: it doesn’t matter if there was actually a ‘conspiracy convention’. The politicians do not have to meet physically to draw up a plan to underdevelop Nigeria. It is a mental meeting. Anybody who gets political power knows he is expected to act in a certain way, and he understands quite well that the purpose of the power is not to make life better for the people but to enjoy comfort and accumulate as much wealth as possible. If some development happens along the line, all good. But that was never the intention.

When politicians get power, they understand very well what it means. They don’t need any convention to understand the unwritten rules: somebody nominated or helped you into office, so paying the political IOU must be top priority; you don’t come out of government not owning new mansions or buying an Island, so amassing wealth is another priority; there is another election coming up, so you need to build up funds for that; when you award contracts, the fundamental motive is to stockpile personal wealth, not to improve anything — but if they end up improving healthcare, education, housing and anything at all, smile and claim credit.

I do not have any problem with the political elite — which I would define simply as “those who are privileged to wield any form of political power and influence by appointment, election or association”. Every country has its elite classes — political, economic, traditional, professional, etc. It is part of the societal structure from the foundation of the world. To be a member of the political elite is therefore not a stigma or a sin. If I my fictional Nigerian political elite “convention” created the wrong impression, I do apologise. I repeat: there is nothing wrong with being a member of the political elite. It is a thing to be desired.

However, as with all human formations and classifications, they have different motives and different motivations. There are two basic classifications of the political elite: the Developmental Political Elite (DPE) and the Predatory Political Elite (PPE). There is a fundamental difference. DPEs are developmental in their orientation: they have a ‘vision of society’, a mental picture of how the society should be in terms of political, human and economic development. Development is their core vision. They are no saints and are not beyond seeking personal comfort, but that is a “fringe benefit” rather than the primary objective. They have a passion for development.

PPEs, on the other hand, are innately predatory: they have only a ‘vision of self’. What excites them the most is personal benefit. Development sometimes creeps into the agenda but that is purely an aside. This is the category of political elite that have hijacked Nigeria at national and sub-national levels, perhaps since the Independence era. There have been episodes of hijack by the developmental elite and they made some impact. In the military governments of Gen. Yakubu Gowon, Lt. Gen. Olusegun Obasanjo and Major-General Muhammadu Buhari, there was a noticeable presence of DPEs. In Obasanjo’s second coming, there were also quite a few of them.

I conclude. By and large, I believe that for Nigeria to progress, the developmental elite must be in control of political power, either as the president or as the president’s core group (“kitchen cabinet”). The Asian Tigers were developed by DPEs. The Chinese DPEs pulled 500 million citizens out of poverty in three decades. DPEs are driven by love for country. They are competent and patriotic — willing and able to nullify the elite conspiracy. They can change the vision from “Destroy Nigeria” to “Develop Nigeria”. If Buhari is ever going to succeed, the right kind of elite must “hijack” his government. His kitchen cabinet must be filled with DPEs. Key.

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AND FOUR OTHER THINGS…

INCONCLUSIVE INEC
The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) has made its name as the “inconclusive national electoral commission” — and it added another feather to its cap on Thursday when it recognised Mr. Jimoh Ibrahim as the PDP governorship candidate for Ondo state. Why did I say so? In Edo state, INEC recognised Pastor Osagie Ize Iyamu, the candidate of the Ahmed Makarfi ‘PDP faction’, as the governorship flag bearer. In Ondo, it is recognising the candidate of the Modu Sheriff ‘PDP faction’. That means INEC is inconclusive on what PDP faction to recognise. Not completely out of character, you would say, but intriguing all the same. Fishy.

MAGU MATTER
Mr. Ibrahim Magu has been acting as chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) forever and ever. Why has the senate not confirmed him? How long are we going to wait to have a substantive chairman? There is no doubt that Magu has been working round the clock in the anti-graft war, and if there is any agency President Buhari can be very proud of today, EFCC is it. There are a few things many of us do not agree with concerning EFCC operations — particularly the media trials while someone is still being investigated — but that should not detract from the fact that Magu has been doing a commendable job leading the agency. Puzzling.

CODE OF MISCONDUCT
Who still remembers what the senate tried to do to the ICPC Act in 2002? Following a belief that President Olusegun Obasanjo wanted to use ICPC against Senate President Anyim Pius Anyim, the lawmakers sought to render the agency impotent. The amendment died on arrival. Now, federal lawmakers are trying to bring the code of conduct bureau (CCB) and code of conduct tribunal (CCT) under the control of the national assembly by amending the laws — apparently because they believe the president is using the CCT against Senate President Bukola Saraki. Since the legislature wants executive powers, shouldn’t we just return to the parliamentary system? Absurd.

NO, THANKS
That two ambassadorial nominees turned down Buhari is not what surprises me — it is the fact that they were not pre-informed about their nominations in the first place. It was during the military era that this culture of “appointment by NTA network news” started, and I remember two people with similar names once showing up for inauguration under the Gen. Ibrahim Babangida government. Although Mrs Pauline Tallen and Dr. Usman Bugaje gave “good” reasons for turning down the nominations, we did not even have to get to that. APC promised us change, but it seems it is more of the same. Maybe it is a Nigerian problem — not that of political parties. Embarrassing.

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