|Senate President Bukola Saraki|
By SKC Ogbonnia, PhD.
A group of senators forged documents to enthrone a cabal to the leadership of the Nigerian Senate, the nation’s highest law-making body on June 9, 2015. They were caught red handed in a broad day light. After a routine investigation, the police confirmed that a felony was indeed committed. On top of that, the individual who assumed the position of the senate president, Bukola Saraki, and his wife have been embroiled in corruption charges for ages from their different activities in the private as well as the public sectors.
After a long recess, occasioned by a lingering leadership crisis, the Senate reconvened on July 28, 2015. Instead of doing the needful and effecting the desired change, to the chagrin of a mopping society, a relaxed majority of eighty one senators—most of whom are facing all sorts of corrupt charges—connived to brazenly pass a vote of confidence on the very leadership of the senate.
The reason for this crass impunity is not farfetched: Such senators do not want any change. What they want is the status quo whereby the leadership of the Legislature is firmly under the control of a venal clique well versed in thwarting positive change in Nigeria . Thus far, they are gaining ground day-by-day with their well patented game. Once the forgery case blew open, the cabal quickly headed to court to tangle the case with the most inane argument, suggesting that a crime committed in the Senate of the Federal Republic of Nigeria is none of Nigeria ’s business.
What is more, similar to the past Jonathan regime, this dateless cabal is already scheming with a contingent of judges infamous for adjourning felony cases till eternity in name of due process. This whole dilemma has sent a peppering signal around the world that the much advertised anti-corruption agenda under President Muhammadu Buhari government may end up in chalk and talk without the walk.
The main culprits behind the crisis are the brain trust of the corrupt oligarchy that ruined the immediate past regime. We are talking about the same senators notorious for colluding with their cohorts in the private sector to loot funds budgeted for public projects. Yet, they are also known to crave ostentatious lifestyles abroad and live like kings at home. To that end, they do not always see any reason to care. But common sense dictates that all, whether rich or poor, should actually care for positive change this time.
Not only is the global change movement that propelled Buhari back to power too costly to give in, it is a last hope, and must be defended by any means necessary. More poignantly, it has become very imperative for these leaders to recognize that the general condition in the country has not always been able to tell the rich from the poor when tragedy strikes. Every Nigerian blood is on the line.
Put squarely, the common effects of bad leadership, such as poor medical facilities, bad roads, armed robbery, and kidnapping are not only claiming lives of the ordinary citizens; the situation is also claiming the lives of the leaders themselves or those of their blood relatives. The eminent political historian, Bala Yusuf Usman, might have imagined this predicament when he lamented that many highly placed Nigerians are some of the most ignorant because they have the tendency to forget that politics all over the world is all about human existence and common good. An American president, John F. Kennedy was obviously more direct: “If a free society cannot help the many who are poor, it cannot save the few who are rich.”
Eye-opening examples abound in the Nigerian history, but recent incidents involving some of the principal actors of the immediate past government offer a salutary lesson.
Goodluck Ebele Jonathan needs no introduction. As a former governor of an oil-rich state and later president of the Federal Republic , no person was better placed to have built a world class hospital in his home state of Bayelsa than Jonathan. Instead, he preferred special oversea medical checkups for his entire clan, forgetting that “a stitch in time saves nine.” But he would later recognize the omission in a very painful way.
The president’s younger brother, Meni Jonathan, suddenly became ill on one fateful day at their home town of Otuoke and needed immediate medical attention. Regrettably, that was not to be. What eventually became of Meni is calmly explained by the following words of the then president, Mr. Goodluck himself: Meni “drove himself down to Yenagoa to board the chopper to Abuja . He got to Abuja that Saturday and was admitted in hospital. The following Monday, his breathing changed. I said; let us make arrangement to get him out—to let him get treatment outside. So an arrangement was being made. Unfortunately the following day he had cardiac arrest and inflamed heart at the State House Clinic.” And a president’s brother gave up the ghost like ordinary Nigerians in November 2012 at the capital city of Abuja .
The case of the wife of the former president, Dame Patience Jonathan, is another embarrassing detail. Penchant for dictatorship without power, Mrs. Jonathan once withheld the funds budgeted for roads in her native State of Rivers . But little did she know that the law of gravity never fails to hold: What goes up must come down. One of the roads in the same Rivers State would claim her mother’s life on a ghastly motor accident on July 22, 2013.
Enter Namadi Sambo, the then Vice President. As an architect, it was believed he could lend his experiences to improve Nigeria ’s failing infrastructures. However, any sentence linking Sambo to essential amenities had been the cheerleading of the privatization of public properties defined by crude political cronyism. The fanfare changed on April 27, 2014. His immediate younger brother, Capt. Yusuf Sabo Sambo, was burnt to death on ghastly motor accident. Eye witnesses confirmed that the young man could have survived if there was an efficient fire service at the only airport in the national capital. Even worse, rather than hold the usual Federal Executive Council meeting to deliberate ways to save 300 ordinary Nigerians kidnapped by Boko Haram at the time, Sambo enjoined President Jonathan to cancel the first scheduled executive session after the Chibok tragedy. The sole motive was to allow council members to attend a three-day prayer for the late younger brother of a vice president. Are you still there?
At the helm of the Legislature was David Alechenu Mark, the president of the then Senate. Known for honing undue schisms between the rich and poor, it is not unexpected that the 7th Senate under Mark has gone down in history as the most selfish, corrupt, and insensitive to the welfare of the masses. But if there was any incident that could stare Mark on the face about the realities of life, it was story of his younger sister, Mrs. Mary Onma-Adakole. Although access to foreign medical care was readily available, it was too far, too late, to save her life. Mary went on labor unexpectedly and died during child birth at nearby hospital in Abuja on January 15, 2014.
Ike Ekweremadu was the Deputy President of the Senate under Goodluck Jonathan regime. Like Jonathan, whatever Mr. Ekweremadu lacked in parental pedigree, he had in abundance in strokes of luck. Yet, if the proverbial saying that a tree does not make a forest is ever to hold, nowhere has it come to pass more than in the case of the man from Mpu. At home with primitive accumulation of wealth and hopping into helicopters to avoid the chronic bad roads around Igboland, it was convenient for Ekweremadu to ignore years of pleas—including a special letter from this writer in 2011—to capitalize on huge constituency budget to repair the Enugu-PH Express road, clearly the most vital road in the senator’s immediate constituency. It also is so sad to report here that chancy bumps at the same Enugu-PH Express road would claim the life of his most beloved brother, Chukwuemeka on December 23, 2012. Next…
Dieziani Alison-Madueke, the current President of OPEC and former Minister of Petroleum Resources, deserves every mention. She was widely seen as a poster lady for everything wrong with the Nigerian masses. Instead of the sweet breeze of the oil boom, what the masses felt most throughout her tenure was the scourge of constant controversies, including allegations of N10 billion private jet rides, missing of $20 billion from NNPC coffers, and fuel subsidy scams. It was not surprising then that the blood family of the OPEC president was a constant target for restless youths, as evidenced by separate abductions of her sister, Osiyo Agama, on October 21, 2014 and nephew, Mr. Joseph Agama, on March 19, 2015, among other incidents.
Any serious attention to the recent misrule of Nigeria without a mention of Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, the then Minister of Finance and the Coordinating Minister for the Economy, is like an Ugbo ritual without the presence of a vulture. She was perennially courted at the height of the oil boom to proffer solutions for massive youth unemployment. However, Mrs. Iweala quickly became a hybrid of intuition and oligarchy, always extolling archaic policies infamous for milling out overnight billionaires while the masses gnashed in abject poverty and despair. But she was finally able to sort out the difference between rhetoric and reality when unemployed youths kidnapped her innocent mother, Prof. Kamene Okonjo, on December 9, 2012.
It will be unfair to conclude without looking oneself in the mirror. March 12, 2011 remains a dark date in the history of humankind as far as I am concerned. That was the day a beloved brother, Chief Obidinma Jackson Ogbonnia, died tragically. He had attended a political rally a night before, became sick in Enugu the morning after, and required immediate medical help. Unfortunately, there was no nearby hospital capable of treating his case. Before traveling over thirty minutes to the University of Nigerian Teaching Hospital at Ituku, my younger brother died on transit. I am yet to recover from the trauma and have always wondered what could have been.
Clearly, if only I had heightened my advocacy for change much earlier in my home State of Enugu, it could have been a different outcome altogether. The immediate past governor, Sullivan Chime, who thrived in overseas medical treatment, could have been held accountable early enough. Rather than loot funds earmarked for health projects, including the state diagnostic center, Mr. Chime would have also equipped the nearby Parklane Hospital for the ordinary people, and the innocent Ogbonnia blood and many others could have been saved.
The forgoing should not be misconstrued as a biased satire, discerning a view that politicians or wealthy people never die or lose loved ones in civilized world. For sure, people die everywhere and under different set of circumstances. The objective fact is that a broad presence of standard facilities could have prevented some of the casualties or at least reduced the degree of recklessness associated with the Nigerian cases. Thus, the perception that providing basic amenities is to appease the poor is very misleading. It also goes to say that the clique of senators who are desperate to frustrate the change agenda of the new government must recognize that every Nigerian blood is on the line.
Now is the time for President Buhari to demonstrate that no person, regardless of societal status, is above the law. Here comes the time, therefore, for the progressive civil society to embolden the president to influence the emergence of a senate leadership with the credibility to enact laws essential for the war against corruption and the much needed investment nation’s vital amenities, which will not only create jobs for the masses, but will also mitigate the current wave of kidnapping and armed robbery, commonly seen as the number one enemy of the Nigerian elite. A stitch in time saves nine.
(Ogbonnia, a leadership scholar, is the chairman of First Texas Energy Corporation)