Another open letter to Nigeria’s public office holder

– Pat Utomi

One senatorial seat aspirant in Anambra state years ago reacted to talk about a journey to Owerri to the home of a former Senate President by complaining that she did not see purpose to the activity beyond the usual standing around. Another former senate president who was within earshot retorted that politics was about endless standing around for little purpose so she better get used to it.
I never cease to be amazed at how much time politics chews up. The biggest of my many worries about this tradition is when these people find time to earn a living and sustain their families. The answer I once got, is through what comes from politics. That seemed like so frightening a proposition. Can you imagine that someone who depends on appointments to positions from politics for feeding his family is confronted with having to speak the truth, for the good of all, to someone who could determine his next appointment? If nothing else, his or her love for family, who must eat, or embarrassment that the next school fees may not be paid, would lead them to threading very carefully. It is no wonder that a very familiar thought pattern for the political jobber or professional politician is “Oga, that thing you are about to say Sir is very correct. In fact Sir, you are the only president since sliced bread to think so clearly on that very important subject. In fact I am already hearing the applause in Wuse 2”.
It is not hard to see why Nigeria is in trouble with an increased dominance of people who have no clear means of income beyond their place in politics. The nature of the relationship of these people and the state is further worsened by the idea of the “tragedy of the commons”.
This phenomenon draws analogy from Commons where the community can graze its sheep. Since it belongs to all, no one takes responsibility for replanting the grass. So it is grazed until it becomes a desert and is then deserted. But if it belonged to an individual he would ensure that he had enough grass for the next year, for the sheep, so his income could be assured.
The tragedy of the Commons has driven many in public life to spending public resources with a level of recklessness that no individual could spend his hard earned money. For the professional politician with no other means of livelihood he also desperately needs to maintain goodwill for the next appointment or election, so the commonwealth continues to be assaulted.
More vexing for people who desire progress for Nigeria is that the culture of public life in Nigeria is such that very little real learning takes place. The excuse of the benefit of experience, in the recycling of political jobbers is therefore misplaced. As one noted management consultant said years ago in Nigeria some people have one year’s experience repeated 25 times and go about claiming 25 years’ experience.
Given the spurious value of experience in extant public life in Nigeria and the high cost and damage of long tenure and recycling of people in public life it is pertinent to seek to enter into the debate for the national dialogue the question of tenure, not only in terms of term limits in a particular position, but in terms of how long you can serve continuously in public office.
If you watch the trends you will see some people who have hardly done anything meaningful with their lives who were appointed commissioner because some relative wanted to keep them off the poverty line. After eight years as commissioner, they become Governor, then after eight years as Governor they became Senator. We are in danger of breeding people who all their lives a permanent ‘government pikins’ with only a parasitic relationship between them and the state; with them so thoroughly disconnected from society because they have used state funds to fly first class most of their lives, enriching foreign airlines. They cannot feel what the people feel and act as people out of touch act, ask why the people are complaining that there is no bread, can they not eat cake instead?
I wish to propose that nobody should stay in public offices, appointed or elected for more than eight years without a break. After eight years in office people should be required to be away from public office for no less than two years before they can be appointed or be voted for. This is significantly because it is very possible in this system in which elections are so easily manipulated that once a person gets into position they are capable of rigging or working their way into any other office they desire even if the people think they have not served them well. We must work quickly, through constitution reviews and traditions of political parties, to return public life to what it was originally intended for – committed citizens who have a vision of society they want to contend with competing views of how society is organized for the greater good.
Typically the person going into public life does so sacrificially with the greater personal gain being a place in history, the pursuit of immortality. I would assume, for example, that watching tributes to Nelson Mandela would inspire a generation to sacrificial public life to earn the kind of immortality that has been his reward.
In a sense, socialization of our young, the duty I have given myself with my work at the Centre for Values in Leadership, (CVL), should be an adequate path but our reality suggests that laws to limit participation in government, for now, will help.
Many years ago a basic philosophical point came up at the Nigerian Insitute of International Affairs on this subject, with particular reference to a single term or two terms of four years. I recall Dr. Chichi Ashwe who made the presentation looking at these matters and advocating a single term. I took the position that knowing you want to run for a second term would motivate an incumbent to do as good a job as possible in his first term. I was supported by the late great social scientist Claude Ake. With the benefit of hindsight I sadly think Ashwe was right because our politicians now knowing that their performance has almost nothing to do with their returning to office following elections only care to manage the power structure. Service to society now becomes side affair required to justify a bit of self-promotion.
This cannot go on if we are to avoid a bloody revolution. Government must return to a tool the people use for the good of all society through true representatives and not the new track to a feudal system in which the Lords of Manor are those who can brutalize their way to positions of political authority. We must also reject the idea of professional politicians. Anybody who is unable to return to his old job or business within days of losing an election should not be considered to be voted for. It should also count against anybody who goes to Abuja either as a political appointee or elected official and is unable to return to the city or place of domicile from before office, if they lose the position. PU

Taken from Pat Utomi Fb page

About cknaija
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