When plunder becomes a way of life for a group of people in a society, over the course of time they create for themselves a legal system that authorises it and a moral code that glorifies it. – Frederic Bastiat
The President has convened a national conference. From all corners of the country chosen delegates will pour forth upon the nation’s capital. The principals will meet in private. There will be initial discussions (horse-trading), negotiation (you scratch my back and I yours) and finally agreement (a nod and a wink). Thereafter, their factors will pronounce our fate in public. They will say the ‘people’ have decided. They will say this is democracy.
My friends, it is not. It is a kleptocracy. Our leaders practice a form of government designed to increase the personal wealth and political power of its officials and the ruling class at the expense of the wider population and with the pretence of honest service . This national conference will do nothing other than to further the interests of the elite.
On the one hand, we should be honest enough to acknowledge corruption is the normal condition of human society. From the dawn of human societies whether Nebuchadnezzar’s Babylon or Republican Rome, whether Victoria’s England or Boer South Africa, social organisation has been based on the use of force to seize assets and gain power. Once seized, the elite then create and cement rules that legitimise and sustain their hold on power.
So modern Nigeria is not unique in the history of human social organisation. Our corruption is endemic not because we are different from the rest of the world but possibly because corruption itself is part of human nature.
But on the other hand, we decry the greed of the elite, we decry their avarice, we decry their materialism. And why? Because this national conference, if properly done, represents a golden opportunity for change in the country.
It presents an opportunity to change the ethos of the elite. Major Nzeogwu condemned the ethos of ‘ten percent’ in explaining why he felt compelled to seize power in the coup of 15 January 1966. Then the elite creamed ten percent off official contracts in bribes and such like. But in the decades since, our elites have arguably taken corruption to deeper, more pervasive levels. Where once ten percent would do, the new elites take it all instead. Where once those in power showed self restraint in asking for 10 percent, our modern leaders will take it all, award a new contract for the same work and then help themselves to more again.
The national conference offers a real opportunity for the leaders to get together and impose self restraint on themselves. Let’s not talk about the aspirations of Nigerians, the type of democracy we should have, the composition of the National Assembly or Jonathan’s bid for a second term. No. The people do not want to know whether Jonathan had an agreement with the ‘North’ (more on that later!) They want to know when they will have uninterrupted power, food in their bellies and education for their children.
The starting point for ensuring we achieve the aspirations of the people lies in ensuring we spend more of the national wealth on the people. We cannot eliminate corruption overnight. But restricting our elites to 10 percent for starters would go a long way to ensuring our evolution to a modern socially progressive nation.
The other change I would propose for the national conference? An end to federation. The conference should dissolve this union as we know it and set the terms for a confederation of Nigerian States. The terms should then be put to the vote of the people in a referendum.
Felix Di Netimah
London January 2013
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of SaharaReporters