by Ladipo Adamolekun
In his influential Politics as a Vocation (1919), the German social scientist, Max Weber, identified two categories of politicians: one that lives for politics and the other that lives off politics. The former are politicians that are in politics because it gives meaning to their lives and they regard politics as a vocation for service. The latter are politicians who are in politics because of what they can get from it; they make politics the permanent source of their income.
Although Weber asserted correctly that the two categories are not mutually exclusive, it is the predominance of one over the other that makes the difference. I would argue that there is strong evidence that the vast majority of politicians involved in the exercise of political authority in Nigeria at the federal and subnational levels since 1999 are in politics because of what they can get from it. Indeed, it is because Nigeria lacks a critical mass of politicians who regard politics as a vocation for service that the public has continued to be poorly served by its political class. After providing highlights of the evidence that undergirds the above assertion, I offer some explanations. Regarding the way forward, I proffer some remedial measures.
Today, Nigeria is both the poverty capital of the world and the world’s capital of out-of-school children. According to the Economist (London, May 29th, 2019), “Some 94 million people live on less than $1.90 a day, more than in any other country, and the number is swelling.
By 2030, a quarter of very poor people will be Nigerians…” And according to UNICEF, “one in every five of the world’s out-of-school children is in Nigeria” (Guardian, March 3rd, 2020); it is estimated that about 13 million school-age children are out of school. Furthermore, there has been a persistent decay in the education sector, manifested in the poor standards in the secondary and tertiary sub-sectors: on average, only between 30 and 40 per cent of secondary school leavers obtained five credits (including English and Mathematics) during the last two decades; and no Nigerian public university has been rated among the best 500 in the world since university rankings began in the early 2000s.
Another significant evidence is the nation-wide insecurity that our Commander-in-Chief recently admitted was baffling! (See Daily Trust, Jan 28th, 2020). As Boko Haram continues to wreak havoc in the North-East, banditry remains widespread in the North-West, with unending killings in Kaduna State; and kidnappings and herdsmen/farmers conflicts are rampant in the other geo-political zones. Finally, the country’s widely acknowledged huge infrastructure deficit, especially poor roads and epileptic electricity, is a major explanatory factor for a poor performing economy: anemic growth rate average of less than 3 per cent since 2015 and a return to the huge national debt that is close to the level in the mid-2000s before debt relief. Of course, it is arguable that every Nigerian of voting age has contributed in some measure to the governance failures highlighted above – a people deserve the government they have, is a common saying. And it is also true that the leaders of key sectors, such as security and education, share in the responsibility for the failures. However, it is my considered opinion that the political class bears the primary responsibility for the persistent underdevelopment of the country.
1. Lack of attention to the country’s “common ground”
There is a real sense in which one can assert that the “Fundamental Objectives and Directive Principles of State Policy” (Chapter II of 1999 Constitution, carried over from the 1979 Constitution) layout a virtual “common ground”, that is, a set of values/principles and policies on which a majority of Nigerian citizens would agree. And I would argue that a genuine commitment of the political class to formulate and implement political, economic and social policies that are consistent with these objectives and principles, as well as respect the explicated values, would have resulted in better governance performance outcomes than the failures summarized above.
Unfortunately, none of our four presidents since 1999 (Obasanjo, Yar’Adua, Jonathan, and Buhari) has moved in this direction.
Obasanjo spent one-half of his second term seeking a Third Term (inconsistent with the national democratic value); illness and eventual death prevented Yar’Adua from governing effectively; Jonathan muddled through five years and his “stealing is not corruption” exposed him as a denier of one of the root causes of the country’s poor governance performance; and incumbent Buhari, who has promised to lift 100 million Nigerians out of poverty by 2030, is currently struggling to keep alive two key mantras that won him the presidency – anti-corruption and assurance of security – in the face of the “disarray” in his presidency (Daily Trust, editorial, July 19th, 2020)
Regarding the legislative political leaders (eight presidents of the Senate and eight Speakers of the House of Representatives), there was rare evidence of attention to the “common ground” highlighted above by either a single leader of a Chamber or joint leaders of the legislatures during the last two decades. The closest to an exception was Senate president Ken Nnamani (2005-2007) who championed the death of the Third Term Agenda, thereby ensuring respect for the country’s democratic value. For the majority, it’s as if ideas didn’t/don’t matter in politics: Senate president David Mark (2007-2015), notable for his anti-democratic vituperations, is a stand-out example in this category. More on ideas in politics below.
2. Weak party system and meddlesomeness of the courts.
The conduct of many leading politicians in the two parties that have dominated Nigeria’s political space since 1999 – the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) and the All Progressive Congress (APC) – is a very good illustration of politicians who are in politics for what they can get from it. (The PDP produced three of the four presidents and twelve of the sixteen legislative leaders while the APC has produced one president and four legislative leaders).
For example, the two contestants for the forthcoming guber election in Edo State are the same politicians who contested for the same position in 2016, with a revealing twist: Godwin Obaseki contested and won the election on the platform of the APC in 2016 but is seeking a second term as a PDP candidate; on the other hand, Osagie Ize-Iyamu contested and failed as a PDP candidate in 2016 and is now seeking the position as APC candidate.
A second example is the zig-zagging of Yakubu Dogara between the PDP and APC: he was a prominent PDP member of the House between 2007 and 2015; then, he embraced APC in 2015 and became Speaker of the House, only to return to PDP before the expiration of his tenure; and last month, he dumped PDP again and re-joined APC.
Obaseki, Ize-Iyamu, and Dogara are typical examples of the tribe of politicians who predominate in both the PDP and APC. They are in politics for what they can get from it and the two parties are indistinguishable.
Regarding the other registered political parties (92 before 74 of them were de-registered by the Independent National Elections Commission, INEC, in February 2020), they largely exist only on paper. All of them combined (except de facto state-based All Progressive Grand Alliance, APGA, that wields power in Anambra State) have never won one (1) percent of the membership of any legislature either at the federal or sub-national level. On this evidence, it is no exaggeration to assert that Nigeria’s party system is fundamentally weak.
Because politicians in both parties are focused primarily on how best to assure living off politics on a continuing basis, candidate selection exercises for elective executive and legislative positions almost always become cut-throat competitions, and the rules governing the processes are most often willfully abandoned.
It is at this juncture that court intervention, enthusiastically invited by the politicians, enters the stage.
The first salvo was the Supreme Court’s annulment of the election of Celestine Omehia as Governor of River’s State in October 2007, and the declaration of Chibuike Amaechi as governor because he, not Omehia, was the PDP’s legitimate candidate.
The latest example of court’s determination of the legitimacy of candidates resulted in the award of governorship and the entire membership of the legislature to the PDP in 2019 in Zamfara State – “APC did not conduct any valid primary election and as such had no candidate for any of the elections in the state”.
Thus, APC “candidates” that won all the elective positions per the determination of INEC became “losers” and the people’s votes became irrelevant.
Besides the cases of results awarded by the courts that were based on the legitimacy or otherwise of the candidates, the courts have also awarded results based either on the disqualification of a successful governor’s deputy (Bayelsa State, 2019) or on the court’s re-allocation of the votes won by guber candidates (Imo State, 2019). And between 2017 and 2020, about 23 guber results across all six geopolitical zones involved court interventions from Election Tribunals through Courts of Appeal to the Supreme Court.
Although it is the politicians who invited the numerous court interventions, there is a significant number of them that would qualify as meddlesomeness by the courts. Without question, the huge amounts expended on the numerous election-related litigations during the last two decades are largely derived from the proceeds of corrupt practices; and both the party system and the courts are weakened by this important dimension of the corruption problem in the country.
3. Humongous salaries and allowances, constituency projects, and monetized oversights.
With the advantage of hindsight, one can now assert that the preponderance of Nigerian politicians who live off politics became entrenched when effective from 2007, the Revenue Mobilization and Fiscal Commission (RMAFC) approved salaries in the amount of N53.7 million for each senator and about N48 million for each member of the House with significant increases in the salaries and allowances of political executives at the federal level. (Slightly scaled down salaries and allowances were also approved for legislators and political executives at state and local government levels).
The astronomically high levels of salaries and allowances of federal legislators – incontestable world records – have been maintained (with periodic upward adjustments) and they were untouched by the country’s 2016-2017 economic recession.
To top up their salaries and allowances, the leadership of the 8th National Assembly (NASS), 2015-2019, approved huge new allowances for all federal legislators: N13.5 million per month as “operational cost” for each senator and a slightly lower amount for each member of the House.
Furthermore, federal legislators have added significant increases to their “income” through so-called constituency projects and the monetization of their legislative oversight role. Since the mid-2000s, federal legislators have unilaterally inserted constituency projects into annual budgets – they determine the projects (cited in their respective constituencies), approve the funding and oversee the execution.
Besides the poor execution/abandonment of most of the projects, individual legislators have pocketed significant proportions of the estimated N1-2 trillion that has been allocated. (See, “Scrap the constituency projects fraud” in Punch, editorial, March 27th 2020). And over the years, the print media has published stories about how the conduct of legislative oversight – to review, monitor, and supervise the activities of government’s Ministries, Departments, and Agencies (MDAs) – has become an additional income generation stream for many federal legislators.
It is because of these huge possibilities for self-enrichment through NASS membership that politicians pursue both contestations for candidate selection and challenges of election results through the courts from Election Tribunals to the Court of Appeal, and most often, to the Supreme Court.
The way forward: Three Remedial Measures
The obvious broad-gauge remedial measure is how best to attract into the political sphere men and women who would embrace politics as a vocation for service and progressively reduce the preponderance of politicians who live off politics.
A low hanging fruit is acceptance of independent candidates in all electoral contests, from local government councillorship/chairmanship through guber and legislative elections at the state level to presidential and NASS elections at the national level.
All that is needed is the implementation of the recommendation on the subject in the Report of the Electoral Reform Committee (2008, Chairman: Justice Muhammadu Lawal Uwais).
It is very likely that independent candidates would bring into the political competition a focus on ideas and principles that have been largely lacking since 1999.
And they are also likely to make a difference in the outcomes of electoral competitions at the local and state levels in the short- to medium-term, and eventually at the national level.
Second, there is a need to open up the political space through expunging Article 222 of the 1999 Constitution that formally prohibits the creation of political parties that “are confined to a part only of the geographical area of Nigeria”.
After two decades, this obligation of nation-wide parties has not manifestly promoted national unity, contrary to the intendment of the provision. Instead, its financial implications constitute a major explanation for the pronounced monetization of politics in the country: expectedly, most politicians who provide the funding for assuring national spread of political parties would seek to recoup their money.
There is also strong evidence that numerous political parties have only claimed fictitious nation-wide presence (INEC has been unable to deregister all of them).
In these circumstances, I would recommend that the electoral law should allow for the combination of nation-wide, state-based, and zone-based parties, with the two new categories assuring the entry of a new crop of politicians that is likely to include some who would embrace politics as a vocation for service.
Strikingly, the experiences of Canada and India are instructive: two federations that are widely acknowledged as electoral democracies with well-performing economies.
In both countries, state-based and province-based parties that co-exist with nation-wide parties have contributed significantly to national economic development whilst they form alliances with other like-minded parties to compete for the exercise of political authority at the centre.
This recommendation also implies that the regulation of political parties should be on the concurrent legislative list as is the case in many federal systems.
Pari passu with the two measures that seek to attract a new tribe of politicians who will embrace politics as a vocation for service, there is urgent need to drastically slash the salaries and allowances of legislative politicians.
This exercise should begin with an immediate end to the insensitive and excessive allowances for “operational cost” (N13.5 million per month for each senator) approved by the 8th NASS and maintained to date. And I fully endorse the recent call by the editorial board of Punch newspaper for the scrapping of constituency projects (see above; see also “Constituency projects are nonsense that must be abolished”, Vanguard, August 28th, 2016).
Finally, the austerity measures that would be inevitable post-COVID-19 must include a significant downward review of the RMAFC-approved salaries for both executive and legislative politicians – it is indefensible for a country that is the world’s poverty capital to be paying the highest emoluments to its legislative politicians!
Professor Ladipo Adamolekun (www.adamolekun.com).