Keeping up with the Joneses, a global disease with terminally ill patients in Nigeria THE publisher of Genevieve Magazine, Mrs. Betty Irabor, told a very interesting story on her social media pages recently. She recounted how people on the same flight as her upon recognising who she was kept giving her curious looks. A steady stream of people kept coming towards her to ask if she was OK because she was flying Premium Economy! They couldn’t understand what she was doing there and thought some mistake had been made. One lady in particular seemed angry and ready to fight the airline on her behalf, thinking Mrs. Irabor had been downgraded or given the wrong seat for some reason. Another offered to bring her champagne from business class which she politely refused. For the avoidance of any doubt,these people were not being polite or solicitous. The issue, as Mrs Irabor described it, was that they could not believe that a “celebrity” or “someone of her status” would be fine flying economy. This story, although amusing, points to the social malaise which underlines and justifies corruption in African countries, especially Nigeria. Now, one must ask, is there anything wrong with flying economy? And why are we so obsessed with other people’s life choices? What’s wrong with being a regular Joe? Our society has managed to give us the impression that everyone must be a big man or a show off to be seen or even treated with some humanity. After all, only the poor suffer any form of indignity or discomfort in Nigeria as money buys the right to access all forms of opportunity. So, humility or conservativeness are either frowned upon or considered strange: all we respect is the in-your-face, crass, brash and classless sort of spending associated with the nouveau riche behavior Nigerians now tend to view as the norm. Interestingly, some of the richest people on the planet are quiet, low-key types. When Mark Zuckerberg came to Nigeria, he shocked the media with his unassuming ways. He didn’t have a convoy of dozens of black jeeps and police operatives, which the average tout in Nigeria summons once he’s made a bit of money. We keep claiming we want change, better governance and less corruption yet our attitudes towards money point to the opposite. Everyone wants to live a lavish lifestyle without necessarily possessing either the talent or work ethic needed to achieve it. The mega churches and their prosperity gospel are in part responsible for this: everyone awaits a miracle without considering that God helps those who help themselves. Also, the rich in Nigeria are far from honest about how they got their start in life, ascribing their success to “God’s favour” which doesn’t tell the full story. Without the help of government contacts and a system skewed in their favour (e.g. that allows them Our society has managed to give us the impression that everyone must be a big man or a show off to be seen or even treated with some humanity Vanguard, WEDNESDAY, SEPTEMBER 12, 2018 —17 to make 100% profits without being taxed), many of those we consider successful today in Nigeria would not be occupying such enviable positions. Our hypocritical society pretends not to know what everyone is up to. We would rather try to shame honest people living within their means for their lack of ostentation than question the true source of many of our socalled idols’ wealth. We refuse to address the root causes of poverty; that is, the people in our society who defraud us and who are therefore responsible for the huge level of discontent in Nigeria. Don’t get me wrong, there is absolutely nothing wrong with aspiring for a better life. But the societies we so admire did not get where they currently are on soulless consumption and aspirational narratives alone. Every time I see a Rolls Royce advert on a billboard in Lagos, I smile and wonder what foreigners must think of us in Nigeria. Sure, every corner of the globe in this modern era is home to consumerist people who view happiness in relation to material possessions: this is the world we live in. However, our consumption in Africa only serves to keep other people’s factories going. It serves to keep other people’s pockets full. The entire structure of our economy has been wrong for decades and every government talks about improving non- oil exports with little real success because we the people are yet to embrace a new mindset. Our current attitude can’t get us anywhere, Buhari or no Buhari. A country that produces so little yet survives on the importation of goods from abroad is one where the influence of social media, global consumerism and capitalism are sure to have a devastating impact. Entire businesses in the West are built upon the misery of others, preying on people’s insecurities, therefore encouraging them to spend money they often don’t have on products to make themselves appear taller, thinner, lighter, darker, younger, richer, etc. The ethics of capitalism aside, we as a people need to realise what the game is and play smarter so we can truly claim a place for ourselves in this world. Presidential candidates FOREIGN journalists often ask me how it is possible that a country such as Nigeria with so many smart, talented, resourceful, welleducated people is dominated by a political class which rarely features these qualities. Nigerians have largely FIRS The Chairman of the Federal Inland Revenue Service, Mr Tunde Fowler, says this agency will soon begin to focus on “defaulting taxpayers who have billions in their bank accounts but refuse to pay their taxes”. Government has been financed by oil revenue for so long. Those at the top of the social pyramid (aided by their friends in government) have paid next to nothing in taxes, some going back a period of Mental health ACCORDING to a recent study by doctors of the Ahmadu Bello University Teaching Hospital Zaria, 85 per cent of Nigerians who suffer from mental health issues are young people between 18- 38 years. In our status obsessed society where the pressure to belong, to own and to covet what others have literally drives people insane, quality education in tandem with an intensification of the fight against corruption becomes imperative. Corruption not only sets a false standard for people to compare themselves to, it creates a false narrative whereby one can succeed without hard work or become an overnight success like so many of our business people and politicians. Young people who don’t have connections or opportunities which the children of certain embraced anti-intellectualism and the following, all too common sayings: “na grammar we go chop?” or “he/ she (insert name of candidate with multiple degrees and ideas) isn’t rugged enough to win”. If one is required to be *Mr Tunde Fowler rogues take for granted need education so they can better understand the issues and realise just how much the system is rigged. Depression, crime, illegal migration, drug abuse, human trafficking are the results of a society without a concept of social justice. But in a society where we’d much rather fickle consumption to righting wrongs, where even the media delights in defending roguish politicians’ right to oppress Nigerians, where citizens themselves reasonably smart and savvy in the corporate world why doesn’t the same requirement seem to exist in politics? Why do the main contenders seem to have no real ideas or ideology outside of vague statements like “restructuring” or “it’s my zone’s turn to produce a president?” Why do we keep accepting sub-par representation? several decades. As the Americans say, no taxation, no representation. If Nigerians pay taxes, we’ll care what government does with our money. We’ll take a closer, more stringent look at capital projects and government finances. Mr Fowler disclosed that over 6,772 potential “billionaire taxpayers” were identified. Some Nigerians have taken tax avoidance to the extreme. In the United States one can go to jail for defrauding the Internal Revenue Service. In Nigeria, only the poor and middle classes are threatened with punishment for breaking the law. don’t seem to want an end to corruption, when all around you seem to suffer from the same “money at all costs” disease, what is one to do? Tabia Princewill is a strategic communications consultant and public policy analyst. She is also the co-host and executive producer of a talk show, WALK THE TALK which airs on Channels TV.
18 — Vanguard, WEDNESDAY, SEPTEMBER 12, 2018 THE Nigeria Police Force is not a stranger to embarrassing controversies. Under the regime of the current Inspector-General of Police, Alhaji Ibrahim Idris, the Force has rolled from one stormy issue to another, especially within the past one year. When the story broke on Tuesday, These include Senator Isa Misau’s September 4, 2018 that a team of allegation of corruption and policemen led by Assistant misconducts against the IGP (which Superintendent of Police, ASP David is still pending in court) and President Dominic, stormed the home of Muhammadu Buhari’s disclosure that nonagenarian and Ijaw/South-South the IGP failed to obey his order to leader, Chief Edwin Clark, apparently relocate to Benue to tackle rampaging in search of arms and ammunition, it herdsmen. Others are the invasion of was generally seen as part of the the Senate plenary and hijacking of the growing tendency of the Police and Mace by hoodlums; the blockade of security agencies to target opposition the official residence of the President leaders for harassment. of the Senate, Dr Bukola Saraki, as well However, in a swift reaction, the IGP as the connection of Senators Saraki dispatched a high-powered delegation and Dino Melaye to criminal gangs in led by Deputy Inspector- General of Kwara and Kogi states, respectively. Police, D-IGP, Mr Habila Joshak, to tender an unreserved apology to Chief Police invasion of Edwin Clark’s privacy Clark, saying the Police authorities did not order the search (which its official statement described as illegal and unprofessional). The Police also paraded the “informant”, one Ismail Yakubu, who allegedly misled the officers, and placed the erring officers on orderly room trial for appropriate sanctions. We are relieved that Chief Clark gamely accepted the apology though he still intends to pursue legal redress for the invasion of his privacy and unfounded suspicion of stockpiling arms. It is even more reassuring that the Police came out openly to apologise and take necessary disciplinary measures against its misguided officers. However, we hope the informant and police officers will be prosecuted in open court to douse speculations that the actions the Police have taken so far are meant to conceal the perceived ulterior political motives behind the raid of the elder statesman’s home. The Police have the constitutional power to search the home of anyone to prevent or detect crime, but it must be done with a duly-obtained search warrant from a competent court. If police officers could raid a senior citizen’s home without due authorisation and warrant, it says a lot about the level of professional training that senior Nigeria Police officers are exposed to. The IGP and his team should work harder to avoid unnecessarily exposing the government to ridicule through the unbecoming activities of its top brass. By Gideon Aremu OPINION Osinbajo and the restructuring question THE polity was astir, last week, with an interesting, intellectual debate between Vice President Yemi Osinbajo and Alhaji Abubakar Atiku, a former vice president, over restructuring. The debate started with Alhaji Atiku’s critique of Osinbajo’s submissions at Minnesota, USA, Town Hall meeting, where the Vice President said ‘geographical restructuring’ was not what Nigeria needs. According to him, the country needs deep fiscal federalism that entails more powers for the states, good governance and checking of corruption. In his critique, Alhaji Atiku dismissed what he deemed as Osinbajo’s 360-degree turn on the concept of restructuring because he is now in government. The Vice President responded gamely to Atiku’s criticisms and described the former vice president’s concept of restructuring as vague. Atiku countered and stressed that ‘’restructuring is a necessity, not an option’’. Indeed, restructuring is on the front burner of discourse in Nigeria currently. There is a groundswell of unanimity among many stakeholders in the Nigeria project for the country to be restructured. A host of the over 60 presidential candidates/aspirants have made restructuring of the country one of their campaign promises. Thus, Alhaji Atiku is right to say that “restructuring is a necessity, not an option’’ but he is wrong to say that Vice President Osinbajo has turned his back on restructuring. There is nothing in Osinbajo’s submissions that justifies that posture. Semantics, perhaps, may be the culprit because Osinbajo’s postulations seek to empower the federating units, ensure fiscal federalism, good governance, and curb graft, which have been the bane of the country’s socio-economic development. Atiku is right to say that “restructuring is a necessity, not an option’’ but he is wrong to say that Osinbajo has turned his back on restructuring In rejecting the notion that geographical restructuring was a solution to Nigeria’s multifarious problems because ‘’geographical restructuring is either taking us back to regional governments or increasing the number of states that make up the Nigerian federation’’, Osinbajo recalled that the 2014 National Conference recommended the creation of 18 more states. At a time most of the 36 states are struggling to pay salaries, Osinbajo averred that ‘’any further tinkering with our geographical structure would not benefit us’’. A sizeable chunk of the 36 states generate pittance as Internally Generate Revenue, IGR. Without allocation from the Federal Allocation Committee, FAAC, most of the states will go under. Indeed, despite getting bailouts from the Federal Government twice, tranches of Paris Club refund and money from the Excess Crude Account, ECA, several states are owing several months of salary arrears. ‘’We should rather ask ourselves why the states are under-performing, revenue and development-wise. I gave the example of the Western Region (comprising even more than what is now known as the South West Zone), where, without oil money, and using capitation tax and revenues from agriculture and mining, the government funded free education for over 800,000 pupils in 1955, built several roads, farm settlements, industrial estates, the first TV station in Africa, and the tallest building in Nigeria, while still giving up 50 percent of its earnings from mining and minerals for allocation to the Federal Government and other regions,’’ he said. With this scenario, Osinbajo stressed that creation of more states will not be a solution to the problem, arguing that what we require now was not geographical restructuring but good governance, honest management of public resources, deeper fiscal federalism, and a clear vision for development. As the Attorney-General of Lagos State during the tenure of Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu, Osinbajo led the battle of Lagos for greater autonomy for states and resource control in consonance with the littoral states of the Niger-Delta among other battles, hence he appreciates what restructuring is all about. However, he argues that restructuring amid pervasive graft without good governance will yield little or no dividends. ‘’We must check grand corruption, fuelled by a rentier economic structure that benefits those who can use political positions or access to either loot the treasury or get favourable concessions to enrich themselves,’’ he said. Arguing for good governance, Osinbajo fingered corruption as Nigeria’s greatest problem. ‘’Grand corruption, namely the unbelievable looting of the treasury by simply making huge cash withdrawals in local and foreign currency, was the first travesty that President Buhari stopped. I showed the OPEC figures from oil revenues since 1990. In four years from 2010 to 2014 the PDP government earned the highest oil revenues in Nigeria’s history, USD381.9billion. By contrast the Buhari Administration has earned USD121 billion from May 2015 to June 2018, less than 1/3 of what the Jonathan Administration earned at the same period in that administration’s life. Despite earning so much less, we are still able to invest more in infrastructure than any government in Nigeria’s history. The difference is good governance, and fiscal prudence. “In the final analysis, restructuring in whatever shape or form, will not mean much if our political leaders see public resources as an extension of their bank accounts,’’ he asserted. *Mr. Aremu, a commentator on national issues, wrote from * Lagos.