By Sonala Olumhense
Dr. Muhammed Ali Pate, one of the few respectable men in the Goodluck Jonathan cabinet, resigned last week. He was the Minister of State for Health.
Dr. Pate was trained in Duke University, and will return there as a professor in the institution’s Global Health Institute. Recently, I heard him speak about some of the work going on in Nigeria’s public health. He enthralled everyone with such vigor and eloquence that I was happy to be a Nigerian.
His resignation letter was dated July 22. He apparently told President Goodluck Jonathan he could not stand another day in his suffocating sewers because the resignation was accepted, and took effect, in just 48 hours.
It seems Pate simply could no longer accept the endless hypocrisy and embarrassment in which he found himself, and finally decided to put some distance between himself and Abuja.
The presidency, characteristically, claimed his departure as an achievement. “It is a positive development that we have people who are recognised globally,” spokesman Reuben Abati said, with a straight face. “His appointment is a plus for the administration and the country.”
If Mr. Jonathan’s logic is right, perhaps he can also demonstrate that America’s top talent does quit Barack Obama’s cabinet to work in Aso Rock or its environs. Still, Pate’s resignation from a cabinet where corruption is encouraged and money is free and easy makes him one of a kind. In Nigeria, a seat in the federal cabinet is the next best to a seat in the Senate.
But think about it: Pate’s resignation came one day after a news report reminded the world of the scandalous looting going on at the National Assembly (NASS). Our federal legislators, it said, earn nearly $200,000 per year, making them the “best-paid” on earth.
Actually, they pay themselves. But remember, the reported figure does not include a shipload of allowances. It does not include bribes. It does not include vast extortion fees that Senators collect from nominees that are desperate to “bow and go” into offices requiring Senatorial confirmation. It does not include contracts.
The story of the looting at the NASS is not really a new one. But it is still a gripping one, especially when you consider they do not really know what they earn. Asked about it last week, Senator Enyinnaya Abaribe, who chairs the Senate Committee on Information and Media, described the report as incorrect, saying only the Revenue Mobilisation Allocation and Fiscal Commission could say what Senators earn.
Over at the House of Representatives, spokesman Zakari Mohammed made it worse. “Whatever is being written is mere exaggeration and does not reflect what is accurate,” he explained. “They fail to realise that what we take as salaries are different from what we use in running our offices.”
The legislators probably don’t know what they earn because the money is pouring in so much they have to keep opening new accounts. No Senator wants to say what he collects for each of at least 10 categories of allowances. Senate President David Mark, the royal prince of legislative hypocrisy, does not want anyone to know that he claims $1300 per night as estacode when he travels.
One more word about the Senate: many Nigerians were angry last week about its outrageous decision on child marriage. But to take this position is to suggest that the Upper House closely and intelligently considered the matter and that members voted on the grounds of principle. There is no evidence to back these assumptions: some of the Senators are far too busy being powerful and counting their money to be accused of intelligence and principle. This means there is far more embarrassment to come.
Speaking of embarrassment, one way of knowing you have reached rock bottom is when you can no longer recognize a direct insult, the very case with Nigeria’s dwindling international esteem. Early this month, President Jonathan visited China. The trip came just one month after the fiasco in Addis Ababa, where President Jonathan, reportedly drunk, failed to show up to deliver his address at the 50th anniversary of the African Union. It was also just one year after he announced to the world he does not “give a damn” about his own image.
At the Beijing International Airport, he was received by one Mr. Li Yucheng, an Assistant Foreign Minister. It would have been insulting enough had Mr. Yucheng been receiving Nigeria’ Foreign Minister. It would have been insulting had he been receiving Vice-President Namadi Sambo, but Mr. Jonathan did not find it insulting.
Perhaps Mr. Jonathan did not get out of bed early enough to look at the briefing notes prepared for him. He probably could not tell President Xi Jingping or Premier Li Keqiang from Assistant Minister Yucheng, and probably introduced the man to his wife as Vladimir Putin or Ibn Batuta.
The more important point is: How do we respond to Nigeria’s dwindling fortunes? How do we move on from this debilitating incompetence, institutionalized looting and decay?
We, the people, must find the strength for ourselves, and I think the youth of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in Ekiti State are leading the way.
Last Tuesday in Ado Ekiti, they gathered in protest and marched upon the offices of the party to warn that they will not accept the imposition of a “consensus candidate” for the forthcoming governorship election.
There are 24 candidates, and in a script that may have been penned by Abuja’s malformed political operatives, Ekiti PDP decided to hand-pick a candidate. On Tuesday, the youth arrived early at the party secretariat and seized control.
They explained that each time the PDP has deployed a consensus candidate, that candidate has lost the election. The message was that such a choice could neither be based on merit, nor would the chosen one feel obligated to the electorate.
Said spokesman Akinniyi Sunday, “We want a candidate that can win the election. A candidate that is popular at the grassroots. We are being guided by history.” He explained that everywhere the PDP has avoided the path of the primaries, and therefore of merit, it lost the subsequent election.
Furthermore, the protesters insisted, anything other than credible, free and fair primaries would not be acceptable to the youth wing of the party and the grassroots.
I cheer and stand with the principled stand of these remarkable Ekiti PDP youth. In the search for the future, for men and women of character and credibility and hope, they must insist that the blind not be imposed on the sighted or the weak on the strong.
I encourage them to take the message to the East, to the West, to the South, to the North. Let them take the message to their counterparts in other States and raise their voices at PDP headquarters, because it is the right message and because time is running out.
Theirs is an SOS. Let all who care, spread the word.