Leaders tell but never teach until they practice what they preach-Featherstone
In recent months, while Nigerians were still waiting for the commencement of governance from the government that promised to positively change the tone of leadership in Nigeria, the Senate against all known logic proposed purchase of operational vehicles with the estimated current price of the chosen vehicle placed at N50 million, and will require about N5.550 billion to get enough quantity for its members- a development that raised unprecedented dust on the nation’s political and economic space. That was season one.
Before the dust raised by that unpalatable episode could settle, a similar scene with striking plot and characterization recently showed up at the federal House of Representatives. It is pedestrian information that the members of the 9th House of Representatives lately declined the opportunity to promote local content- an expression that is daily preached within the government circle without compliance. As the house refused to patronize the locally assembled vehicles by Innoson Group, said to have been recommended for them.; and in its place, opt for the 2020 edition of Toyota Camry which will not only double the price of the initially recommended but, will cost a whooping N5Billion to purchase 400 of the Toyota Camry model needed by the house.
Indeed, as noted in a similar intervention, there is no question that high-offices such as the National Assembly need an official vehicle to facilitate their responsibilities. Based on this fact, some Nigerians have argued that since not all human beings have achieved a state of excellence, the demand of the choice cars by the lawmakers as a befitting reward for the energy dissipated to earn such position cannot be faulted. Others are of the view that politics is an act of promoting and protecting one’s interest and not largely a question of the masses, party or faction-adding that every individual, among others, is a political creature seeking to secure his/her own position.
Despite these virtues and attributes of these arguments, there is something stunning about this particular move by the members of the House of Representatives. We cannot just keep things the way they are, hoping that luck would correct our path and put us on the right course.
Essentially, aside from the rejection of Innoson brand of SUV’s initially recommended for members, and in its place, went for 2020 edition of Toyota Camry, that will gulp about N5billion of taxpayers money, and happening in the face of recent lamentation that the House is broke, what, however, made the development newsy is that the house going by report has before now been at the forefront promoting the local content laws in the country.
Without any shadow of the doubt, this decision made by the lawmakers have not only sent wrong signals to the watching world but has characterized the house as a group that is reputed for preaching what they cannot practice; and a body that is out of tune with what the poor masses stoically endure on daily basis.
From all standards, this can’t be adjudged as the true meaning of prudence or practical demonstration of servant leadership. And the more bitterly each round of this situation is remembered, the deeper the pains.
Of course, one strategic implication of the above is that it explains why what is today said at the floor of the national assembly hardly matters that much more to the people.
There are several reasons, both morally and socioeconomically to support the above assertion.
First, this is happening at a time average Nigerians are getting worse off, economically and materially, than he/she was in 2015-or even 1999. They are presently living through the worst social and economic crisis since independence; poor leadership; poor strategy for development; lack of capable and effective state and bureaucracy; lack of focus on sectors that will improve the condition of living of citizens such as education, health, agriculture and the building of infrastructure; corruption; undeveloped, irresponsible and parasitic private sector; weak civil society; emasculated labour and student movement and poor execution of policies and programmes’. And at a time the country Nigeria is presently servicing its debt with 50% of its annual revenue.
More important than the above, one event that probably did more than anything else to convince Nigerians with critical interest to look differently at the out of ordered situation in the House of Representatives decision is that at time when different reports are pointing to the fact that the country, would be facing another round of fiscal headwinds this year with the mix of $83 billion debt; rising recurrent expenditure; increased cost of debt servicing; sustained fall in revenue; and about $22 billion debt plan waiting for legislative approval; and may be worse if the anticipated shocks from the global economy, like the Brexit, the United States-China trade war and interest rate policy of the Federal Reserve Bank go awry, with the nation’s debt stock, currently at $83billion, such has become the ripe moment for the lawmakers to indulge in frivolities all in the name of official cars purchase.
How can a nation spend over N5billion on such project in a country with slow economic but high population growth- where excruciating poverty and starvation daily drives more people into the ranks of beggars; and over 13 million children are presently out of school, should be a reality we should all worry about?
Regardless of what others may say, the root of our challenge as a nation lies in institutions within the framework of governance. And the operators of these institutions are in the habit of doing little to spur sustained growth. The situation is even made worse by the refusal of political office holders to be fair and honest in their dealings with Nigerians.
But in doing this, one thing these lawmakers failed to remember is that hearing the sound of thunder does not translate to a keen ear. They seem not to be aware that people’s support is the greatest asset they enjoy. And are unmindful of the fact that what binds every follower to their leaders is unwavering fate built on trust. And no one seems to have reminded the Senators that as leaders, they are watched closely, that people are noting every move they make, that their followers are learning a great deal about them and what they really believe as opposed to what they say.
It is important for lawmakers to remember that greed; personal aggrandizement and selfishness share two sorrowful characteristics with borrowing. First is this belief that once you start or allow yourself to be possessed by any of these, it becomes your character. Based on this fact, chances are that we may see more surprises coming from this quarter in the nearest future. Secondly, in borrowing, your reputation depletes. Invariably, in the estimation of Nigerians, these actions taken by the lawmakers are depleting their hard-earned reputation.
Finally,’ the greatest problem of man is that man is the problem’. If we make a decision to manage what we have well, we can do so much with it.
Jerome-Mario Utomi, email@example.com, writes from Lagos, Nigeria.