Is democracy only skin-deep? (2)

October 20, 2014by Tope Fasua0

Continuing from my last article on the above subject matter, a very interesting phenomenon has crept into our consciousness. It is the new romance of Nollywood, Nigeria’s entertainment industry, with politics. Off the cuff, I can recollect that the following artistes are angling for one political office or the other: 9ice, Desmond Elliot, Julius Agwu, Kate Henshaw, Tony Tetuila (bleached hair and all). Some are contesting on the platform of the ruling party, others on the major opposition platform. Most are hoping to become ‘representatives’ of their people at the national level.

 

In the first place, any serious, patriotic commentator on Nigerian affairs today knows that we need to reform our political system and one of the things that needs rejigging is our legislative arm. Everyone who is anyone has asked: do we need a senate and a house of representatives? Do we need those houses of assembly at the state level? These are critical questions because these guys have always brought a huge strain on the finances of the country. Yet, people who profess to want to change Nigeria see nothing wrong in contesting for positions at this level and becoming part of the problem themselves. Are we serious at all? Will Nigeria ever truly change? What is the role of the legislature? Making laws, I reckon. Just how many laws are we meant to be producing that requires 500 well-paid, well-allowanced people in Abuja and another 800 in all the states? Just how well have they ‘represented’ their people?

Coincidentally, someone reposted an article from the Economist magazine, which was published in early 2013, about Nigerian legislators being the second highest-paid in the world. And also today as I type, there is a report in Nigeria’s Punch newspapers about how the country’s oil revenue dwindled by 53 per cent – a whole 53 per cent – in the first quarter of this year, when compared with the figures for last year. Are those not ominous signs already? Should we not be really getting serious about how to reorganise government and cut out wastes? Do we also recall the Adamu Fika Report, which told us that over N1.1trillion – or an entire 22 per cent of our gross annual budget – is being used to pay salaries and allowance to 18,000 top government functionaries. The present government commissioned that report but did absolutely nothing about it.

It should be about the economy. That was my first contribution to this forum. What is likely to pan out? Are oil prices going to keep dwindling? We’ve seen a fall of more than 10 per cent in the past couple of months. A quick check of analyses on the Internet reveals that pundits believe it may keep going down. If the government has had to seriously constrain spending in the last two years because of the reality on ground, what is likely to happen if things take a turn for the worse? Is there going to be bedlam, confusion? The coordinating minister for the economy complained bitterly about growing inequality and joblessness. Will those two monsters not be further empowered by a worse cashflow? Our few industries are failing. The telecoms industry has peaked. Major oil companies are divesting from onshore assets and going deep sea only. Banks are in dire straits. Where will the growth come from? The power sector, which was seen as the next best thing to happen, is still trying to find its feet. It is doubtful if that sector will make the projected money they hope to in a short while, and without serious loggerheads with the people in the mould of what happened between ENRON and the people of California in 1999, because the people will be required to pay tariffs that they never thought possible.

 

I say sometimes that only a sucker will want to become Nigeria’s president at this time. Well, we cannot tell what will happen tomorrow, but check it. Nigeria has never had peace and prosperity coinciding since the first oil boom. In that oil boom, 1971 to 1975 or so, we collaborated with the Arabs and formed OPEC. The West suffered like never before, but they got their revenge. They crashed oil prices (something we project our revenues on but upon which we have no control), and we fell into debts. We only exited the debts in 2006! Now we are back in debts, through the backdoor. We have had a great run with oil prices since 2003, peaking in 2008, with a slight dip to about $47 per barrel in 2009 before it picked up again. We have coasted at around $105 – $110 per barrel in the last three years. It’s only recently that the price of our brent crude fell to, say, $97 but the trend, according to experts, is meant to continue for a while.

National planners and economists usually project oil prices based on several parameters and assumptions. Sometimes, they run what is known as Monte Carlo simulations, hich is basically a scientific system that tells you what the price ‘may’ be at a certain time in the future. But a lot can happen within a year, and at the end of the day, it is human beings behind these critical things. One huge – and perhaps the most important – incentive behind a high crude oil price, is that the international oil companies (Shell, Chevron, Exxon, etc), love high prices because that translates to huge margins for them. Low prices constitute a disincentive for the acquisition of more fields and more production. We should have our eyes on what those guys are thinking and how they are behaving lately. Are they willing to cut back at short notice? Are they willing to undergo a period of austerity? Note that they are merely companies, with investors and staff, companies that have been well-run and greatly privileged. They can afford, much more easily than a whole country full of hungry people, to lock down and tap into their reserves for a year or two. In Nigeria, I can tell anyone for free that two years of greatly depressed crude oil prices will be sheer Armageddon!

This is because our values have changed for the worse in the last few years. The ‘transformation’ that the government has boasted about, upon the platform of which the president is seeking reelection, apart from being an underachievement – for we could have done much more – was also cloaked by high oil prices and production. That provided a veneer – a sort of mirage. We always knew the economy was very fragile. In the last few years, however, Nigerians became more desperate; modesty became a thing of the past. Everything became privatised, such that you need huge amounts of money to survive – feed, send your children to school, go to the hospital, generally pass the day. Corruption hit an all-time-high, as exemplified by the oil subsidy heist of over N2trillion! We became deadened to shock. No news was too outlandish. Every Nigerian expected to wake up tomorrow and hear that someone had stolen the whole country, changed its name and transferred it off the map of Africa – while we were asleep. Ostentation became the order of the day. People with real skills were jobless, and only entertainers were greatly rewarded, many times for keeping the elite happy and laughing to the bank while the rest of the people writhe in the pains of inequality. Of course the country fell to crime, and to terrorism. Religion did not help much. In many instances, it fuelled false hope, greed and covetousness. Hardly was hard work preached from the pulpit.

 

Why would anyone want to drag such an unsavoury future scenario with President Jonathan? If he was here when the going was good, is it not fair that he remains if things turn southwards? Why would he not also see that this may be a great time to call it quits – while the ovation is still audible, even if not from all the corners of the theatre? It is because democracy is only skin-deep – never about the big issues, never about change, never about the future. It’s more about ego, fame, personal fortune, photo opportunities, international travel on private jets and handshakes with Barack Obama. Everything is personalised, and so even analyses of what may happen in the future are taken in bad light.

Entertainers! Yes, those guys were supposed to be the subject of this article. The Area Fada, Charlie Oputa, otherwise known as Charlie Boy, said that those going into politics are mostly wary that their future is unsecure. He said he wouldn’t dare, despite the fact that he has a lot of clout. He said you have to be ready to be deceptive to go into politics, for deception is one of the major currencies of politicians. I agree with him. But it is also not totally the fault of the entertainers going into politics. Some of them are really smart. They understand that democracy is skin-deep. Who better to mount a soap-box and deliver a rousing speech but someone whose life has been spent acting, or on stage – someone who has honed the art of public speaking, plus even putting up a false show where necessary? And who are we the voters not to be totally swept off our feet by such people? Are we so stone-hearted not to be swayed by good music, great comedy, and great acting?

It is not only here. Ronald Reagan was an actor, and then became one of the most respected US presidents (very right-wing though). He was a B-Movie actor. Tony Blair was a lawyer but his greatest attribute is his ability to sell ice to the Eskimo (or hot lead to the Iraqi for non-existent WMDs). RMD made a great commissioner for tourism in Delta state. There are many more examples. Entertainers make great politicians, because democracy is only skin-deep. Do we care what you know, so long as you can bullshit your way out of any situation? People criticise Barack Obama a lot these days, but in spite of everything, I just cannot stop loving the man. Have you seen him walk through a street? Or join on the basketball court and make a free throw which goes right inside the hoop? Mehnnn! That is a correct brother!

We look forward to representatives Elliot, Henshaw, 9ice (Abolore), Tetuila and co. Some of them will be shown the chicanery of politics early in the day – like Charlie warned – but some of them will also make progress. They will become representatives or whatever they want to be, and merely swell the country’s problem. Who are they to complain? We had a national conference and the critical issue of government reforms was killed on the altar of tribalism and religion. Not even a jot of change was made to the way we rule ourselves and administer our finances.

 

For democracy is only skin-deep.

I will add this story below if it makes anyone more comfortable. I distilled it from chapter 3 of Malcolm Gladwell’s book, Blink:

The Warren Harding factor: Why we fall for tall, dark, and handsome men – This for me is the most interesting and easily readable chapter. It tells of the encounter between a certain Harry Dougherty and a small-town journalist turned state senator in Ohio, named Warren Harding, in 1899. Dougherty was a shrewd lawyer with a nose for deals. He took one look at Harding and determined that he would make a good president for the US. Harding had the looks, the right height, proportional features, a shock of black shiny hair, a deep guttural voice, bronze skin, all the works. The only problem was that Harding was hardly intelligent, pardon the pun. He had risen to the post of a senator because his wife pushed him. Harding’s speeches were described as “An army of pompous phrases, moving all over the landscape, in search of an idea”

Warren Harding became US President by a conspiracy of events, ruled for two years and died unexpectedly of heart attack. Almost every historian agrees that he was perhaps the worst president in the history of the USA! The case of Warren Harding is one incidence where instant judgement has proven fatally wrong.

 

How much more skin-deep can democracy be?

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