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Akin Osuntokun: Politics as a vocation

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Akin Osuntokun: Politics as a vocation

By Akin Osuntokun

In terms of theoretical formulation and elaboration of agenda no programme of military disengagement from power could be more detailed and articulate than the protracted transition to civil democratic rule programme of President Ibrahim Babangida, from 1985 to 1990 and then to 1993. In the circumstance, the tragic anti-climax of the annulment of the 1993 presidential election tantamount to snatching defeat from the jaws of victory. The antecedence of a persistent tendency towards a two-party system in previous elections and the imperative of national integration argue for the proposition and imposition of a two-party system.

No less compelling was the apprehension of the need for the cultivation of civilian political class leadership recruitment and reproduction, hence the official propagation and prioritisation of a ‘new breed’ inheritor class. But then Nigeria had never been lacking in innovative ideas, the devil, contrived or inadvertent, had always been in a fraught implementation gap. The Babangida ‘new breed’ novelty anticipated the Progressive Action Movement (PAM) by several years.

PAM was the brainchild of a few of us which subsequently blossomed to the involvement of Pastor Tunde Bakare, Emir of Kano Lamido Muhammad Sanusi II, Mohammed Adoke, Dangiwa Umar, Olisa Agbakoba, Segun Awolowo, Toyin Fagbayi, Babafemi Ojudu, Femi Fanikayode, Opeyemi Agbaje, Makin Soyinka, Nike Ransome-Kuti and a number of other public notables. PAM was conceptualised as a response to the failure of the political system to fulfil the role of continuous and regular leadership reproduction and recruitment into the civilian political class to assume political succession from one generation to another.

There was an emergent generational gap and vacuum to whose remedy we programmatically addressed ourselves. We intended ourselves as a kind of political nursery for preparing and producing a successor class at the shortest possible time. As it were, the major indication of this systemic failure was the recycling of political leaders rather than a renewal with successor generations. Conventionally and specifically, the role of leadership recruitment into the political system is that of the political parties. Understood as such, the poverty of the performance of this role is self-explanatory in the non-existence of political parties for the better part of the period spanning 1960 to 1999.

The political party system and the legislative institution are the most conspicuous and consequential casualties of military intervention in the governance of Nigeria as elsewhere. The more protracted the rule of military dictatorship, the more impoverished the political system and the attendant roles of the party system including leadership recruitment. Unlike the political system, and to underscore the point, is the analogy of contrast to the Nigerian economic sector which has witnessed progressive and periodic renewal and turnover of the public and private economic sector leaders. Many major contemporary economic leaders were either not born or were toddlers when people like Adeyemi Lawson, Michael Omolayole, Grema Mohammed, Mai Deribe, Gamaliel Onosode and numerous others were holding forte.

The good news is that since 1999, there has been increasing normalisation of the evolution of the Nigerian political system. Indeed Nigeria has gone so far on this journey as to attain the political feat that came as a most pleasant surprise to all and sundry a couple of months back. Given its political fragility and orientation towards systemic collapse, it was a wonder that Nigeria passed the stress test of the last presidential election. Inherent in this positive turn of events is the peculiarity of having another former military head of state ascend to the Nigerian presidency for the second time within the 16 years duration of the Fourth Republic.

President Olusegun Obasanjo blazed the trail at the advent of the Fourth Republic in 1999 and served out a two-term tenure ending in 2007. And now we have President Muhammadu Buhari. It does not derogate from its positive significance to argue that this recurrence speaks to the earlier indicated dysfunction of Nigeria’s post independent political history. Prior to 1999, the military had ruled for 29 of the 39 years of post-independence Nigeria —from 1966 to 1979 and 1983 to 1999.

The logical and sequential observation is that without the protracted dispensation of military rule, there would have been no former military rulers; and there would have been no advantageously situated Obasanjo and Buhari to capture the imagination of the Nigerian public and get elected as president.

Inadvertently and rather unwittingly, Buhari had himself alluded to this political oddity (within the context of recycled leadership) in remarks he recently made to a Nigerian audience in South Africa. He reportedly acknowledged and regretted the limitation that his advanced years potentially impose on his ability to meet the vigorous demands of his office; and wished he was confronting the challenge of his presidency at a younger age. In a similar vein, I recalled challenging a retired highly placed public functionary (from Adamawa State) in 2011 on the generalised support of the ‘North’ for Buhari in preference to a much younger and competent presidential candidate of the Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN), Malam Nuhu Ribadu, and he responded that it was Buhari that ‘the people know’.

As students of political sociology know, I owe the title and theme of this essay to the father of Western sociology, Max Weber. Confronted with acute political leadership crisis in the wake of the defeat and disorientation suffered by Germany at the First World War, the students of the University of Munich had invited Weber to give a lecture on political leadership and he responded with the address titled Politics as a Vocation.

The significance I wish to draw from Weber was his conclusion to the effect that politics must be regarded as a calling if the practice of politics would be of optimal leadership utility to the public — a calling in the respect that politicians take to politics on account of inner conviction and natural inclination without any expectation of material reward. This is the ideal and my own adaptation (of the prescription) to reality is that this virtue is deemed sufficiently realised if we have politicians whose expectation of material reward is substantially moderated and tempered by inner conviction and principle.

Here in Nigeria we have had politicians who best approximate the idea of politics as a calling. More than the politicians who came after them, Nnamdi Azikiwe, Ahmadu Bello and Obafemi Awolowo personify this aspiration. Without reference and perhaps without knowledge of Weber’s postulation, Obasanjo often admonished that the type of politicians — a politically reformed Nigeria requires — should simultaneously have two addresses, the first address should be that of a viable primary occupation prior to the assumption of political office (such as a chamber of legal practitioners or Sembora farms); and the other is the incumbent political office which is limited by tenure specification or potentially limited by the possibility of losing the contest to retain office. Nearer home, Deji Toye remarked of my father ‘I once read the autobiography of Oduola Osuntokun, patriarch of the Osuntokuns of Okemesi-Ekiti and Minister in the Western Region. He kept his job as a teacher, even as a regional MP and minister. And to imagine we got more value for money at the time’.

Following upon the legacy of its predecessors, the recently inaugurated Nigeria National Assembly session has remained top headlines news for the wrong citation. The dominant perception of Nigerian politicians as a normless self-aggrandising class is typically indicated in the primitive accumulation attitude of the lawmakers especially with regards to the unique power of budget appropriation. Here we are talking about institutional tendency to subvert a constitutionally assigned role to facilitate and legalise the pecuniary driven vested interest of the legislators.

For Nigerian senators, the following is the breakdown of their emoluments — Basic Salary (BS) 2,484,245.50; Hardship Allowance @ 50% of BS 1,242,122.70; Constituency Allowance @ 200% of BS 4,968,509.00; Furniture Allowance @ 300% of BS 7,452,736.50; Newspaper Allowance @ 50% of BS 1,242,122.70; Wardrobe Allowance @ 25% of BS 621,061.37; Recess Allowance @ 10% of BS 248,424.55; Accommodation @ 200% of BS 4,968,509.00; Utilities @ 30% of BS 828,081.83; Domestic Staff @ 75% of BS 1,863,184.12; Entertainment @ 30% of BS 828,081.83; Personal Assistants @ 25% of BS 621,061.37; Vehicle Maintenance Allowance @ 75% of BS 1,863,184.12; Leave Allowance @10% of BS 248,424.55.

According to the former Central Bank governor Lamido Sanusi in 2010, “Total Federal Government Overhead is over N500 billion and the Overhead of the National Assembly is N136.2 billion. This is exactly 25.1 per cent of total government overhead. I am quoting from the figure I got from the Budget Office. A comparative analysis undertaken by the London economist magazine ‘Nigerian federal legislators receive much higher salaries than their counterparts in developed and key developing nations’.

A Nigerian legislator receives an annual salary of about $189,000, equivalent of N30 million, which is 116 times the country’s gross domestic product (GDP) per person. In terms of volume of cash earnings, the Nigerian legislators beat their counterparts in Britain who take $105,400 yearly, as well as those in the United States ($174,000), France ($85,900), South Africa ($104,000), Kenya ($74,500), Saudi Arabia ($64,000) and Brazil ($157,600).

In terms of lawmakers’ salaries as a ratio of GDP per capita, the gap is even much wider. While the salary of a Nigerian lawmaker is 116 times the country’s GDP per person, that of a British member of parliament is just 2.7 times. Other yearly salary details published by the Economist are those of lawmakers in Ghana ($46,500), Indonesia ($65,800), Thailand ($43,800), India ($11,200), Italy ($182,000), Bangladesh ($4,000), Israel ($114,800), Hong Kong ($130,700), Japan ($149,700), Singapore ($154,000), Canada ($154,000), New Zealand ($112,500), Germany ($119,500), Ireland ($120,400), Pakistan ($3,500), Malaysia ($25,300), Sweden ($99,300), Sri Lanka ($5,100), Spain ($43,900) and Norway ($138,000)’.

The salary structure only tells half the story. Our lawmakers have turned the privilege of the constitutionally assigned role of oversight on Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs) of government to the licence of pressurising the MDAs to manipulate the process of budget disbursement and ensure that their proxies are given the right of first refusal on awarded contracts.

The taskmaster himself, Max Weber, concludes “only he has the calling for politics who is sure that he shall not crumble when the world from his point of view is too stupid or too base for what he wants to offer. Only he who in the face of all this can say ‘In spite of all!’ has the calling for politics”.

– This Best Outside Opinion was written by Akin Osuntokun/Thisday

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