If they ever want to do away with their reputation as spendthrifts, Nigerian leaders certainly have good lessons to learn from their colleagues in other parts of the world
By ANTHONY AKAEZE
He lived for 77 years, 25 of which were spent serving as prime minister and later president of Tanzania. Now, if a long career in public service were to be a determining factor for wealth, Julius Nyerere would therefore have been one of the richest Africans at the time of his death in 1999. But he was not. Nyerere was just like the man next door, who, having served his country to the best of his ability, retired to a quiet but contented life in his native Butiama land.
Madaraka Nyerere, the son of the former president, in an interview early this year, gave an insight to his father’s personality during and after his term of office as president. “This house here is where, when my father was President, we used to come to when he used to spend his end of year holidays in December. That’s the only house he owned at the time, apart from the other house he has in Dar-es-Salaam which he built through a bank loan.” As president of Tanzania, Nyerere reportedly earned £4,000 per annum as salary, an amount lower than what his ministers earned.
Nyerere may be no more today but the examples he left behind are being closely followed in faraway Uruguay where José Alberto “Pepe” Mujica Cordano currently donates about 90 per cent of his $12,000 monthly salary to charity and owns just one old Volkswagen car. Like Nyerere who retired to his farm in Butiama after serving as president, Cordano, dubbed “the world’s poorest president,” even as Uruguay’s number one citizen, chose to live in a farm settlement on the outskirt of Montevideo, capital city of Uruguay.
Nyerere and Cordano’s austere lifestyles in and out of public service contrast sharply with that of many Nigerian leaders who see public service more as an opportunity to enrich themselves. At a time like this, when there is so much uproar over the N255 million bulletproof cars bought for Stella Oduah, the aviation minister, by the Nigeria Civil Aviation Authority, NCAA, the likes of Nyerere and Cordano readily come to mind. Would “Nwalimu,” as Nyerere was fondly called, or Cardona have bought or sanctioned the purchase of N255 million ($1.6 million) worth of cars or possess a fleet of vehicles and jets, as Nigerian public officials are known to do? The answer is an emphatic no.
Indeed, the lavish lifestyle of the average Nigerian leader is in sharp contrast with those of their counterparts in some parts of Africa like South Africa and neighbouring Ghana. There are also examples to learn from further afield in places like Britain, Nigeria’s colonial master. For instance, in 1979 when Margaret Thatcher was elected prime minister of Britain, one of the things she inherited was the car used by her predecessor, Leonard James Callaghan.
Any thoughts that Britain could have deviated from the example set between Callaghan and Thatcher in 1979 is easily defeated by the fact that few days after news of the acquisition of the two armoured BMW 760Li vehicles broke, a picture of a similar car purchased by David Cameron, British prime minister, was published in a Nigerian newspaper. Although the vehicles are essentially of the same luxury category as the ones purchased for the Nigerian aviation minister, Cameron’s car comes at about N52 million while Oduah’s two cars were procured at N127.5 million each!
Such cost disparities also speak volumes about the cost of maintaining government officials in both countries. For instance, the average Nigerian legislator earns more than his counterpart in countries like the United States, US, and the United Kingdom, UK, countries with an appreciably higher standard of living and a thriving middle class. While a senator in the US earns $174,000 per year, a member of parliament in the UK earns about £64,000 sterling per annum. But in Nigeria where basic amenities are lacking, with many of its citizens either jobless or underemployed, a senator earns N240 million ($1.7 million) in salaries and allowances per annum while a House of Representatives member earns about N204 million ($1.45 million).
Nigeria lacks strong institutions to checkmate corruption and this accounts for the leakages often witnessed. This deficiency is not restricted to the country alone as many other resource-rich nations also face a similar challenge. A recent report by The Revenue Watch Institute called Resource Governance Index notes a “striking governance deficit” in many oil-rich nations and believes that “the lives of more than a billion citizens could be transformed if their governments managed their oil, gas and minerals in a more open, accountable manner.”
Nigeria was one of the 58 countries assessed and the West African country’s record in transparency and best practices was considered dismal. The poor performance of Nigeria and many other African countries in governance is the reason for the second time running, no African leader was considered fit to win the Mo Ibrahim Prize for Good Governance in Africa in 2013.
Since the Mo Ibrahim prize was instituted in 2007 to honour presidents who had served their constitutional terms and demonstrated “excellence in office,” only Joaquim Chissano of Mozambique, Festus Mogae from Botswana and Cape Verde’s Pedro Verona Pires have won it. This was in 2007, 2008 and 2011 respectively.
Explaining why no African leader was found worthy of the award for the second successive year, Hadeel Ibrahim, daughter of the billionaire Sudanese businessman who instituted the awards and executive director of the foundation, said: “We’re holding a mirror up to Africa and if there’s a winner, congratulations to the winner and to that country, and if there’s no winner we hope that African people get more of the leadership they deserve.” Statements like that are not only indicting for Nigeria’s leaders, they without doubt show that the days of selfless leadership provided by the likes of Nyerere and Nelson Mandela, former South African president, are fast fading away.