If only they had seen the oil as a dwindling resource. If only they had appreciated that the bonus from oil windfall was an aberration and couldn’t be relied upon to build a dream on. If only they had saved for the rainy day. If only they did not have a champagne taste, even with their palm-wine pockets. If only they didn’t have to steal not only for themselves but their numerous families, friends, hangers-on, bootlickers, religio-cultural communities and their future generations.
If only they did not splash state resources on frivolities and elitist tastes. If only they did not have to build air-conditioned footbridges or commit money into building Africa’s tallest building in a land where electricity is still a luxury. If only they did not build gargantuan edifices and ‘world class’ stadium where only one game (football) can be played, and that a few odd times in a year. If only they did not build state-of-the-art entertainment centres, where state resources are spent to subsidise gate fees. If only state resources were not looted to fund political party activities. If only they thought through every project proposal to be sure it is in the interest of the people rather than be driven by ‘what is in it for me’ (WIII-FM). If only they realised that it is evil to take a loan for projects that would sell off their state’s future for the pleasure of today’s elite.
If only they realised that governance is about service to the citizens and the state and not a ‘food-is-ready’ for family and friends. If only they realised that spending colossal sums to build a physical wall round a city is idiotic, just like committing huge funds from loans to build a conference centre that is unlikely to host as many conferences as to recoup the loans. If only government officials realised state resources should not be utilised for funding private religious luxuries like pilgrimages, instead of committing those to deliver quality public services like electricity, health and education.
If only governments were not top heavy with political appointees whose job descriptions overlapped and there are no monitoring of value added to the state by such officials. If only state agencies were not over-populated by workers many of whom have neither a job to do nor a seat and office space to work from, yet collect salaries and allowances. If only we had effective monitoring mechanisms for efficiency and efficacy of government workers and operations.
If only our opinion, traditional and religious leaders were not compromised and as such could speak truth to power. If only those leaders were statesmanlike and not interested in WIII-FM. If only those who had no courage to speak up did not spend time discouraging and disparaging those who spoke up against bad governance and squandering of public resources.
If only people got punished, and severely too, for looting our commonwealth rather than be celebrated by their communities as heroes and heroines who brought the bacon home to their clans. If only we entrenched the culture of naming and shaming rather than hailing and sharing with corrupt public officers.
If and only if all the ifs above had happened, we would not have been in this horrible mess of states going bankrupt and governors beginning to beg for bailout from a federal government that itself is operating below the level of capability.
If only citizens are thoroughly angry enough about the waste in government and rise up to say enough is enough and mean it, the government would sit up and not take us for granted. But that again depends on another set of ifs. If only we stop seeing who is running the government but how he or she runs it. If only we realise that we own the government and not the government that owns us. And if only we realise the power of our collective actions as citizens. Oh, if, and only if we appreciate where the power lies, we would not allow the few who run the governments to take us for granted.
First published in The Niche newspaper, May 17, 2015. http://www.thenicheng.com/if-only-we-knew-our-realities/