Lessons from China: A new beginning is possible for Nigeria in 2023

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Factual Pursuit of Truth for Progress

Wale Oloko

Sometime in June 2021, a local government official in central Hunan province of China was excoriated for wearing a Hermes leather belt at a government meeting. Following a public backlash, local authorities after investigation revealed that the leather belt was a fake one bought for US$20. On 3rd November, 2022, a Chinese daily newspaper carried the news of another official of government under investigation for allegedly wearing luxury accessories worth thousands of US dollars at a press conference about Covid-19.

According to Jiefang Daily, the official who is a deputy director of Administrative Approval and Public Service Bureau (Chinese Translation) from the Inner Mongolia autonomous region was seen wearing earrings believed to be from the luxury brand Van Cleef & Arpels and a scarf suspected to be made by Hermes. The jewellery the official wore look identical to two types of products named Vintage Alhambra and Sweet Alhambra respectively, which are sold at US$4,200 and US$2,600 according to Van Cleef & Arpels’ official website. Internet users who saw the media conference said her scarf resembled one made by Hermes and sold for more than US$2000. Why should that be anybody’s business? In other climes, it may not be, but in China it is everybody’s business.

After a massive outcry about the alleged luxury accessories, the Anti-Corruption watchdog, the Disciplinary Inspection Commission of the Municipal Communist Party Committee started an investigation and the official has not been seen in public since then. The outcry is understandable. Hohhot, the capital city of Inner Mongolia, has recorded 286 confirmed corona virus cases with another 2,371 asymptomatic ones since the beginning of October, 2022. The city of 3.5 million people has been under a snap lockdown for the last three weeks to curb the outbreak. It is possible that the jewellery and apparels are fake, but that will only be known after the ongoing investigation. Suffice to say that China is a place you can get the real and the very real of all fashion items.

It is pertinent to state that every official of government is aware of the strict stance of the Communist Party of China (CPC) on matters of conspicuous consumption. Notably, after Xi Jinping became the president of the Peoples Republic of China (PRC) in 2013, the Central Committee of the CPC issued an ordinance of Eight Basic Rules (EBR) to improve governance and crack down on officials’ extravagance, including advocating thriftiness and stipulating the type of cars and houses allocated to senior officials. Number 1 on the list is that “Leaders must maintain close contact with the grassroots. They must understand the real situation facing society through in-depth visits at the grassroots level. Greater attention should be focused on places where social problems are more acute, and inspection tours must be carried out more thoroughly. Leaders should work and listen to the public and lower level officials; the most practical problems facing ordinary people must be tackled. For official visits, there should be no welcome banner, no red carpet, no floral arrangement or grand receptions”.

Furthermore, one of the EBR states that official visits to foreign countries should only be arranged when absolutely necessary, with fewer accompanying members. In 2020, the Central authorities issued a directive calling on government officials to set examples for the public in a nationwide campaign against food waste. The whole essence of the EBR is that officials are leaders and pace setters of society’s atmosphere. They should advocate and demonstrate a plain and frugal consumption mindset. To this extent, it is believed that government officials wearing luxury items and ostentatious living can easily touch a nerve with the public which is under myriad of economic and health problems in recent years.

China is a rich country by African standards, the second largest economy in the world, exporter of many items in our malls and builder of our airports, deep sea ports and roads and yet still frowns at government officials displaying unnecessary extravagance. So what is the situation in our own country and can we envisage a day that we are going to all agree that we are not going in the right direction? This is against the backdrop of the condescending attitude and outrageous living standard of government officials at all levels. Yes, Nigeria is not China where there is zero-corruption policy and capital punishment in extreme cases awaits guilty offenders. Yet a new beginning is possible with the upcoming elections in 2023 if the eighteen presidential candidates can submit themselves to a set of common rules that will guide how the officials of the incoming government at all levels will conduct themselves and relate with the populace and manage public funds.

The National Peace Committee (NPC) headed by Abdulsalam Abubakar, retired Army general and former Head of State has once again ensured that top political leaders signed an accord to maintain peace before, during and after the 2023 general elections. General Abubakar justified the need for the accord due to the fact that during electioneering campaigns in Nigeria, politicians and their supporters generate incitements which could endanger the country’s peace. In the words of the committee chair, “the pattern of public communication among political actors, their publicity agents, spokespersons, and media consultants always amplify the potential for personal attacks, insults, and incitement.”

Everyone agrees that the cost of governance at all levels is high and the reduction of same can be agreed upon. But how do we embark on such a noble cause with the present constitutional arrangement? It is reasonable to expect that if the NPC could get the political gladiators to submit to the principles and intents of the peace accord, it is also possible for the rest of the Civil Society to bring all the political parties together and get their commitments to certain basic governance principles which they will implement in the larger interest of the Nigerian society.

To this extent, there is the need for elite consensus on what should be the priority of the incoming administration in the interest of voters and the future of the country. This goes beyond political affiliation. Since hunger does not discriminate or favour any religious adherents nor any geo-political zone has immunity against insecurity, it is expedient that political parties submit themselves to a number of initiatives including the following: Avoidance of conspicuous consumption, reduction in the fleet of cars available to government officials, reduction of overseas visits, reduction in the number of government agencies, provision of quality education, action on science and technology, multi-layer policing and immediate release of the police armed escorts to their regular beats, effective electricity generation, transmission and distribution, fiscal responsibility, resuscitation of the refineries and the security of the oil pipelines. Successful presidential candidate can name his ministers within days of the swearing-in as an indication of a god beginning that Nigerians must look forward to.

It has been said over and over that Nigeria cannot sustain the current level of recurrent, overhead and personnel costs at Federal, States and Local governments and expect to witness the quantum leap in the economic growth and development that will take care of annual population growth of two and a half percent and eradicate poverty and reduce insecurity. Nigerians through the Non-governmental organisations can enable the political parties to commit themselves to good governance and avoidance of waste especially now that they are still seeking popular votes. All hope is not lost. The country deserves to be rescued. It is possible to bring the country back from the precipice and have a new beginning. The alternative is unimaginable. May that never happen to Nigeria.

God bless Nigeria.

Wale Oloko writes from strategicassociates@gmail.com

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