“Caveat Populus” literally translates as “People, Beware” and it is a reworking of the title of Senator Babafemi Ojudu’s latest article. This response is not to Senator Ojudu alone, it is directed to Nigerians of all ages and levels. This is because Nigeria is currently treading a very dangerous path and if nothing is done urgently, it might lead to the total collapse of the country. Senator Ojudu complained about how much people bother him for money even after he has stopped being a Senator. According to him, he could afford it when he was in power but now that he is just a Special Assistant to the President, he can no longer afford to give away money or be charged like a special person. The people are used to it so it is only normal for them to keep demanding.
As Nigerians, we can keep lying to ourselves but the truth is that our governance system is too expensive to run. From elections to actual governance, outrageous amounts are spent by politicians to keep things running. With evidence of vote-buying from all over the country, it is an open secret that what it takes to contest elections in Nigeria is outrageous and insane. My prediction is that by 2027, only politicians who have stolen the country blind and large scale fraudsters would be able to afford elections in Nigeria because no legitimate businessperson will pump billions into elections except they are doing it as an investment, in which case Nigeria loses when they eventually pull out the money.
Although there is a lot of criticism of vote-buying nowadays, it is not new. One of the reasons given by President Babangida for canceling the June 12 1993 elections is that there was “tremendous negative use of money.” Although his reason is not genuine, he alleged that more than 2.1 Billion Naira was spent by the candidates. Back to Senator Ojudu, his article is interesting and realistic. He claims that people make all sorts of unreasonable requests to him via social media and when he goes home to his constituents. As a Senator, Ojudu did well but he operated within a political system that is not designed to work. I believe he could have prevented his current predicament as a former Senator if he had made his position known then. He kept up with it when he was earning the money and did not complain. During his tenure in the Red chambers, he should have worked with few likeminded Senators and campaign against this immoral political economy. He should have avoided the expensive jamborees and should have created an identity that is anti-waste as unpopular as it might seem. However, his inability to do this is also understandable as he had gubernatorial ambitions in his home Ekiti State. Oftentimes, one’s political survival is hinged on these jamborees; it is how the system operates.
The truth is that Nigeria is not a financially rich country at the moment. Nigeria is broke and the economy is not growing significantly. Despite these, a huge chunk of the budget still goes to servicing politicians. There are several campaigns to make these figures accessible to the public and reduce the cost of governance but it has become obvious that the task lies also in the hands of ordinary people. Senator Ojudu’s article gives an idea of how most Senators think. They believe that the money they earn mostly goes back to the people, albeit informally. From the moment a candidate declares to contest for office, expenses begin. It is in this quest that many candidates mortgage the positions they haven’t even attained because they need money to pay the many gatekeepers. On election days, party agents are mobilized and paid handsomely, security agents are paid by parties, INEC staff members are also paid sometimes by parties. The money expended is not small and it is only normal for these candidates to make attempts to recoup their money at the expense of the people who they serve. It is how the system works.
The article by Senator Ojudu is thoughtful and reminiscent of his days as a fiery journalist jailed by the military junta. He mentioned former Senators who have turned themselves to oversight rats to make money while stating that he is unlike them. This also gives an inkling of why many projects are badly executed or abandoned. Also, looking at the examples of some things people request from him, many of them are needless expenses. Trailer loads of rice during Christmas, Rams, and Cows during Sallah and spraying money at parties. It is saddening that these have been normalized and citizens even put pressure on politicians to provide these things for them. We have to continue the campaign to reduce the immoral amount we spend on the legislative and executive arms of government but the buck rests on the tables of Nigerians who collect money from them too. It is better to come together and demand accountability and sustainable investments rather than money and other fleeting things. If the system is left unchecked, it will be the end of Nigeria.