In the wake of the resignation of the British Prime Minister, a certain feeling cut across the Nigerian social media space, if her own leaders cannot resign in the face of poor public office performance and economic hardship. The tenure of Boris Johnson, the outgoing red-faced Prime Minister of the United Kingdom has overseen a record 63 ministerial resignations with over 50 of them coming in a 36-hour blitzkrieg prior to his own eventful resignation.
The interesting resignation came from his Education secretary, Michelle Donelan, who was brought in to fill a vacant role left by a resigned minister, only for her to resign 36 hours later, possibly making her the minister with the shortest tenure in British history. The week’s events would conspire to make a great episode in the popular American political thriller television series “House of Cards”.
Switching over to her ex-colony in Western Africa and you have some of the staunchest government officials devoid of self-reflection and entirely lacking introspection. Coincidentally, in the same week of the British political crisis, the Nigerian President’s convoy was attacked and in a separate incident, a prison facility was invaded setting free some of Africa’s deadliest terrorists.
All this coming on the back of state governors decrying the level of insecurity in the country and a national television outburst from the state governor of the food basket of the nation. And yet, unsurprisingly, no head has rolled. No resignation in sight. To highlight Nigerian government officials’ moral bankruptcy, their peers in Downing Street voiced their disapproval of their principal’s poor handling of government and resigned thereby sacrificing their own careers for the greater good of having a government with integrity.
You can forgive Nigerians for wishful thinking as the dynamics of political positions are fundamentally different ideologically and financially across both countries. In fact, occupying public office is not rewarding in developed countries as it comes with a lot of scrutiny from the dogmatic press and from ever-demanding constituents.
Public office in developed countries comes with probity and accountability which are the absolute requisite in discharging public duties. Nigeria, in contrast, you are Lord and supreme over the people you govern, and in worse cases, you can be detained for having the temerity to question a government official.
There have been calls to make a public office in Nigeria unattractive to sieve out the wheat from the chaff and to foster an entry of only competent people into government. This can only be done by having strong institutions. Institutions such as the Media should be given room to press public officials and non-partisan government agencies to discharge their duties without fear of consequences. In Britain, the UK Prime Minister was fined £50 by the Metropolitan Police for attending a birthday celebration in Downing Street’s Cabinet room in June 2020. It would amount to the delusion of grandeur to expect the Nigerian police to fine President Buhari for attending a party.
The total bill issued to Boris Johnson and other government officials for the party scandal was to the tune of £20,000. Last year, the Conservative party was fined £17,000 for failing to report the donations used in the renovation of Boris Johnson’s flat. Imagine the APC fined for not declaring donations for the renovation of Buhari’s apartment in Aso Rock. These things are inconceivable in Nigeria.
Another financial angle to understand why government officials can resign in developed countries is because they possibly stand to make more money outside government unlike the career politicians in Nigeria. There’s not a significant difference in lifestyle once they live office. Ten Prime Ministers have resigned from the start of the 20th century and while the latest member of that party contemplates the ramifications of his resignation as Conservative leader, he may well be finding solace in an appraisal of his earning prospects once he leaves Number 10.
So many times Boris Johnson has decried his paltry salary, as he earned more while he was a backbencher MP. While on the backbench, he was earning as much as £800,000 annually including his £275,000-a-year Daily Telegraph column as well as from speeches, book royalties, and television appearances. He also has a £500,000 contract to write the Biography of Shakespeare – most people do not know he is a brilliant writer.
British prime ministers are relatively poorly paid compared with some of their peers. Boris’s current annual salary is £164,080 – behind that of the Canadian premier (£224,000), the German Chancellor (£309,000), and US President (£335,000).
The perks of public office are outside the public office, while the reverse is the case in Nigeria with the amount of finance and power at their disposal more gratifying while in office.
In 2019, Sweden’s first female prime minister, Magdalena Andersson, resigned less than 12 hours into the job when her coalition collapsed – in her words – “I don’t want to lead a government whose legitimacy will be questioned.”
For a country to work, there’s a need for ethical and ideal leaders who need to step down when they cannot deliver good governance, if they have failed their people, or if they are incapacitated to function.
Additionally, the Media needs to understand its role in this and take a cue from the British and American press in ensuring public servants’ excesses are checked month upon month until consequences are meted out. Three days of media trial, clickbait Twitter headlines, and poor reporting enveloped with Brown-envelope journalism do a disservice to the public who see them as their mouthpiece.
Also if we juxtapose the Prime Minister’s Questions sessions in the United Kingdom and Plenary sessions in Nigeria, you observe the gulf in difference between both parliaments. Institutions checkmate individuals. Boris had manoeuvred and resisted all calls to resign and mooted the idea of requesting the Queen for an election to salvage his drawing supremacy. Just as his American doppelganger, Donald Trump tried to halt an electoral process with his infamous “STOP THE COUNT” tweet and desperate reach to his Vice President to overturn the election despite his aides advising him his plan had no legal merit. But both leaders were playing Russian Roulette with loaded revolvers in strong systems designed to ensure their plans backfire.
Hopefully, as we have a new wave of politically interested youths, government officials will have to perform with more scrutiny coming from all corners. Nigerian politicians need to understand, that they are appointed to give their best and in situations where they cannot, they should do the honourable thing and resign.