Pius Adesanmi: The difference between Nigerian and European politicians

by Pius Adesanmi

In 1986, Mr Olof Palme, Sweden’s Prime Minister, was gunned down on a street in Stockholm. He was returning from a movie, strolling casually with his wife with minimal fuss and security as is usual in these parts of the world.

It was embarrassing for the security services. So, they were not going to take chances with Mr Palme’s successor. To better protect him, the security services said that he would have to move to an official PM’s Palace. However, Ogbeni Ingvar Carlsson had other ideas.

First, he grumbled about the use of the word, palace. He said it was contrary to his political beliefs to live in a palace. Why should leaders inhabit a world away from the people? Besides, he wanted to continue in the simple tradition of his predecessor: no fuss, no extravagant trappings of power.

The security services insisted. Then Ogbeni Carlsson began to complain about the economic wisdom of living in the PM’s official residence. He said it was too expensive for him. He would not be able to afford the rent and other expenses. The Prime Minister kept doing “aroro” over rent and other out-of-pocket expenses associated with living in his official quarters as the Prime Minister of Sweden.

For in Sweden, you pay rent for your official apartment in the part of the government quarters you live in. Eventually, the Swedes designated Sager House as the official residence of their PM. But you still cannot go there and live on their backs and on their heads, eating free lunch. You have a salary. Pay your rent.

In 2006 or thereabouts, Prime Minister Hans Goran Persson got into some trouble. It was discovered that he was paying 7000 kronor less per month in rent than he should have been paying as Prime Minister for his apartment in Sager House.

In France, there is a housing allowance which enables the President to be able to afford to live in the Elysee, the Presidential palace. All over the civilized world, there are just variations on Sweden and France: you cannot just move into government house and transform yourself to Ibembe Olokunrun, Fagunwa’s famous glutton, on the back of the people.

Are these systems foolproof? For where? Abuse is constant. Presidents always try to cut corners. That is why from Europe to America to Canada, former Presidents and PMs are always getting caught and having to refund money for having cut corners – paying less rent or flying family for free on the presidential jet or flying to unofficial destinations on the Presidential jet, etc. Ogbeni Justin Trudeau recently flew to the Bahamas on his official plane on vacation with his family. He was caught and had to refund a lot of cowries to the Canadian taxpayer with loads and loads of apologies to the people.

But the principle remains the same: no free lunch.

When a politician says it is less expensive for him to live in his own personal home here, he is weighing the cost of official residence. In Nigeria, when a State Governor insists on living in his personal house, he actually intends to steal and divert all the funds meant for the upkeep of Government House to renovate his own personal residence in full public glare. And this happens so frequently it has been normalized in our people’s head.

If the professional citizen defenders of political free lunchers in Nigeria tell you – trust me, they will – that, ehen, shebi it also happens in Europe and America, tell them that the unscrupulous politicians doing so in Europe and America are breaking the law and there are consequences when caught.

It is not that the law here actually says that you must fund their newspapers, fund their meals, fund their wardrobe, fund their petrol, fund everything for their wives and concubines, fund everything in government house, pay them security vote they don’t have to account for, pay them constituency allowance they are free to steal under “empowerment” heading…

…and, then, come to me for solutions to your condition.

Op–ed pieces and contributions are the opinions of the writers only and do not represent the opinions of Y!/YNaija

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