Thursday, July 31, 2014

USA Africa Dialogue Series - Fw: Political Renewal: Lessons from Taiwan

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-----Original Message-----
From: Tunde Oseni <>
Date: Thu, 31 Jul 2014 09:13:42
To: ayo_olukotun<>
Subject: Political Renewal: Lessons from Taiwan

Political Renewal: Lessons from Taiwan
Ayo Olukotun

'The government team should start forward without being troubled by
personal matters. I feel it is appropriate for me to step down in
order to prevent unnecessary misunderstandings'- Taiwan Labour
Minister's Resignation statement, 31st July 2014

Democracy in the Island nation of Taiwan is only a few years older
than Nigeria's Fourth Republic; yet that Asian economic power house
and leading producer of electronics goods offers some valuable lessons
for Nigerian leaders should they care to learn. In the last
forthright, two cabinet ministers both university lecturers have
resigned their offices in the wake of public controversy about their

Barely a fortnight after the resignation of the education minister
Chiang Wei-ling over an academic publishing scandal which tangentially
involved him, the country's Labour minister Pan Shihwei whose
resignation statement is quoted in the opening section of this write
up threw in the towel. This was a result of the publication by a
tabloid of an allegation that he was having an extra-marital affair
with his personal assistant.

The labour minister's posture, even as he came under pressure, over a
transgression that European politicians would have dismissed as
commonplace evokes the best traditions of public service. Indeed
Shihwei as he headed back for the Chinese Cultural University remarked
with pronounced humour that his sobering experience will make the
university course he teaches more popular. It is interesting that the
labour minister did not supplicate with Premier Jaing Yi-huag by
sending delegations of traditional rulers to beseech him; neither did
he engage in costly diatribes by berating the ethnic extraction of the
owner of the tabloid that exposed him. On the contrary and conscious
of the long term imperatives of building a responsible political
culture he bowed out of office with dignity and panache.

The case of the education minister Wei-ling connects an associate who
cited him as co-author of five out of sixty articles that were
withdrawn by an academic publisher for violating peer-review
procedures. The controversy ignited public outrage predictably fuelled
by the opposition Democratic Progressive Party which called for
Wei-ling's resignation. Rather than stay on and call his critics names
or accuse them of trying to break up the country, Wei-ling stated that
'after reflection overnight in order to safeguard my own reputation I
have decided to resign as the education minister'.

Were the minister willing to contest the issue several escape routes
were open to him including the fact for instance that the author of
the controversial publications had merely invoked his name as a status
symbol. In other words, he was not directly culpable. However, legal
niceties are one thing; public morality which is at the heart of
functioning democracies is another.

At first blush, the resignations may be seen as indictment of the
country's Premier; objectively however, the resignations of faintly
discredited public figures constitute acts of political renewal which
reinforce the legitimacy and responsiveness of the system. And this
brings us to the Nigerian circumstance in which public officials would
rather die in office or even set the country on fire than resign their
portfolios. It must be a long time, for instance, that any Nigerian
public official resigned even when confronted with serious allegations
of wrongdoing. Several cases come to mind here, one of them being that
of Interior affairs minister Aba Moro, who in spite of being
implicated in a national tragedy involving the death of several youths
clung to office tenaciously. There was also the case of former
minister of aviation, Stella Oduah, who in the heat of severe queries
on her conduct called her critics names. It took a cabinet reshuffle
to ease her out of the job.

Interestingly our political class was not always this squalid. Was it
not in this same country that Chief Obafemi Awolowo voluntarily quit
the plum position of minister for finance and vice chairman of the
federal executive council stating publicly that he no longer felt
comfortable with staying on in an un-elected government? His
resignation was considered at the time a rebuke of the political
longevity and sit-tight attitude of the military government of General
Yakubu Gowon who had reneged on the transition programme to civilian
rule. There is also the image, as this writer recalls it, of Chief
Bola Ige, assassinated minister for justice, who was eased out of the
Western Regional Government by its then military ruler, General
Adeyinka Adebayo because of a disagreement on principle between them.
A few days later, Ige, clad in his wig and gown appeared in court
for a client signaling that he had gone back to his professional
calling. The same mindset is reflected in the posture of Aminu Kano
even when he took up political office under military regimes.

The point being made here is that this earlier breed of politicians
did not consider political office as a do-or-die affair to be held on
to at all costs. They had popular followings and were conscious of the
ethical and ideological underpinnings of public service. Another way
of putting this is that they held office in order to serve the people
and did not see office as an end in itself. The moral collapse of the
political class and the conversion of political office into
commercialized fiefs to be bought or sold constitute important
dimensions of Nigeria's never ending political crisis.

If we go back to the Taiwanese examples which are replicated in best
practices across the globe we find that it was fairly easy for the
ministers to quit the offices because they had their jobs waiting for
them. The Nigerian dimension of the problem is complicated by the
emergence of politicians who lack secondary careers or callings to
which they can return should they have to resign or be eased out of
office. It is interesting too that Taiwan's education minister
accepted a forty percent drop in his salary at the National University
in order to serve as minister. In our own country, public office
remains a superlative calling which opens citizens to an unimaginable
world of luxury at public expense.

Previously, it was thought that a reformist strand within the
political class will succeed at whittling down the privileges of
office holders. Governments and national conferences have come and
gone but the problem persists. Obviously, for as long as an obscene
gap exists between professionals and holders of public offices so long
will it be extremely difficult for politicians whose integrity are
called to question to resign their offices.

The self perception of Nigerian leaders is that they are in charge of
a great country but greatness does not happen by simply imagining it.
We must be willing to put in the hard grind that it takes to achieve
greatness, and one of this is what is increasingly called 'soft
power'. Soft power refers to the ability of nations to attract others
by the force of examples or moral weight. What the resignations of the
ministers in Taiwan have shown is that the country cares for those
values that make democracies work and nations powerful.

Nigeria is still waiting for a leader or group of leaders who will
grasp the connection between civilized conduct in government and the
country's identity on the world map. For how long do we have to wait?

* Olukotun is Professor of Political Science and Dean, Faculty of the
Social Sciences, Lead City University, Ibadan

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