BY DELE MOMODU
Fellow Nigerians, I’m back this week to continue where I stopped last week. If you missed the first part, let me summarise quickly. The piece was largely historical as I took the readers on a tour de force of how we arrived at President Muhammadu Buhari, a stone repeatedly rejected but has now become the cornerstone. I concluded that the second coming of President Buhari was a miracle and that the high expectations would naturally place a heavy burden on him.
Without doubt, life has not been rosy for our dear President and Nigerians in the last one year. What Nigerians expected from Buhari was nothing short of a magical revolution that would transform Nigeria, without military power this time around. The joy that heralded his coming was surreal and uncommon. For once, since June 12, 1993, when Chief Moshood Abiola won the most monumental election since our Independence, Nigerians united in celebrating President Buhari’s superlative victory. Everywhere I went, Nigerians were proud that Buhari had won and world leaders saluted our incredible achievement. In Dubai, where I travelled to shortly after the election, taxi drivers congratulated me once they confirmed that I was from Nigeria. The story was virtually the same in London, a city with probably the second largest concentration of Nigerians outside our dear beloved country. Indeed, we never had it so good.
So what seems to have gone wrong and how did we somehow wasted the momentum that was galloping us to prosperity, given where we have now found ourselves? Nigerians expected our President to have spent the transition period to assemble and get his team ready. His economic team was supposed to have been identified and put on notice and standby. We now know that the outgoing Government did not co-operate as fully as it should have done and the President did not have hand over notes on time, according to some impeccable sources.
Once the newly elected representatives of the people got inaugurated, one expected that everything would be smooth sailing, as APC had the majority in both chambers of the National Assembly. However, the election of principal officers of the National Assembly which was meant to be a simple and straight-forward affair since the ruling party had a simple majority already in its kitty turned out to be anything but that. No one anticipated the raging inferno that would erupt from contending ambitions and conflicting egos. The Eighth National Assembly has never known peace since inception and the rest would be history by the time the gladiators finish tearing themselves to pieces in the market place.
The selection, screening and confirmation of Buhari’s cabinet took place at snail-speed. Nigerians mumbled and grumbled like the Biblical Jeremiah about the time it was taking for the President to pick his men and women. It did not seem the President understood that his people are probably the most impatient human beings on earth. Perhaps, he would have jazzed up the tempo and tenor of his administration by announcing his cabinet long before he eventually did.
The steam started cooling down like melting dew and before long the mumbling turned to moaning and grunting. Those of us perceived to be part of the Buhari Movement have not been spared by those who would never see anything good in our President. We’ve been treated scornfully and attacked as those who brought this scourge on Nigeria. All explanations and entreaties have fallen on deaf ears.
The situation was further compounded by the war against corruption which has been waged with religious fervour by the Buhari government. The horrendous stories of stealing in high places are stranger than fiction. All well-meaning Nigerians have been scandalised by the gory tales of brigandage and high larceny that we have been subjected to. Most Nigerians are happy and pray that maybe Buhari would be able to win a war that was apparently responsible for the abrupt termination of his military rule in 1985, during his first coming. Many big personalities have been arrested, detained and prosecuted, though only one case has been concluded and most are yet to be brought to judgment and conviction.
The Judiciary that should be the last bastion of justice and the ultimate hope of the common man has been on trial and ostensibly nailed to the cross. There have been allegations of bribery and bias. Such an important institution has been weakened miserably and how it would wriggle out and cleanse its self-deprecatory mess remains to be seen. The Buhari government does not seem impressed even though it would need a willing and ready partner in the judiciary in its volatile crusade against corruption.
Security remains a huge challenge. Though our irrepressible military appear to be pushing forward in its efforts towards the obliteration of the terror group, Boko Haram, there are still some skirmishes here and there. Kidnapping is back big time. Just days ago, my young cousin, John Fatoye, a fresh graduate was abducted as he boarded a fake taxi and found himself journeying through places that he would never be able to identify since he was blindfolded. He survived by the whiskers as God miraculously touched the hearts of the bandits who dumped him somewhere on the Lagos-Ibadan Expressway. This has become rampant.
We didn’t hear of the Shiites, New Biafrans, Fulani herdsmen and Niger Delta Avengers this time last year. But these groups have managed to force their ways to the front pages of our newspapers and the forefront of our attention and reckoning because of their agitations and restiveness. The Amnesty Programme that was meticulously put in place by former President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua has virtually collapsed. The Avengers have wreaked unprecedented havoc on our crude oil supplies and operations. It is reckoned that we’ve lost our production capacities by about one million barrels per day at a time we are grappling with abysmally low income from oil.
By far the greatest albatross of the Buhari is the comatose economy. Many are wondering what suddenly happened to the robust and rambunctious economy that was celebrated globally less than three years ago. Our economy under the government of President Goodluck Ebele Jonathain was supposed to have overtaken that of South Africa to become the front leader. It has nosedived to an all-time low in just one year. We have studiously ignored the fact that we’ve catapulted ourselves into recession. That oil prices crashed calamitously when President Buhari took over power and the profligacy and impunity of the previous administration became manifest as there was no money to cover up and paper the cracks that had been obvious to the discerning public.
The truth is thus that the times have not been kind to this administration. President Jonathan had devalued the Naira twice in the space of six months in the last days of his administration. The effect of that devaluation is only just being felt in the course of this Buhari administration because, in the euphoria of the elections, everyone forgot about the economy. The parallel foreign exchange market took on a mind of its own and defied all permutations as speculators held sway. Prices of food and other essentials have gone haywire. In the end the Central Bank had to capitulate to those clamouring for devaluation by recently announcing a flexible exchange policy. This will naturally mean further economic woes for the long-suffering masses of our great country but we must have faith and believe that there is light at the end of the tunnel.
No one is sure if we’ve finally done away with the ubiquitous petrol subsidy or whether there is now deregulation of the petrol pricing regime. Only time will tell. Thank God however that the unbearable queues at petrol stations have disappeared and we pray it is final this time.
Unemployment has become dangerously massive. In fact, we are now rated as the country with the largest army of unemployed youths in the world. And the list of our woes is full and unending.
The regular excuse for the woeful economic quagmire we have found ourselves is that the past governments created this volcanic eruption. While this is a fact, many have argued that the time for buck-passing is far gone because that is the reason Jonathan was sacked by Nigerians.
Where then do we go from here? I shall endeavour to put my humble suggestions forward. I’m aware that some aides might be dissembling to the President and telling him all is well. But Baba, there is fire on the mountain. As one of your foot-soldiers, I remain committed to telling you what the voices on the streets are saying. I will now take the challenges and prospects together, one by one.
The priority of every nation is to build a buoyant economy. Truth is that would be difficult under the current climate. There is too much tension in the land, and the uncertainties can only scare away any investor. For example, foreign airlines are jittery and United Airlines only just announced that it was closing its operations in Nigeria. The almighty British Airways is exploring its options. Even Virgin Atlantic is shedding a few flights on our routes. These are not good signs. We must douse the tension urgently.
The banks are panicky and rocking although we are all afraid to openly say this for fear of precipitating a grand collapse. This probably accounts for all manner of unsavoury charges that are being levied on unsuspecting customers. The Central Bank must intervene and save the already overburdened populate. The manufacturers are angry. They are being ravaged by epileptic power supply and uncertain currency regulations. Every type of power generation must be explored speedily. Ghana has convinced me that this can be fixed quickly as demonstrated by President John Dramani Mahama. This has made most Nigerians living in Ghana very hopeful that Nigeria would break our electricity jinx one day soon. If Mahama can perform such miracle, we too should work harder.
Farmers are being kicked aground as they are overrun either by diseases or murderous herdsmen and their rampaging herds. No one should play politics with lives and livestock. It should not matter that some of the herdsmen are kinsmen of our President. They should be tackled seriously and I’m sure our President would safeguard every Nigerian soul and property. Once the perpetrators know the President is not on their side they will simmer down quickly.
The major bright spot is the war against corruption which the Government is largely seen to be winning. I would like to sound a note of caution though. While it is good to fight corruption, it should be done systematically. Otherwise, what we lose might be bigger than what we gain. I learnt from Chief M.K.O Abiola that there are two ways of shouting Yeee. He said “you can shout YEEE and people will run and you can shout YE-YE-YE and people will dance.
We can investigate and prosecute corruption without employing gestapo style operations. The President must insist on respect for the rule of law. One must never fight illegality with illegality. We must avoid anything that would suggest that enemies are being hounded. No crime could be worse than apartheid yet Dr Nelson Mandela chose peace over crisis. I recommend that corruption can be fought without making it appear like grandstanding. The looted funds will be recovered when a thorough but fair investigation has been carried out. No Nigerian should be detained on experimental basis at this time and age. We should always embrace dialogue as means to conflict resolution. Great Britain, USA, and other European countries sometimes even negotiate with terrorists. Those asking for blood today will sing a different song and tune when tomorrow comes.
We must do everything possible to secure the cooperation of every Nigerian no matter our ethnic, religious and political differences. In this regard, I implore President Buhari to hold steadfast to the notion that nothing should be done to humiliate a man who voluntarily gave up power when he could have opted for bloodshed. I will always admire and appreciate the sacrifice of President Goodluck Jonathan. We should remember that he was the first man from South South to govern Nigeria by divine intervention. He paid dearly for fumbling in power and that is enough punishment. Other leaders who wasted our resources since Independence are roaming around freely. If they cannot be subjected to a similar treatment, then Jonathan should be left to his conscience and should be allowed to enjoy his retirement without harassment. No man is perfect and we should not sow permanent seeds of discord that may eventually ruin our nation. That does not mean looted funds must not be substantially retrieved from all public office holders without fear or favour. Many in all the Political Parties and civil service fall into this category. The pursuit of one man as is now being advocated by some can only be an unwarranted provocation and unnecessary distraction.
It is never a sign of weakness to run away from danger and regroup. It is for this reason that I urge that we must not add the Avengers to our political and economic lexicon. I pray it is not too late. President Yar’Adua did the wisest thing when he drew the embittered militants closer. The people of the Niger Delta have every reason to be bitter. Their representative was sacked and not allowed to return to power. Yet the Asari Dokubos, Tompolos and others left quietly without a conflagration and it was indeed a miracle. We must not go and wake up unnecessary trouble. Our pots are full already.
Nevertheless, the Avengers have no right or justification for the atrocities and crimes they are committing. All they are doing is contributing not only to the economic woes of the country and even the world but more importantly they are destroying the communities they claim they are helping through environmental degradation and economic deprivation. The President must help these communities, and turn them away from the romantic notions spawned by these militants, by giving them a sense of belonging once again!
According to an old British Telecom advert: “It is good to talk…” Our problems are solvable if we embrace dialogue no matter how difficult it seems.