Ring True with Yemi Adebowale; Email: email@example.com; Tel: 07013940521 (text only)
There are so many harrowing stories around the parents of the 218 yet-to-be rescued schoolgirls abducted by the Boko Haram sect in Chibok in 2014. While many have died, waiting for their loved ones to return, others are mere living corpses. The story of Reverend Enoch Mark, whose two daughters were among the abducted girls, is also heart-wrenching. He suffered a debilitating stroke while worrying about his daughters’ whereabouts. Mark was among the #BringBackOurGirls campaigners who have now been stopped thrice by a combined team of policemen and Department of State Security men from seeing President Muhammadu Buhari in Aso Rock over their abducted daughters. Why are they stopping them from seeing our president? When did it become an offence to demand to see the president in a democracy? So, the party is over with the BBOG campaigners? Or, are they saying that their faces are now homely to Buhari?
A frustrated Reverend Mark remarked: “For two months now, I have not been able to sleep; I had stroke while thinking about my two daughters. General Buhari, had your daughters been among these girls, how will you feel? How will you feel with your daughter in enemies’ hands? You are responsible for the rescue of these girls. You are responsible for my daughters’ safety. You did not empathise with the Chibok parents when we visited you at the Presidential Villa in January. You intimidated us; you said you were frustrated, you were not happy with us. Are we not Nigerians? If Buhari feels he does not know the girls’ location, let him step down and hand over to someone else.”
Reverend Mark’s remark is a reflection of what most Nigerians think about this administration’s failure to rescue the Chibok girls as promised. It is even more painful that we are not seeing any tangible measure that will lead to the rescue of the schoolgirls.
The then opposition All Progressives Congress, APC, politicised the abduction and used it as a key election issue, which gave the party a big edge during the 2015 Presidential election. Suddenly, Buhari seems to have forgotten that one of his key election promises was to rescue these hapless girls. Our president has suddenly forgotten that many voted for him because they felt he was capable of bringing the Chibok debacle to an end. Many thought that Buhari’s Presidency would bring smiles to the faces of devastated Chibok parents. A promise is a debt that must be paid. It is very sad to note that 15 months after assuming office, this administration still lacks credible intelligence on the whereabouts of the Chibok girls. There is obviously, no focused, coherent and consistent operation to rescue the girls. Nigerians are tired of being told stories. They want results. I also wonder if there is even any political will to rescue the girls. What we have now is government agents and officials yelling at the devastated parents and campaigners. Suddenly, the #BringBackOurGirls campaigners are now saboteurs to be pummelled. The remarks of government officials on the Chibok debacle have been depressing. Nigerians are tired of being told that the government had not given up on the Chibok girls when there is no progress report. We are tired of being told that Buhari’s heart is with the girls and their parents, when nothing concrete is being done in this direction. We are tired of being told that efforts are ongoing to find the abducted girls when there is nothing to support this. This government is not even communicating effectively with the troubled parents.
Again, government and its agents must put a stop to consistent maneuvering to destabilise the #BringBackOurGirls campaigners. Suddenly, factions of the parents are emerging, no thanks to manipulations by these unseen hands. Pressure is coming from somewhere, for Chibok parents to dump Obi Ezekwesili and her BringBackOurGirls campaigners. Everything is being done to humiliate these patriots. This is a disheartening dimension to the campaign. Ezekwesili and her co-campaigners have every reason to seethe. They have every reason to be very aggressive. They have every reason to intensify pressure on the Buhari administration. We must all encourage them.
This morning, I urge our dear president to reflect deeply on the last statement of an exasperated Reverend Mark who said: “Now, the parents are asking you, Mr. President, to meet the insurgents and make a decision. Either use the military force or go for negotiation; some countries are ready to give you a helping hand. What are you waiting for? Are you not interested in bringing back our girls? We have intelligence agencies in Nigeria; there is nothing in this country that they don’t know. Why didn’t you give them orders to bring back our girls? Are you not a General? You know what is happening and you know where our daughters are. Buhari, if you feel that you are incapable of rescuing the girls, step down now and give it (power) to someone else. We have many intelligent persons in the country who can handle this situation. You cannot tell us that you don’t know where the girls are.”
Mr. President, please, no more stories. You are condemned to bring back our girls.
The Terrifying Unemployment Brought By ‘Change’
I was not surprised that the total freshly-unemployed persons in Nigeria since President Buhari assumed office on May 2015 has come to 4,580,602. This is an unenviable record. According to the National Bureau of Statistics, NBS, the total number of Nigerians who became unemployed within the first and second quarter of 2016 was 2.6 million. About 1.46 million Nigerians became unemployed in the third quarter of 2015, while another 518,102 became unemployed in the fourth quarter of 2015. This brings the total freshly-unemployed persons in the economy to a record high of 4,580,602. In its second quarter unemployment and underemployment report released on Wednesday, NBS said further that the country’s unemployment rate grew from 12.1 per cent in the first quarter of 2016 to a record high of 13.3 per cent in the second. Underemployment in the economy was also on the rise, with 15.4 million Nigerians said to be underemployed. These are frightening figures which account for why crime rate is on the rise across our nation.
The handwriting was all over, but this administration failed to take pragmatic action. The real sector that provides jobs has been gasping for breath in the last 15 months. The manufacturing sector in our dear nation has never had it so bad in our entire 55 years of nationhood. According to the Manufacturers Association of Nigeria, MAN, under just one year, at least 222 small-scale businesses have closed shops. About 272 medium and large-scale firms had been forced out of business, 50 of which were manufacturing companies, all leading to 180,000 job losses. Sliding Naira, scarcity of forex, warped economic policies, multiple taxation, high interest rates, epileptic power supply, policy inconsistency, slapdash implementation of the Treasury Single Account, TSA, and the foreign exchange restriction placed on 41 items by the Buhari administration have combined to complicate the woes of Nigerian manufacturers.
The Buhari administration must constructively engage stakeholders like MAN, the National Association of Small and Medium Enterprises and the National Association of Chambers of Commerce, Mines and Agriculture to effectively manage our raging economic crisis. For example, 16 of the items on the list denied access to interbank forex by this administration serve as critical raw materials for intermediate goods produced in Nigeria. A good example here is glass and glassware. For now, this country lacks the capacity for optimal production of this item and several other raw materials. Unfortunately, all efforts by MAN to have this policy reversed have proved abortive. The result? Firms affected, directly and indirectly, have closed shops and sacked thousands of workers.
Also, since the assumption of office by Buhari, manufacturers have been begging for the reintroduction of the Export Expansion Grant (EEG), which gave manufacturing a big boost under the Jonathan administration. Recipients of the export grant held an instrument called Negotiable Duty Credit Certificate (NDCC), used in the payment of import and excise duties. The suspension of this scheme is negatively affecting manufacturers. Also, outstanding Negotiable Duty Credit Certificates are no longer honoured by government agencies. The EEG must return immediately to save our economy. Buhari needs men and women capable of thinking out of the box to fix our economy. To achieve this, he needs to urgently refit his cabinet. What he has now is largely a legion of sycophants and a bunch of clowns. Also, the federal government must redirect its policies towards stimulating the economy rather than tightening money supply.
The Buhari administration must be pragmatic as it struggles with self-inflicted economic crisis.
A Case for Our Gallant Soldiers
The recent call by the #BringBackOurGirls campaigners for an investigation into the handling of salaries and emoluments of troops fighting Boko Haram terrorists in the North-east should be taken seriously by the authorities concerned. Complaints about their poor feeding and allowances are mounting daily. This is unacceptable. Global standards on welfare must be maintained when it comes to front-line troops. The courage and gallantry of our soldiers fighting on the frontline, including the Multinational Joint Task Force and the Civilian JTF, amid challenges, is legendary. They have remained resilient in the face of challenges. The military authorities must ensure that their welfare remains a priority. May Allah continue to protect our gallant soldiers.
My Takeaway on Cardinal Okogie’s Homily
I have spent days reading, over and over again, the recent homily by the Emeritus Archbishop of Lagos, Cardinal Anthony Okogie on the state of the nation. I hope President Muhammadu Buhari and his aides have also spent quality time reading the homily. Okogie wants Buhari to do something fast to address obvious hunger across the country: “Today, cries of hunger could be heard across the length and breadth of our vast country. Nigerians hunger, not only for food, but also for good leadership, for peace, security and justice. This letter is to appeal to you to do something fast, and, if you are already doing something, to redouble your effort. May it not be written on the pages of history that Nigerians die of starvation under your watch. As President, you are the chief servant of the nation. I therefore urge you to live up to the huge expectation of millions of Nigerians. A stitch in time saves nine.
“Nigerians are waiting for you to fulfill the promises you made during the campaign. They voted you into office because of those promises. Mr. President, if you want to leave a credible legacy come 2019, in all sincerity, please retool your administration.”
For me, the area Okogie urged Buhari to take a critical look at his cabinet, policies and programmes of his administration, is pertinent. Buhari’s cabinet, as presently constituted, cannot deliver the desired “change.” Our president also needs to critically examine his warped actions and inactions. Things have just got to change.