Uzor Maxim Uzoatu
Reversing the Rot in Nigeria by Olusegun O. Oyegbami; Delsego Books, Ogba, Ikeja, Lagos; 2016; pp225
Some books command attention at first sight and engagement. When I saw the title “Reversing the Rot in Nigeria” and the subtitle “A Critical Expose on the Nation’s Economic, Religious and Political Cul-de-sac”, one had to take immediate notice. For me, it is not just enough to criticize or condemn; there is always the crying need to proffer requisite solutions. Olusegun O. Oyegbami is not anyone’s idea of an armchair commentator; he is out there in the field as a hands-on operator astutely involved to “know where the rain started beating us and where and how it is still beating us.” He does not beat about the bush but goes straight to the point by providing answers to the troubling questions on the “actions and inactions that have brought us to the nadir of human existence.”
Oyegbami has been a major presence in the downstream sector of the petroleum industry, starting out in 1977 as a marketing representative before becoming the Area Manager in Mobil Oil Plc, and he is now running a petrol station in Lagos. The book Reversing the Rot in Nigeria is a well-rounded and almost seamless collation of the various writings of Oyegbami dating back to 2008. What Oyegbami brings to bear on the parlous state of the union is a principled understanding of the politics and economics of Nigeria’s misdirection. He then adds the bewildering dimension of religious chicanery to paint a pathetic picture of a people on the brink of disaster.
Oil, many commentators have averred, is at the very root of the distortion of Nigeria. Oyegbami’s take is principally poised “on the observed manipulations in the marketing of petroleum products in Nigeria, especially kerosene.” His lamentation goes to the heart of the matter thusly: “Rather unfortunately, over the years in Nigeria, political considerations have predominated over sensible economic policies.”
In Reversing the Rot in Nigeria, Oyegbami pulls no punches and spares nobody. He damns the entire gamut of military adventurists in power, their civilian foot-soldiers and the ubiquitous “men of God” who dare to clothe impunity with the cloak of divinity. The fire-eating author thunders: “The needless but palpable poverty foisted on this country by military misrule has deeply affected our psyche and we have become traumatized body and soul, rendering us more pliable and susceptible to the manipulations of all manners of predators, especially the so-called men of God. This breed of men have multiplied so rapidly and filled up the airspace so much so that Nigeria has been virtually turned into a huge religious-peddling but thoroughly Godless society.”
The leadership question is amply tackled by Oyegbami in Reversing the Rot in Nigeria.
“In Nigeria,” Oyegbami writes, “we have been led by many groups of selfish and visionless leaders who have little or no en-nobling (sic) humanity in them and so could not develop any blueprint to move Nigeria forward in any material sense.” He argues that there is the need to go beyond generalizations such as “bad leadership”, “excessive corruption” and “tribalism” to probe further in the bid to expose the particular swings and policy decisions that have almost ruined the country. He stresses that the “fastest and easiest way to stupendous wealth is to have served in government in Nigeria.”
It is indeed anomalous and utterly disgraceful as the author points out that Nigeria boasts of the highest percentage of private universities in the world owned by former heads of state, high-ranking public servants and the General Overseers of the money-spinning churches. He audaciously names juggernauts, wondering how the intellectuals could exercise the full scope of their calling against the background of the domineering owners and employers.
In the second chapter of Reversing the Rot in Nigeria entitled “The Buhari Hysteria and the Unfolding Disappointment”, Oyegbami avers that in the 2015 elections Nigerian voters saw General Muhammadu Buhari “as an embodiment of integrity, frugality, modesty and aversion to corrupt enrichment” in contrast to the existing order of the corruption-suffused set-up of then President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan. The downer for the author is that the All Progressives Congress (APC) happens to be a motley gang-up of disparate politicians mouthing the “change” slogan.
Oyegbami’s offers a chastening verdict on Buhari, aka PMB, and the other Nigerian leaders using history as a prism thus: “History teaches us about the past, to enable us understand the present, and be able to make intelligent predictions about the future. If proper lessons are learnt from our historical antecedents, we could influence the direction of societal growth in a positive way.
We should therefore highlight the history of PMB’s earlier handling of Nigeria so that he will realise the effects of his previous policies, and create opportunities to correct his mistakes, and reshape the future. If this honest critical, albeit benign analysis is not made, the chance for a policy review and reversal will be slim indeed and PMB might destroy the country further. In truth, he started us on the path to economic decline and ruin; the governments of Ibrahim Babangida, General Sani Abacha and OBJ as civilian president deepened it, while the last government of GEJ frankly accelerated it.”
As a major player in the oil sector, Oyegbami takes no prisoners in deposing that Petroleum Equalisation Fund (PEF) is a programmed fraud. According to Oyegbami, “The reality is that, during abundance of supply, the northern marketers duly collect and push much of these products into petrol stations in Lagos and environs at some discount and go and collect their transportation claims. During scarcity, they bribe with much money to obtain products, which are then sold at high profit to Lagos and environs while still proceeding to collect the PEF transport subsidy. So on all fronts, the southern marketers are holding the short end of the stick.”
Oyegbami poses the troubling question once posed by a poet he does not name: “Have we come together as a society, just to cheat ourselves?” There is yet another question: “What has Nigeria gained from regulated system of petroleum distribution since 1975?” In the end, the almost perennial scarcity of a primary commodity like kerosene ensures the fraudulent subsiding of funds into the pockets of a few privileged individuals to the detriment of the majority. The scrapping of federal agencies like PPRA and PEF will inform a proper deregulation and subsidy removal such that every part of the country can operate on a level-playing field.
In the worldview of Oyegbami corruption and religion are Siamese twins. He rounds up the book with an open letter to Pastor E. A. Adeboye, the General Overseer of RCCG. It is actually a reply to “Covenant Partnership” authored by Adeboye in which the esteemed pastor created ten groups in his church who would pay from $1 to $20,000 monthly as his “Covenant Partners”. The top group is indeed mindboggling. Oyegbami’s words ring true: “Show me twenty Nigerians who can pay this amount into God’s coffers and I will show you twenty outright thieves or people who are doing something illegal, immoral, illicit, fraudulent, or any combination of these.”
––Uzoatu writes from Lagos