We Must Persistently Interrogate Our Leaders

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Ring True

By Yemin Adebowale; yemi.adebowale@thisdaylive.com;  07013940521 (text only)

The biggest factor responsible for Nigeria’s continuing poverty, hunger, disease, unemployment and underdevelopment is the refusal of most of its citizens to persistently interrogate their leaders. Many are too fearful to challenge these leaders, most of whom are crooked. I also find it frightening that some even make excuses for the failings of these warped leaders instead of interrogating them. For example, President Muhammadu Buhari promised to decimate Boko Haram when he assumed office. It is obvious that he has failed, after almost three years in power. I find it difficult to understand why the majority are not interrogating him. He promised better life and after almost three years, the economy is in a mess, then, we should unanimously interrogate him. We have an Information Minister in Lai Mohammed that is persistently economical with the truth, nonetheless, only few people are interrogating him. What about our governors? It is obvious that virtually all of them are crooked and have pauperised their states, yet, only few people are interrogating them.

It is unfortunate that majority of Nigerians are sentimental, timid, sly, lethargic and always economical with the truth, when it comes to tackling leaders. Tribalism and religion extremism have also compounded the unwillingness of our people to interrogate our kinked leaders. This failure of the majority to interrogate leaders often throws up touts in top political positions in our dear nation. We will persistently have inept and morally-bankrupt leadership, if we don’t change this mentality. If we don’t change this attitude, Nigeria will remain in the inglorious club of underdeveloped country for many more years to come.

One development that has left me depressed for several weeks now is the acute petrol scarcity that has persisted across our nation. We should interrogate this “change” government on this. This product is selling for as high as N400 per litre in some states. This is the same product that should officially sell at N145 per litre. For over four weeks, Nigerians have been going through hell in fuel stations. Many stations sell this product at black market price while officials of the DPR look the other way. This impunity is unprecedented because our regulatory agencies have compromised. This is why DPR officials have been unable to enforce the official price of this product. Should this be happening in an era of change? Must this continue in an era when the body language of the president ought to be turning things around and hindering corruption? I thought that by now, our dear Petroleum resources Minister, Muhammadu Buhari, would have resigned over this anguish. This is the standard in sane societies. Unfortunately, public office holders in our dear country operate like big boss. Do they really care?

This stinging fuel scarcity has compounded the existing problem of epileptic power supply across the nation. Because electricity supply has been erratic, many relied on petrol to power their homes, offices and factories. So, it is double wahala for Nigerians in an era of “change.” Epileptic supply of electricity and scarcity of petrol have combined to make life miserable for Nigerians. Manufacturers are also gasping for breath. What about stories that we have enough reserves to last three months? What about stories that our refineries are pumping out millions of litres of fuel daily? The response of government to this stinging fuel scarcity is awkward and laced with half-truths and outright lies.
Let’s flip back to Buhari and the raging unemployment in the country. This government has not appropriately responded to the latest scary unemployment figures released last week by the National Bureau of Statistics. According to these dizzying figures, a total number of 4.07 million Nigerians became unemployed between January and September of 2017. The NBS declared that the increasing unemployment and underemployment rates showed that although Nigeria was officially out of recession, the domestic labour market was still fragile while economic growths in the past two quarters had not been strong enough to provide employment. Everywhere you turn, you will find so many jobless youths and adults. This is upsetting. The truth that must be told is that millions of Nigerians have lost their jobs in the last 30 months because of the horrendous economic policy of the Buhari administration. They fail to tell Nigerians that the manufacturing sector is the biggest contributor to the GDP and it is tumbling because of the warped policies of this administration. Industrial capacity utilisation is down and manufacturers are gasping for breath. The fiscal and monetary policies of this administration/fall in consumer demand are choking them.

Again, this administration persistently talks about diversifying the nation’s economy, yet, there is no blueprint on how to attain this. Clearly, the Buhari administration runs the country with propaganda, while the nation’s economy tumbles. The statistics from the National Bureau of Statistics are terrifying.
I expect this government to come up with realistic plans to stimulate employment. Unfortunately, the men around Buhari are incapable of offering ideas on how to motivate employment. Over the last 31 months, they have shown that they lack the capacity to do this. The sloppy 2016 and 2017 budgets are a further testimony to this.  Buhari is surrounded by a legion of sycophants. This means that our president must rejig his cabinet. He must be ready to hire people who would look at him straight in the eye and say “no” to his antiquated mentality and policies.
This morning, I urge Buhari to reflect on the remarks of former President Olusegun Obasanjo, who said: “Now that we have had change because the actors and the situation needed to be changed, let us move forward to have progress through a comprehensive economic policy and programme that is intellectually, strategically and philosophically based. Once you are on seat, you have to clear the mess and put the nation on the path of rectitude, development and progress leaving no group or section out of your plan, programme, policy and efforts.

“Economy neither obeys orders nor does it work according to wishes. It must be worked upon with all factors considered and most stakeholders involved. The investors, domestic and foreign, are no fools and they know what is going on with the management of the economy, including the foreign exchange and they are not amused. The Central Bank must be restored to its independence and integrity.” Obasanjo made this remarks last year during a lecture he delivered at the First Akintola Williams Annual Lecture in Lagos titled, “Nigeria yesterday, today and tomorrow: Governance and accountability.” This is evidently the only way forward for our dear country.

Customs’ Celebration of N1.01tn Revenue
The Nigeria Customs Service is still celebrating what it termed its highest revenue collection ever, with N1.01 trillion in the 2017 fiscal year. The NCS describes the revenue performance as spectacular, because the 2017 collection was N241.68bn higher than the target of N770.57bn set for it. The 2017 revenue is also above the N898 billion collected in 2016.  For me, this celebration is absolutely unnecessary. The Comptroller-General of Customs, Col. Hameed Ali (retired) and his boys should stop deceiving Nigerians with jaundiced figures. By now, Customs should be talking about generating at least N10 trillion annually for the Nigerian government. Unfortunately, very little has changed at the NCS. This agency is still underperforming despite its potential, because of massive corruption. Try clearing a car at any of our ports and you will understand what I am talking about. Also, visit the land borders and experience Customs-sanctioned smuggling. Ali’s men will then turn around to hunt the traders in their shops across our cities and towns. I can still vividly remember the Chairman of the Presidential Advisory Committee against Corruption, PACAC, Prof. Itse Sagay, saying that the Customs was still drenched in corruption even under the Buhari administration. He said: “There is no difference in Customs since May 29, 2015. If you go to Tin Can Island, it is business as usual.”

Hameed Ali has not pragmatically responded to Sagay’s allegation. Fighting corruption in the Customs requires more than grandstanding. We need a brilliant and tactical head for Customs. Again, this government should start thinking about privatising the collection of Customs and Excise duties. This is another way of reducing the sleaze in this agency and moving close to N10 trillion annual revenue target from our ports.

Osun Civil Servants Back on the Street
Traumatised Civil servants in Osun State are still seething. They spent most of Wednesday on the streets of Osogbo, protesting against huge unpaid salaries, pensions, gratuities and non-remittance of contributory pension deductions by the Rauf Aregbesola administration. The workers were further miffed by plans by Aregbesola to pay them half salary this December after collecting N6.3 billion final tranche of the Paris Club loan refund from the federal government. They have since commenced an indefinite strike over this long list of atrocities against them by Aregbesola. This governor’s middle name is “anguish”. No single individual has ever inflicted this much pain on the people of Osun State. According to labour leaders, hundreds of pensioners, who retired since 2011, have died waiting for pensions and gratuities. Those still in service have been turned into beggars, with religious organisations feeding some of them. In the midst of these huge unpaid salaries, Aregbesola introduced a dubious half salary policy in September 2015. This governor, with unprecedented impunity, owes civil servants salaries running into several years. Once a while, he pays half salaries. Only God knows what that means. As a result, public servants are perpetually on strike; they obstinately curse the day they voted for this man from hell. Aregbesola has also plunged the state into unprecedented debt estimated at about N200 billion. Just as Segun Akinwusi, former Head of Service, HOS, of Osun State, stated recently, “When a government chooses to indulge in trivialities, the end result is for it to be looking for scapegoats to cover its infamy. Osun State economy today has collapsed, the debt profile has reduced the state indigenes to beggars and destitute.”

For how long shall these hapless Nigerians be subjected to torture by the Aregbesola administration? For how long shall they be subjected to hunger, disease, malnutrition and untimely deaths by this man called Aregbesola? These workers want the federal government to start paying them directly from Osun State’s revenue allocations. Buhari should consider this option. Osun State is in a deep mess. May Allah intervene with a blazing sword.