The Simple Way Forward for Nigeria
PENDULUM BY DELE MOMODU
Fellow Nigerians, these are not the best of times, globally! That statement is even an understatement. The COVID-19 pandemic currently ravaging planet earth has brought hell closer home. What we are witnessing is nothing short of apocalypse. Armageddon is here, full blast.
In the last couple of weeks, we lost many friends, some famous people, old and young. Most people, especially those who have crossed the danger line of age 60, are now very jittery, no matter how mighty their faith is. According to my dear Brother, Ali Baba, the legendary Nigerian comedian, a survivor, who lived to tell the tales of woe which the evil scourge leaves in its trail, there is no virus more devastatingly dangerous than this corona epidemic or pandemic or whatever title you choose to decorate it with.
I have also read the gripping accounts of my long-time friend and colleague, Senator Babafemi Ojudu, a big man, a Special Adviser to the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria on Political Matters. He also received God’s mercy. I could hardly recognise him in the picture he posted. He looked gaunt and much darker, a radical departure from his robust former self. This is a man who, once upon a time survived General Sani Abacha’s Gulag, but for whom that was child’s play compared to this deadly attack. His experience confirms Ali Baba’s summation that this virus is no respecter of status or stature. Worse still, it leaves you poorer and impoverished, if you’re lucky to survive. The high and mighty now live in abject fear and trepidation. We, the lumpen proletariat, are not even safe despite the unfortunate and unfounded thesis that it is a rich man’s disease.
These days every death is regarded as originating from COVID-19. It has become not just the world’s worst menace, but also its biggest nuisance. Endless conspiracy theories are making things difficult. With vaccines now available, some are saying they won’t take it. However, for me and my house, the risk of taking it is lesser than just waiting for COVID-19 to strike. I wish those unwilling to be vaccinated best of luck. If anyone wanted to wipe out the Black race of the world, it is so easy and simple. Over 60 percent of our food and beverage come from overseas. 90 percent of our drugs flow in from different far-flung parts of the globe, including places we hardly know.
I expect that very soon, most international airlines will make it compulsory and mandatory to boldly display your vaccination certification before you can board any flight. It means many of my obstinate, and perhaps obdurate, friends would be stranded wherever the regulation meets them. I’m sure for a people as itinerant and as ubiquitous as Africans, many will change their Shakara in a jiffy.
My bigger concern is that even on a regular day, our dear beloved country cannot cope with regular diseases, not to now imagine this present monstrosity. Government hospitals are full to the brim, while private ones are even rejecting the millions of Naira they normally charge because they are over-subscribed and extremely fatigued. This brings me to the crux of the matter and the real meat of my epistle today.
Just imagine that amid this pandemic, Nigerian politicians are still living large. I watched the Armed Forces Remembrance Day celebration, led by President Muhammadu Buhari yesterday. I could not believe my eyes on seeing the sheer pomp, ostentation and grandeur of the ceremony. I thought I had suddenly been teleported to Scotland when I saw the full complement of piped pipers accompanying our President whose main attraction previously was his frugality and love for the poor. But it seems Abuja pollutes easily and metamorphose anyone into an irredeemably flamboyant robot. An undiscerning leader might be deceived into believing that he must behave in this manner to earn the respect of world leaders. But who doesn’t know Nigeria is almost criminally broke, and poorer than a church rat? Please, who in the world can’t see that we fund our profligate lifestyles with loans we can hardly repay. If it were easy to arrest, convict and sentence a whole country, Nigeria would have been slammed a death sentence for wasting its resources on frivolities! I also read yesterday that Nigeria is considering the satanic idea of selling government properties to fund the 2021 budget. What will they sell to fund the next? This is guaranteed to be wasted on some reckless politicians!
Where then do we go from here? Some people believe Nigeria is the most difficult country to govern. I vehemently disagree. Nigeria may be truly complex and complicated but our people are used to nothing good coming from their leaders and are therefore happy and content with whatever little they get.
The way forward is for all of us to first tell ourselves the gospel truth by identifying our main issues, which are obvious anyway. Our insatiable crave and craze for primitive acquisition and accumulation of wealth must be regulated and curtailed. This cannot be achieved by mere wishful thinking. Before President Buhari finally gained Presidential power after trying a record three times, in 2015, we were so sure he was the only angel from heaven who could put an instant magical end to our morbid corruption.
While his heart and mind may have been very willing, his body language soon gave way to the image and mild-mannered temperament of a leader, not strong or capable enough and who lacked experience and exposure in certain areas of governance. This is probably a result of not running any major business of his own before becoming President. It is always easy to be cheated when you lack detailed knowledge of most of the transactions under your watch. Over-inflated contracts have been the biggest bane and destroyer of our country. Our profit margins are often outlandishly excessive. A business savvy leader would ordinarily know how to block many of these outrageous contracts. President Olusegun Obasanjo and Dr Ngozi Okonjo-Iwealla plus Madam Due Process, Oby Ezekwesili, performed creditably well in that respect. That government was more disciplined and well-focused, the reason they were able to clear our debts without much ado, but sadly promptly acquired more all over again. I’m sure there are enough people in the current government who can achieve the same feats, but they are not reasonably empowered!
The next problem is nepotism and ethnic jingoism. I’m not even sure if this is not our biggest problem. I personally don’t mind where our leaders come from, but when you blatantly handpick incompetent people for parochial reasons, because they are your kinsmen, the country is bound to suffer and struggle forever. Every Nigerian leader knows this obvious fact but most of them are not willing to make the necessary amends and adjustment. What we need is a government and leadership that makes merit and meritocracy utmost priority. This is not difficult. I will never get tired of emphasising to the present government that if it wants to modestly succeed within the limited time remaining between now and 2023, it must rejig its government architecture and grant the Vice President, Professor Yemi Osinbajo fuller and greater powers.
Based on what we witnessed when the President went on medical vacation years back, Professor Osinbajo is more than qualified, able and competent. Let me reassure the Presidency, and the conspiracy theorists resident therein, that Osinbajo has not sent or paid me to say this o, because I know how they reason inside the Villa. This is only a patriotic act that should be seriously considered. The hitherto alleged brain box of this government, former Chief of Staff, Abba Kyari, has passed on and I’m not sure the current Chief of Staff, Professor Ibrahim Agboola Gambari, has even a minuscule amount of the power and authority wielded by his immediate predecessor, although he is imbued with global experience and exposure. What I see in Professor Gambari is a gentleman trying hard not to step on the fat toes of some increasingly frustrated cabal.
Religion is our next major albatross. Until we leave individual citizens to attend to their God and Prophets, Nigeria will never develop. A country as cataclysmically broke as Nigeria has no business funding religious obligations. Religious strife has sent many of our citizens on hasty unplanned trips to heaven or hell. This is the handiwork of certain government operatives who often promote one religion above the other. There’s nothing more dangerous than turning religions into cults.
Our economy is in tatters and every cost saving measure must be considered and activated. A President as powerful as Buhari should use the fear and respect political leaders have for him to the advantage of Nigeria. It would be unfortunate if he leaves the country worse than he met it. He must use this power to urgently address the pressing and compelling matter of restructuring. The last strongman who could have done it was President Olusegun Obasanjo, but he finished meekly and weakly. The issue of a new constitution anchored on a less expensive political system must be speedily explored. Nigeria can no longer afford this atrocious American Presidential system of government. Our States are also too unwieldy. We must consider a return to Parliamentarianism and Regionalism both of which make for greater accountability and development. If we do not kill our lavish rent-seeking political ecosystem, I’m certain it will eventually kill our country. In the name of God and all that is good, let our politicians have pity on Nigeria and Nigerians. We cannot sustain this present system without collapsing eventually!
Government needs to hands off a lot of things. Obviously, many of our leaders are parasites. A consortium of reputable organisations at home and abroad should be invited to handle our privatisation exercises. Politicians cannot and should never be involved. This is our last hope. Many insisting that government must continue to run our country as its personal business and enterprise are opportunistic political parasites and profiteers who can never survive outside power. Apart from the unbearably high tariffs sanctioned by a gormless regulator, the relative success achieved by our electricity discos should serve as veritable guide to what genuinely transparent privatisation exercise can achieve. I commend the hard work of the Rotimi Amaechi led Ministry of Transport on resurrecting our dead railway. Before it collapses again under a new government, it should be offered to private investors and shareholders. I’m sure many Nigerians would also now agree with former Vice President, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, who suggested that our cash cow, NNPC, should be privatised. I have concluded that most of the incompetent leaders who find themselves in government positions in Nigeria have no business in our business!
A sound economy is the bedrock of a healthy nation. We must put an end to our voodoo economy of trial and error, hit and miss! For far too long, we’ve made too much noise about diversification but done little or nothing about it. Nigeria is blessed with virtually everything, but we have precious little to show for it. We must reposition our youths and provide them with relevant vocational education to make them employable and turn them into potential entrepreneurs. The level of unemployment has become highly volatile and inimical to the well-being of our country.
We must reconsider how we elect our leaders. Until we get the right set of leaders, we are going nowhere! Our electoral system remains one of the worst in the world and we have presented bad examples to many Africans looking up to Nigeria for positive inspiration. We certainly possess quality leaders at home and abroad who can bail us out of our mess, but our outrageously backward style cannot encourage or sustain them. It is to our eternal shame that the American President-elect Joe Biden has already appointed Nigerians into his government. Back home, these guys would never have been noticed and if noticed may have been disqualified and wasted on the altar of Federal Character and religion! Do we really need anyone to tell us that we are our own worst enemies? As long as we continue operating an antiquated system of selecting and electing leaders, nothing good can come the way of Nigeria.
Finally, let me say emphatically that we must rebuild our comatose institutions. We all witnessed the challenges recently faced by the United States of America after its November 3, 2020, elections, which the existence of strong institutions helped to successfully resolve. If not for time tested and enduring institutions, America would have collapsed under the watch of the rambunctious and rampaging Donald Trump and his army of insurrectionists. In the end, a whole Donald Trump was turned into a sulking, penitent baby after being horse whipped by much younger CEO’s at Twitter, Facebook and other social media platforms. Imagine a President crying falsely and endlessly about being rigged out and not vice versa. I dare anyone in Nigeria to have declared victory over the autocratic President Muhammadu Buhari.
The person will be scattered in no time. Now imagine Professor Yemi Osinbajo pronouncing Atiku Abubakar as winner. I don’t want to imagine what would happen. Could those same companies block an African dictator on its platforms and survive? No way! I have read how the Ugandan leader, Yoweri Museveni shut down the internet in Uganda for the current elections. That’s what President Trump would have done. He must envy his fellow tyrants in Africa who would rather die in power than go home to spend quality time with their families and grandchildren.
It is a powerful lesson to us, that the Eldorado we crave will continue to be a mirage unless we fight and build strong unassailable institutions…