PENDULUM BY DELE MOMODU
Fellow Nigerians, here I go again with my lamentations over the reckless mismanagement of our very scarce resources by the Buhari administration. Many of my readers often ask me why I have continued to waste my precious time and energy criticising and advising a President and a leadership that is so patently impervious to qualitative leadership standards, logical reasoning and modern ways of governance.
My usual response is simple and straightforward. When tomorrow comes, I won’t be surprised if President Muhammadu Buhari comes out, like his predecessors, to offer a cock and bull tale of how he was misled by his advisers, or that he was never aware that the situation was that critically bad, and such other semantics and rigmarole. In other words, I do not want to give him an easy escape route when he finally bows out of power, and the best I can do is to let the whole world read my selfless and energy-sapping epistles every Saturday. That way, at least some, if not all, of these personalities, namely Buhari, members of his immediate and extended families, kitchen cabinet and others must have stumbled on my patriotic interventions a few times, if not most of the times, and hopefully feel the need and necessity to do the needful. And if they do not, as the Government approaches its twilight, then we can hold them to account for frittering away opportunities and resources in the face of myriads of reasonable, patriotic admonition from people like me. As the Yoruba will say, “Eni a wi fun, Olorun Oba je o gbo” (That person we talk to and advice, we pray to God that he should listen and accept)!
My reason and purpose are that I truly wish and want to give President Buhari the benefit of the doubt; that he may not truly be aware and cognisant of the happenings and occurrences around him for various reasons, such as old age, dementia, educational background, general obstinacy and raw ethnic and other jingoistic sentiments. There is fire on the mountain, and the roof is on fire and burning with bright, incandescent rage, but our President does not seem to see this and therefore continues to behave like someone who does not know, or simply does not care. There are also some unfortunate suggestions that most members of his team have no access to him, and that those that do meet with him, on the few privileged occasions that he deigns to favour them with his presence, can hardly have a decent conversation with him because his mind is brittle, febrile and elsewhere. In any event, even these “lucky” ones are no good, because they are too timorous, timid, always too scared and pathetically docile to paint the true picture of ugly events in Buhari’s Nigeria.
When I had the privilege of sitting with the President in 2015 and engaging him in discussions briefly, soon after he attained power, I must confess that our meeting went quite well. The President seemed confident and assured. He was jovial but serious about what he believed needed to happen to turn Nigeria around from the drift and the shambolic charade that had been the government of President Goodluck Jonathan. I left the meeting thinking that maybe we got it right after all. However, not long after, and even in those early days, there were already some significant indications that Nigeria was heading in the wrong direction. I will neither bore you nor bother you about that. The two most important reasons Buhari was voted back to power soon became his weakest points. If we complained pre-2015, that the PDP government was profligate, it would be difficult to describe the APC government in words which would be more charitable than that. In this season of global pandemic and the ravages it has caused to economies worldwide, when all reasonable governments are expected to tighten their belts and manage resources very frugally, the APC apparatchiks have been on a binge, spending money as if it is going out of vogue. And what is worse is they’ve been spending it on the wrongest of things.
Nothing best sums up the recklessness of the present Federal Government than the latest notion of wanting to spend $1.5billion on refurbishing the comatose Port Harcourt refinery, a refinery that has been on life support for so long, which has been allegedly undergoing periodic, but regular turn around maintenance at very huge costs to no avail. What makes the idea so sickening is the manner the government operatives are jumping over themselves to justify the scandalously imprudent outlandish spending at a time there are much better things to spend the money on, even if we have it. I have carefully listened to their jejune arguments and I remain totally unconvinced and unimpressed, to say the least. What I see are very desperate people who are hellbent on just wastefully dissipating that money. It seems President Buhari may still be living in the past when one Naira was equal to a dollar.
It is possible that he therefore thinks that the Trillions Nigeria now budgets annually equates to trillions of dollars in which case $1.5billion dollars would be a mere drop in the ocean. However, firstly, we need to help him understand the value of such amount today in the face of the foolhardy, irresponsible continued devaluation of the Naira, and emasculation of the economy. $1.5 billion at the runaway parallel market rate, which Mr Emefiele now incessantly scoffs at because it has become eggs and tomatoes on his face, is practically three quarters of a trillion Naira. It is simply put, a significant proportion of our national budget. What that princely sum can do at home with local goods for export which would wean us from our dependence on crude oil and its exportation is best left to the imagination. Ask Mr Segun Awolowo of the National Export Promotion Council, who has embarked on a national crusade of capacity building for non-oil exports and zero tolerance for dependency on crude oil, and he will demonstrate to you that the vistas and opportunities are legion. $1.5 billion would revamp our Universities and Teaching hospitals and improve and enhance education and health, two critical, but neglected sectors of the economy of any nation that strives to thrive. We can look further afield and what it can produce in more seriously ambitious climes. One example should suffice. If you hand the handsome sum of $1.5billion to the ruler of Dubai today, he will build a second Burj Khalifa, the tallest building in the world.
The direct income from tourists flocking to such a novel wonder of the world, and the indirect income from the boon to the tourist industry would more than surpass the investment in such a brilliant venture, and naturally dwarf any income that you would expect from a refinery even producing at its optimum. In essence, it is this substantial sum that our dear beloved country’s current leadership is about to squander on a dead horse, a moribund refinery which, if it ever resurrects, may neither work fully nor bear dividends! What is worse is that the Buhari government is talking about refurbishing the refinery for this huge sum when only eighty percent of that amount about $1.2 billion would build a new bigger and technologically advanced and superior refinery. It just beggars belief and defies logic and belief that any rational government can come up with such a hare-brained scheme. But then, this is what we have come to expect of this Buhari led administration. When the top is dour and soulless, it permeates the entire structure, cascades down to very lowest levels, and nothing of benefit or interest can come out of it.
It is strange how this government can fail to get its priorities right considering that there are a few shining lights of their professions within the government. Perhaps it is true what they say that when an intelligent person mixes with dullards, it is only natural for him to get dull and dim-witted too. The Yoruba will say “ti ewe ba pe l’ara ose, a di ose” – when the leaf has entangled with and covered the soap for so long, that leaf too will become soapy! Nobody seems to dare speak up or say anything lest at that point in time, Mr President becomes aware of his surroundings and glares at the offending parasite. After all, you never can tell what piques the interest of President Muhammadu Buhari. The cabinet just sits at the Federal Executive Council meetings every Wednesday to award and approve all manner of contracts at costs never heard of in the world. I often joke with friends that even if one lacks some brains these days, one can easily purchase them in the marketplace. It shouldn’t be difficult to go on Google and find out how much similar projects cost elsewhere, that is if it is even necessary at all to embark on such white elephant projects, as this government has a penchant for doing.
It is no longer a secret that the Nigerian government is terribly overpopulated by prodigal men and women who have no respect for money and lack the capacity to manage people and resources. I reiterate my avowed conviction that the government of Nigeria should never have any business in running any business (please, permit the seeming tautology). All the government needs to do is create an enabling environment for business to survive and thrive by the provision of basic infrastructure and policies that will achieve this. When Government takes on roles that it is not well suited for, chaos and bedlam ensue, and unscrupulous people will always take advantage. There are many of them in Nigeria, partly because those in control do not know what they are doing and so, they engage in doing what they know best, which is participating in grand larceny and the plundering of the Nigerian State.
It is sad and unfortunate that President Buhari, whose reputation as the last saint standing was one of the reasons Nigerians supported him in 2015, couldn’t stop his men and women in their tracks but instead is sitting pretty with arms akimbo, watching helplessly as Nigeria is literally and figuratively being bled to death by these incredible guys.
I am almost at the end of my missive today. It saddens me that once again, we are faced with another calamitous venture by government. Fortunately, it is not too late to avert this disaster. There are different ways of dealing with the problem of the refineries, especially since bigger, better and technically superior private ones are springing up around Nigeria, with the added benefit that they will be much better managed and will not be a drain on the nation’s scarce resources. So, in reality, rather than repair the refineries, they should be sold off as scrap because that is now what they are, no more, no less.
My biggest worry remains the style of the presidential monarchy we presently practice. We have a President who rarely speaks to his people, but an Emperor who waits for everyone to come pay homage at the Aso Rock Villa despite the embarrassing spate of monumental insecurity everywhere today. President Joe Biden is officially older than President Muhammadu Buhari. While Biden speaks out daily and presents his pet projects and dreams, and moves around reassuring Americans of a better tomorrow, Buhari has no time to speak or even go out to supervise projects. Even his mouthpieces rarely do so nowadays, and when they do it is either to congratulate people or offer condolences to those bereaved, or savagely attack their imaginary enemies. Sadly, national and humanitarian disasters are brushed aside, even in this limited space, probably because these supressed and repressed spokespersons have had their brains addled by whatever is in the air and being imbibed in the heady edifice and terrain of the Aso Rock Villa. Perhaps, if the President was more engaging and capable of being engaged, he would have had a first-hand knowledge or idea about the huge problems and challenges bedevilling Nigeria. Due to his total absence in the public domain, his men and women are at liberty to use his name any way and anyhow they deem fit.
While we are obviously saddled with an absentee President, Nigerians feel short changed that they similarly seem to have little or no access or engagement with their knowledgeable and astute Vice President, the Law Professor, Yemi Osinbajo. All they are forced to live with are endless rumours of a Fuji House of commotion in the precincts and corridors of government.
The more you look the less you see! Nigeria deserves better than this! God save Nigeria!!