Tiger by the Tail

By Akin Osuntokun 

I remember, with nostalgia, our secondary school days when the James Hardley Chase novels were such a delightful companion. Even though it was not a recommended text, it was difficult to find a peer or cohort unfamiliar with the thrillers. In the ‘Tiger by the Tail’ Chase told the story of Kenway Holland, ‘a respectable, married bank official who jeopardises his happiness and his future by one night ofmidsummer madness. The sudden temptation to kick over the traces while his wife is away lands Holland up to his ears in a vortex of political intrigue and murder. Set against a background of gangster politicians, blackmailers, gunmen and hard-boiled characters, the action of this explosive thriller takes place over a period of only thirty hours!’

‘Tiger by the Tail’ is also a metaphor commonly used to describe a situation where someone puts himself in a dangerous or difficult situation, often unwillingly or without fully understanding the consequences’. The applicability of the ‘Tiger by the Tail’ narrative to contemporary Nigeria is that when Governor Bola Ahmed Tinubu became president, he was confronted with two options. Both of which are fraught with danger with equal potential to bring him down. One is to go down doing the right thing or go down doing the wrong thing. Realising he was handing over a lemon, could this be the reason why former President Muhammadu Buhari suddenly chickened out on his open secret scheme of imposing Ahmed Lawan as successor?

Three years ago, I sought the counsel of my economist friend on what to do with a hypothetical small fortune. Without a whiff of hesitation, he said the best store of value was dollars and that I should make a habit of it. My friend was doing no more than prescribing the most rational option in the circumstances and counselled me not to bet on Nigeria and the naira. At the macro level, it is this lack of belief in Nigeria that is fueling the run on the Naira and the runaway from Nigeria syndrome. Never really a nation, Nigerians are getting increasingly alienated from Nigeria, made worse by the fact that at all potential turns for good or bad, it has become habitual for the country to embrace the latter option. 

This lapse is boldly written all over the budget statement put out by the President a few months ago. It is what is at play in the audacity and callousness of national legislators awarding themselves with top of the range brand new Toyota landcruisers. It is responsible for the prioritisation of a sixty billion naira mansion for the Vice President and five billion naira renovation of the state house annexe in Lagos. To what mentality do we attribute the reappointment of Mele Kyari as the Group Managing Director, GMD, the man at the centre of the oil subsidy scandal?. 

In similar character, the so-called Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, recently announced it spent nearly four hundred billion naira on the last general elections. This was when the naira was about six hundred naira to the dollar. The calculation in dollars run upwards of three hundred and fifty million dollars. Yet, at the end of the day, the electoral body delivered the worst general elections in the history of Nigeria. The double tragedy was not merely the certification of the rogue results but the determination of the judiciary to declare winners regardless of the outcome of the election. The major significance of this electoral cycle is that it is the judiciary not the voters who decide the winners and losers in Nigerian elections. 

The pregnant yesterday that gave birth to the monstrous baby of today is to be found in the craven rent seeking hysteria of the Nigerian ruling elite, (particularly the Northern faction). In an impossible claim of patrimony and gluttonous obsession with the Niger Delta oil, the late Dr Bala Usman came up with the cuckoo theory that ‘the sediments with which, and in which, this petroleum deposits are found, did not drop from the sky…These sediments are made up of soil containing vegetable, and other organic materials, including human, and animal, faeces and remains, which were washed away from farmland, pasture and forests all over Nigeria and outside and carried by the Niger to form its delta and all the minerals in it”.

In a similar display of Northern hegemony masturbation Dr Usman Bugaje followed up with a made to measure rant “There are no oil producing states…. the only oil producing state is the Nigerian state itself…  Whatever mileage you get in the sea, according to the United Nations Law of the sea, is a measure of the landmass that gives that long 200 nautical miles or more into the ocean, is because of that 72 per cent of the land mass of this country, which is the North. What they claim is the off shore oil is actually the oil of the North.”. 

Brimming with Southern Nigeria irredentism, Professor Itse Sagay responded in kind “You will observe that because of the long stay of the North in power at the centre, they manipulated the process and cornered all these oil blocks to the disadvantage of the South; today, you have all the juicy oil blocks in the hands of the North. Now that Jonathan is the president, he should ensure that he corrects this imbalance by allocating more oil blocks to people in the South to make up for the inequity in the sector.”

The worldview and ideological position of these fellow travellers is significantly antithetical to the ethic of socioeconomic development and subversive of federalism. It is a raw display of the culture of prioritising consumption over productivity at its most insidious. It bespeaks a mentality that negates the potential of Nigeria for national cohesion and socio-economic development. 

In his contribution to the food security policy, the poster boy of the prevailing Nigeria’s gangster politics, Senate President Godswill Akpabio, lived to his billing once again. He alleged that the Federal Inland Revenue Service, FIRS, had credited the bank accounts of the state governments with thirty billion naira apiece. He said he got the rumour from “unverified reports. Well, according to the Oyo state governor, Seyi Makinde,’FIRS cannot give money to any state. It is not possible. All revenues accruing to the country goes into the federation account and it is distributed to all tiers of government. There is nothing like N30 billion being given to states for food security’

Noteworthy is that just about all the tragedies that had visited Nigeria have a direct or indirect causation in the Oil curse. Regardless of the prima facie case of Odumegwu Ojukwu, many observers share the belief that the recalcitrance of both sides to compromise was fed by the discovery of oil in the Niger Delta (moreso the Nigerian state). 

If oil played a role in fostering the civil war, it became the essence of the Nigerian political economy after the war. Following upon the Organisation of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) cartel contrived surge in the price of oil in 1973, the Nigerian military head of state, General Yakubu Gowon famously gave voice to the full blown descent of Nigeria into a rentier economy when he wondered out loud that the problem of Nigeria was not money but how to spend it. 

My visits to the Niger Delta region had been intermittent and confined to the urban metropolis of Benin, Warri, Port Harcourt and Yenagoa. For the first time, I sighted the interior islands a few years ago and it was a disheartening and harrowing spectre to behold. The unique topography made it extremely difficult and exorbitant to extend pipe borne water facility to their habitation. Provision of the infrastructure will require multiples of the cost of laying similar facilities elsewhere in the country.

Yet I was not prepared for the horror of the spectacle I was about to witness. The people were defecating and taking their bath in the same creek water they scooped to drink and cook! Lest I forget, the same water was polluted with oil sleek from the operations of the illegal oil refineries that dotted the banks of the crisscrossing creeks. I did not see anybody casting fishing nets into the river. Maybe it was futile to do so. My friend and escort directed my attention to the skies above; it was eerily quiescent and overcast but more importantly it was bereft of the chirping and flapping of flying birds-proof positive of toxic air pollution. 

It is not only in the Niger Delta creeks that crude oil stood in the way of income yielding utilisation of the land and waters for agriculture, it also did in the rest of Nigeria. The difference is that while the reality was shoved down the throat of the Niger Deltans, other Nigerians made the choice of opting not to till the ground on account of the disincentive to work fostered by the avalanche of petrol dollars. Parallel to the pathetic situation in the region was the inadvertent mocking refrain of General Theophilus Danjuma. 

Whatever his good intentions are (echoing the peculiar Gowon refrain five decades before), Danjuma struck at the heart of the resource curse syndrome when he complained that he has so much money he doesn’t know what to do with it. And where did he get this troubling riches that do not require the ethic of productivity? His oil bloc in the swamps of the Niger Delta. Given the squalid living conditions of the same Delta region inhabitants, should he have any difficulty identifying potential beneficiaries of his largesse?

Once again, Nigeria is squirming in the throes of an existential crisis. Dangling like the sword of damocles over the country are the harrowing exactions of the twin vicissitudes of the deregulation of the pump price of premier motor spirits (PMS) aka the removal of oil subsidy and the floatation of the naira.

Moments of challenges and difficulties are often replete with opportunities to advance with a giant step forward. Nigeria has for long being victimised by an unworkable constitution. At my last outing, I posed the option before Nigeria as that between ‘Rawlings’ and Restructuring.The former is a Rawlings style revolutionary cleansing and the other is a voluntary and conscious constitutional restoration of federalism. The jury is out. Let us seize the moment 

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