Land of Unfinished Business


A mong the pantheon of today’s political godlings, perhaps Senate President Mr. Godswill Akpabio is the epitome of the spirit of the times. An embodiment of power and delusion, Akpabio’s pronouncements on the state of the nation resonate with echoes of emptiness and grand hallucinations. The impression is that of a man who is either deliberately out to misinform or is so thoroughly intoxicated by the aroma of supreme power that he mistakes his own delusions for portrayals of reality.  For some reason, he probably thinks that his elevated office and the grand toga of Senate President will glorify whatever nonsense he mouths on national affairs. A typical man for all seasons as characterized by my friend Segun Adeniyi a few weeks back, Akpabio will stop at nothing in his serial adulations of Tinubu and his government. After over six months in office, most people would expect that the nation’s number three citizen should have fulfilled his gratitude obligations to President Tinubu for elevating him to dizzying heights. But not Akpabio. He is intent on usurping the role of the Minister of Information or the nabobs that are crawling around the corridors of Aso Rock Villa to natter endlessly and be paid for it.

A few weeks ago, Akpabio was variously quoted as claiming that the Federal Government has doled out a frightening N30 billion a piece to each of our 36 governors and the Minister of the FCT. He was forced to disown the naked falsehood by some sensible governors. Just last Thursday, Mr. Akpabio was at it again. He was quoted as waxing lyrical on how insecurity has receded and declined under the Tinubu administration. Meanwhile, he was in attendance barely a fortnight ago when insecurity forced his principal to summon a meeting of all governors and security chiefs to initiate moves towards  the introduction of state police. The terrorists and bandits heard Akpabio this time. On the same day, they struck in Kaduna State. They attacked a school and carted away over 287 children and their teachers including the head teacher of the school. The world has heard it.

A day earlier, Boko Haram or ISWAP or both struck an IDP in Borno state. They took away over 100 inmates mostly women and destroyed some of the new buildings erected by humanitarian agencies to house the displaced persons. On the same day as the Borno attack, inter militia violence in Benue state claimed 30 lives. Just last Friday, the terrorists struck again in Kaduna state. Gunmen attacked a mosque during Friday prayers and killed a number of worshippers. No one knows what further acts of brazen insecurity will be visited on our hapless people any time. So much for Akpabio’s delusionary and self- ingratiating propaganda.

But this piece is not about the Akpabios of this world. It is about a much more fundamental trouble with government and governance in Nigeria. From the forests of our recurrent troubles, an unsettling reality has unfolded. It is a simple observable problem. Hardly does our successive governments achieve closure on any national problem. Be it insecurity, economic disaster or the scourge of ever increasing poverty or terrorism, no job ever seems to get completed by government in Nigeria. Everything remains an unfinished business which is carried over to subsequent years or handed over to the next administration. Isolated troubles even graduate into permanent features of public life as to acquire separate charges and allocations in our annual budgets. We now make annual budgetary provisions for insecurity,  poverty alleviation, cybercrimes, new forms of corruption and even for combating self inflicted economic disasters . 

Year in, year out, our troubles regenerate , multiply and assume lives of their own. Nothing ever gets resolved nor does any task get completed. The Nigerian state never puts anything behind it in order to face new challenges. Nothing bad comes here and ever goes away again. Everything that afflicts us becomes an endemic ailment and we add it to our ever expanding basket of troubles and vocabulary of abnormality. We budget for bad things and assume them as part of a new normal that grows by the day. The pile heaps on the heads of our helpless and hapless citizenry.

Our economy hardly ever improves. Our GDP growth rate never remains on a rise for more than two quarters. Our exchange rate has steadily worsened for over two decades. Our poverty index rises every year as more and more people enroll in the poverty republic. Even more people exit the miserable middle class as they lose jobs and living standards. Familiar places become more dangerous with the years as rail rolling stock and passenger coaches are routinely stopped by bandits and ransacked for captives to be held for ransom. In this place, nothing ever improves neither does a government declared emergency been known to end. Every Nigerian public business remains forever unfinished.

Soon enough, new government positions are created, even new ministries spring up and an industry of sorts is born in honour of the unfinished businesses of state. Take poverty alleviation and the empowerment of the under privileged. Nigeria as the new Poverty Capital of the World has necessitated a whole gamut of government actions to address poverty. From the onset of the Buhari government, a department sprang up first in the office of the Vice president with varying nomenclature. Then it was yanked out of the VP’s office and granted independent full ministerial status. Humanitarian Affairs. National Emergency Relief Agency. Poverty Alleviation, any group of names.

Soon enough, new ways of dispensing government money in pursuit of these maladies emerged. Cash transfers to the poor. N-Power. Palliatives. Helicopter Money. In a nation of too many illiterate people, it is easy to come up with target figures of people whose lives will be made better by these new phantom schemes- cash transfers relief for 15 million, 20 million, 25 million families of individuals. Just name a figure. No questions asked about the relationship of these arbitrary numbers to the mass of impoverished humanity.  Some agencies of government speak of households, others prefer individuals and yet  others opt in other wild directions. Some want to assist traders with Trader Money, Artisan Money, Vulcanizer Support etc. In spite of these diverse epithets, nothing changes. Poverty as the poet said, “stands there like an elephant, huge and unmoved”.

In one recent instance, a new Minister was placed in charge of one of these schemes for which a ministry had been created. Before our very eyes, the elegant new Minister had ordered over half a billion Naira of government cash to be paid into her friend’s private bank account. Her friend had become a government ATM through whom beneficiaries  of government poverty alleviation in a number of states would be paid! Her patrons and principals were embarrassed that she did not spend enough time to learn the trade before swooping! She lost her job within weeks of being sworn in. Investigations are still ongoing and may be completed on the eve of the 2027 elections, just in time for her to rejoin the re-election campaign trail!

Similarly, a Buhari era Minister of Humanitarian Affairs has reportedly been called in to explain how N37 billion of the poverty alleviation money entrusted in her care developed wings. Reports indicate that a few billions of the unaccounted funds have been returned to the EFCC. Again, investigations are said to be ongoing. In a situation where the reality of poverty has also become a business, government is not likely to be in a hurry to either scrub the Ministry of Humanitarian Affairs or take it off the budget. Poverty alleviation is likely to remain an unfinished business for a long time.

Insecurity is easily the most entrenched area of our culture of unfinished national business. For more than 12 years, insecurity has come to occupy a central place in the language of our social and political discourse as a nation. Our insecurity has created its own industrial momentum of unfinished business. In the absence of a formal war, our entire security and military apparatus has become embroiled in the last ten years or more in combating forms of insecurity in all of our 36 states and the FCT.  Countless prison breaks have taken place all over the country. No one knows how many children have been adducted from school dormitories and hurled into slavery or sadistic ‘marriages’ to jihadists and nasty zealots. Many have died unnecessary death either in the hands of sundry gunmen or badly trained security personnel. Yet many more have been abducted, kidnapped and ransoms totalling billions of Naira paid. Children have lost their parents to enemies they cannot recognize just as parents and husbands have watched their children or wives abused before their very eyes. 

The world has come to brand Nigeria as a permanently unsafe and insecure place. In furtherance of this brand identity, our citizens have been branded, our passport held in permanent disdainful suspicion with our citizens subjected to all manner of indignities at airports and land borders across the world. Of course the global arms business has benefitted from our permanent insecurity status. The United States, Turkey, China and all manner of black market arms dealers around the world have benefitted from our institutionalized insecurity. We have , for the past decade or more, been buying  all manner of instruments of war to combat what is widely regarded as an internal security problem. We now need sophisticated fighter jets, helicopter gunships and all classes of Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (drones) to suppress bandits, terrorists and community based common criminals. No one cares to ask about the human rights implications of using disproportionate force to discourage common criminals from disturbing the peace. “War is war. All is fair in war”, I can hear the arms merchants and their Nigerian agents chant in unison.

The recent spate of insecurity incidents has come at a time when most Nigerians thought that the critical emergency of the hour is the epidemic of hunger and government inflicted hardship  ravaging the country. That in itself is manifesting in hitherto unimagined ways. In the various theatres of the hardship war, new forms of anarchic trends are being witnessed. Destitutes and children have taken to way -laying and looting trucks in transit especially those loaded with food items. Private and government warehouses are being breached and ransacked. In Abia state, a hungry man has reportedly shot dead his teenage son for ‘eating the only food left in the house’. In Lagos, two children have reportedly been sold in exchange for some bags of rice.

There needs to be a way out of these multiple crises. The upshot of all this is to challenge our government to call this anomaly of multiple crises its rightful  name. Are we in a war or at peace? Does any of our troubles have an end in sight?  Why must we consecrate transient problems that other nations put out in months into permanent conditions?

Government needs to summon up the courage to become pragmatic and unconventional. Government must attach a deadline to its exertions in the various areas of the troubles that afflict us. Our security forces now need to give all bandits, terrorists, armed agents,  non- state actors and trouble makers a deadline to surrender beyond which deadline they qualify as enemy combatants with full consequences. On the economy, I guess it is time that the government of the day gathers the nation’s best economic brains in one room with a simple task: come up with workable solutions to rescue our economy within a 12 month window.

It is also time to dissolve the Ministry of Humanitarian Affairs and other related poverty enabled government efforts. They are enriching a few opportunists and deepening the poverty of the majority. Poverty was not created by any ministry. It was created and widened by a succession of bad inhumane governments presided over by politicians. Our poverty and economic calamity are the products of the politics of bad table manners: eating too much when the majority are starving! Therefore, all those who have held executive political positions from local government to federal level since 1999 should voluntarily let us know how much they are willing to “lend” to the Central Bank in both Naira and foreign exchange within  the next three months to help us revamp the economy. That is probably all the money we need to revamp the economy. No need for World Bank or IMF loans. No need to go camp in hand to Qatar, Saudi Arabia or UAE. We shall repay our politicians the ‘soft loan’ within an agreed time frame for as long as the loan amount can be justified as legitimate income in their period of public service.

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