Wetin Concern Nigeria with Kenya?

Olusegun Adeniyi

The half dozen men gathered at a mutual friend’s house yesterday expressed opinions on every political issue they thought I should write on. But as it often happens on such occasions, the discussion soon dovetailed into how husbands can navigate ‘supplementary budgets’ being demanded by our wives due to situation reports from the market. I found it remarkable that almost all my friends know the prices of tubers of yam, ‘kongo’ of garri, sachets of milk, crates of eggs, ‘Mudu’ of rice and even the different variants of ‘Ponmo’. But the greatest concern was the price of cooking gas.

Being creative people, it did not take long before a solution was put forward to tackle the challenge. One reported that somebody told his cousin who shared the secret with his auntie who then confided in his uncle, from where he got the information, that jollof rice cooked with firewood is far more delicious and nutritious than one cooked with gas. As the theory goes, the smoke that comes from the firewood is what makes all the difference, hence ‘smoky jollof rice’ is now preferred to the regular ones in Abuja, Lagos, and major cities. So, the conclusion at our meeting is that our wives should spare us the gas ‘budget item’. I am therefore delighted to announce: For peace in our homes in the age of ‘Emilokan’, cooking should henceforth be done with firewood!

Meanwhile, as we continued to discuss how to navigate the skyrocketing price of gas, someone asked why I haven’t written on the cost of living in Nigeria today.  Especially with reports that many of our citizens are now so desperate, they are stealing pots of soup. In March this year, the Ekiti State Police Command arraigned a 20-year-old man, Ojo Monday, before an Ado-Ekiti Chief Magistrates’ Court. The police prosecutor, Inspector Moyosola Adesola, told the court that the defendant broke into the house of one Ajala Modupe and stole Indomie noodles, Maggi seasonings, salt, onions, fufu and a pot of soup all valued at N300,000. She noted that the offences contravened Sections 322 and 302(1) (a) of the Criminal Laws of Ekiti State 2021. Just a few weeks later, a man identified as Baba Bola, was given the beating of his life while attempting to steal a pot of soup in Byazhin community, Bwari Area Council of the Federal Capital Territory (FCT). But following his escape, Baba Bola mobilised hoodlums and allegedly returned to kill the woman whose pot of soup he attempted to steal. In the continuing attacks by his ‘comrades’ who reportedly wielded machetes, clubs, and stones, two innocent passers-by, a woman and a young boy, were also killed.

To say that countless Nigerians are going through harrowing times is to put the situation rather mildly. But to be fair, stealing pots of soup didn’t start yesterday. I recall a 2020 case in Ebonyi State during the Covid-19 stay-at-home period. “We received re­port of a stolen pot of soup and Jollof rice. A woman was cook­ing and went inside to take something and on coming out, her pot of soup was stolen, and this shows that there is hunger in the land,” then Police Public Relations Of­ficer (PPRO), Loveth Odah told reporters. Given what the policy options of the past one year have done to many Nigerians, one can only imagine the extent of the ‘hunger in the land.’

Unfortunately, Nigerians hardly focus on any problem for long. While we were still lamenting the hard times, the same man who raised the issue reminded us that it was exactly a month since the collapse of a mining pit in Galkogo, Shiroro Local Government Area of Niger State, where several miners are still trapped. He wondered why I had not written about them. “Is it because they are poor people?” he asked. In a nation where it is now almost one day, one tragedy, how many issues can a reporter address at the same time? But I got his point about the class dimension to the neglect. Many Nigerians do seem oblivious to the plight of their compatriots who were working inside a 400-metre-deep pit owned by African Minerals and Logistics Limited when it caved in on June 3 following a heavy downpour.

Last weekend, Daily Trust published an on-the-spot report where the families of victims narrated their harrowing experiences. “We are confused…my younger brother is among the victims. There is no day that I don’t go to that site. The recovery team has not been able to bring his body out,” Suleiman Isah, whose younger brother is among the trapped victims, told the newspaper. “They said his left leg had already been cut off because of stones that fell on his head. Under his corpse, three other bodies have been sighted. But until they can remove my brother, they won’t be able to bring out the ones under him.” According to Isah, the mining company had been abandoned in the recovery efforts, without any help from either the state or federal government. “What they do is to remove stones and pass them on to one another until they take them out,” Isah explained. “It is the same way they are bringing out the dead bodies because excavators cannot stretch inside the ground to take out stones that fell on the victims. With this, when will they finish bringing out the victims?”

I could not help feeling for the families of the trapped mine workers. Some, I understand,have already conducted prayers for the repose of souls of their loved ones, having concluded that they must be dead by now. We were still lamenting the plight of those trapped miners when someone drew our attention to the television relaying the news that the nationwide demonstrations by the youth of Kenya have not abated despite President William Ruto’s decision not to assent the controversial Finance Bill 2024 that triggered the anger of the people. “I hope you are following up on the Kenya protests”, he quipped. Of course, I am. How could I have ignored Kenya given the parallels one can draw with the situation in Nigeria? On Tuesday, the capital city, Nairobi and the second largest city, Mombasa were literally on fire as protesters carried placards and beating drums while chanting ‘Ruto must go!’

Following the passage of a controversial Finance Bill 2024 that would have increased taxes and cost of living, protesters stormed the federal parliament in Nairobi on June 18 and the police allegedly fired live ammunition that resulted in the loss of several lives. 23 deaths were confirmed that day although the Kenya National Commission on Human Rights (KNHCR) has put the total number of fatalities resulting from the protests at 39. Like the 2020 EndSARS riots in Nigeria, the protesters have no official leaders with coordination done through social media. “People are dying in the streets and the only thing he (President Ruto) can talk about is money. We are not money. We are people. We are human beings,” one of the protesters, Milan Waudo reportedly told Reuters in Mombasa. “He needs to care about his people, because if he can’t care about his people then we don’t need him in that chair.”

In a piece published in The Guardian of London on Monday, Nanjala Nyabola, a Kenyan writer and author, said outsiders don’t understand the real import of the crisis in her country. She painted a picture of leaders insensitive to the plight of the people. “…In addition, the offices of the first lady, the deputy first lady, and the spouse of the prime secretary – each with a budget, an office and staff – were created to great public fanfare. Many elected legislators in the country routinely flaunt their wealth on social media, sharing videos on TikTok of expensive cars and homes, or giving obscenely large donations to religious organisations and charities,” Nyabola wrote, as she explained what many Nigerians could relate with. “Kenyan legislators are the second-highest paid in the world relative to GDP and would be exempt from many of the new taxes because of their status. The finance bill was described as austerity, but this is not austerity: this is a cash grab from the poor to sustain the lifestyles of the rich.”

Last night, presidential spokesman, Hussein Mohamed said in a statement on X that Ruto has ordered the Treasury to review pay and benefits for all state officials and lawmakers. “The president has emphasised that this is a time, more than ever before, for the executive and all arms of government to live within their means,” Mohamed said. But the protesters are not letting up. To compound the situation, the Deputy President, Rigathi Gachagua and the National Intelligence Service (NIS) Director-General, Noordin Haji, are openly trading words. In what appears an opening of the country’s delicate faultlines, critical stakeholders are taking sides. It all started when Gachagua addressed the media, accusing Haji of failing to inform President Ruto of the seriousness of the protests, which could have prompted an appropriate response. Gachagua also claimed that Haji was undermining competent officers in the NIS and replacing them with cronies, thereby compromising the country’s national security.

In a populist speech that hints at frictions within the government, Gachagua said that “Withdrawing the Finance Bill 2024 is the beginning of acknowledging that there is a disconnect between the people and the government,” and that “the president, myself, and elected leaders are servants of the people. Going forward, this should be the norm, listening to the people.” He then put the blame for what happened on the Kenya security agency. “The organization paid for by the Kenyan public should have briefed the president on the feelings of the Kenyan people,” Gachagua said. “We have a dysfunctional National Intelligence Service that has exposed the government and the people of Kenya.” After accusing the NIS boss of “always being on business trips and never in the country,” Gachagua said Haji “must take responsibility for the deaths, mayhem, failing President Ruto and Kenya for not doing his job. He must do the honourable thing, not just taking responsibility but resign.”

In response, Haji attacked Gachagua, asserting that his primary responsibility is to report directly to President Ruto and not his deputy. “The DP’s actions and words suggest that he has a personal interest in the intelligence briefs revolving around the protests. Could it be that he is worried that the NIS may have pinned responsibility at his doorstep?” Haji asked. “The DP is still bitter that many of his tribesmen who were serving in the NIS, but sabotaging H.E. President William Ruto were removed from the service. It can only mean that the DP’s desire is to sabotage the President in the hope that if the President falls, he can benefit from it.” Haji then warned that the NIS has “files and extensive information” about Gachagua’s “power-hungry designs” in their custody. “We invite him to shed off the DP tag so that this service can show him what a personal fight looks like.”

While we were still debating the problems in Kenya both on the streets and at the presidency, a Distinguished Senator of the Federal Republic of Nigeria walked in. One of us asked him whether it is true that the lawmakers are going to approve a new presidential jet for the president, wondering why the Senate President, Godswill Akpabio would describe those opposed to the idea as blackmailers. The Senator seemed provoked by the question. “What is wrong with that? Are you one of the people wishing our president ill? Are you one of those people who think you can blackmail our uncommon transformer in the senate?” Apparently taken aback by the senatorial aggression, our friend explained that he was only concerned about public perception because of what was going on in Kenya where young people are protesting the same sort of insensitivity to their plight. And the Senator thundered: ‘Wetin concern Nigeria with Kenya?’

In total agreement with the ‘Distinguished’, I looked at my friends with a gesture of resignation. And I am sure they perfectly understand why I would not be writing this column today. But the senator apparently misread my mood. Turning to me, he said, “Segun, don’t tell me you are also one of the blackmailers on this presidential jet matter”. I instantly expressed my support for the idea. In fact, I recommended that all the ten aircraft in the presidential fleet be replaced with new ones. And to further demonstrate my loyalty, I stood up and asked other friends in the room to join me in the rendition of what should have been the new national anthem had the National Assembly members been more patriotic. Facing the direction of Aso Rock presidential villa, and to the delight of the distinguished Senator, we sang: “On your mandate we shall stand…”

• You can follow me on my X (formerly Twitter) handle, @Olusegunverdict and on www.olusegunadeniyi.com   

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