By Dele Momodu
Fellow Nigerians, I have a plea to make very humbly today. But before I do so, allow me to offer some explanations. I have no problems with the government of President Muhammadu Buhari seeking and accepting loans from anywhere on planet earth. I’m a realist and I know Nigeria needs all the grants, aid, loans and whatever financial benevolence it can get to eliminate the atrocious infrastructure deficits currently plaguing our dear beloved country. There is no miracle that can change our squalid state in the shortest possible time. Nigeria is not alone in trying to use loans to rescue itself from a precarious infrastructural quagmire. Most developed nations have gone this route, once upon a time, whether the loans be from their private or foreign individuals or institutions. That is why you discover that even the richest of countries have humongous national debts. It is sometimes a case of “the bigger the head, the bigger the headache”. Therefore, I believe Nigeria needs this loan, as hefty as it sounds, very desperately and justifiably too. But this is where my agreement with this government terminates.
The ways of governments are not usually that of ordinary mortals. Nigerian politicians always act or behave like they live on a different level and not on the same planet with us, especially when they assume some political offices. One of the main reasons some of us supported the termination, or extermination, of the Jonathan administration was because of its apparent profligacy. We believed that government was on an irresponsible and uncontrollable binge and frittering away our commonwealth with reckless abandon and disdain. So, in our collective wisdom or stupidity, we conspired to sentence the government to eternal damnation and perdition. Nearly five years after, depending on which spot you stand, many of us are now in a state of stupor and abracadabra. The more you look the less you see.
Before the elections of 2015, I was one of those who wept louder than the bereaved. In my fanatical mood, I sold the upcoming APC government at a premium, in advance. I had stubbornly persuaded myself about several fundamental issues. One. That Major General Muhammadu Buhari has transfigured from a military dictator to a born-again Democrat. I had suggested a new moniker for him during a heated debate inside a bus ride with Rotimi Amaechi in Abuja. I said he should be called the “People’s General” instead of robbing him of his greatest achievement on earth by killing the Major General title. I was of the firm belief that he should own it. After all, one of the reasons he was then admired by Nigerians was his Spartan discipline, stern mien and steely gaze. We had hoped that all of these would not only instil the fear of God in the corrupted and flawed politicians that had taken over the landscape of our country like locusts, but that it would also sanitise our polity and return our nation to the halcyon days of yore! I had voiced my views because Amaechi had sought my opinion on the advice of some consultants who read negative connotations to Buhari retaining his military title. I am bemused that this trivial discourse has become the subject of heated debate in recent weeks. What makes it sad though is the ill-advised and jejune response of the Presidency. I say no more because I have weightier matters to deal with today.
Two. I saw Buhari as one of Nigeria’s greatest paupers who hated any form of ostentatious existence and would therefore be absolutely frugal. I was studiously persuaded that, as he pontificated and promised, he would on a personal note sell off our Presidential fleet, reduce traveling to essential and barest minimum and, if possible, travel by the cheapest possible means. I was certain he would overhaul the rascally civil service, whip reckless servants into line and return us to the kind of progressive and developmental civil service that we were proud of, in the early years of Independence. More importantly, I was convinced that he would come down with a sledgehammer on the ridiculous wage bill of political office holders who are using the law to rip off their country by ascribing to themselves emoluments that are unjustifiable and immoral even by our outlandish, crass and amoral standards.
Three. I was very sure he would get rid of the cankerworm of phantom petroleum subsidies that has overshadowed our oil industry and blighted our economy. Refineries would be built in a jiffy and petroleum products would begin to flow like milk and honey, and available at next to nothing, in a country where there should be plenty of such products at affordable prices rather than lack and scarcity! NNPC would operate at a profit and never again at a loss. It would make money for the government and not a few thieving oil pirates.
Four. I had no doubt that he would quickly settle in and form a government of national unity since his mandate was freely given across political parties and non-political entities that had united to evict and eject the scourge that the PDP had become. After 30 years, I was of the firm view that Baba would have learnt useful lessons that no country can make progress in an atmosphere of perpetual acrimony and strife. Indeed, recent history before his ascension to power had demonstrated that no less. The Jonathan administration had gone into battle on so many fronts that it had become lost and confused, riddled by a deleterious internecine war that would eventually consume his government because of the unbridled discord that it had created. He would extend a hand of fellowship to every Nigerian and draw a fresh line that no hooligan would dare cross. Nigeria would start on a new and clean slate and we would all have a full sense of belonging.
Five. A government that promised change will definitely operate on meritocracy by attracting our best brains that litter everywhere in in the world. Henceforth, all hands would be on deck to rescue our long-suffering nation from political brigandage, economic strangulation, religious fanaticism and ethnic jingoism. I had boasted to anyone who cared to listen that the new government would shun every form of nepotism and vindictiveness.
Six. Our new government would declare a state of emergency against poverty and ignorance. Education would be a priority and government would sit down with lecturers and teachers and ensure that there was a visible improvement of their lot. Laboratories would be properly equipped, and research would be adequately funded. Instead of a proliferation of universities producing half-baked illiterates, we would have quality tertiary institutions that would be an asset to national development because of the qualitative materials that they would churn out rather than the feeble draining and damaging body of graduates that have been chucked into the workforce.
Seven. In the area of social infrastructure, I was so sure our government would again take health issues seriously because a healthy nation is a productive nation. Given the penchant of our leaders to fall ill from the pummelling effect of trying to manage Nigeria and Nigerians, I expected that the government would build at least one world class hospital with the vengeance it deserves. I anticipated that the existence of such a notable modern, state of the art hospital would spare us the agony, embarrassment and ignominy of keeping our leaders abroad in foreign hospitals for months whenever their health fails or collapses. I expected that in the first year, work on a road as simple and as important as the Lagos-Ibadan Expressway, already started by President Goodluck Jonathan, would resume and would be finished within four years. I believed that the President would tackle our perennial power problem and sort it out once and for all. The danger posed to our health by the environmental hazard of generators and diesel fumes would be a thing of the past as the Government would go for multilateral approach to the power conundrum by combining wind, solar, hydro and gas to provide a fulfilling power solution.
I had other fantastic expectations. The easiest of them was our security situation which I expected the People’s General to deal with in his long stride because of his much-vaunted military experience and expertise. I never for one moment thought that our security situation would become the dreadful and dreaded nightmare that it now is. I expected there would be a declaration of austerity, and we would all have to tighten our belts for a while in order to achieve our net gain of a prosperous nation. I did not envisage that what would happen was that the belt would become so tight as to almost strangulate and choke us, not because austerity measures have been put in place, but because ineptitude, incompetence, brigandage, and total impunity have taken centre stage and nothing works any longer. I was cocksure that the rule of law would be held sacrosanct by a man who had believed in the courts so much that he headed there on the occasions when he believed that he had been robbed of victory and felt he had not received justice. I wanted to see the President champion the real emancipation and independence of the Judiciary and make that arm of Government the true bastion of democracy that it should be. More than anything else, most of us believed that the President would initiate and entrench electoral reforms that would give us free and fair elections. I felt that having been the beneficiary of a relatively fair election that had seen the incumbent tumbled out of power, the President would do more to ensure that the will of the people is respected. He would respect the sanctity of elections having moaned, groaned and wept, about being rigged out and robbed of victory by dastardly political villains. Now, with the President at the helm of the affairs was the time to see the back of these thugs and touts, political jobbers with no job.
Alas, with due respect to our President, nothing of the sort has happened. All those heady expectations have been dashed on the rocks of expediency and a ruthless determination to cling to power at all costs for the benefit of a select few, by whatever name called. Sadly, the APC apparatchiks have continued on a binge. The bazaars and jamborees are real and brazen. Judging simply by their mode of appearances, their fleet of cars, for many of our supposedly new leaders, every day is Christmas.
As I write this, I hope Mr President will get to read me this week, some smart Alecs are about to spend billions on renovating the National Assembly. Both National Assembly and the State Houses of Assembly will invest in brand new cars for their members, old and new. Can someone plead and prevail on them to stop this unfortunate, spendthrift and decadent waste of our resources. Can we have pity on our country for once? How can a country seeking loans think of living so ostentatiously? All our leaders need a reorientation before our country bleeds to death. The way our country is haemorrhaging should be a serious cause of concerns to all and sundry.
I wish I could say, with certainty, that in this current term and dispensation a few of these expectations would be fulfilled, but I sincerely doubt it. A lot more diligence, focus and integrity need to be put on show by the President and his team before we can begin to achieve these attainable expectations. Until then it all seems a pipe dream and our people will continue to be embittered, enraged and skeptical about everything the government does. My suggestion is that government should try a new approach and see the clear difference.
May God deliver us from all evil and may we discover the road that will lead us to salvation.