By Dele Momodu
Fellow Nigerians, what a dramatic week in our Federal Capital, Abuja! We suddenly woke up to the most unusual headline: BUHARI TESTS NEGATIVE, ABBA KYARI TESTS POSITIVE. Whaaat, I screamed. My initial reaction was that of incredulity. I did not think of the possibility of these two gentlemen being exposed to the corona virus, but then I had put to the back of my mind and subconscious that Abba Kyari had embarked on that inauspicious, ill-fated trip to Germany which is one of the major European countries in which COVID-19 is festering. At the time of the trip, I had wondered what his business was to be going to represent the country in respect of a major power transaction as he has no executive role in Government. My mind shut itself up as it reflected that this is the de facto Number 1A citizen.
Back to the sensational news that had caught the whole of Nigeria’s attention. I noticed that Thisday newspaper had led with it. If any media organisation would know, Thisday must know, I soliloquised. I tried frenetically to log into Thisdaylive online, but the server was down. My brain automatically switched on to conspiracy mode. Perhaps, the government has shut down the authoritative site, I wondered aloud. Nothing would ever surprise me. What haven’t we seen before in this land of powerful Emperors?
So, I put a call to the Thisday Publisher, Nduka Obaigbena, a man I love to call the Publisher of Publishers. We’ve had a long history of relationship dating way back to that fateful day in April 1988, when I arrived in Lagos, from the ancient town of Ile-Ife, in search of greener pastures. Ever since we have been through thick and thin together. I’ve come to trust and respect his uncommon nose for news based on his humongous networks and super access to men and women of “timber and calibre.”
Nduka did not pick my call. My tension heightened. What’s going on in our country? I monologued. I didn’t want to trust any other person with verifying a story of such magnitude. I realised that even my own online newspaper, www.thebossnewspapers.com had carried the news. I called the Editor to yank it off. I didn’t want us to act on rumours neither did I want us to join those who gloated and rejoiced that Mr Abba Kyari had fallen ill. That is not our style. I will never support rabid hatred and reckless vindictiveness. Mr Kyari’s only sin is being very close to his principal and maybe he gets overzealous on occasions, but that’s not unexpected in the corridors of power generally. I believe, there must be good reason why President Muhammadu Buhari trusts him so much, gave him that power of life and death, which transformed him into the alternate President and de facto Vice President rolled into one. Who wouldn’t be happy to be in his shoes?
As I went through my interior monologue, my phone rang and Nduka was on the line. “Dele Momodu,” he exclaimed in his usual flamboyant voice. “The Publisher of Publishers, what’s going on in our country…?” I retorted. He confirmed the incredible story. We gisted generally and ended the call. Thereafter, other similar news flew in at supersonic speed! I switched my Television set between AIT, Arise News and Channels, expecting to get more information about developments inside Aso Rock. Surprisingly, it was like waiting for Godot. Nothing came. As usual, Aso Rock snubbed Nigerians. I wonder why they operate like secret cults. For me, what’s the big deal about the Chief of Staff to the President falling sick? He is a mere mortal like the rest of us.
There were hushed whispers in high places that some other fat cats in the seat of power may have also tested positive, but that the news was being tightly managed and suppressed. Some even mentioned the President as being down with Corona virus despite the strident denial from his handlers and spin doctors. The full day passed without anyone deeming it fit to bring out the President from his shrine, even if for one minute, to dispel the satanic rumours. But hell no! Nigerians and especially the fabled “wailing wailers” can cry from now till Kingdom come, Buhari would rather stick to his legendary taciturnity. Indeed, some of his aides insulted our intelligence by saying it was not the style of this President to talk to his People. It beggars belief and is not even worthy of any response. How unfortunate can a country be?
As if to make matters worse, we were informed that the President was back at work. No video. No picture. Word of mouth, simple, simplicita. Holy Moses! How can a man whose closest aide was down with a rampaging virus of pandemic proportions return so soon to work, even if he’s a King Kong or better still the Incredible Hulk? The next day another spin, the President’s office was being fumigated. This reminded me of when he was chased out of office by some evil rodents! To continue the abracadabra, the following day we were regaled with tales by moonlight, as the President had apparently returned to the now fumigated office to work at night! So, the suspense and melodrama continued. In my view, this is what Chief Moshood Abiola would have called hiding behind one finger. As for me and my house, it didn’t fly at all. It was all beginning to take the nature of a sci-fi movie gone wrong.
Unfortunately, the great orator, our Noble and Learned Vice President, was also on sabbatical. No word from that direction, whether by conspiracy, choice or coercion. So, we’ve been virtually operating on autopilot. To me that sounds charitable because autopilot suggests a system in place! How unfair can a government be to a country of ‘orphans’? On a serious note, this style must change. The APC government has dragged our country down the gutter. This was not what we promised in 2014/15 when we campaigned vigorously for a Buhari Presidency. We said PDP was useless, profligate and downright corrupt and that President Goodluck Jonathan was clueless and incompetent. We harassed the daylight out of the poor gentleman and forced him into premature retirement. What is happening today is much worse and unbelievably disgraceful. The country is purposeless, rudderless and directionless. And the sheer I-don’t-care attitude of government sucks to high heavens.
Someone should please beg President Buhari to come out of his grove or from behind the palisades that he has been ensconced in, at this time when the nation needs him most, if only for reassurance. Nigerians did not vote for a masquerade. Nigerians placed their collective faith and hope in a man with a distinguished career in the Nigerian Army, who was controversially at the helm of affairs of the county some 30 years before. They trusted someone that they believed was a no-nonsense disciplinarian with their personal and economic well-being. And to whom much is given, much is expected. Nigeria needs Buhari urgently and desperately. Everyone is frustrated with our state of inertia, stasis and stagnation, except, possibly, his acolytes.
I will make a few humble suggestions once again. Let it be on record that I did so. The President is under no obligation to accept any of them. But when tomorrow comes, he will discover why his predecessors could not lead Nigeria in the direction of prosperity and ended us in abject poverty and penury. The main reason was the love of power above service. Time flies and waits for no one. If in nearly five years since returning to power, we are still in this quagmire, not much is likely to be achieved in the final three years. I do not have to be a naysayer to portend this.
My first advice is for our President to become more involved in the art and science of governance instead of wasting time and resources on unproductive visitors swarming all over the Villa. Two. Is he totally tired of his Vice President? I believe the President is wasting the one reliable asset he has left. In case his mind has been poisoned sufficiently against his deputy, I wish to assure him that he doesn’t have much options left at this late hour and the people goading him on will soon dump him when he becomes a lame duck. I must instantly add that I am not holding brief for the Vice President. I am confident of his intellect, ability, and strong will to know that he can fight his own battles and does not need my help or that of anyone else. I just cannot help but wonder why we are at this sorry pass when we have seen such a capable, competent man ready, able and willing to complement the President as demonstrated by his sterling performances while the President was away on medical vacation. Buhari should find time to study the history of Nigeria. No Nigerian President should fail ordinarily with the abundance of exceptionally intelligent talents it has pleased God to bless us with. However, the President seems to have gone the other way and chosen to rely on people who simply make him look inept and oblivious.
Three. I don’t know if President Buhari is aware of how other countries are approving unprecedented palliatives for their people. Fighting the virus is not just about containment which the Presidential Task Force and the Governors are finally getting to grips with. It involves rallying the entire country, particularly the masses on their side.
The level of ignorance on the part of the masses is abysmally shocking. An urgent sensitisation campaign needs to be carried out nationwide. The common man is just simply sceptical about this ravaging scourge and its capacity for causing catastrophic and cataclysmic chaos and untold casualties in our country.
What can Government itself do to offer succour to the masses and prove to them that they are partners in the fight against this pandemic? I will briefly touch on a few of these, some of which some other governments in the western world and even Africa have put in place.
- Cut all waste. Political office holders including members of the executive, legislators, heads of MDAs and the like should sacrifice most if not all their allowances.
- Shelve most, if not all capital projects except those that will add value in this crisis.
- Reduce the price of all petroleum products by more than 50%. It is inconceivable that we still have high prices for these products despite crude oil prices crashing by more than 100%. The recent token gesture by government is simply derisory and offensive. It is blackmail for marketers and retailers to say they will be economically damaged because they have stock. They have benefitted in the past and now is a time for sacrifice.
- Reduce tariffs on electricity for the duration of this crisis. All hands must be on deck and some businesses must feel the pain, in order that there is some gain for the masses.
- The CBN should properly play its part by reducing the exchange rate and base rate. Even Zimbabwe, a parlous country by all accounts has done this. Banks and other financial institutions should likewise reduce their rates and grant a moratorium period of three months in the first instance on all repayments.
- There should be tax reliefs to the extent that taxes should not be due until next financial year. This is not a time to pour more agony on your populace when they are practically unemployed and groaning. The big players who have made donations towards the fight against the virus should be commended for their patriotism and also given sumptuous incentives.
The CBN’s decision to set up a private sector committee is welcome, although it is not its business. The Committee is lopsided on gender and categories of business as a result. We have many wealthy women who would make significant contributions. We also have IOCs, construction contractors and manufacturers, religious bodies, indigenous oil moguls and other entrepreneurs. A committee of 20 people, which will be assisted only in terms of logistics and deployment by the PTF, should be adequate to raise the money and distribute whatever palliatives that they decide upon to ameliorate people’s food and medical situation in this lockdown. This will naturally lead to better coordination in terms of the individual donations that are presently pouring in. As I see it, the current lack of coordination will mean repetitive purchases and wasteful expenditure.
Once the money is properly coordinated and judiciously managed, there are several ways of involving the ordinary Nigerians, including purchasing from them essential sanitary, food and medical items and logistics and transportation of those products to each household. This will effectively keep everyone indoors because these products will be delivered to homes instead of asking people to come and collect.
The lockdown can be complete, most public transporters in all the States can be gainfully engaged and employed by these philanthropists. Also, employment can be given to supervisors and monitoring personnel who would accompany the transporters and security personnel to distribute these products. Social distancing will of course be practised in respect of such distribution.
I am sure that there are other ways of ensuring that we work together to beat this scourge but the combined forces of the private sector and public sector collaboration that I envisage will accomplish this task and also sensitise the public as well.
Together we will beat this pesky virus!