On the 16th day of April 2020, at the height of misgovernance during the immediate past administration of General Muhammadu Buhari, I issued a warning about the impending danger looming over our nation. For the benefit of those who might have missed that edition, I will begin by revisiting the introduction: “Ruling the airwaves of late is the song of Fuji music maestro, Akande Abass Obesere, cautioning a terrifying masquerade to be mindful of its movements as it approaches a busy expressway where heavy vehicular traffic abounds. The song suggests that the masquerade might be involved in an accident. However, the tone soon changes, and a sense of righteous indignation pervades as a speeding car ultimately crushes the masquerade. This music seems to aptly capture the current atmosphere in Nigeria, where our political leaders appear heedless of the warnings from the masses.” This stark reality highlights our unfortunate status as the poverty capital of the world, as indicated by international rankings.
For far too long, our citizens have endured complete deprivation, witnessing the collapse of education, dilapidated physical and social infrastructure, lack of potable water, persistent darkness instead of reliable electricity, and most glaringly, a non-existent healthcare system that compounds the pervasive hunger. All of this brings to mind Fela Kuti’s song, “joro jara joro/no food, no light, no water/…….suffer, suffer for world/Amen/ enjoy for heaven/Amen” which he sang decades ago. With the advent of a new administration, Nigerians held onto hope for deliverance from the imminent peril of misgovernance that had plagued the country. Despite the disheartening state of affairs, the speeches and pronouncements of various state officials led Nigerians to grant the new administration the benefit of doubt, allowing the administration some time to put its house in order. Ordinarily, one might argue that continuity was the campaign mantra, and thus, the administration should have hit the ground running. It is reasonable to expect that General Buhari’s previous eight-year tenure should have laid a solid foundation and set the agenda for the incoming administration. However, the harsh reality, as consensus suggests, is that General Buhari’s government was a colossal failure in every aspect.
Instead of laying a foundation, it uprooted the shaky foundation it had inherited. The administration effectively regressed the country by four decades. Nuhu Ribadu, the National Security Adviser, was honest in this regard while others were leaving in denial. Not until a few days ago, for instance, that the Honourable Minister for Finance, Mr. Wale Edun did courteously and cautiously admit that the economy as at the time General Buhari’s exit was at the point of perdition. Given these circumstances, Nigerians were willing to give the new administration an opportunity to provide direction. Initially, it was believed that six months would suffice for the government to demonstrate its readiness for governance. Yet, as the administration’s tenure extended beyond eight months, Nigerians’ patience dwindled, especially in the face of mounting hunger and deteriorating security. It is difficult to find any Nigerian, apart from the profligate leaders, who would deny the harsh reality of starvation and escalating insecurity in the land.
Contrary to popular belief, no amount of combat or physical force can quell the rising tide of insecurity without decisively addressing the underlying poverty crisis. A hungry man is an angry man, capable of resorting to desperate measures for survival. In addition to this was the loss of moral compass within the Nigerian society with the youths desperate to get rich without having consideration for integrity or hard work. As hunger ravages Nigerians, their health deteriorates without access to proper medical care and, worse still, the unavailability of essential medications, even when competently diagnosed. We cannot ignore the fact that most essential drugs are scarce in the country, and the few that are available remain prohibitively expensive for the majority of Nigerians. The few foreign manufacturers of drugs in Nigeria have exited the country with their investments, for reason traceable to poor foundation by the Buhari administration.
This dire situation has led to proliferation of counterfeit drugs, resulting in premature and avoidable deaths among the populace. In my recent contributions across various media platforms, I have vehemently advocated for the prioritization of the basic survival needs of Nigerians, including affordable foodstuffs and quality healthcare. Without addressing these fundamental issues, all other development initiatives are rendered meaningless. Who will utilize the infrastructure being constructed if the people are dying in alarming numbers? It is only a healthy and well-fed population that can engage in productivity, let alone enhance it. There must be massive investments in healthcare capable of providing necessary drugs to keep the people alive. There is need for urgent concessions for the pharmaceutical industries by way of waiver of excise duties as well as import duty for foreign raw materials. The federal government might even need to interface directly with foreign manufacturers to import drugs that we lack capacity to produce in order to reduce the cost.
Import waiver on this importation will certainly not be out place also. As mentioned earlier, the security situation will continue to deteriorate in the face of widespread hunger. Even those tasked with handling security equipment and devices find themselves grappling with starvation, often resorting to collaboration with criminals for their own survival. To address these pressing challenges, I have consistently suggested that the federal government take a more radical approach to food production, establish commodity boards to bolster agriculture and urgently intervene in the logistics of transporting foodstuffs across the country. The removal of fuel subsidies and the subsidy on foreign exchange has undeniably had a significant impact on costs, exacerbated by the astronomical exchange rates and the numerous illegal toll gates faced by goods transporters.
Given that the removal of subsidy has contributed to the prohibitive cost of logistics, it is only logical to allocate a portion of the savings from this policy change to address and mitigate these challenges. This approach would undoubtedly reduce logistic costs, making essential foodstuffs more affordable for Nigerians. The unfortunate combination of fuel subsidy removal and escalating exchange rates is squeezing life out of the average Nigerian. It is worth noting that invoices for goods and services are now issued with, at best, a one-day validity period, and in some cases, they are valid for only moments.
A friend currently engaged in construction lamented to me how the price of iron rods fluctuated as frequently as daily meals. Prices would be one way in the morning, significantly higher in the afternoon, and much higher still in the evening. How can entrepreneurs or individuals embark on meaningful planning and projects under such circumstances, especially when relying on loan facilities? This precarious situation affects businesses and individuals alike and paints a grim picture of the predicament we find ourselves in. The truth remains that the President needs to further cut down on the recurrent expenditure of the country. It is certainly not looking good. No country progresses with the heavily lopsided recurrent expenditure operating in the country which is quite affecting the capital expenditure in our budgets. We urgently need to implement the Orasanye report and beyond.
There is urgent need to reverse the situation. As I previously emphasized, one of the commendable attributes of this administration, in contrast to its predecessor, is its responsiveness to public opinions and willingness to address the concerns of the people. However, this laudable trait seems to be waning in recent times, as evidenced by the growing chorus of concerns expressed by prominent supporters of the President. King Wasiu Ayinde, the official band cheer leader for the President, raised his concerns, as did the Ewi exponent, popularly known as Ologundudu. Even some formerly unwavering spiritual leaders who staunchly supported the President less than a year ago are now voicing their apprehensions. Numerous well-meaning Nigerians are speaking out due to genuine concern for the administration’s trajectory.
The House of Representatives is equally not left out of the concern. All of them can certainly not be wrong as these individuals are not merely advocating their own interests but are pressured to adopt this critical stance due to the responses from the masses. In light of these developments, I find myself disheartened by the ruling party’s position, as articulated in the press release attributed to its spokesperson, Felix Morka. I have known Morka for decades as an advocate for the social and economic emancipation of Nigerians, rather than a sycophant. Therefore, I am taken aback by his involvement in the political skirmish over critical state issues. I can therefore appreciate his difficulty in defending that position in his subsequent interview on Politics Today programme of the Channels Television.
It was indeed a poor outing. It would have been best for the ruling party to keep quiet in the face of the daunting challenge. This is one instance that I believe that silence is golden until the reforms being implemented are urgently made successful as to change the course of events. I unequivocally assert that the present image reflects the harsh reality and must be addressed if the party genuinely cares about the President. Even where the pockets of protests occurring in a number of quarters are the machinations of the opposition, the question is simply whether it is real or otherwise. The President should overlook the messenger and address the message by ignoring those attempting to deflect his vision.
My expectation is that the ruling Party, rather than engaging in frivolities, should convene its own think tank to support the President. The party must refrain from behaving like an assembly of goons. It is undeniable that Nigerians are growing restless, and their concerns demand attention. The minor protests in Minna and Kano, insignificant as they may seem, could escalate rapidly if not addressed. Those of us who are speaking out do so out of genuine concern for the nation’s well-being. We vividly recall the EndSARS protests and are determined to prevent any recurrence of social unrest or uprisings.
The Arab Springs, though not an instantaneous event, arose from accumulated grievances. In two previous editions of this column, I have cautioned the President against succumbing to sycophants and emphasized the need for him to seek counsel from those who will provide unvarnished truths. Often, it is those closely connected to leaders who inadvertently contribute to their downfall. Therefore, the President must exercise caution and avoid surrounding himself with sycophants.
As Sheik Maktoum once remarked, “I have witnessed leaders of great nations overthrown because they made fundamental mistakes; they listened only to their most sycophantic advisors, surrounding themselves with people who glorified, praised, and complimented their every action.” The challenge before the President is beyond sycophancy. It is one that calls for all absolute concentration and truthful appraisal.
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