By Helen Ovbiagele
When on Friday December 7, 2012, I read the headline ‘SENATE KICKS AGAINST EXTRA 9 billion naira for Vice-President’s residence’, in one of our national dailies, I felt very frustrated and disappointed, and I began to doubt if our rulers are really aware of the myriad problems Nigeria faces, and how to combat them. Or perhaps they do know, but don’t know which are of utmost importance to the nation.
With the numerous aides and advisers that our leaders have around them to help them carry out their duties successfully and creditably, one would expect they know precisely the state of the nation at any given time. These advisers are meant to feel the pulse of the masses and advise their bosses correctly, so that these bosses can carry out their duties in ways that would benefit our citizens. I doubt if erecting residences for our leaders at massive costs at a time when government claims it has no money to improve our welfare in meaningful ways, is of great benefit to us at present.
How can this bring relief to a nation where unemployment is very high as more and more industries are folding up; bread winners in families are losing their jobs; young people are wearing out their shoes, pounding the pavements in search of elusive jobs (some commit suicide out of despair while some take to crime and prostitution); pensioners are owed several months of their meagre monthly pensions, and several die every year during the rigorous verification exercise.
Security is of very great concern these days, but we learn that our law enforcement agencies are no match for their opponents because they lack the sophisticated and high-powered equipment the other side has. At any given time, one after the other, or sometimes at the same time, teachers, doctors, nurses, university staff and other government workers are on strike.
Reason? Government has reneged (yet again!) on its promise of paying the agreed salaries and benefits, and improving their lot. We have many efficient and qualified medical personnel, but there’s brain-drain there because of poor pay and lack of adequate hospital equipment, including steady power supply and reliable generators, with which to work. Patients suffer lack of care and some deaths occur.
It is one thing to fight tooth and nail to win at elections, or to be appointed into a position of authority, and it is another to know precisely what to do with the power given, in order to fulfill the purpose for which you were chosen/appointed.
I salute the courage of Senator Smart Adeyemi, a former national president of the Nigerian Union of Journalists, for his remark after paying an oversight visit to the site of the project at Aso Drive. The paper said that he noted that such a huge sum of money was uncalled for especially at a time when most Nigerians cannot afford three square meals a day.
His remark, though sincere and echoing what many Nigerians would say on the matter, is courageous because he belongs to the ruling political party. He easily could have kept quiet ‘in order not to upset those who put us there!’. The nation will now wait to see what the end of the matter will be. Governance and law-making are supposed to put citizens first in their decisions.
I may be wrong, but to me, our Vice-President seems a humble and down-to-earth person who wouldn’t insist on having an official residence for his position constructed at such huge costs when he’s very aware of the situation of the average Nigerian. Even though the mansion won’t be his personal property, and there’s no guarantee that it would be completed on time for him and his family to occupy during this his term in office; and even if the project may have been on ground before this present administration came into power (?), I don’t think it’s prudent for us to spend billions of naira on such a project at this point in time. Someone told me that it’s because of the security gadgets that need to be installed that the cost is so high.
Fine, but the most effective security is the one that God provides. He will keep safe those whom He will. But let’s make sure that citizens, particularly the masses, have qualitative lives. Maybe we can easily afford this sort of project in future when unemployment is down to almost zero level, and we’re counted among the developped nations of the world, with much improved healthcare, educational system, roads, water supply, and working social services.
I learnt from the news report that the project which is being handled by the Federal Capital Development Agency, who requested for a further nine billion naira, has already gulped seven billion naira! Now, this is a huge sum of money, by any standard, at least to many of us.
To ask for a further nine billion naira, seems outrageous to me when there are so many masses-aimed projects which are begging to be executed. Most roads all over the country are still quite bad and dangerous. The Lagos/Ibadan road, we’re told, is merely being repaired for traffic at Christmas, and has not been awarded for rehabilitation to any construction company, as we believed.
The Lagos/Benin road is still quite testy although repairs are going on still, as on some other roads in the country; thanks to the efforts of the energetic current Minister for Works who seems to be aware of his duties and commitment to making our roads more motorable and safe. We hope lack of funds won’t halt these road works. Fuel scarcity inched back into our lives in September. We’ve been told that de-regulation of pump prices is inevitable, and we shall have to pay more for fuel in this new year.
We all know that bad roads and increase in pump prices mean hefty hikes in food prices, as farm products rot away on the farms because the farmers cannot afford the cost of transportation even to the local markets, and those who are able take their products there at huge costs, just have to increase their prices in order to break even. Market people add their own overheads too, and by the time that yam or plantain gets to your table, you feel the pinch in your pocket.
Right now, doctors are on strike, yet again, in hospitals across the nation. This means that even the poor healthcare services we have in these health institutions, are no longer available to the common man. Even the poor now have to borrow money to send their sick to India for medical attention.
Power supply has worsened in recent times, and on the days power is supposed to be on in your area, it’s low current for half the time, and no power for the other half. Small scale industries and self-employed artisans are left helplessly idle most of the time.
Senator Adeyemi spoke of three square meals. Sorry, Senator, only the very rich can afford to eat three meals a day these days. Many families can afford only the evening meal, and that’s with the contribution of children who have to go hawk on the streets to help financially in the home.
Our rulers should wake up and be alive to their responsibilities towards the masses. They should put the interests of the masses first before their own personal interests. We don’t want a revolution, do we?
HAPPY, HEALTHY, SUCCESSFUL AND SAFE NEW YEAR TO ALL READERS OF THIS PAGE. AMEN. THANKS FOR READING IT.