By Bisi Lawrence
The terrain looks rather potholed from this distance. President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan seems set to travel roughshod on the back of his people, on his way to the realization of his transformation of the nation. The man seems to have broken loose. He says he is not a lion but, whatever he classifies himself to be, it cannot be tame.
It is true he once presented a very meek image, and appeared sometimes to be at odds with himself. But he definitely knows what he wants, though one wonders if he also knows the consequences it will have on other lives in certain significant cases.
A case in point is the issue of the Sovereign Wealth Fund, SWF. The Constitution stipulates that the earnings of the nation should be divided among the three tiers of government, at the Federal, State and Local Government levels. The Sovereign Wealth Authority Act, however, devises to save a percentage of the revenue rather than dish it all out. That appears wise and desirable. But it is patently against the Constitution, and the details are rather obscure.
First is the aspect of the timing. What makes it so urgent at this time? How does it fit into the economic situation? There have been serious reservations expressed from various political sources, about the economic initiatives of the Federal Government in certain areas. The structure of the 2012 budget, for instance, appears lopsided with 73 per cent of it allocated to recurrent expenditure. A very important citizen in the same political party with the President characterized it as “laughable”. But the Minister of Finance, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, who actually first pointed out that untidiness at the instance of her appointment, appears to have adjusted herself to it, and now sits comfortably astride its implementation.
Most irksome, of course, is the burning issue of the fuel subsidy. There are now various reactions, most of them negative, to its proposed removal. There are many who believe that it is, in any case, a monumental rip-off; that it has been a progressive national swindle which is deep-rooted in the manipulations of a cartel that has become part of the heritage of government succession in the land. Other critics tend to agree but would rather concentrate on an exposure of its management. Senator Bukola Saraki, former Governor of Kwarra State, is mostly responsible for this line of thinking. In a recent speech delivered in the Upper House, he directed his honorable colleagues to the debt of “integrity and accountability” they owe the nation. He quoted mind-boggling figures about fiscal expenditure. His burden was to make the fuel subsidy scheme more transparent “within an appropriate legitimate framework.” This speech came in the wake of the clam that subsidy was costing the Federal Government a whopping sum of 1.3 trillion annually. Senate President David Mark appropriately tagged that speech a “wake-up call on fuel subsidy.”
But the Act has already been pushed through parliament. It went through even while State Governors were still deliberating over its merits and flashing out unfavourable considerations. To compound the issue, the States’ Chief Executive Officers are still smarting from the Federal Government’s imposition of the minimum wage structure on them. They had responded by demanding the removal of the fuel subsidy in response to their acquiescence. If the subsidy is subsequently removed, it would then have cleared the resentment about the perceived slight over the SWF, and the embarrassment over the minimum wage acceptance. No wonder the President had no qualms about proceeding with the Act of the fund. But Jonathan has to swing the removal of the subsidy, first and foremost.
There have been very few negative public reactions and resentment to rival the widespread rejection of the removal of the fuel subsidy within this nation. Students are against it and are ready to demonstrate in raucous rallies; lawyers are canvassing openly against it and urging parliamentarians to reject it; medical practitioners think it is unhealthy and would have nothing to do with it; and organized labour is preparing for massive industrial action against it. Yet, President Jonathan and his government would not budge. They say we need it, and they are going to give it to us, good and hard.
It is apparent that nothing good can come out of this proposal for the common man. We all know that when the price of fuel goes up, everything else also goes up. Our economy is in a sorry state. There are talks of palliatives that would provide a “soft landing” for the people. That means that those who are trying to make it happen know how badly many people will hit the ground through these measures. So, what the people are asking is, why make us fall so you can cushion it?
It will be surely be a rough passage. Nigerians have been suffering and smiling for a long time, misleading some foreigners to describe them as “the happiest people on earth”. The political trend may change all that. It is difficult to envisage anyone smiling through the forthcoming suffering of officially induced hardship. And then you sit up and ask yourself, was this the “transformation” he had in mind? Did we not elect him as one of us? He rules, and he roles, as ruthlessly as a colonialist who listens only to his own voice. And he says he is not Nebuchadnezzar!
Brigadier-General Idada Ikpomwen, erstwhile Provost-Marshall and former Director of Nigerian Army (Lagos Services) recently criticized the deployment of military personnel to combat the menace of Boko Haram . He said it was the exclusive duty of the police to do that.
He saw no reason for dragging in the military. He had probably not been informed about the onerous task of arresting hapless journalists which the Inspector-General felt justified to impose on the police, based on the exercise of the human rights of a former President – and a retired general at that. And of course, since the journalists themselves are supposedly have no human rights to “exercise”, why not keep the police busy attending to the business of locking them up and other chores, while the army gets mixed up with what should be classified as “internal security”?
Even when the Boko Haram gave his removal from office as a condition for reducing the tempo and tenor of their assault on innocent citizens, and even went further to carry their invasion to his official doorstep, the I-G still faltered in stepping out to claim the exclusive responsibility of his office. Not even when it was reported that the policemen with whom those Youth Corps members sought safety in one of the deadly rampages of the terrorist group, threw them out to be subsequently slaughtered by the vicious horde that were after them, did the Inspector-General turn a shoulder at the outcry of the entire nation.
However, perhaps we are being unfair. The police have been deployed so long for inconsequential assignments that it would not be surprising if they themselves no longer appreciated their position and duties as the custodians of our internal security. Their training has suffered so atrociously that a basic fingerprint investigative process would leave a host of them at sea. Any higher forensic practice would totally baffle a number of others. Their weapon capability comes to the fore in cases of extra-judicial murders, and the capacity of their weaponry is a disgraceful expression of how much the government expects of them. So they are left only with little to give, for the little they have received. And this extends, so sadly, even to the top.
Our police need to be trained, well trained. They need to be experts in any field into which they are deployed, be it in the laboratory, in the law court, in the office, or in the arena of guerrilla warfare. Several of them have unnecessarily lost their lives because they were engaged against heavier, or more advanced weaponry. That is part of what should chiefly occupy the efforts of the I-G, not pandering to the egoistic whims of any citizen who has the law court in which to “exercise” his human rights.
But the former Provost-Marshall, Brigadier-General Ikpomwen, was quite right, really. He only got the setting wrong. He had the era of colonialism in his mind’s eye. It was then all there. Our policemen were even sent abroad for sound training. I witnessed the investigation of a robbery, which featured the use of fingerprint technology in Lagos, in 1943. The details would bore you, but the robber was by this means discovered and arrested. That was some sixty-eight years ago…. when we also had colonialists as our rulers.
*Echoes. “I am an ardent reader of your column – “The Passing Scene”. I commend your distinct and excellent style of writing. You truly represent the endangered specie of excellent and seasoned, writers/journalists that are fast increasingly hard to find these days in the country. Keep up the good work, sir. (Oromena-Delta State,08133301722)
Thank you, sir. Your words are like music to the ears of someone who has been doing this or something like it, for more than half-a-centuty now. But let me assure you that good writers are in no way near extinction in Nigeria. In fact, there are younger ones coming up every day, and they are giving old codgers like us a good competition. But we still keep our hand in. Sonala Olumehsen, for instance, remains my favourite read after decades on the scene, and a day is missing in any week in which I do not read Edwin Madunagu. He is now running an enchanting series that enlivens my Thursdays. Under our own roof in Vanguard, Dele Sobowale still speaks frankly, Kola Animashaun’s voice also continues to dispense reason, Debbie Olujobi recounts the thrill of existence from moment to moment – and all that and more, just in one Sunday edition. I almost forgot – but how could I? – the “Vista” enriching viewpoint of Helen Ovbiagele who whips up a column in a breath—taking, seemingly effortless manner. One young man, who will yet grow higher and higher, is Femi Adesina of The Daily Sun, whom (among others) I envy so much for one thing – he still has so much time ahead of him. And, Glory be to God, pundits like Tunde Fagbenle have become veterans, right before our eyes. I will be exactly seventy-eight years old tomorrow.
Echoes: I wonder whether you have not heard about Sat Guru Maharaj Ji, and what he stands for?
Why have you and other Nigerians of influence (?) not make Nigerians know what Guru has done and can do for Nigeria? For instance, Guru has made Nigeria the New Holy Land of the Universe. a No war Zone, and has promised the nation a Divine Government. Should we be keeping quiet about such a person? (Emeka Usenu, 11 Kingsway Rd. Enugu; 07057491171)
No. We should not … especially if he could save us from the impending doom of the removal of fuel subsidy. Can he?