By Kassim Afegbua
Reading through my last week edition of this column, a friend had called me with great worry expressing concern over the safety of my life in the light of what he called “government’s insensitivity to opposition viewpoint”.
I had thought that was not serious an issue to be given a thought, until I started receiving other calls from concerned friends and associates who told me pointedly that everyone knows that Nigeria has since become a festering sore that requires the care of a diligent nurse, but that no one cares a hoot how to offer such service.
I do not think the country has reached such a crescendo yet even though there are great worries and concerns on the streets, in the bar, hotels, public fora, university environment, and within government circle.
Due to the hypocritical nature of Nigerians, especially those in government services, you often hear them speak tongues-in-cheek, but will never stick their neck out to critically examine any discourse. What you get as a private citizen offering some thoughts about the country is a comminatory response to any issue put under serious introspective scrutiny.
You receive insults from those in government for daring to expose their shortcomings and you get praises from members of the public for daring to speak out their minds. In this intractable world of politics, such words and opposites scenario helps to keep one’s adrenaline going.
Nigeria has since become a country of every possibility. It is possible to have a school drop-out as the Governor of a State, Chairman of a Local Government, Senator, Honourable member of the Federal House of Reps, President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria and any other elective position.
Democracy is such a crazy aphrodisiac that the people may choose to elect a known political thug as their representative. They may also decide to elect or select a confirmed armed or ‘penned’ robber as their chairman because it would be easier to steal the Local Government money and share it among the people, than to bother about development.
These days, people are more interested in the now, and not later, of anything they indulge in. They want to see the return on investment immediately the seed is planted because it is a survivalist economy. Nobody wants to plan for the rainy days any longer because they cannot trust their business partners.
In a society of mind-boggling possibilities, the man standing in front of the Courts on allegations of corruption could within a twinkle of an eye become the President of the country especially during election time with all manners of reasons adduced to justify the rationale for making such choice. It is all about democracy, the freedom to elect, select or choose whoever appeals to the sensibilities of the electorates.
Beyond this marriage of opposites lies a greater concern about the future of this country and its place in the comity of nations. Apart from the naked fact that corruption is the most thriving business in Nigeria, we seem to be atrophied about the way to go about the crusade.
It still remains a mere chimerical deception to think that the present structure that we have can mitigate against the burgeoning influence of corruption and possibly bring it to its fall.
The President complained about the over-bloated recurrent expenditure occasioned by too many unwieldy political appointees, and promised to run a slim government that would help us to save for capital projects. Barely a week ago, four new Special Advisers were sworn-in with portfolios that were as unimportant as the need to recruit them.
While we complain about the rising profile of our domestic debt, such a tinderbox, we are busy recruiting individuals to positions that we could as well ignore, thus building a bureaucracy that is apparently unwieldy.
A visit to the Ministries would reveal the consequence of such action; indolence, loss of craftsmanship and expertise, loitering around the corridors of power without a discernible engagement, but with heavy pay at the end of the month for no work done.
In the fullness of such thought-provoking malaise, you see civil servants adopting other means to engage their minds; selling guguru, groundnut, pure water, akara, moin-moin, banana and sundry others in such careless disdain before the very eyes of the Ministers or Special Advisers.
At times, the Ministers also patronize them when it is lunch time with profound interest; “get me some banana from that fat woman near the car lot”. When the month ends, Nigeria pays heavily for no job done and with the ghost worker syndrome, the harvest is complete.
President Goodluck Jonathan and his media handlers prior to his “election” promised Nigerians a breath of fresh air if he was elected to preside over the affairs of the country. Prior to his re-election, his apologists alluded his non-performance to the fact that it was not his mandate; that he was serving through the mandate of his late boss thus might not be able to deliver much.
Six months into his a-breath-of-fresh-air mandate, the country is still circum-navigating. The frightening domestic debt profile, bloated political appointments, insecurity, decaying infrastructure, a comatose educational system, a rudderless economy and several other challenges, are clear-cut symptoms of system failure which makes the transformational leadership mantra a fluke.
Transformation is a heavy word especially in developmental economics and it requires lot of courageous and bold steps to effectively achieve the thematic essence of the subject. Under transformation, it is understood that the leader of the country would attempt to change people from their old ways, change the system from an indolent one to one that is working and responsive, change the attitudinal and behavioural tendencies of the people to achieve government set goals and objectives. The transformational leader must be clear about his challenges and he must deploy therapy to address them head-on with determination. He must offer explanations for certain actions and inactions with an effective communication that would carry everyone along. All these essential attributes are in short supply in this Jonathan-led administration. The government has been working from answer to question instead of the other way round.
For example; Nigerians just woke up one morning and were faced with the grim reality that government was going to eliminate fuel subsidy; there was no prior notification, sensitization, mobilization and enlightenment.
Now, government apologists have been trying to explain to us why the offer is desirable; a first step that would have been taken to explain to the people why the option is avoidable or unavoidable. Before then, the President told Nigerians that a bill for a six-year single tenure was in the offing and that instead of six years, he might contemplate seven years as his own thought-out antidote to desperation in political power acquisition. The public outcry against these proposals has also confirmed that there is disconnect between the government and the people for whom the power is meant to serve.
The threat of our domestic debt profile should worry any serious-minded government and it should occupy the attention of government more than any other issue before the government enters a gridlock. Domestic debts will impact negatively on employment generation, social security, manpower development, standard and quality of living, infrastructural development, education and the general wellbeing of the people. Local entrepreneurs will usually and expectedly help to drive the domestic economy.
Inasmuch as government is poised to attract foreign direct investment into the country, our local investors must be seen to be happy to complement those who are coming into the economy from other lands. Charity must begin at home. The option of servicing our 2012-2015 budgets on borrowing as reported in the dailies two weeks ago is a clear indication that we are in difficult times.
We are in serious problems that require tact, diplomacy, courage, sheer vision, and deep understanding of the dynamics to navigate through. As we speak, our ship is rudderless even as it appears overwhelmed by stormy weather. The promise of fresh air like optical disparation has eloped us. We are not saying President Jonathan should possess encyclopedic wisdom; what I am saying is that he should show the character of his government so that based on hope; the people could still trudge on.
The question to ask is; what are the adventures in this government? What are the prognoses? What explanations is government offering the people in the light of present challenges in the various aspects of our national life? Beyond the verdict of “we will get the bombers”, a common refrain that has become over-used, what are we getting as a result of government’s intervention in security matters, employment generation and education?
If the truth must be told, President Jonathan should be aware that there is a collapse in civic life of the people. There is a pervasive loss of interest in government and its business of governance. Everywhere you turn, people are grumbling and murmuring.
They possibly can’t understand why their good luck has suddenly become hemlock. They can’t feel the fresh air promised some few months back. Life is becoming increasingly difficult, from strike action to insecurity, from North to South, the country is prevaricating. With gusto, President Jonathan should wake up from slumber.
He must inject new thinking into our national life. This transformation that has not taken off six months into his administration must be re-administered.
At least, late Yar’ardua was known for his seven-point agenda which gave birth to amnesty programme, rule of law and due diligence.
What is this transformation agenda about? Someone should please explain, because if what the country is getting presently is the high point of transformation, God save Nigeria. I just hope we are not in Tinubu’s world of the drunken fisherman trying to paddle the canoe ashore. I just hope we are not.