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Between reason and foolery

DEMOCRACY guarantees freedom of expression to the individual. On that score it is impossible, when the going is tough for the nation, to ask any blabber to shut up. We may, therefore, not request that Chief Femi Fani-Kayode, an erstwhile Minister of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, should stop ventilating his ill-digested and inchoate viewpoint on the currently challenging issue of the removal of oil subsidy.

What we must do is point out the fallacy and lack of insight  of his  standpoint, in order that well-meaning Nigerians would avoid being contaminated by them.

Femi Fani-Kayode published an article entitled Subsidy: Okonjo-Iweala is the problem in the Vanguard of Friday January 6, 2012. This was his opening flourish: “In my view, Ngozie Okonjo-Iweala is the problem. She is the architect of this policy. She serves the interest of the IMF and the World Bank more than she does the interest of the Nigerian people.”

It may be a small matter that Fani-Kayode does not even know how to spell the Honourable Minister’s first name which he misspelt twice in his piece. But it is tragic that he did not bother to substantiate the accusation he levelled against the Finance Minister. It is even more calamitous that the ex-minister claimed to have located a national problem without proffering any way of solving it. This is philistinism.

For anybody who is interested in helping Nigeria to come out of its present economic difficulties, the fundamental thing to do is look at the figures. The figures appeared on the front page of the issue of the Vanguard in which Fani-Kayode went sounding off.

They showed that  the sum of N4.749 trillion was earmarked for the 2012 national budget. Of this sum, N1.3 trillion was set aside for the defraying the cost of oil subsidy. This clearly shows that the country is hemorrhaging, a situation that is unsustainable.

Works got N180.8 billion. Health got N282.77 billion. Education was allocated N400.15 billion. President Goodluck Jonathan’s thinking, which has amply been ventilated by his Finance Minister, is that the removal of oil subsidy will release huge funds that would be channeled to other areas of national development.

Government did not deny that oil subsidy removal will occasion considerable difficulties for the masses, which is why palliative measures were put in place. The understanding is that, if these measures are meticulously implemented, fuel prices will crumble as happened in the cell phone industry while the oil industry itself will settle into itself rather than remaining an instrument in the hands of a  vicious cartel.

Mr. Fani-Kayode did not deny the truth in all of the above. He did not say what Dr. Okonjo-Iweala should have done differently. He did not put forward any original ideas on salvaging the nation’s economy. He did not cite any foreign examples of countries that exited such economic logjams through different channels.

He merely alleged that the Finance Minister was taking dictation from the Bretton Woods Institutions because that is the kind of flowery and inflammatory nonsense that appeals to screamers on the barricades. What, indeed, is wrong in slashing the intolerably high expenditure on the oil subsidy front in other to ensure that the Works Ministry gets ahead with the construction of roads and bridges?

It is well known, even in the ranks of the uneducated, that abuses do not win arguments. Invectives only take the place of reasoned argument when the person throwing them about has nothing tangible to say. That is why Fani-Kayode went out of his way to fire broadsides in the direction of the Honourable Minister of Finance.

The man is happy to be addressed as “Chief” and, in fact, insists on the recognition of his chieftaincy. But he went calling the Minister by her first name as if the world will come to an end if he called her “Mrs,” as a happily-married woman, or doctor in recognition of her MIT doctoral pedigree.

All that could be put aside but what does one make of this sentence from Fani-Kayode? “If the World Bank tells her to jump she will ask “how high”? This is the woman that is virtually our Prime Minister today. No wonder we are in trouble. People like this have very little feeling for the masses and they cannot empathise their pain.” Would this man rather that Okonjo-Iweala is “Deputy Prime Minister”?

Or “Assistant Prime Minister”? What has the talk of prime minister-ship got to do with our presidential system of government? How does he reconcile writing that Okonjo-Iweala “is civilised, well-bred, exceptionally intelligent, warm and affable” in an article in which he described the woman as unfeeling? This shows a confused man pretending to have in his hands all the answers for the Nigeria’s problems.

Fani-Kayode’s  incoherent  article does not surprise in terms of its vituperations. Was  he not the fellow who, in 2004, said the following of the venerable Chinua Achebe: “No matter how distinguished and resourceful a person you are and no matter how brilliant and gifted an individual you are, if you feel that your country does not deserve to honour you, then we believe that you certainly do not deserve your country.”

He said this of Achebe for rejecting a ritually-hollow national honour thrown in his direction by Obasanjo. But he failed to address the reason for which Achebe acted the way he did.

Fani-Kayode talked in rosy terms of his days in power. Unfortunately for him, the EFCC is uninterested in the fragrance he alone  perceived. This explains why the anti-corruption body dragged him to the courts for money laundering and sundry charges.

Indeed, Fani-Kayode’s fulminations lend credence to those insisting that the EFCC must expedite action in the prosecution of all those they believe are guilty of causing the country financial adversity. After all, is it not true that someone in the slammer for financial crimes against his country can hardly be in the media sowing confusion when sensible non-convicts are busy trying hard to mediate the nation’s multifarious problems?

*Mr. Nmutaka, a commentator on national issues, wrote from Lagos


Comments expressed here do not reflect the opinions of vanguard newspapers or any employee thereof.