By Bisi Lawrence
A friend recently asked me about Nigeria and “what’s going on.” He was shivering in the cold weather to which the Eastern coast of the United States, particularly, is subject at this time of the year.
He had actually launched out on a short tirade against the beastly climactic conditions under which he had to live for the past fourteen years, and still counting.
Reflecting briefly on his predicament in consideration of my reply to his enquiry about my welfare and that of the country, I opined that I was certain that there was not much wrong with my country, but in the case of her peoples —without excluding me —it was totally a different matter.
You are probably one of those complaining right now about the hot weather, but the rains are coming soon to cool things down. And you know that the harmattan will soon be around to clean out the dampness left by the rains, and then follows the glorious sunshine again. Great country! Never does it suffer under an enduring period of lower than 70 degrees on the Fahrenheit scale, which is what people who live in those countries where my friend is stranded, glorify as “summer”; and for which some people travel out to shiver in sophisticated misery to convince the rest of us that they are “enjoying”.
But that is who we are—insincere, dishonest, and unappreciative of the good things which nature has provided for us, except oil. And see what trouble it has landed us in! Think of the myriads of enquiries and probes that have sprouted and are still creeping up around the corridors of our existence as a nation, all because of the over-abundance of the oil earnings that are more than sufficient for us to share without the active role of greed and fraud. But where does one encounter the absence of dishonest practice in our lives today? Even in one’s daily transactions, do you trust your housemaid to account truthfully for her purchases in the market? Can you trust your driver not to cheat from what you gave him to buy fuel for your car in your absence?
So why do you screw up your nose when your “friendly neighbourhood” cop grabs his crumpled 50-naira note swiftly, but unabashedly, from the outstretched hand of a conniving danfo driver? Isn’t that the way it is? How can you grudge him for a paltry sum like that which carries no more than
one “zero”, whilst others smoothly dispose of millions, and even billions of naira? Have you ever stopped to think of how many zeroes trail a billion? I am told it travels with no less than NINE zeroes in tow (I have never seen it written out) and there you are talking so freely about it. That is what living in the midst of unimaginable affluence does to the psyche— it renders it numb. But that amount, by the way, is what Nigeria is estimated to lose every month to oil thieves and bunkerers.
It is not the country, this land of clear sunshine and clean rainfall. It is the people. Probes, and investigations, and enquiries mushroom all over the face of the land but, somehow, not much is ever achieved by way of discouraging the rising tide of dishonesty and crime. From season to season, the public investigations are ferociously pursued, especially by elected politicians, or politicians elected into the National Assembly even until it hurts—some of the investigators, that is. And then, like hot coal immersed in water, the enquiries sink with a quiet swish and a little smoke into nothingness. And then we all wait for the next round of the colourful charade.
Some people believe that we can sit down and discuss what our future as a nation of different or divergent nationalities should be. They are well-meaning people. It is said that they will soon be meeting again. They have met in one form or another before. Without seeing the list, I could have told you most of the names, but I have seen it. It is as I had thought. They are all people I respect. I am proud to share the same country with them. They should keep it up. Maybe it will lead somewhere some day, but not now. However, their decisions may one day form the basis of the progress towards our hopes as peace-loving citizens. The frustration of those aspirations over a long period, on the other hand, may shatter our harmony as a nation.
But it will not happen now—permit me to repeat —because of the people at the helm of affairs.
They hold the master cards. The decisions reached at a national conference will definitely erode their powers, for our situation calls for a paradigm shift, a significant turn-around in the way we think and act, and that will perforce produce a massive movement of those who think along, and have benefited from the former concepts and ideals. That is why you will hardly find the name of a minister or special adviser in the list of sympathisers, not to say participants, of a call for change. But that was the song on the lips of their principal when he was looking for our votes. He probably does not even know in which direction to look for dynamic transformation.
In the same vein, it will surprise you how many excellent brains are left out of consideration for the contributions they can make towards good government in the nation. Those in power are particular about the calibre of the crew they want on board. They are careful about the passengers too, because most of the goods they carry are contraband. They want men at the tiller who know all about the devious manoeuvres that can pilot the craft through the shoal and underwater sandbank of deceit and thievery. And their customers are all over the land.
That is the main reason for the inability of a national conference to achieve only very little of the success it merits. There are simply too many on the other side at this time. The masses will first have to be turned around to become enlightened, to become aware, and so understand why the land cries so much for justice unheard, and sheds so much tears unseen.
Nigeria is beautiful. The problem, dear citizens, is within ourselves ..
the upcoming cabinet
We wait for the new Federal Cabinet. The stale one did not look so fresh even from “Day One”.
It has fulfilled much of our misgivings. Let us take one or two examples of the performances that are right before our eyes.
The co-ordinating minister, the peerless pearl of the administration’s diadem, did not only coordinate, but also sought to dominate, and did not often fall short of her desire. Whatever she has achieved for the economy is yet to be translated to a more robust appearance on our tables, I wonder how many people will miss her if she gets what her lips first denied, but her whole being now noisily craves for.
The foreign relations of this country only need an articulate communicator to remind anyone in doubt that Nigeria is still the largest assembly of black people on this planet. We simply command respect; we don’t have to demand it. The Foreign Minister does not have to go, but not many will miss him if he does not stay. An innovative touch, at least in style, is called for.
PENGASSAN has a lot to say about petroleum. They are doing so right now in action. The initial glamour had begun to fade with the removal of the “phantom” subsidy. Committees Which came in scores during the heat, may now be quietly dissolved by the dozen during the calm, that is if there is really a let on. But then, we are in an area where nothing seems S U R E!
In Agriculture, we have someone who, ironically, would have done beautifully in foreign relations. He has the gift of the gab, but that doesn’t fill bellies. All indications are that we shall still be importing foodstuffs unnecessarily into the country in the foreseeable future, and the gentleman in charge originates from the same area of the country as Obafemi Awolowo, erstwhile Premier of the defunct, but unforgettable, Western Nigeria, where the richness of agriculture overspilled into the wealth of industries.
Our sports have been thrown into the dustbin of frustrated hopes and exterminated enthusiasm.
Everyone has now become a fan of Manchester “U’, or “Barca”, or Chelsea, or “The Gunners”. Someone recently declared that he was for the “Homeland’ or Heartland. Good for him; others go for “where the action is” Trade and Industry? Well, he should have stayed at where “auntie” displaced him from. His ideas were just unfolding. If the World Bank would graciously retrieve their pet, maybe we would see the actualization of projects not yet fully unveiled.
This country is full of educators with a pedigree of innovation and progressive concepts.
Education is not an area that recommends itself strictly to political considerations of a “zoning” complexion. Dynamism also has appearance and personality as one of its factors. This sector is not going to move forward with the speed and effectiveness that the emergency in which it is now submerged dictates. Hajia could join them in Women’s Affairs, or some other innocuous corners ..
There is too much waffling going on at the Labour front where we have a youthful crew of seasoned negotiators, who have to be taken seriously The nation does not need another unfruitful labour unrest, and it may come if there is no serious effort to understand what they are saying.
As for our roads, they are in the hands of God, for they involve our lives, thousands of which lose on the highway every year as a matter of routine. So also is our security now also in God’s keeping, except you are the President’s wife and can close down the traffic of a whole city, with armoured cars and other security paraphernalia.
Well, there are one or two more portfolios like Defence, or Internal Affairs, which are really out of the ministers’ hands. But I really feel it is appropriate at this point to say the Defence rests.
But, apart from all that, why do we have to go through all this suspense every time there is going to be a cabinet re-shuffie? It is really becoming seasonal, anyway. As I see it, if you are not ready with it, why announce it? It looks like another of those blunt arrows in Jonathan’s store,.