By Dele Sobowale
“What sort of people do they think we are?” Sir Winston Churchill, British Prime Minister during World War II, in reply to Hitler’s demand for the British to surrender while under German bombardment.
Churchill could say that because he was himself a great leader in charge of a great nation. Can any of our living Heads of State say the same about us? Can Jonathan say it now, that we are under siege by destructive elements?
The simplest way to discover what the people of any country consider important is to find out what engages the time of their leaders. And, the easiest way to find out how their leaders, especially elected officials, spend their time is to follow the major news items for a period of time.
Naturally, the place to start in that assessment is the President or Prime Minister. As we draw near the first half of this year, it is noteworthy that in Nigeria, the lead stories carried by our media houses in the last six months can be summarized as follows.
In January the nation woke up to the monumental announcement that, despite advice to the contrary, the President had increased the price of petrol from N65 to N141 per litre on account of alleged N1.3 trillion subsidy paid out by government in 2011.
For the rest of the month, the nation was held in the grips of a national strike which paralysed the industrial states and almost brought down the government itself before the President, who had vowed that “there is no going back on subsidy removal”, stepped back. The cost to the nation, difficult to determine, could not be less than the N1.3 trillion the government wanted to save. So, in one month, we gave away all what we wanted to save in one year. That is the way we are. We act first and think later.
In February, the National Assembly, which was not consulted before the fuel price increase was introduced, appointed an Ad Hoc Committee, headed by Lawan Farouk as Chairman, to look into the alleged fuel subsidy.
Within the first week of public hearing, it was clear to everyone that what government claimed as subsidy was actually a monumental fraud perpetrated by a few importers, ably assisted by top government officials – starting from the Ministry of Petroleum Resources whose Minister told the Committee, without blushing, that Nigerians were drinking 59 million litres of petrol per day. It turned out not to be so in every material particular.
Then, it was the turn of the Minister of Finance, of World Bank fame, to confess to the Committee that she was not sure of the figure N1.3 trillion. Yet, two months earlier she was at the Muson Centre, in Lagos, dancing all over the stage and shouting at Barrister Femi Falana, “Just think about it Femi, what we can do with N1.3 trillion”.
And to prove it she had produced a SURE document, packed full with fairy tale projects which would be financed from the phantom N1.3 trillion – which we now know exists only in the fertile imagination of World Bank economists. That’s the way we are. Talk first; think later.
In March, it was the time for ASUU strike. The egg heads in Nigeria’s ivory towers, most of who “voted for Jonathan, not PDP”, finally realized that unless they took decisive steps, meaning embark on another strike, Jonathan was in no mood to honour his agreement with them. So, out went the academicians; and once again, the kids were out on a lam until “You-know-who” finally got the message and coughed up some dough.
Why the kids have to suffer before the government will fulfill an obligation freely entered into, would have been a mystery in any other country where there is something called GOVERNMENT. But, it is routine in Nigeria because that is the way we are.
In April, two bits of foolishness cropped up. The Ad Hoc Committee members cried out that some people were trying to bribe them to water down their reports; they even alleged death threats. Nobody paid attention. And, why not! Because previous probes have failed to see the light of day and those who robbed Nigeria had got away with their crimes. Thanks to the Ad Hoc Committee on Power probe, which promised to tell us how $13 billion vanished without trace during Obasanjo’s administration; we know no more than when they started.
And, just to prove, it was not an accident, another Ad Hoc Committee probing the grand larceny pertaining to the Capital Market, soon found itself in the lime-light for bribery and corruption. Two ladies, one former DG of the Nigerian Stock Exchange, NSE, and, the second, the DG Securities and Exchange Commission, SEC, literally, undressed themselves and then some of the Committee members in public.
In May, four topics stole the show. First, the President refused to reinstate the President of the Court of Appeal, who GEJ, sent on suspension on account of a letter from the National Judiciary Committee, NJC. Second, the wahala of presidential ambition for 2015 pushed that off the front pages.
Third, it was revealed in, far away, United States, that the President had authorized N155 billion to be paid out to one Malabu Oil and Gas Company – without approval from the National Assembly. Perhaps it is a mere coincidence that the major owner of Malabu comes from the South South.
And just as we thought that this government will save us, and itself, from further distractions, Jonathan, on May 29, 2012, after running for cover from Boko Haram, announced the change of name of University of Lagos, Unilag to M. Abiola University of Lagos and, since then, all hell had broken loose. It had been five months of self-inflicted turmoil. Then came June; when an airline disaster; another probe related scandal and the first major confrontation between the President and the National Assembly is shaping up.
If in a democracy government is defined as comprising of the Executive, Legislative and Judicial branches, what are we to make of a situation in which the Executive is now at loggerheads with the judiciary and the NASS? But, that is the way we are. I glanced through two of Ghana’s newspapers for the same period and the topics for discussion were mostly about development and governance. That is the way they are.
Note that left out of this catalogue of woes are other national calamities like the multiple Pension fund scam; the incessant explosion of tankers on expressways; buildings collapsing; kidnapping occasionally resulting in homicide. And the MONSTER PROBLEM CALLED BOKO HARAM.
“The wounds of the heart are the most sensitive of all..Nothing but time can heal them”. Frederick the Great, 1740-1786. (VANGUARD BOOK OF QUOTATIONS p88).
To all the families of the victims of the DANA air crash without exception, please accept my condolence. To those known to me, Doherty, Odujirin, Somolu, Otegbeye, and, of course, Shobowale, I pray to God to console all of us in His inimitable way.