By Tabia Princewill
THE Mayor of New York City, Bill de Blasio, recently unveiled a policy document: “the progressive agenda to combat income inequality”, a sort of road map to “make sure the voice of every American is heard­­—not just those at the very top” and to “uplift working people and help working parents, and champion a tax system that rewards work instead of just wealth”.

The agenda includes proposals such as reforming the National Labour Relations Act to enhance worker’s rights to organise and rebuild the middle class, protect low-wage workers against exploitation, raise the minimum wage and making school programmes that benefit low income earners universal.

These are concrete ideas that will have an obvious impact on the lives of ordinary people, unlike many electioneering proposals in Nigeria, which are vague in substance and pander to “feel good sentiments” rather than making real, workable propositions. I am very excited by prospective change; I have made no secret of this. However, like many Nigerians, I worry about the content of said change. Are we looking at lasting structural reforms or the window-dressing the PDP led Federal Government has called policy for the past 16 years? Will we call on our brightest and our best to lead ministries, parastatals etc. or will it forever be about quotas and ethnicity?

A mother carries banner to drum support for the leading opposition All Progressives Congress presidential candidate Mohammadu Buhari and running mate Yemi Osinbajo during a rally christened ‘Walk for Change” in Lagos, on March 7, 2015 in Lagos, Nigeria’s commercial capital. Presidential elections scheduled for February 14 were delayed for six weeks as the military said the ongoing counter-offensive against Islamists Boko Haram meant that troops could not provide security on polling day. AFP PHOTO

These questions are permanently on my mind as we draw closer to the handover date. In developed nations across the globe, government is constantly reinventing its contract with citizens, moving with the times in order to not just win elections, but to offer the best in terms of jobs, opportunities and a better quality of life (which is how one wins elections anyway, through a sterling performance and quantifiable gains for the electorate that reach beyond the immediate, i.e. “stomach infrastructure”). But in a country like Nigeria, very few speak for the common man and his right to a decent life where one is not limited by birth, gender or ethnicity, where talent is rewarded rather than thwarted.

If social progress for all, not just the well-connected were the order of the day, if indeed activists, thought leaders and artists invested in fighting inequality for reasons beyond their own personal glory, e.g. opportunities to meet governors and first ladies who are perpetually buying cars, homes and what have you as a “reward” for anyone in the public eye—which mind you is not only unethical, after all, this is all bought with publics funds, but also in poor taste. Indeed, what idea is being sold to society? That in Nigeria, one cannot survive without knowing someone in power, one cannot live without having their blessing or guidance. Our society is built on extremely unhealthy social norms and in order to combat many of the ills affecting Nigeria today, we will need to rebuild the pillars upon which combatting inequality, as an overarching philosophy, must rest.

Every government agency, every state should have as a guiding principle that it exists to save the lives of the most vulnerable in our society, without which there can be no lasting peace or cohesion. How do we stop inter-ethnic killings, the bane of our middle-belt communities? I believe it all starts with out of school children, those failing or leaving school due to a lack of funds, the pervasive lack of jobs and opportunity and the poverty trap many of our corrupt governors have enshrined by starving local governments of funds.

We must strengthen communities, especially the poor and the middle-class, so that no young person feels the need to join a gang or a cult, or kidnap for a living, so that bribery is not the only way one can benefit from public services, so that women are not victims of constant sexual harassment as a trade-off for getting ahead, so that pensions are not unabashedly stolen, leaving civil servants bereft. This would benefit the whole of society.

The problems and solutions to Nigeria’s predicament are not unknown or impossible to achieve: I personally believe in Buhari’s commitment to bettering the lives of all Nigerians, not the North or the South, not any particular region because it contributed the most votes, but because all Nigerians deserve a better life.

We need to reinvent and redefine what it means to be a Nigerian citizen, the things we are owed and the things we owe each other: luxuries, private jet ownership, homes in incredibly expensive locations (which do not even justify their cost given the squalor of our general environment) have become the de facto citizenship which is not only ridiculous but points to the ill-healthof our social norms.

How can wealth, or material possessions, no matter how one obtains them, illegally or not, be the sole factor that determines not only social outcomes but what gives one the right to speak or even exist in society? The essence of human existence which philosophers have struggled to qualify for thousands of years has been reduced, in barely 50 odd years of dissipated, misused independence, culminating in the misapplied Jonathan years, not to proclaiming “I think therefore I am” but to saying “I am rich—I can spend—therefore I am”.

If we wish to survive another century as a unified country this must end now. Beyond allocating the spoils of war, government must be preoccupied with the well-being of the wider society. We are all Nigerians, irrespective of our age, gender or income and as such we are all deserving of good schools, proper healthcare etc. We look to our president-elect to free us from the predators who have lived for so long as murderous parasites, feeding off of our collective misery and poverty. That alone will guaranty his place in history. That alone will leave room for the real players, those who want to assist him in developing this country and take it to new heights, room to maneuver. Sai Baba, Nigerians are ready for change: the countdown begins.

President Jonathan begs Nigerians for forgiveness

ALL is forgiven. Nigerians are good people, we hold no grudges. However, if there is evidence of corruption or wrong-doing, then forgiveness cannot extend to wiping the slate clean. Why?

Because behind every misappropriated naira (although now we speak in dollars) there is a woman who died in childbirth due to poor or even inexistent public healthcare, there are people in Nigeria today who cannot feed themselves or their children yet the state pays militants exorbitant amounts to stop them from vandalising the very pipelines that feed them.

If those billions were spent reviving our infrastructure, our educational system or finally enabling a real national healthcare scheme, Jonathan would not have lost this election. So, in principle, all may be forgiven but the damage remains.

Ben Murray-Bruce and the ‘hottest place in hell’

THERE seems to come a time of redemption for every Nigerian public official where criticising the very system one has benefited from becomes the thing to do. Amongst social critics in Nigeria there are several camps: those who benefit from the system and do not publicly recognise the wastefulness and sycophancy that has made them superstars, those who criticise the system while secretly hoping to join the ranks of those who benefit from it and those who have benefited enough and can now afford to have a social conscience.

All three categories lack sincerity. Senator-elect Ben Murray-Bruce has taken to Twitter recently to denounce the sorry state of affairs whereby government officials live extravagant lifestyles sponsored by the state whilst workers salaries go unpaid.

“The hottest place in hell” should be reserved for such people his Twitter page read. There is perhaps a “hotter place in hell” for turncoats and those hoping to rebrand their image by either hopping unto the change train now that it is successful or using the suffering of others as a marketing gimmick. Or perhaps it’s the thought that counts?


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