Is'haq Modibbo Kawu

January 7, 2016

New year, old contradictions

New year, old contradictions

By Is’haq Modibbo Kawu

2016 is here! As the old year hurtled into memory, we can look forward to the portents for the New Year. Every country plans against the backdrop of expectations built within the context of the old year. We had exited last year with the excitement following the 2015 elections and change of government, tempered by the hard reality of a serious economic crisis. Household budgets have taken a severe knock as Nigerians go through a very difficult time; but we averted the danger that would have descended, if President Goodluck Jonathan’s PDP administration had achieved re-election. Nigeria pulled itself from the edge of a precipice, by voting for change, but for change to be more than just a slogan, there is a lot of work on hand for all of us. Nigeria must abandon the old ways and consciously make a different set of choices. But this is where the problem lies. The more things change, the more they have remained same in our country.

Our ruling elite cannot understand that sacrifices Nigeria require should start from them. Take the 8th National Assembly. It is shaping up to become the most self-serving and deluded since the return to civil rule in 1999. Its leadership came into position on the basis of controversy that continues to haunt it. This leadership spends far more time trying to ensure self-preservation that it cannot buy into the need for sacrifice. When the story broke that it is about to spend over N4. 7billion to acquire new cars, Nigerians were shocked. But the shock is coming from the fact that people have not deconstructed the logic of the National Assembly leadership. The purchase of those vehicles has been excused on the basis of their need for oversight functions. In actual fact, a leadership that entered parliament, literally from the window, must continue oiling the wheels of membership loyalty to survive. Survival means far more to Bukola Saraki and Yakubu Dogara, than the needs of Nigerians. That the legislators seem to be singing from the same hymn book, in this matter of their creature comfort, underlines just how thin is the veneer of “principle” upon which they fought amongst themselves for leadership position, till Bukola Saraki’s “coup” of June 9th, 2015. And as if things cannot be any worse, last Sunday, January 3rd, 2016, THE NATION newspaper reported that new houses costing N5billion would be built for Vice President Yemi Osinbajo, Bukola Saraki and Yakubu Dogara. This is the pattern since Obasanjo’s harebrained idea to sell residences of principal officers to the occupants. Our ruling class cannot provide affordable social housing for the working people and the poor, but will unconscionably build N5billion houses for three officials of state.

And what about the “Curious Figures” of the 2016 budget, as analysed by THE NATION newspaper’s editorial of January 3rd? The sum of N3.6Billion budgeted for BMW saloon cars “for principal officers”; N189 million for tyres and another N39.8M “for the purchase of unspecified number of 200 amps, 100 amps and 60 amps Mercedes Benz batteries for bulletproof vehicles”. The 2016 budget allocates N89M for purchase of kitchen equipment for the presidential kitchen, as against N83.1 last year. General renovation of Guest House gulps N387M; complete furnishing of Guest House is allocated N45M; N27. 5M will be used to purchase computers while Recreational Facilities will be procured in the sum of N764M. The presidency’s internet facility will be upgraded for N114. 4m and internet servers will cost N22.5M! These are budgetary items in a season of recession by a government dedicated to change and doing things in a different way. The class bias that runs through these patterns of expenditure is so strong that even President Muhammadu Buhari should feel embarrassed about it. A review is an imperative!

Biodun Jeyifo (BJ) is 70

EARLY this week, the 70th
birthday ceremony of Professor Biodun Jeyifo, known to his comrades, friends and students around the world as BJ, was celebrated. I placed a call to him in Ibadan where he has always lived, and is currently on holiday from his base at the Harvard University. We have not spoken in a very long time! BJ is one of the most outstanding intellectuals in the world today, and certainly one of the most distinguished public intellectuals dedicated to the liberation of our country from exploitation and underdevelopment. I have tried to remember as much as I can of the various engagements that I had with this truly remarkable man over the decades. And these vary, but all were directly related to our collective engagements as militants of the Nigerian Marxist movement, especially during the 1980s. BJ has always been a consistent activist and intellectual whose commitment to the struggle for human liberation and progress defined his life and work as well as the many-sided relationships that he built with comrades and friends from all over Nigeria. As I write these lines, I remember BJ participating in a night of public reading at the former University of Ife, now Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile Ife. It was in 1981. BJ had lost his voice and just before the reading, he asked me, as a broadcaster, what he could drink to clear his voice. The following morning, I was a passenger in his Volkswagen Beattle, as we drove from Ile Ife to Lagos. I was a student activist at the University of Lagos, while Biodun Jeyifo was then National President of the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU), in its truly heroic phase. It was BJ’s generation that allied ASUU with the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC), thus helping to strengthen the class alliance between the Nigerian working people and intellectuals. They deepened the radical and progressive tendency within the Nigerian working class movement.

By the 1980s, the Nigerian left was making a frantic effort to unite its fractious movements from all over Nigeria. BJ played a leading role in an effort to create a National Democratic Movement (NDM), to provide a platform of basic unity. He would argue; cajole and do as much as possible to convince delegates from all over the country. As actively engaged as he was as an organic intellectual dedicated to the struggle for national liberation and progress, BJ never slackened in his intellectual output, in research and teaching. He produced very outstanding critical literary works that were acclaimed as remarkable contributions to knowledge. This is the life that this remarkable patriot has lived over the past fifty years as an intellectual. When the conditions degenerated within the university system in Nigeria, with SAP in the mid-1980s and the oppressive ambience of military dictatorship, BJ joined hundreds of other intellectuals, to continue a life of scholarship outside of the country. Biodun Jeyifo became a professor at the Harvard University in the USA. But as a mark of his continuing engagement with our country, he has maintained regular weekly columns in Nigerian newspapers, dedicated to helping the Nigerian people to become ever more conscious of the social forces that condition our lives as well as being responsible for the continuing underdevelopment of Nigeria. His dedication to the liberation and progress of our country remain central to the popular journalistic writings that he shares with Nigerians every week.

It is equally remarkable that BJ has never waivered in his dedication. Even when reaction seemed to have triumphed within the world system, with the collapse of the socialist experience in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, he did not abandon his vision to embrace reactionary values of religious obscurantism or ethnic chauvinism. BJ remains the organic intellectual, in the truly Gramscian sense of that description, working tirelessly for the Nigerian people, especially its working people and the poor. I think all progressive Nigerians can be very proud of the life of active engagement that Professor Biodun Jeyifo has lived. He is one of the best representatives of what is good in our country and one of the greatest examples of the intellectual that Nigeria needs ever more, to find progress. I feel proud to call BJ a friend, comrade and compatriot. Congratulations on your 70th birthday Professor Biodun Jeyifo!

Borno’s budget of reconstruction and development

AT the end of 2015, Kashim Shettima, the Borno state governor, presented the 2016 Budget to the House of Assembly in Maiduguri. Tagged a “Budget of Reconstruction, Rehabilitation and Resettlement”, Borno proposes to spend N155 billion this year, but what was eye-catching was the decision to dedicate 70% of the budget to capital expenditure. That amounts to N103 billion, while recurrent expenditure takes the remaining 30% of the budget, at N51billion. The breakdown shows that education has the highest allocation of N27billion. I think this is commendable and is how it should be. The Boko Haram insurgency deliberately targeted the educational system, destroying schools infrastructure; murdering hundreds of teachers and pupils alike as well as abducting hundreds of boys and girls. It went all out to ensure that thousands of pupils could not attend school, in societies where enrolment had been poor, even in the best of times. The Boko Haram doctrine is one of barbarism and education is the greatest weapon to uproot it. When Borno chose to make allocation to education the highest single item of budget, it is an expression of the resolve to defeat the barbarism that Boko Haram represents.

Similarly, the newly created Ministry for Reconstruction, Rehabilitation and Resettlement is allocated N10 billion, which is meant for the reconstruction of infrastructure in destroyed communities. This is again a major part of the Boko Haram tragedy, because in community after community, the insurgency burnt houses, schools, health centres, police stations, government buildings, farms and even vandalised boreholes.

There is therefore a lot of reconstruction work that must be carried out, in order to provide the minimum requirements for people to be able to return to their communities. Relatedly, agriculture was allocated the sum of N8 billion; N16 billion goes to work and transport; healthcare will gulp N10 billion, while N24 billion is earmarked for trade and investment, poverty alleviation and women empowerment. All-in-all Borno state has signified intention to speed the reconstruction process this year, as part of a process to consolidate post-insurgency development. My hope is that this will not be the usual ritual of budgeting but a genuine process that will be followed through, because the perspective is right. And Borno state must consolidate the work already started to provide the conditions for people in IDP camps to begin a gradual return to rehabilitated communities to be able to pick up the pieces of their lives. By allocating 70% of the budget to capital expenditure, the Borno state government of governor KashimShettima has made the right decision that should redound to the benefit of the people.