By Tabia Princewill
Every Nigerian knows just how hard it is to continue to believe in Nigeria: the cost to one’s sanity, the emotional toll for lovers of Nigeria debating with non-believers, fighting for the right to continue to believe. When you believe in the right thing being done, you’re labelled a fool as the cynics, the people with the money to subvert progress, accept no challengers of the status quo.Nigeria

The onslaught of the herdsmen, the Niger Delta Avengers, the Biafra secessionist resurgence seem tied to the “cynics” not getting their way: where do all these groups get arms and funding? Many would love to see Buhari fail, even some ordinary citizens, as if they were not Nigerians and wouldn’t be affected by the frightening prospect of us all falling short of real change.

Many of us delight in conspiracy theories: why is the President’s illness so relevant? Neither Cameron nor Obama’s illnesses make national or international headlines. You might say this is because they don’t need to seek medical attention abroad. In our case, the failures of our healthcare system are to blame (why is it still so difficult, in Nigeria, to get a reliable diagnosis, even from some of our so-called best medical staff?). But I wonder, where was our outrage when past leaders gradually destroyed the system?

Was it absent because then, we were all awash in patronage? Many hotels today are backed by political money. So many of our financial institutions, rather than lend to Nigerians, lend to politically-connected persons who later default on loans. Our banks are full of government money, hence opposition to the Treasury Single Account. Now deposits are shrinking, have we stopped to consider that the average Nigerian had little or nothing to deposit in the first place? Banks’ real client, or shall I say, sole client, is government. Why were we never critical of all of this?

I wish we’d all woken up sooner. How inconvenient that our awakening should occur only now (there is no more money to deaden our senses, to keep us on a leash). It should have happened when this country was swimming in petrodollars: where was our inner critic then?

We all kept quiet, watched government after government spend our commonwealth on women and champagne, praying to be invited to the party. How ironic that Buhari should find us so close minded, so indifferent to the possibility of living another way, that is, going from “welfare” (corrupt patronage) to “workfare” (building our infrastructure, etc, therefore creating jobs). I pity Buhari. How frustrating it must be to be so alone in such a momentous fight.

I cannot, however, like many Nigerians, reconcile the Buhari I knew, or thought I knew, with his lacklustre cabinet. A leader of his calibre, one with his intentions to thoroughly shake-up this country to its core, ridding it of its corrupt intent and foundations, deserves better.

APC as a party can and should do better. Nigeria has no shortage of brilliant minds. Unfortunately, as I have said many times in this column, nepotism keeps such people out of powerful circles in favour of those biologically related to them, which in itself isn’t a flaw; if only they were as competent as they were connected. Now, the latest instalment in the “Confuse and Distract Nigerians, Destroy Buhari’s chances” saga, is the call for Nigeria’s restructuring.

I am in support of true federalism. However, we might not currently have the right crop of leaders (read, governors) for federalism to function as it should.

Development in our states, is not currently inhibited by our federal structure: lack of growth is instead, a direct consequence of parties offering us the wrong leadership and of us voting them in for all the wrong reasons. I wouldn’t venture so far as to say there is nothing wrong with the way we practise federalism but I will say there is definitely a problem with our governors’ conception of governance and our blind acceptance of their very little output.

Governors use state assets for their children’s weddings or spouses’ birthdays; their states virtually grind to a halt during the celebrations; they employ countless aides; yet what do we, the electorate, have to show for their excess? We’ve always voted governors in without any concept or real knowledge of either their plans or record in office. We’re still passing nebulous security votes, paying double pensions to governors- turned-senators, and arguing over what zone should produce the “next governor”. So federalism isn’t the problem: we, Nigerians, who allow ourselves to be fooled, are the real issue.

States could grow and function if the majority were led by people who mean well and ultimately, people who have the required talent and creativity to find revenue generating mechanisms.

Our governors have counted more on Federal allocation than on their own ability to generate revenue, that is the real issue behind their chronic, now worsening, inability to pay salaries. Increasing the percentage of the Federation account that goes to states won’t change this: where are the plans for what to do with the money once it is received? Let’s not be naively taken in by calls for restructuring coming from the same individuals who’ve always held sway yet did little with huge funds when they themselves were in power (some are even alleged to have corruption cases against them). Let’s not naively believe that handing over more money to the same cabal will magically develop this country. After all, when states were brimming with money, when oil prices were high, what was done?

Ethno-religious conflict in Nigeria is often sponsored, whereas we have enough states in this country to develop every single ethnic group, and to make everyone feel relevant and appreciated if government funds are used correctly rather than diverted. If proper healthcare and education existed in most states, it wouldn’t be so easy to recruit and arm destitute men. If government funds meant for infrastructural development were properly spent, government wouldn’t need to use the civil service as a welfare tool: citizens would be self-employed, engaging in all sorts of businesses, autonomously.

But we’ve grown accustomed to distorting everything, from public discourse to the economy. The civil service has recruited half-baked individuals for years (all in a bid to mask rising unemployment), it is often incapable of delivering on government objectives, even when governors are well-intentioned.

It’s definitely more important, at this time, to recover stolen funds, plug loopholes and opportunities for corruption than to restructure the federation: this will be the inexorable conclusion of our march towards progress but it is neither feasible nor desirable in our current context. Calls for restructuring are a political distraction: let’s not fall for it.

Army officers retirement

The army, the civil service, have been politicised since time immemorial. We’ve even forgotten why this is wrong, labelling attempts at correcting this “biased”. “Injustice” towards the rich and powerful is always called a “witch-hunt”. Let’s ask ourselves, how many lives have we lost, due to corruption in the army?

When will we talk about Sharia

We need to have the courage to talk about the roots of religious extremism in this country. Our Constitution forbids state religion yet for political, populist purposes, several states were allowed religious courts.

Now we’re seeing some fanatics assaulting citizens for blasphemy or for “eating lunch during Ramadan”.  Rumours that the House is entertaining awarding more powers to Sharia courts, are worrisome given the ever present use of religion as political capital, by leaders with no agenda for development. We’re still too immature as a people to see that so-called religious men do not necessarily make the best leaders.

Who’ll have the courage for honest conversations with the poorest amongst us: those who do want this will be fought to the death by those who’d rather their electorate wallowed in poverty and ignorance, so they can be bought, come election time with a few bags of rice.

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