By Dele Sobowale

What will be Buhari’s legacy? (1)

“The main essentials of a successful [President] are sleep and a sense of history.” Harold Wilson, British Prime Minister, 1977.

Wilson, Labor Party leader in the 1970s had left the world with a sentence carved on stone – “A week is a long time in politics.” He also left this advice which none of our national leaders had heeded until now – the need for a sense of history. If I had my life to live all over again, History would have been the subject of choice – not Economics. That, notwithstanding, it is still my strong belief that every leader requires a strong sense of history as a guide to making decisions. Plutarch, c46-120 BC, one of the greatest historians ever to grace the earth, wrote a series on leaders whose reigns were similar in many respects despite ruling in different countries and different times. From it, one can quickly grasp the message, that in some ways every leader mirrors the life of another one in the past. In Africa, Milton Obote of Uganda also ruled twice and was bundled out twice. “Not fire, nor walls of iron can hinder fate”, said Pindar, c518- 438 BC. (VAGUARD BOOK OF QUOTATIONS, VBQ, p 57). Buhari’s history as leader of Nigeria started in December 31, 1983 – it continues now. History would record that he thrown out by the same supporters who brought him to power. Will that history be repeated?

At the moment, his legacy is under attack from six angles – the PDP, the Militants, Muslim religious fanatics, the military officers whose “godfathers” are being rubbished, his foes within APC, and surprisingly, his “friends” within APC. For now, this column will focus on his “friends”. Why? Because, “The enemies you should fear are those who smile [at you]”. (Rosenblatt, VBQ, p 48).

Certainly, President Buhari had been getting a lot of sleep in London. It is doubtful, however, if he had time to read any history books – with so many visitors from Nigeria being photographed with him. Yet, his government is on the verge of making history with scant regard for economics and the warning by Karl Marx, 1818-1883, who warned that “Men make history, but not just as they please.” (VBQ, p 93). When the President was away (many of the old school would remember the wisecrack “When the cat is away, the mice would play”), his assistants were launching a barrage of give-away programmes, chiefly, the Free Food programme and the engagement of 500,000 teachers. There was also the launch of yet another N90 billion bail-out for states by the Federal Minister for Finance who acts as if we have a unitary government instead of a Federal Republic.

Let me quickly point out the absurdity inherent in the N90 billion bail-out packages. Given 36 states, the total package comes down to N2.5 billion per state when already most of the states owe their staff over four months salaries, entitlements,  unpaid pensions several times that amount. What then would N2.5 billion solve? It will certainly add another debt burden to those which cannot now be discharged. And, in the end Buhari will be blamed for not minding his own business.

This column started last week analyzing the implications, particularly problems, associated with the Free Meals initiative – cost being one of them. The logistics of getting food to the remotest villages on a daily basis is another; and, it is doubtful that those costs have been included in the estimates. Already, most of the states had disclaimed the programme. Those who launched the Free Meal programme had announced that Abuja would provide sixty (60) per cent of the funds and the states forty (40) per cent. The almost total disclaimer by the states had forced Mr Laolu Akande, the spokesman for the Vice President to back track from that position. So, as far as the states are concerned, Abuja will bear the total cost – including logistics whose estimates are still unknown. All these promises are being made against the background of dwindling revenue and rising food prices. Meanwhile, with the inevitable drought this year, and the national crop failure being expected, food prices will escalate further as we approach year end. Has anybody in that government made appropriate allowances for all these in the approved budget?

The questions are important because if Government fails to deliver on this programme this year and subsequent years, it will be Buhari’s failure – not that of his Advisers. They will walk away, just as Ministers and Advisers walked away in 1985 when he was sent packing. There is more to say on this programme as time goes on; so permit me to stop for now with a warning. As usual, I intend at my own expense to travel to some states listed to benefit from this programme later in the year. Our readers can be rest assured of an honest report.

 MAKING JOKE OF A SERIOUS MATTER.

“A rich man’s jokes are always funny.” Thomas Browne, 1605-1682.

Launching a monumental programme like Free Meals for millions of kids even in China with over 300 million of them should be serious business. And many of the dignitaries, as well as Fellow Nigerians watching expected the event to be treated as such. But, it soon turned into something else.  Two eminently rich men took turns to entertain the audience to rib-cracking jokes. Governors, as every Nigerian knows, are filthy rich. The pun is intended. They were two Governors from the Northwest and Southwest. For some reason, everything funny occurs on the Western part of Nigeria, including the clown who talks rubbish everyday while owing five months salaries. The tragedies blow in from the East – Boko Haram, murderous herdsmen and the scourge of PDP.

Although the Northwest Governor spoke second, but, his was low comedy and justifiably received only mild and polite applause. He should have spoken first. But, he had this to say.

He claimed to feed 1.6 million kids in his state while spending N318 million every week, or N1.272 billion a month. He expected applause and he got it. Trust some busybodies like Yours truly, they quickly did some research discovered that 30%, 40% and 39.8% of the state’s revenue allocation must have gone to feeding the kids alone in that state in November , December 2015 and January 2016. Yet the allocations for those months were higher than what the state collects now. For April 2016, the state must have spent almost 50% of its revenue just feeding kids? Do you think it is “unbelievable”? Yes it is!

So another detective work was needed. We called sources in Zaria who linked us with the head teacher in a Shi’ite primary school to find out if free food was being served. No, said the contact. In fact if food came from the Governor, it would be regarded by them as “haram”. That means poison, if you don’t know. Calls to school teachers in Zonkwa and Pambeguwa yielded the same response. So, where are the 1.6 million kids eating up the NW state’s budget? With friends like this…

Next week, you will read the classical joke, which brought down the roof, by the Southwest Governor who had been feeding kids on money the state doesn’t have. Even Jesus feeding thousands started with five loaves and two fishes. Our “Governor Divine” of the Southwest feeds over two hundred thousands kids without a kobo. Don’t go away….

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