By Sunny Awhefeada
When the felicitous presidential spokesman, Femi Adesina, gave hint of a New Year presidential broadcast billed for Monday 1 January, majority of Nigerians hissed and heaved in utter despondency. Even the robustly complacent claque in the nation’s corridors of power must have yawned and looked at one another in pampered aloofness knowing that the presidential broadcast would cut no ice. A few days earlier, presidential sidekicks had aired an absurd documentary unimaginatively woven around what they called the human side of President Muhammadu Buhari. The video ran on major television channels to the indignation of Nigerians. The promoters of the documentary must have set out to pull a public relations stunt for a regime whose popularity has plummeted.
Rather than impress Nigerians, the documentary became the butt of satire in the media. The hoi polloi are hungry and mired in poverty, yet their President could only offer his now familiar indignant cold stare which has never solved any of the nation’s problems. The presidential honkers who produced the documentary are not unaware of the disenchantment bestriding the nation. They are not unaware of the perception of the regime by majority of Nigerians as being responsible for their socio-economic woes. Deeply etched in the consciousness of Nigerians is the question of the humaneness of the man they elected as their President. This perception and the desire to correct it was what elicited the ill-fated documentary.
The New Year presidential broadcast did not fit the bill. The humdrum of a broadcast was probably not meant for Nigeria and Nigerians transiting from a tortuous 2017 to an uncertain 2018 as it neither reflected the depth of disillusionment in the land nor envisioned reprieve and hope in the New Year. Tormented as the nation and the people have been since 2016, a nationwide broadcast of this nature ought to be inspiring. It should have been the elixir for a new consciousness, a harbinger of hope and the antidote to the widespread disillusionment. But the speech was none of these. It inspired nobody and it did not soothe the nation’s frazzled psyche. Rather, it read in part as an addendum to the 2018 budget and a supercilious contention against Nigerians.
The speech privileged and emphasized the word “change” and it seems we will never get beyond the mere change rhetoric with this regime. The more the President and his handlers talk about change the more things remain unchanged. His opening lamentation regarding the fuel palaver is a case in point. The President is the Minister of Petroleum. There is a Minister of State for Petroleum and then the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation, NNPC and the Department of Petroleum Resources, DPR. Yet the President turned around in his speech to blame saboteurs created by the perpetual indiscipline and abhorrence of due process for which the nation’s ruling elite, to which the President belongs, is famous.
He threatened sanctions against the saboteurs, assuring that such would not be allowed to happen again. But there was in circulation a newspaper cutting of 1977 depicting the same fuel crisis when Buhari was Petroleum Minister 40 years ago! So it is a recurring decimal that hunts the nation as a result of the failure of government to redress the problem. The President bemoaned the hardship induced by the fuel crisis during the yuletide. He conveniently forgot that the hardship afflicting the nation has been implacable since 2016 under his stare! It didn’t start in December 2017. When the present regime could not stem the recession, the Nigerian people were plunged into their worst economic hardship ever. Government has gone to town with the song that the nation was out of recession, but this is not true.
The reality for the common man is that economic hardship is still biting hard. The misery index is still disturbingly high and there seems to be no reprieve. Many of the issues mentioned in the speech are the same jejune items Buhari has been telling Nigerians for years now. Infrastructure: roads, rail and power. Nigeria has become a nation without roads. The rails, as few are as they are, experience hiccups by the second, while the power sector has consistently sold Nigerians darkness. The agriculture sector Buhari tried to crow about is in shambles as the nation still import tones and tones of food. Insecurity remains a dreaded menace. From Boko Haram insurgents to kidnappers, armed robbers, arsonists and brigands, insecurity roams the nation.
Restructuring also popped up in the speech. The President upbraided Nigerians for being “very impatient” and dismissed the call for restructuring. He insisted that process and not structure was the problem. That was vintage Buhari, the unchanging change President who would not for once consider another opinion. Nigerians should brace up, work harder in 2018 and seek ways of improving their lives beyond government’s hollow broadcasts. The present tuke tuke economic arrangement cannot take Nigerians anywhere. As I write I am depending on power from a generator running on fuel I bought at N250 per litre! What a New Year! Welcome to 2018!