By Banji Ojewale
No society can surely be flourishing and happy, of which the far greater part of the members are poor and miserable — Adam Smith (1723-1790), Scottish economist and philosopher
ABOUT the time First Lady, Aisha Buhari, was again emerging from ‘the other room’ to deliver one of her seasonal tirades against the system run by her husband, the World Bank was also coming at Nigeria with figures suggesting the country would, in a decade, host 25 per cent of the planet’s poor if things remain the way they are at the moment.
Take a look at their declamations; you wouldn’t be wrong to assume Aisha Buhari and officials of the World Bank had attended a masterclass where the lecture was on Nigeria and the tell-tale signs of its failing condition. All they said appears to have been brewed in the same kitchen.
The First Lady says Nigeria is drifting. There’s unrelenting misery all around the land, she laments. At the Nigerian Supreme Council for Islamic Affairs General Assembly and National Executive Council in Abuja the other day, Aisha Buhari said: “We should either fasten our seatbelts and do the needful or we will all regret it very soon because, at the rate things are going, things are getting out of hand. The VP (Yemi Osinbajo) is here, some ministers are here, they are supposed to do justice to the situation.
“People cannot afford potable water in this country while we have governors…for those that are listening we should fear God, and we should know that one day, we will return to God and account for our deeds here on earth.”
She then spoke about the rising insecurity in the country, which she traced to injustice, which is widely interpreted as imbalance in the spread of the common wealth. The nation’s ginormous resources are held in thrall by a few. The majority are distant spectators in the fruit of their own labour.
If the “needful” isn’t done to change the state of affairs, she warned, “political leaders would regret the outcome soon.” She regretted that “the problems have been escalating from one thing to another.” It’s the reason for the refrain: Nigeria is adrift. Her leaders are clueless.
Aisha Buhari and writers of the latest World Bank report on the giant of Africa are kindred spirits. They have arrived at the same dreary conclusions. Being no strange bedfellows, they speak of a country mired in inaction and indifference in the face of grave challenges. The World Bank cautions: “The cost of inaction is significant.
“Under a business-as-usual scenario, Nigeria maintains the current pace of growth and employment levels, by 2030 the number of Nigerians living in poverty could increase by more than 30 million.” That translates into Nigeria harbouring a quarter of the penurious population of the earth.
What’s the World Bank proposing to abort the nightmare? Nigeria’s President Muhammadu Buhari and the other leaders must “act (fast) to revive economic growth and lift employment.”
The institution is urging Buhari to “increase domestic revenue, remove trade restrictions and improve the predictability of economic policy. It also called on the government to remove expensive fuel subsidies and reduce central bank lending to targeted sectors that crowd out banks.”
The organization then charged, as Buhari’s wife did, that Nigeria’s leaders are phlegmatic in the face of weighty summons, frosty when the atmosphere calls for sultry action and dormant or suspended when they need to be sprightly.
By the way, have the duo said anything new? Not at all. To be sure, their utterances lately are not a body of tweaked depositions or comments like we see with our yearly copy-and-paste budgets. Still, there’s nothing they’ve said about the poverty of leadership being the cause of the misery of our people that’s not been said before. Our leaders are a curse on the country because of their unbridled, acquisitive and gargantuan greed.
Long before Aisha Buhari, Nigeria’s celebrated novelist, Chinua Achebe, wrote a book, The Trouble with Nigeria, wherein he said if Nigeria got it right in leadership, we’d get it right in the other areas of our nation. Many mocked Achebe then.
They said his slim book wasn’t voluminous enough to address such a ‘large’ concept as leadership in a big country like Nigeria. But, as Ken Saro-Wiwa, another great writer, would say, “what’s size got to do with it?”
After Achebe, other notable citizens and statesmen have built on the writer’s insights to insist that tied to the question of leadership is restructuring of the country, without which we shall continue to have a flawed process of picking our leaders. It’s this faulty procedure that throws up leaders who lead us into misery, that reproduces more misery from age to age.
We are at a point akin to where the mice got to in one of the stories of the ancient Hellenic fabulist Aesop. The cat had been eating up the little creatures from time to time. The population of the rodents was dwindling and if nothing was done about the cat, the mice might vanish from the surface of the earth.
So one mouse came with a great idea to tame the killer cat. It was proposed that a bell should be placed on the feline creature. Its approach would be noised as the bell would ring rhythmically with the movement of the predator.
There was applause. The end of the preying cat had come. Its end would mark a new dawn for the mice.
But a wise mouse stepped forward to warn the other mice it was not yet uhuru, pleasant as the idea of belling the cat might seem. So, everyone wanted to know where the problem lurked.
The wise cat said it would like to know who would go and pin the cat down to bell it. It was the solution to the genocide threat haunting their race alright. But, pray, who will bell the cat?
It’s been several centuries since Aesop’s cat posed that question, Who will bell the cat? In our era, we have cats to bell too. We’ve been helped by Aisha Buhari to identify them. The next stage, the critical phase, is to tame them. So, the age-old riddle again: Who will bell the cats responsible for our poverty?