By Tonnie Iredia
For the first time in many years, Nigeria has in the last few days operated like most countries of the world where day to day happenings are premised mainly on what government is doing. Earlier, the only thing that was happening in Nigeria was politics, politics, and politics, without governance. As at two days ago, in the peak of the coronavirus epidemic, Zamfara politicians were still craving for the supreme court to change their state government while Bauchi Speaker was facing removal threats. Our politicians have thus successfully reversed the order of things making it appear as if the essence of government is politics rather than the other way out. The result has been stunted development. Not many remember any more that the government of the day is supposed to be for all citizens; instead government is now seen as belonging to the ruling political party as if a nation is made up of only partisan politicians.
Today’s Nigerian government was installed in May 2019, approximately one year ago. Since then, not much has happened that can improve the living standards of the people. Those in government have been too busy pandering to the excessive demands of their party members, friends and relations with little or no time for the main purpose of government which section 14 of our constitution describes as the welfare and security of the citizenry. Others like Governor Obaseki of Edo state who have tried to change the trend are under fire from their political parties. The fact that such distractions come from within clearly suggests that the issue at stake is about sharing state resources among party members notwithstanding the pretensions by the most vocal critics that their anger is not fueled by materialism. The truth is that they are not even prepared for what is called spoils of office, that is based on constructive patronage. All they want is “cut for me, cut for me.” There was, indeed, the story of a party leader who rather than commend government for tarring the road where his house is located, aggressively asked, “is that what I will eat?”
With coronavirus, vociferous party leaders who want to eat up state resources have gone into hiding. Now that we need to improve our health facilities for COVID 19, we are also no longer hearing from those in political positions who have cornered state resources through all forms of allowances. All we are hearing now is coming from two sources, government and public-spirited private sector operatives. We hear President Buhari has ensured the release of N15 billion made up of N10billion to the Lagos state government and N5billion to the nation’s disease control agency. These grants are self-explicit. The federal and state governments have in addition done some work such as building emergency isolation centres and equipping their hospitals with test machines and other relevant facilities. Lagos state in particular has reportedly set up a Food Bank in all Local government areas. A report says those in need of food support will get some provided they wear face masks and gloves. Honeywell Flour Mills is supporting this with customized food packs.
Bearing in mind that government is obliged to work for the people, it appears better to commend the private sector for their initiatives so far. The Dangote Foundation for example is coordinating a coalition of private sector organizations to support government’s efforts in addition to its earlier pledge of N200million. Already, Sterling bank has put down N250million while United Bank for Africa UBA gave N5billion to “catalyse a comprehensive Pan-African response to the fight in Nigeria and 19 other African countries.” On his part, the founder of BUA group, Abdul-Samad Rabiu has donated N1billion in cash plus equipment and medical supplies including testing kits and medical protective gears to 9 states. First Bank has offered to finance the roll-out of e-learning solution accredited by government for students that would immediately enable one million children move to e-learning. 30millionUS$ is coming from NNPC’s coordinated 32 indigenous oil and gas operators.
Our expectations that our religious organizations would be among the leading voices does not appear to have been met. There is however a report that renown church leader Pastor Enoch Adeboye has donated intensive care unit beds with ventilators to assist Lagos, Ogun and Plateau states to combat the coronavirus pandemic. For many reasons, Nigeria, deserves more donations from our churches. To start with, many of our church leaders who preach help to the needy are rated among the richest people on earth. In addition, sharp increases in church collections which have converted the Kingdom of God’s industry in the country to a booming business justify our expectations. Apart from schools, universities and other businesses, many religious groups own hospitals which they can at this point properly equip and make available to all.
Interestingly, our politicians have been too quiet; it is like they no longer love publicity, as we are yet to hear from the rather loud leaders of our political parties either on behalf of themselves or their political parties. Our conclusion that our politicians are no longer forthcoming is not too hasty because, they are the ones who have always been in the public glare. Is it not strange that they are now allowing industrialists and private sector operatives take a lead in national matters? They are the ones who always claim to want to offer service; it is in fact, hard to forget the multitudes of politicians who at election times often provided bags of rice, beans, salt etc. to the people as a sign of affection. Where are they now? Politicians whose donations have been made public like Atiku Abubakar at federal level and Chris Ogiemwonyi in Edo are too few. Where are those who held offices before and who collected severance allowances that are equivalent to ten years’ salaries of the highest paid civil servants? Where are those for whom we built houses in two cities of their choice for serving their states for only 8 years?
Former President Goodluck Jonathan has sent words of hope to the nation; but we need more from him and all other former and present leaders. We agree with Oyo politician, Kehinde Olaosebikan that government should organize a fund for the benefit of the poor and needy. The other day, Senate President Ahmed Lawan said “we can’t lock people up in their houses with a threat of disease without food.” He should kindly lead the way and appeal to his always well-dressed colleagues to give up at least their wardrobe allowances for now. We won’t be drawn into the puerile controversy between our legislators and the media as to whether or not the National Assembly has taken delivery of the Toyota Camry 2020 model cars which they acquired for themselves as official cars. What cannot be disputed is that our legislators are unduly pampered. Therefore, it is in order for Nigerians to see these days of affliction as payback time from our politicians. Will help come?