By Muyiwa Adetiba
I found myself mediating between two close friends not too long ago.
They were college classmates who became very successful professionals. It turned out one needed money to complete a project. He approached the other who readily obliged. As is so often between contemporaries and friends, the terms of repayment were vague. The lender believed a period of six months was mentioned.
The borrower believed it to be at the successful take-off of the project which was to be between six to twelve months. But what irked the lender more was the lifestyle of the borrower who had travelled abroad twice in premium class during this period. The lender believed his friend should be able to pay part of the money if he could afford to still travel around the world in style. At the end of the day, mediation worked, maturity worked, money was paid and friendship hopefully, was restored. Among the lessons for me is that your lifestyle – austere or flamboyant – remains private to you until you go borrowing. After which it could become contentious.
This is a lesson Nigerian leaders are yet to learn. When we had petro-dollars, it really didn’t matter to others how we frittered them away. It didn’t matter that our leaders went for medical treatments abroad, sent their children abroad for their education and bought expensive houses in choice places while critical infrastructures were neglected at home. It was our money and we could choose to be foolish with it.
But this irresponsible lifestyle would all come into contention once we approach creditors for bail-out funds. It does not help that our officials would arrive at the negotiating venue in limousines while the lending officials use public transport. It doesn’t help that the hands holding the begging bowls would be ringed by expensive jewels and the wrists banded by expensive watches.
It would not escape the notice of the officials that we would have chosen the most expensive hotels in the neighbourhood to lay our heads. It doesn’t embarrass us in the least that our Head of State has executive jets at his disposal while theirs doesn’t. Or that their leaders have a more austere lifestyle. What we present to our creditors is our fiscal irresponsibility. It is a weakness not a strength. What we show to them are not assets. They are liabilities – economic and moral liabilities.
The display of these economic and moral liabilities is not limited to our foreign creditors alone. This display is even more ‘in your face’ at home. At the national level, every contractor, every pensioner, every worker who is being owed by government is a creditor. To stretch it further, every youth who is denied education, medical care and livelihood is a creditor because the State owes them these things.
They are meant to be paid on demand. The flamboyant lifestyle of these ‘debtor’ leaders doesn’t help. This also goes to the Governors who strut and prance around believing they own their states. You owe the States not own them. Your profligate and irresponsible lifestyle can only irk your creditors who are the common citizens in your State. You are elected to provide for them and not the other way round. And when they are tired of your antics, they will demand what they are owed. Those demands are often violent.
This in a way could be seen as what happened in the last week of October when youths looted and plundered parts of the Nation State. Those youths who have been left on the shelf, who have been denied their space under the Nigerian sun, seized the moment of a peaceful protest to make their demand. While one does not condole lawlessness in any form, we should see it as a wake-up call.
It is arguable that the ferocity of the carnage could have been reduced if they had been better educated, housed and given means of livelihood; if they had been made to have a stake in statehood. It is telling that State after State, these youths made for the warehouses where palliatives were stored – theirs were probably the hands that stored them in the first place. Meanwhile, the Northern Governors’ Forum concluded from their short meeting after the upheaval, that the unrest and the looting were ploys to remove the sitting President.
The underlying discontent was glossed over even when the signs are all over the North. Does the Forum also see the lootings, the kidnaps and the killings in the North as attempts to topple the President? The conclusion is another proof that the Northern Governors are not ready to confront the real issues underpinning the unrests in the north and by extension, the rest of the country. They are not ready to accept that their leadership model has failed; that there is hunger in the land. Or that the safest antidote against being toppled is good governance.
It is unfortunate that many of those whose shops and commercial properties were looted and damaged had no connection with government. Some were even silent sympathisers and supporters to the #Endsars cause. The lesson is that when rain falls, it doesn’t select whose head to fall on. So it behoves us all to put shelters in place. Unknown to us, our lifestyles of lavish funerals, weddings and birthdays add to the simmering social unrest.
Many of those who park us at the venues; many of those who watch the choice food and exotic drinks that go into the halls, many of those who carry our bags laden with goodies after the events do not know where their next meals would come from. Our wasteful displays only rub festering wounds.
So every youth we leave on the street unattended to and every mouth that sleeps hungry add one more firewood to a cauldron of social unrest. On the other hand, every child we take off the street; every youth we teach a skill and provide a means of livelihood to are but one more step towards a safer community. We cannot continue to sleep soundly when an increasing number of Nigerians can’t get a place to lay their heads. These things are connected.
Our political leaders must realise they owe these youths. Very few of them would choose the life they have chosen if they had a choice. ‘If you were hungry, what would you do?’ asks singer Isaac Hayes in his timeless piece ‘Soulville’. The wealth our politicians flaunt – which is our commonwealth really – in the midst of growing poverty does them no credit. It is not an asset to them. Instead, it is a liability for which posterity would judge them.