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June 16, 2024

Tinubu second year started crawling, by Dele Sobowale

At home in Vanguard since 1987

Silence is not an option when things are ill-done” – Lord Denning, 1899-1999, VANGUARD BOOK OF QUOTATIONS,VBQ, p 247

DENNING, British jurist, could be forgiven for wanting those accused of questionable performance to open up and talk. But, politicians never want to talk when things are going bad. For them, silence is always golden when you have very little good to report. Nigerians waiting eagerly for President Tinubu to give account of his stewardship in the first year were disappointed when no formal address was delivered. I was only partly surprised and partly amused. As one cartoon character in the US in the late 1960s said, “There is no problem so big you cannot run away from it.”

Tinubu had a big problem concerning May 29, 2024 – what could he possibly say to Nigerians to improve on his image? So, he ran away from the traditional annual self- assessment made by leaders on the anniversaries of their tenures. It was a cardinal error of judgment. Leaders everywhere and under the best and worst of circumstances need to constantly keep in touch with the governed. Sir Winston Churchill, 1874-1965, British Prime Minister, made some of his most memorable speeches to Britons when England was virtually on its knees.

For instance, “Victory at all costs, victory in spite of all terror, victory, however long and hard the road may be, for without victory there is no survival” (speech in the House of Commons, May 13, 1940). That address was made on a day when German aircraft dominated English skies and some chicken- hearted people clamoured for surrender. Their leader, who was stone-hearted, understood the consequences of surrender. It is not only during declared wars that Presidents or Prime Ministers are called upon to demonstrate the sort of mind-set which results in ultimate victory for their nations.

Japan, Singapore, South Korea and China did not become global economic powers through victories in wars – but through social changes brought about by certain leaders which forced the people to alter their ideas about what it means to be a citizen of that country. That sort of necessary transformation cannot be brought about by leaders who dodge their essential functions during difficult times – hoping to emerge when there is good news to be announced.

Tinubu should have addressed us on May 29. Churchill told the English people that in a few days the nation’s neck would be “wrung like a chicken”; but defiantly, he ended by saying “we shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight….we shall not surrender.” But, that was after laying out what needed to be done by each citizen in precise terms. And, he was on radio every week talking to them.

NIGERIA’S SEVERAL WARS

“War is hell” – General Sherman, 1820-1891, US Army, VBQ p 268.

Tinubu might not realise it, but, Nigeria is fighting several wars at once; and we are all living in various hells of our own. I was in a train, years ago, with a Swedish Prime Minister accompanied by one security officer. I was stopped at a traffic light on Commonwealth Avenue, in Boston, USA and in the car on the next lane was the State Governor – sitting patiently, waiting for the green light. By comparison, the President and Governors of Nigeria are all captives of their escorts and security guards. What Nigeria spends on official convoys can fund all the universities adequately. Our mind-set prioritises vainglory over good governance – until we leave office and become human again. Then, all the things we should have done, but failed to do, stare us in the face. Let me start with two matters which could have been handled differently on May 29, 2024.

MINIMUM WAGE, MW, PALAVER

Few leaders realise how close they are to turning around a bad situation before making the wrong turn. Despite the sense that the FG is not in control of the events shaping our lives, the MW controversy was a divine opportunity for Tinubu to score two victories on May 29, 2024 with a well-crafted address to the nation. Unknown to him and his advisers, we were conducting interviews with Nigerians in all segments – irrespective of ethnic group, party affiliation, social class, gender or age. Almost ninety per cent were of the opinion that Labour was totally unrealistic in its demand for N615,000.

The most vehement opposition to Labour consisted of the owners of Small and Medium Scale Enterprises, SMEs, who were the largest employers of workers and who were mortally afraid of the collateral damage that would do to their businesses if the demand is granted. Without realising it, a broad consensus was building around a figure less than N70,000 per month. An address on May 29, focussing primarily on MW, stressing that Labour, representing only about two per cent of workers, was not speaking for the silent majority – a term first used effectively by US President Richard Nixon, 1913- 1994, would have rallied Nigerians behind him.. Nixon took advantage of his opponents slip in 1968 to position himself as the spokesperson for a mythical silent majority and went on to win the next election.

Tinubu’s offer of N48,000, later increased to N54,000 was more responsible and far more realistic than Labour’s N615,000. In fact, Tinubu should have ordered the Budget Office to work out what payment of N615,000 MW would entail to illustrate to Nigerians and the world how absolutely ridiculous the proposal is. Thereafter, he would have occupied the driver’s seat without opposition; and he would have got a ridiculed Labour off his back for at least two years. As it is, he has almost missed the boat. He still has a small chance to regain the leadership.

Governors have insisted that even N60,000 is unacceptable.. I have not read any article by any professional economist supporting N615,000 or even N100,000. This is the first clear opportunity for Tinubu to win a battle decisively. For once he has the majority behind him. The obvious question is, how can he build on this good fortune? Paradoxically, it is by confronting headlong in a novel way, a major problem that will simply not go away any time soon.

VASTLY MORE DOMESTIC FOOD PRODUCTION

“It’s a moral imperative; it’s an economic imperative and it’s a security imperative” – US

President Barack Obama on food security

Irrespective of what else we do or don’t do, unchecked spike in headline food inflation will continue to plunge millions more of our people into poverty – because an increasing percentage of their income is allocated to food consumption, leaving a declining percentage for everything else. Events on the farm and mostly beyond the control of farmers have led to a situation in which per capita food production in Nigeria is now dropping every year. Top among them is pervasive insecurity which is creating a food scarcity spiral. Hoodlums invade a community, kill, kidnap and maim a number of farmers.

Others, lucky to be alive scatter to safer, usually more urban settlements, and they seldom return to farm. Climate change, floods, drought, desertification, erosion and rising water level on coastal areas is another factor ravaging and reducing cultivation everywhere nationwide. All these are admittedly not totally controllable by governments. But, they still need to be addressed. There are, however, some issues which are mostly within our collective abilities to confront and improve upon. The FG and Governors still rely on the traditional approach to increase food production and eventually achieve food security. We often see pictures of Governors launching tractors and promising great results.

Tractors, if well-maintained and operated, can last up to 30 years on the farm. Where then are all the tractors launched since 1999? Furthermore, a tractor is just a mechanical mule. By itself, it can do nothing. It needs other farm instruments – disc harrowers, tillers, back hoe, plough, planters etc – attached to it, plus litres of diesel on which to run. Meanwhile over 30 million Indians, without tractors and attachments, are harvesting more tomatoes, vegetables and cucumbers from backyard farms than the whole of Nigeria produces annually.

Nigeria should start thinking out of the box into which we have placed ourselves regarding food production. We can grow food in cities and towns. All we need for a pilot project are no more than 100,000 Food Warriors to help Nigeria break the cycle of failure. Tinubu should have faced the issue of food production squarely and lead us to food sufficiency – with confidence.

STOPPRESS!!!

MW is now chaotic. Governors have rejected FG’s offer – which should have been announced by Tinubu after consultations with them. And now,

“FARMERS PREDICT WORSENINGFOODCRISIS, BLAME FUEL SUBSIDY REMOVAL, INSECURITY” – Report, June 8, 2024.

This article was just being concluded when these reports hit the newsstands – just to confirm what VANGUARD predicted as early as December 30, 2023. In the article I got published that day, titled ‘Nigeria 2024: Sliding Further Into Chaos’, the following predictions were made among others.

” Inflation certainly above 30%

” Scarcity of everything: cash scarcity, forex scarcity, food scarcity…Food scarcity deserves special mention. Hoodlums have a strangle- hold on Nigeria’s food baskets: Kaduna, Katsina, Sokoto,Zamfara, Benue, Borno, Niger and Plateau….meanwhile population will increase by 6 million.

Palliatives, hastily conceived and implemented, have worsened the situation. They depleted reserves held by food merchants for the rainy season. Again, we warned all of them when they led the mass hysteria about food hoarding.

To be continued…