Fellow Nigerians, let me say right away that I do not envy President Muhammadu Buhari at this moment. It cannot be easy carrying the burden of nearly 200 million highly boisterous people. It is worse when your predecessors had messed up big time thus almost snuffing life out of a potentially great nation. What a shame!
I’m not trying to find and make excuses for the President. Far from it, but it is pertinent to constantly remind ourselves of how we got to this sad juncture. I seriously doubt if Mr President ever bargained for this monstrosity that has confronted him so early in his long awaited and much trumpeted second coming. The Naira has nose-dived in the most cataclysmic fall ever in the history of our beleaguered country. And the disaster I foresee and predict would be monumental if a miracle does not happen soon. I won’t be surprised if our great leader is experiencing insomnia and wondering what has hit him like a thunderbolt.
When I had the privilege of sitting with our President one on one, I was reasonably persuaded that he has in him the right dose of passion and patriotism necessary to reignite this great country. He also has the guts to take on dangerous tasks. He wouldn’t have been a Major General if he was lily-livered. There is no question in my mind that he has what it takes to lead Nigeria out of the doldrums. But whenever I think of the debilitating challenges he is currently facing what comes to my mind is that the man is running a lonely marathon. I’m not sure he has enough disciples around willing to imbibe his spirit of simplicity and integrity. The reason is very simple. It is not so easy to be a Buhari devotee.
What do I mean? Buhari is a preacher who teaches what is quite difficult for an average Nigerian to follow and obey. I already explained in my column last week why corruption is very attractive in Nigeria. The contradictions within our ruling classes make it almost impossible to be a pontiff in our clime. The society makes silly demands of the public officer. The public officer also has the mind-set of a demi-god. He knows everyone sucks up to him and expects him to be a Santa Claus in office. There are other expectations he must activate and actualise. In summary, he is not expected to retire into poverty and perdition. Now Buhari is saying that is no longer possible. And that Big Brother is watching everyone and everywhere. How realistic this is, we are yet to see.
Corruption is not an easy scourge to exterminate especially when it has become cancerous and malignant. Ours has spread far and wide. What is the President doing? Fighting corruption has become an all-consuming agenda, indeed, perhaps, the only visible agenda that is raking in all attention and headlines. No one knows how much has been recovered, where it is kept and what is being done with the humongous loot. The EFCC is working frenetically on overdrive. I hope they are able to cope with the deluge of cases that keeps unfolding almost on daily basis.
The President also seems to have placed his fate more in the hands of Government technocrats. These civil servants are expected to propel the policy directions of this administration. But is that working as planned and expected? I can’t confidently confirm anything of the sort. I’m almost certain they are already letting down the President. There is no other evidence than the budget conundrum that has left this Federal Government terribl exposed and heavily scandalised. Whoever participated in crafting that horrific document has not done the President any favours. In fact, the budget-drafting team has done incalculable damage to a government that rode to power on the crest of frugality and accountability. Not only is the budget outlandishly profligate it is atrociously hypocritical.
What Nigerians wanted from President Buhari is simple and straight-forward. One, reverse the reckless spending in Abuja and replace it with prudent spending on common-sense capital projects and investments. Two, make corruption unattractive by establishing a workable regime of crime and punishment. Three, tidy up the economy and create a conducive environment for investors and their investments. Four, arrest the perfidious attacks of Boko Haram and make every inch of the Nigerian landscape safer for every citizen or foreigner. Five, upgrade our worthless educational system and create substantial opportunities for our army of unemployed youths. Six, fix our comatose infrastructure and restore aesthetic glory to our environment. Seven, find some veritable alternatives to our over-dependence on a monolithic economy in this season of oil commotion.
Unfortunately, I don’t think some of the disciples are working in tandem with the Commander-in-Chief. Rather, they are skilfully wasting the resources that are so difficult to come by. Worse still, they want Nigeria to mortgage its future by borrowing money to fund their expensive habits. I sincerely beg the President to cancel the rubbish budget and substitute it with one that will reflect the principles and values upon which he was elected. It is better late than never. Nigeria is in bad shape. There is no point pretending to be a wealthy nation when we are miserably poor. We must do what countries like China and India did, invest heavily in education and food production. Education is the greatest leveller and the key that can unlock a prosperous future. Remove hunger out of poverty and you would have killed penury half-way and also energised the people.
I watched in utter amazement as theorists propounded some jejune thesis on how to save the Naira against the US Dollar. They cleverly stood truth on its head by recommending that those sending their children to schools abroad should be ready to pay the full dollar rate. What stupidity? No sensible country plays politics with sound education and good health. Even at a time Nigeria had quality education most of those who later became our elites schooled abroad. They travelled by sea and later by air. Most of them enjoyed government or foreign scholarships. My own Brother left Nigeria as an indigent student in 1965 after his A’levels and returned with a PhD from Stanford University.
Those preaching that Nigerians should remain at home have refused to take care of home. These preachers will still spend public money on sending their own children abroad for studies and vacations. They will go for medical treatment abroad at public expense. Education is a universal phenomenon and no amount spent on it is ever wasted. It is a shame that our politicians and members of the privilegentsia would rather punish Nigerian students abroad instead of cutting their own excesses at home. They would rather we produce half-baked illiterates than offer our youths the opportunity to display their natural wizardry globally. This is the worst decision any government can make and President Buhari should veto the shenanigan of the carpetbaggers who are trying to sell him a rubbish legacy. What will save Nigeria ultimately is a well-educated citizenry and not the beautiful government houses and bullet-proof cars. I can name thousands of our icons who schooled abroad and returned home with bright ideas needed to grow our economy.
The Chinese and Indians litter everywhere on this planet! You find them as IT gurus today because their governments encouraged them to acquire knowledge from the greatest institutions in the world. Only the children of the poor would be affected by our ill-thought decision while the rich can afford anything, anyhow. Education would then become the exclusive preserve of the privileged few and those who wish to join them would have to steal to catch up. We should not push our people into more hardship. Paying fees abroad is more verifiable and virtuous than budgeting billions for over-inflated contracts and flights of fancy.
The President should please avoid enemies from every direction. In case he is not aware, Nigeria s tension-soaked at the moment. The change we promised was to reduce and not to escalate hardship. Nigerians are ever willing to make sacrifices if and when the leaders are seen to be reasonable and sincere. As promised, when I met our great leader after he took office, I will continue to advise this government in order to avoid the pitfalls of the past. There are huge challenges but they are not impossible to tackle. The solution is not the type of jamboree and propaganda that certain people are recommending. We finished campaigning with drums and tambourines last year; it is now time to settle down to serious work. Rebranding Nigeria every time a new government comes is shambolic and myopic. There is nothing to campaign about again after election. A beautiful work will always speak for itself.
On a final note this week, the President should fast-forward the war against corruption by recovering as much loot as possible very urgently. We should decrease the raucous and riotous drama surrounding the corruption crusade by revving up the substance of the war and establishing our goals and destination. When tomorrow comes, no one would ask how many people were jailed but everyone would always remember the hunger that ravaged the land in the time of Lagbaja.
It is the bitter truth.
A TOAST TO FLORENCE ITA-GIWA AT 70
The name Florence Ita-Giwa flashed across my consciousness over 30 years ago. The news of her whirlwind romance with the famous journalist Dele Giwa and their short-lived marriage had spread like bushfire in harmattan. Of course, the assassination of Dele Giwa on October 19, 1986, would amplify Florence Ita-Giwa’s name. The melodrama of Florence and Dele’s wedding would later be captured by Dele Olojede and Onukaba Adinoyi-Ojo’s biography on the life and times of Dele Giwa, titled BORN TO RUN.
The description of this gorgeous lady and Calabar Princess read like fairy-tale and I looked forward to meeting her someday. I landed in Lagos in 1988 after completing my Master’s in Literature in English at Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife and instantly took appointment at the African Concord magazine. Months later, in February 1989, I was transferred to a new publication, Weekend Concord, and there my rendezvous with Nigerian celebrities and newsmakers began. From Weekend Concord, I resigned and joined Classique magazine, owned by May Ellen Ezekiel Mofe-Damijo, now of blessed memory, as Editor.
It was while at Classique that I got to know very well some of the movers and shakers of Nigeria. Florence Ita-Giwa had already established herself as a veritable member of that class. She had a powerful aura and exuded panache. There was no way anyone could have missed a lady who mesmerised Nigeria with her beauty and brains. We met and we became friends forever. She never stopped extolling my writing skills. Unknown to her her, I had been greatly influenced by Dele Giwa who incidentally was born at number 2 Atiba Square, Ile-Ife, where I later grew up, though we never met. Aunty Florence and I were party animals by virtue of our socialite status and we met at too many functions in Lagos and London. She and her circle of friends also stopped by at my Accra home for dinner and we danced late into the night. Aunty Florence is always such a jolly good woman.
I was particularly fascinated by her political adventures and charitable spirit. She served her people of Bakassi , a peninsula between Nigeria and Cameroon, loyally. She fought hard for them to remain within the geographical boundary of Nigeria. This coupled with her adoption and sponsorship of children from that area was how she acquired the moniker of Mama Bakassi. She became a Senator of the Federal Republic of Nigeria and later Special Adviser to President Olusegun Obasanjo on National Assembly Matters. She handled every assignment with total dedication and competence.
Born on February 19, 1946, Senator Florence Ita-Giwa turns 70 in the next few days. I’m proud andprivilegedto raise a toast to this ageless beauty ahead of her celebrations which starts with a reception this evening by the Fashion Designers Association of Nigeria (FADAN, of which I’m a patron) and a seminar to be hosted by the African Women in Leadership Organisation next Monday in Lagos.
Here’s a toast to good health and more prosperity…