May is here again. We are on the march again to May 29, 2021. As I observed here on May 27, 2018, ‘we are here again to read from the version of the Book of Lamentation’ Jeremiah, the prophet left on the Bank of River Niger. Yes, we will lament again on May 29 over six years of the Buhari administration and 22 uninterrupted years of democracy in the federal republic the Nigerian army’s political wing gave us in 1999.
And even the morning after the May 29, 2021, we will continue to retell so many tales as always ‘told by idiots, full of sound and fury signifying nothing.’ So, on May 29, 2021, we will blame members of the ‘1966 class’ who then invaded the democracy chambers, stole the mace, the people’s authority and the weapon of competitive spirit called federalism and replaced them with the ‘Federal Republic of The Nigerian Army’ as once revealed by General M.C. Ali. Besides, on Nigeria’s organic Democracy Day, May 29, there will be a public holiday to enable us celebrate what I once called here ‘ordinariness, mediocrity and small dreams’ that drive our politics. Just as some of the ruling party’s hypocrites and orators will on that day tell us to join in celebrating the lanky Sheriff in Town whose body language alone has produced so many rice farmers and 5,000 megawatts of electricity in just six years.
Lest we forget, we will be told to thank God for giving us a man of incredible integrity whose strong hands alone once ‘technically defeated’ Boko Haram and artfully conquered corruption – before their resurgence, no thanks to unending wars in Libya among other flash points. What is more, soon and very soon, even the main opposition leading lights will engage in a great deal of ‘intellectual masturbation’ and appeal for forgiveness without restitution and repentance. They, the colourless opposition figures will sing to us that we told you in 2015 that the man who arbitrarily cancelled the Lagos Metro line project and education subsidy in 1984 would compound the problems they had created for 16 years then. They (the born again orators) will add that we should (in 2023) join forces with them and the third force to defeat the remarkably parochial leader who has serially violated the constitution and put only his kinsmen in power.
Doubtless, we will hear on May 29 that so much money has been recovered even without details. They will add here that after all, their anti-graft czar the strong man, the Asiwaju of Western Nigeria recommended to them was the one who could not account for the details of the gargantuan loot and that was why they couldn’t get him confirmed as chairman of EFCC for six years. We will be told at the end of this month that never in the history of mankind has so much money been recovered from looters created by the main opposition party. But we will not be told that this public enemy called corruption has also grown so luxuriantly in their regime too like yam tendrils in the rainy season.
Before May 29 celebration, there will be another version of oratory and sophistry on how exported banditry has scuttled democracy and development and indeed the ‘Nigerian Dream’. Some ever-ready hatchet men in the media will help the powers that be to tell us how terrible the Obasanjos, the Danjumas, the Babangidas, the Abdusalamis and their opposition allies have been. They will tell us that these greedy powers are fighting only for their oil fields and power stations’ licences being threatened and could be revoked by the only man who can fight corrupt Generals and oil thieves in town.
In the same vein, many of Nigeria’s national economic council powers who tag themselves ‘executive governors’ will blow their trumpets too at the end of this May that they will pay salaries regularly now that over-bloated subsidy, which is courting threat of zero allocation will be removed. And we will clap for them. Just as many risk analysts too will be recruited to continue to still blame debt burdens as the reasons they have been unable to pay salaries and pensions regularly.
Part of our institutional weaknesses in the news media these days has been failure and lack of capacity to cover the federation: we cover and cover up mostly the Federal Government. Most of the governors as was hinted at (here) before May 29, 2018 had been over-decorated as “governors of the year” in various capacities. That is how we have been celebrating mediocrity and even failure of governance and leadership in the mainstream media. Instead of telling truth to powers that we elected to govern and account to us, we curiously blame their perverted cabals and incompetent aides. That strange escapism is part of “the challenge of independent journalism” we are facing as a nation. It will be a big surprise if we do not find a great deal of alibi in the special editions of Democracy Day on Tuesday. At the public presentation of a book titled, “Watchdog Or Captured Media: A study of the role of the media in Nigeria’s emergent democracy 1999-2016” before May 29, 2018 at the University of Lagos, Mass Communication Department, an analyst hinted at ethical challenges induced by consistent failure of some proprietors to pay salaries of media workers as and when due. It may be possible to discern “special reports” and wonderful analyses done for some politically exposed people by unpaid workers on May 29, 2021. What is the colour of independence of the media without sustainable financial independence where the private sector is the driver of economic growth? Who can pontificate on independent journalism in a nation that is not entrepreneurial enough to support good journalism?
So, as most of the efforts at performance evaluation may be directed at Abuja on May 29 this year, it is relevant to beam some light too on the 36 state governors and government of the nation’s capital, Abuja – the 37th state. Only very few of them including Ekiti, Anambra, Osun, Ondo, Edo are products of staggered elections. And so, since 2015, how many state governments have recorded outstanding achievements that the nation can use as reference points? How many of the governors and their local government chairmen can be decorated on May 29 as poster boys of democracy, after all? There are some challenges the nation has been facing, especially in the area of critical infrastructure anywhere we go. The health sector is a big source of reproach: we don’t have good hospitals anywhere. Our leaders at all levels look up to the hills abroad ‘whence cometh their medical help’.
What is worse, education quality has become a huge embarrassment as schools churn out only certificate holders without employable skills. Education is supposed to address the challenges in this disruptive digital age. Graduates in this age are made to solve problems of these times. But ours cannot at the moment. So, education, healthcare and road transportation infrastructure remain topmost in the hierarchy of our needs.
The other day, a senior colleague told one of our state commissioners in a chance meet in Lagos that the fact that an Apapa Local Government Council, the rich Lagos State Government and the almighty Federal Government have not been able to close ranks to find solution to the peculiar mess at the Apapa Ports is a failure of all the governments. Is that message not well transmitted?
As I have been saying here, where are the significant constituency projects Nigeria’s legislators at federal and state levels can be proud of since 1999? Lagos-Ibadan Expressway and Shagamu-Ore Expressway Hall of Shame, for instance, should be erected as an albatross on the necks of all legislators from Southwest, Southeast and Southsouth who have failed to represent us. How many times have our representatives in Abuja and 36 state capitals fought over the bad roads as economic routes they always fly over? There is another relevant question on the 22 years that locusts have eaten. It is indisputable that our president has failed us in the area of healthcare.
That is why he and members of his family are being treated in United Kingdom, Germany and UAE. But then this inescapable question: why is it that there is no state in our 36-state structure that has invested robustly in even one teaching hospital in any of the state universities as a reference point since 1999? Why is it that even the Western Nigeria, the Yoruba nation cannot showcase education quality and even quantity again as their identification card? Yes, there is no doubt that the Federal Government has continually failed the nation in terms of critical thinking about education quality in the country. The Federal Government has been a failure that keeps failing in education and health. The emergency on education the presidency promised by the end of April, 2018, has become a mirage, after all. But how long will we continue to tolerate photographs of our leaders who attend graduation of their wards abroad? In 2018, the president of the senate, and a number of governors showcased the reproach their country has become when they got such sumptuous photographs of their wards’ (first degree) graduation abroad published so prominently.
I have dwelt so much on education on this sixth anniversary note because there is no doubt that unless our leaders swallow their pride and vanity and invest in education quality, we will continue to celebrate excuses and continue to read from Walter Rodney’s lamentation book, “How the West underdeveloped Africa” every year.
It’s, therefore, a time to speak some inconvenient truth to all the powers in this our turbulent Federation. Which is to tell them that it is not glorious to be planning for how to win elections all the time without any actionable blueprint on what to do with the mandate. Their current mandate is in crisis and they are planning for 2023. It is not acceptable for any leaders in Nigeria to be celebrating excuses when the people talk about their mental laziness, ordinariness and small dreams. Our leaders at all levels should seek knowledge about dynamic capabilities, efficiency and the discipline of getting things done – instead of fighting critics. And that should begin with the quality of presidential and gubernatorial bureaucracies. This is one area where our leaders don’t listen to those who want them to succeed. They dismiss such suggestions on human resource management as strategy for applying for jobs. They need to listen to suggestions and criticisms from the people who (s)elected them. Listening is the beginning of understanding of the complexity of the current crisis and national question.
*Let’s continue with this debate on six years of excuses and 22 years of locusts next week.
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