Fuji musician, King Wasiu Ayinde Marshall, aka KWAM 1, has been the official ‘palace entertainer’ for almost a decade. Evidently through the instrumentality of then All Progressives Congress (APC) National Leader, Bola Ahmed Tinubu, his ‘Nigeria, Sai Baba, Sai Buhari’ song that preceded the 2015 general election was a campaign anthem that also elicited an uncommon dance step from the man who would go on to defeat an incumbent president. Early in 2021, when it became obvious that APC bigwigs were plotting to edge Tinubu out of the race for the party’s presidential ticket, it was KWAM 1 who released a song of defiance, ‘On your mandate we shall stand, Bola…’ which has turned out to be prophetic. So, when the avid supporter begins to sound like a ‘wailing wailer’, there is fire on the mountain.
In a video posted on his Instagram page titled ‘A Special Message to Mr President,’ last weekend, KWAM 1 lamented the suffering Nigerians have had to endure since Tinubu assumed office. “Akanbi (Tinubu), my boss, please don’t turn a deaf ear to people’s outcry,” KWAM 1 sang in a mournful tone that speaks to the economic and security challenges in the country today. “Nigerians are angry. The Naira is becoming worthless. People are weeping and without electricity. How did we get to the point where Nigerians are now being kidnapped every day?”
The two sectors most critical to the survival of any nation (and their people) are economy and security. Nigeria is currently challenged on both. The security situation is so bad that kidnappers now enter palaces to kill traditional rulers and take away their wives while innocent school children have become game for these dare-devil criminals who operate across the country, including on street corners and major highways. The situation is worse on the economic front. Prices of even basic foodstuffs are now beyond the reach of most Nigerians. And things can only get worse, given rising inflationary pressure. Last November, the exchange rate for cargo clearance by the Nigeria Customs Service (NSC) was raised from N757/$ to N783/$, representing a 3.4 per cent increase. By December, it was raised from N783/$ to N952/$. That was a 22 percent increase within a period of just 30 days. By last weekend, the rate had been further jacked up from N952/$ to N1356/$! That represents a 43 percent increment within another month!
In his column, ‘Urgent Need to Halt Soaring Food Prices’ last Sunday, Waziri Adio painted a dreary picture of the current situation. He urged action lest we have a crisis on our hands. “In a country where 26.5 million people are officially classified as food insecure, where citizens spend 59% of their incomes on food and where 104 million people are classified as income poor, nothing can be more existential and more dangerous than sky-high food prices,” Waziri wrote. “The negative impacts on social stability, economic growth, human development and national security are simply too grave for the government not to swing into crisis mode.” And just yesterday, the gravity of our situation was brought home by the Permanent Secretary, Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Food Security, Temitope Fadeshemi. “The level of poverty in Nigeria is alarming. An estimated population of 88.4 million people in Nigeria is living in extreme poverty,” he said in Kaduna. “Overall, 12.9 per cent of the global population in extreme poverty was found in Nigeria as of 2022.”
Yes, it is difficult to fault the explanation of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) Governor, Olayemi Cardoso on the forex situation. Especially given the abuse to which a regime of multiple exchange rates had been subjected by the last administration. Nor can we argue against the removal of subsidy in the downstream sector of the petroleum industry that has further pauperised Nigerians. But the cavalier way these decisions were taken without considering the consequences is what has led us to where we are now. The dire situation in the power sector was on Monday aptly captured, ironically by Tinubu’s own newspaper, The Nation: “Zero Megawatt to Discos cripples homes, businesses.” To worsen matters, public officials continue to live in opulence and recklessly spend scarce resources, including to purchase exotic vehicles for themselves at outrageous prices.
Following his return from a ‘private’ visit to France on Monday, the president would have seen media highlights and must have listened to the full rendition of KWAM 1’s ‘special message’. Considering that the president also started badly in Lagos before he turned things around, I want to share the optimism with which KWAM 1 ended his dirge. That is why I am recommending that the president again watch Saworoide, the 1999 Mainframe (Tunde Kelani) movie that was sponsored by the Tinubu Inauguration Committee for his swearing-in as Lagos State Governor 25 years ago.
The movie was weaved around Saworoide, a brass bell talking drum. Written by the late Professor Akinwunmi Isola, a world acclaimed authority on Yoruba tradition and culture, Saworoide is the story of a fictional community called Jogbo which, like Nigeria, has enough to meet the needs of people in terms of resources but not enough to satisfy the greed of a few powerful individuals. Principal actors include the late Isola himself, Adebayo Faleti (also now of blessed memory), Kola Oyewo, Bukky Wright, Lere Paimo, Kunle Bantefa, Kunle Afolayan, Peter Fatomilola, Ayantunji Amoo, Kabirat Kafidipe, and the late Larinde Akinleye.
In ancient Jogbo, the king and his subjects had a binding social contract that engendered prosperity for all but with dire consequences for deviants. “For the fictional Yoruba land of Jogbo, a ritual with the Saworoide had been established for rulers about to ascend the throne. Lapite (Oyewo) who becomes the King early in the story rejects the ritual as he intends to use his new position to enrich himself and escape accountability,” a Mr Tishe wrote on the enduring lessons of the movie depicted through metaphors and allegories with a powerful message on good leadership. “Although fictional, the events in the land of Jogbo call for reflection and action on the part of leaders and citizens for positive change.”
For 16 years (since he left office as Governor), Tinubu had been plotting to be president of Nigeria. So, now that he has realized what he publicly admitted as a ‘lifelong ambition’, he cannot be described as an accidental leader. Therefore, in moments of introspection, Tinubu must ask himself whether his presidency is simply about the trappings of power or whether he is interested in leaving a worthy legacy for posterity. It would be a shame if it were all about the former. Meanwhile, I understand that the Tinubu administration is undertaking important and necessary reforms which hopefully will yield gains in the future. But you don’t preach sermons to hungry people. Immediate measures are required to relieve the pains of Nigerians. And there is also an urgent need to tell Nigerians what his medium to long term economic and security plans are beyond this ‘kick-and-follow’ approach that is not helped by mixed messages from some of his palpably incompetent ministers.
Here is the point. The ‘Emilokan’ philosophy, which is about entitlement, may have helped Tinubu wrest the presidential ticket of APC—which to be fair is no more than a party carefully constructed by him as a special purpose vehicle to power—from conspirators. But such disposition is of no use to him in presiding over the affairs of Nigeria. When leaders place more importance on what they believe they are entitled to rather than what they offer society, they are setting themselves up for big time failure. The only thing that can untangle the multitude of problems we face in the country today is for Tinubu to humble himself and admit that Nigeria has given him so much and use his stewardship to pay back.
That explains why I recommend that the president should go back to watch Saworoide and the sequel, ‘Agogo Eewo’ (the gong of taboo). In a 2020 review, ‘Saworoide, An Allegory of Present Day Nigeria’, Tobi Oduselu concluded his treatise on a sombre note. “While this cinematic masterpiece shows a semblance to Nigeria’s current realities, it also serves as a predictive imagination of how the future will turn out if the current mishandling of our resources persists,” Oduselu wrote. “It is not enough to promise change; it is imperative to deliver on those promises and take care of the people.”
As the Yoruba would say, a half-hint (this time, of impending doom) is sufficient for any ‘Omoluabi’ to get the full message!
Lagos Traffic and the Water Option
Inside the Control Room of the Monitoring and Data Management Centre of the Lagos Waterways Authority (LASWA) at the sprawling Falomo Jetty last Friday afternoon, I watched activities in real time on the entire stretch of the Lagos lagoon, from Ikorodu to Badagry. The General Manager, Damilola Emmanuel, was on hand to take me through what I was seeing live on the big screens. But what was I doing at the Falomo Jetty?
In Lagos last weekend for a burial ceremony, I visited Bode Makanjuola, CEO of Caverton Offshore Support Group, who also oversees Caverton Marine, a critical subsidiary. He offered to take me on a boat ride from their Jetty in Ozumba Mbadiwe through the lagoon to showcase their latest venture. The diversification into boat building, according to Bode, began with the construction of a 40-passenger Glass Reinforced Plastic (GRP) ferry. And the ferry on which we rode was constructed right in Nigeria, specifically at their Badore, Lagos Jetty. It features 20 USB charging points, radio channels and a space left for television. Although not yet operational, I found the ferry service more luxurious than the ones I experienced in Zanzibar a decade ago and Sierra Leone last year. “Now, we have ten of such ferry each of which, as you can see, is built for the luxury of passengers and very safe,” Bode assured me.
To beat the Victoria Island traffic after the visit (and boat ride), I asked to be dropped at the Falomo Jetty (to access Ikoyi) and then I had the chance encounter with the LASWA boss, Damilola. Surprisingly, the lounge at the jetty is better than what you find in some airports in the country. Established in 2008 by the government of Babatunde Fashola, the agency can serve as a catalyst for decongesting Lagos roads. But it needs to encourage private capital which Caverton Marine and other players are tapping into.
Bode has bold ambitions. “In addition to passenger ferries, we are also actively building security and cargo boats. We have plans to expand our fleet to include fishing and leisure boats, ensuring that we meet diverse industry demands and contribute to the growth of Nigeria’s maritime sector,” Bode told me before we parted at Falomo last Friday. “In line with international marine vessel classification agency guidelines, our boats are designed and built with precision, utilizing cutting-edge technology and with the expertise of our dedicated team, we intend to exceed the most stringent industry standards.”
From what I saw last Friday, water transportation can be a viable option for those who want to avoid the impossible Lagos Road traffic. But it will require considerable investment, especially from the private sector in partnership with the Lagos State government. Bode Makanjuola is already positioning himself with an investment that is already in millions of dollars. Under the prevailing business environment in Nigeria, such daring comes with enormous risk. And enormous reward!
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