Fellow Nigerians, please permit me to sound American today. The type of arrant nonsense going on in Nigeria today would have elicited some exclamatory remarks from the Americans. What I admire in them is their no-nonsense attitude to life. Love them or loathe them, the Americans would always fight for their rights. They have a long history of robust (to borrow President Jonathan’s favourite adjective) battles to fight for the rights of man. And America ended up giving the world some of the most famous civil rights leaders such as Thomas Paine, John Lewis, Abraham Lincoln, Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm X, W.E.B Du Bois, Coretta Scott King, Jesse Jackson, Al Sharpton, Andy Young Jr., Gordon Hirabayashi and others. They all fought for their beliefs and made the world a better place.
About 30 years ago, it would have been unthinkable or even impossible to imagine a Black President leading America. Today, America has a Black President in Barack Obama. I was a doubting Thomas myself during the election that produced Obama. I told everyone who cared to listen that such a dream would never materialise in our lifetime. As a typical Nigeria, I took a flight out of Newark Airport in New Jersey that evening because I was sure there would be riots as soon as Obama failed to win. The result was announced to us just before we landed at Heathrow Airport the following morning. The entire aircraft erupted in an orgy of wild jubilation. The first images that came to my mind were those heroes who fought for us to witness such a wonderful and happy day.
I have seen a picture of Obama with President Goodluck Jonathan in the White House and observed the glint in the eyes of our own President who was obviously proud of the momentous opportunity. But I’m not sure it occurred to him that many big dreamers who wanted a more humane society were bayonetted or mercilessly assassinated by those short-sighted leaders who wanted the world to exist only from their backward view. The Guyanese revolutionary, Walter Rodney suffered that fate. In Africa, several radical leaders were frustrated or killed. They include the Congolese leader Patrice Lumumba, Thomas Sankara of Burkina Faso; and even our own Moshood Abiola’s wife, Kudirat, who was murdered in cold-blood for demanding that her detained husband be released from Abacha’s gulag. Abiola himself later died under suspicious circumstances in detention. That sad saga became the watershed for the unusual democracy some of our leaders are abusing in Nigeria today. I wish to emphasise that the sacrifice made by some Nigerians is what Jonathan is enjoying today.
We need to retrace this history for the gang of reckless spenders in power to understand where we are coming from in case they are too intoxicated to know. Since they were never an integral part of the struggle to free Nigeria from the clutches of military dictatorship, members of the ruling party are not likely to appreciate the hard-earned democracy they are about to endanger. Many were detained, harassed, maimed and killed for the Jonathans to be in power today. It is not that they have two heads or four legs to qualify for this rare privilege to lead us. Most of those who made this possible are nowhere near power. They enjoy no special privileges. Their families are barely surviving while the carpetbaggers continue to hold our nation to ransom. Our politicians behave like they are unaccountable to the people. The country is their personal property, and they can treat us as they like.
But that is a fallacy. We are all stakeholders and have the right to ask questions about why some people can waste all our resources on themselves and yet have the effrontery to tell us we have no entitlement in this our forced union called Nigeria. The only so-called cheap oil they think we are enjoying must be taken away from us. How more callous can one be to fellow citizens? I have taken great pains to listen to arguments of the subsidy gang, championed by Ngozi Okonjo-Iwealla, Deziani Alison-Madueke, Sanusi Lamido Sanusi, Atedo Peterside and others. I must salute their efforts at going from one television station to the other in an attempt to sell a dead horse to us at a premium. But I was not impressed a bit. I wondered why such otherwise brilliant ladies and gentlemen carried this subsidy matter on their heads as if it was a matter of life and death. The gains they listed in favour of fuel subsidy removal were too little to warrant this higgledy-piggledy. It was too obvious they were coming from a background that alienated them from the ordinary people.
Let me join those who have frowned at the unfortunate role of Mr Atedo Peterside in the whole tragedy. While he’s entitled to his fundamental right of freedom of speech, his position as the Chairman of Stanbic Bank of Nigeria puts him in an awkward position to stretch out his neck into what is likely to attract political sanctions is less than thoughtful. Many have argued that the overzealousness displayed by him can backfire and haunt the fortunes of a great bank. If he was that interested in politics, he should have resigned and gone into politics. His arguments were too condescending and sometimes jejune. Please, someone should help me, what’s the meaning of “who would you trust, Ngozi Okonjo-Iwealla who has a reputation for telling the truth or…? Who would you trust, Lamido Sanusi, who has a reputation for…?” He went on and on and on. I could not but ask when this supposedly urbane man became a town-crier?
Nigeria is truly in big trouble when technocrats that we thought were the last hopes of rescuing our nation begin to engage in dirty politicking and defend primordial sentiments. The main culprit in this regard is Mr Peterside who introduced ethnic colouration to the fight against subsidy removal. He was clear in his mind about the need to remove subsidy and for him it was a one-way traffic. This is the tragic flaw in most of our economists. It is sad that they all staked their reputation without undertaking due-diligence to determine if indeed there was a subsidy.
There are just too many questions begging for answers. What was the worth of the subsidy? What was our consumption rate? How did the subsidy budget rise so astronomically within one year? How do we expect the ordinary man to find the money to pay for this sudden increase in fuel price? What are the social implications of this harsh decision? Are there alternatives in the short run to this subsidy removal? What was the hurry about that the government could not wait for the new year to pass? Why did government renege on its promise to engage in further and wider consultations and wait till April to execute the full deregulation of petroleum products? How can we pour petrol into a raging inferno at a time we are unable to contain the conflagration of Boko Haram?
To compound the problems, one week rally exposed many ills of our society. Thanks to social media, everyone became an itinerant reporter and blasted incredible stories from the barricades. The government boys who boasted weeks before that a revolution was impossible in Nigerian saw red pepper. They forgot how Nigeria had amassed the largest concentration of unemployed youths in Africa. These were people who had nothing to lose if Nigeria went on indefinite strike. They were powerfully supported members of the privileged class who were also sufficiently frustrated and angered by the unprecedented backwardness in our over-blessed country. Despite the bravado of Jonathan and members of his Kool & the Gang, government was compelled to eat its own vomit and did a substantial reduction of the fuel price.
But the bigger news is the on-going investigation into oily matters at the House of Representatives. Nothing could be more salacious than the giant worms jumping out of the barrels of oil. Without doubt, the NNPC is a house of horror. I was delighted to see the way my dear sister Dr Ngozi Okonjo-Iwealla was rattled by some questions thrown. And I wondered why she desperately campaigned for a policy she did not have enough facts on. It is a big lesson for other technocrats in power who want to cry louder than the bereaved.
My Heart Bleeds for Kano
As I was working on this column, I received the saddest news from Kano and was just totally stupefied. Multiple blasts were reported to have gone off in one of Nigeria’s biggest cities. My thoughts and prayers are with the good people of Kano at this difficult moment. I have close ties to Kano like many other Nigerians. My Vice Presidential candidate, Dr Yunusa Tanko is from Kano. It has been impossible reaching him and other friends. I’m told the whole place is chaotic. There are all manner of gory details coming on social media with horrific pictures.
I don’t know who will rescue Nigeria. This is not the time to play politics with a tragedy of this magnitude. But someone must rescue us. Our President must rise up to the occasion and do whatever is needed to restore peace to Nigeria. I have some free advice to offer him. He seems to have failed himself and the nation. It is time to re-examine his strategies. He’s obviously surrounded by some incompetent people who are misleading him. My first advice is that he should make friends with members of the civil societies. They are not his enemies. He needs more friends now than ever. And he definitely needs a miracle.