by Dele Momodu
Why would any rational government official approve an allocation of a cow to the fiery preacher, Pastor Tunde Bakare, who would naturally not only return to sender but also alert the public about the recklessness and financial prodigality on display?
Fellow Nigerians, let’s start the year on this hilarious note before we dovetail again into serious issues. After-all, this season is the period we indulge in wild fantasies and live under the grand delusion that in this New Year things would change for the better this time around. More often than not, we discover at the end of the year that not much has changed and indeed, hopes evaporate and vamoose without any warning. In reality, what’s the difference between 2013 and 2014? The answer simply put is: you slept in one year and woke up in the other. No more.
But the world has learnt to celebrate one powerful calendar date even if a few countries and religions still struggle to keep theirs alive. Capitalism is in full bloom and ruling the world in unlimited territories. I don’t know if you watched CNN as the New Year meandered and navigated its way from one continent to the other and a geographical location to another. If you did, you would have seen, and possibly witnessed, some spectacular displays, the type never paraded before. You would have been stunned, like me, about the advancement of science and technology in these interesting times. You would probably have marvelled, and seriously wondered, if indeed we live on the same planet or we are the original inhabitants of the Planet of Apes.
Without any argument, or any shade of doubt, Dubai took the cake and won the competition for the most superlative celebration in grand style. Dubai instantly placed itself neatly in the Guinness Book of World Records. My sincere congratulations to the people of the United Arab Emirates. They have continued to confound the world with their humongous dreams and uncommon vision. They have demonstrated that with judicious use of resources you can recreate the world around your taste and class and that you can buy human brains from any part of the world even if you lack yours. Their leaders must have discovered that money is useless without brains.
Dubai is an eloquent testimony to the limitless possibilities available to those who dare to dream and follow through by dint of hard work and tenacious determination. I first visited Dubai over a decade ago and returned two years ago to see the eighth wonder of the world. I could not believe or imagine the complete transfiguration that had occurred within the decade. It then dawned on me that it should not take a thousand years to build a Rome if Rome would ever be built. And that every innovation or development requires some planning, pain and determination. I saw evidence of this on the wall of the Burj Khalifa, the tallest building in the world. There is this massive painting of the men and women who conceptualised the erection of such a gravity-defying edifice. These geniuses in individual disciplines were drawn from different parts of the world without any prejudice to race, gender or religion.
Please, allow me more time and space to wax lyrical about Dubai. The Dubai Airport should be a veritable source of interest and inspiration to us in this parts where maintaining one terminal has virtually become a curse or jinx. For such a tiny nation in the desert, Dubai Airport is currently built to cater for an annual capacity of about 80 million passengers. It is instructive that its Terminal 3 was constructed and completed within four years, from 2004 to 2008. The runway system for its Terminal 2 was extended, fortified and reconfigured within one year, from 2003 to 2004. Yet they are not resting on their oars. These amazing people are already building a new one in Jebe Ali, called Dubai World Central – Al Maktoum International Airport. The airport is designed to cope with up to 160 million passengers annually. This is not just wishful thinking. The Leaders in Dubai have long recognised the potential of tourism and are unstinting in the lengths they go in attracting and welcoming visitors to their shores.
I must quickly add that Dubai did not invest all this stupendous cash only to hand over the airport to political appointees or a nebulous parastatal controlled by party apparatchik. The Chief Executive Officer is a gentleman called Paul Griffiths who was born in 1957. He had served Sir Richard Branson’s Virgin Group for ten years before becoming the Chairman and Managing Director of Gatwick Airport in 2005, after joining BAA in 2004. He was poached by Sheik Ahmed bin Saeed Al Maktoum in 2007 to become the pioneer Chief Executive at the newly-created Dubai Airports Corporation.
There is no trick to the success of Dubai other than paying for the best from everywhere and demanding maximum performance and deliverables from them. On the night of December 31, 2013, Dubai surpassed the biggest and richest nations of the world when it unleashed 500,000 blazing fireworks that broke several world records including the largest display ever. They were fired, according to reports, from 400 locations and co-ordinated by 100 computers and hundreds of expert technicians including 200 from a US fireworks company. It was the triumph of human mind over matter. The fireworks display which cost $6,000,000 took 10 months to plan and about 5,000 man hours to ensure the display was accurate to a millisecond. The display, which was also to mark 42 years of independence which had occurred on December 2, reached a zenith of 3,280 feet and spanned 62 miles of waterfront. This was proof, if needed, of the beauty of commanding vision, financial discipline, meticulous planning and zealous execution.
I watched a few other celebrations on television. I saw impressive displays in our dear old London and the historic Hogmanay of Edinburgh. I saw hundreds of thousands of exuberant revellers storming one of the world’s most famous cites to witness the world’s first ever multi-sensory fireworks display with peach snow, edible banana confetti and orange scented bubbles descending on the crowd culminating in an amazing combined experience of smell, sight, taste and sound. I saw Paris, New Zealand, Australia and the United States of America awash with lights of various hues, shades and themes. The Broadway in New York is traditionally the place to be on December 31 but Dubai stole the show this time. It shows the world is no longer stagnant or controlled by physical size or military might. It is shaped by the magnitude of human vision. What am I driving at? The extravaganza of fireworks display is not just an extravagance. It is not a mere spectacle but a statement of technological advancement, intellectual capacity and societal transformation. It is an advertisement of a country’s skills and resources, a demonstration of its hospitality and equally an avenue for wealth and job creation.
Back home in my country our idea of celebrating the Christmas and New Year was limited and restricted to distributing cows, bags of rice and vegetable oil as a form of gratification and political patronage. Our governments, at all levels, have resisted the necessary change from this archaic way of doing things. I heard authoritatively some Ministries were instructed to contribute huge sums of money towards the purchase of these gifts. Some wealthy politicians and especially political office holders went beyond the gifts by offering cash donations as part political strategy. It is an indication of our state of poverty, ignorance and desperation. The leaders believe they don’t owe the citizens any more than these token and tawdry gestures. The followers on the other hand are grateful for this pittance or crumbs from the masters’ tables.
Unfortunately, the bulk of the money allocated for these gifts often end up in the hands of favoured contractors or acolytes who are never capable of delivering quality services. The gifts also go to the wrong people who really don’t need them. Why on earth will any reasonable human being send cows to billionaires? Isn’t it senseless to bestow cows on people who can afford to buy elephants? Why would any rational government official approve an allocation of a cow to the fiery preacher, Pastor Tunde Bakare, who would naturally not only return to sender but also alert the public about the recklessness and financial prodigality on display?
This money could have been spent wisely on fixing some of our glaring problems. The way we blow money here does not reflect the true state of things. It is as if our governments exist only for all manner of endless jamborees and nothing tangible can ever be conceptualised, executed and delivered. We spend billions of Naira every year on funding pilgrimages to Mecca and Jerusalem. I’ve not read it anywhere that the people who brought these religions to us made it mandatory that our governments must fund what is at best a personal communion with Creator or Faith. I see nothing wrong in government facilitating a smooth journey for intending pilgrims but paying money that should have been used for our collective development to a few individuals is overkill.
The problem is very simple. No Nigerian leader is ready to think outside the box or take the compulsory risk for change. Change must of necessity cause some discomfort. Change will always make a leader unpopular. Change is likely to step on powerful toes. Change may even consume the changer. But it is a risk worth taking. If properly executed, the worst critics may soon become the biggest fanatics.
A leader who maintains the status quo with all his energy will never go far. A leader who desperately craves a second term in office will ultimately become imprisoned in his gilded cage. It is sad and saddening that this is how we have been configured. We waste too much resource on things we can do without. Why would a nation in crisis allocate a chunky part of its budget on increasing the number of aircrafts on the presidential fleet? In Ghana, President Rawlings sold off most of their planes and flew on passenger flights. It did not diminish his stature or status in any way. The world actually applauded his prudence and saw hope in the horizon for a country that was once on its knees. The elites, moaned, groaned and changed his name from Junior Jesus to Junior Judas but Rawlings knew some sacrifice had to be made.
He was able to set a new stage for future leaders. When President John Agyegum Kufuor came to power, he lived in his personal home for eight years and went to office from there. President John Evans Atta Mills lived for most part of his tenure in a private Estate and avoided wasting Ghana’s scarce resources. Even the current President John Dramani Mahama has tried his best to maintain a low profile. He’s been able to tackle a major energy crisis while we’ve not been able to even stem our perennial power outages, after squandering trillions to boot.
The President is the barometer by which a country’s seriousness is measured. In Nigeria, most of our Governors are like mini Presidents. You can’t blame them if they copy only the bad habits from the very top. Things would improve when the Presidency sets a new tempo of austerity measures that are very visible and not hypocritical. It can be done if the President and his team decide and agree to downgrade their lifestyle and block the drainpipe. I’m reasonably convinced that they know what to do but just find it hard to compromise their personal comfort by discarding some of the appurtenances of power. I pray it is not too late for such a miracle to occur.
Unfortunately, no one can help a government if is unwilling to help itself. Despite promises upon promises to the contrary, the present set of leaders are likely to be remembered for the wrong reasons. History is likely to record them as a group with great potential who threw everything into the trash bin. It smacks of chronic lack of ambition for leaders to be distributing cows, rice and oil to some privileged citizens at this time and age as if we are a colony of refugees. I believe we can do much better than this. All tiers of governments must have mercy and compassion on Nigeria.
What shall it profit a leader who spent four to eight years recycling the madness he inherited and left the country the same way or worse than he met it? If such is the epitaph they want written about them; who are we to alter it?
Such is life. Happy New Year. God bless you. God bless Nigeria.
This post is published with permission from Dele Momodu
Op-ed pieces and contributions are the opinions of the writers only and do not represent the opinions of Y!/YNaija.