by Simon Kolawole
My 72-year-old mother, widowed since 1976, has not received her pension from the Kogi state government for over a year now (we have, let me confess, lost count of the months). Insult plus injury, she has not been paid her gratuity since she retired in 2006, despite all manner of verification and re-verification she has been undergoing — travelling from Lagos to Lokoja, the state capital, all the time. I was so worried about her frequent travels and the stress at some point that I told her: “Mummy, enough of this trouble. Whatever your gratuity is, I will give you double.” She looked at me and said, rather sorrowfully, “But it is my sweat.” I was close to tears.
In other news, the Kogi government has just spent about N12 million on newspaper advertising to “debunk” a claim made by Deputy Senate President Ike Ekweremadu on the constitutional provision for the recall of Senator Dino Melaye, the bosom-friend-turned-bitter-foe of Governor Yahaya Bello. From the feedback I am getting from home, a lot of money was distributed to get voters to sign up for the recall. Some say billions, but I have no way of finding out. One thing I know, at least, is that I get SMS from despondent people everyday asking for “family support” as salaries have not been paid for… how many months? I’ve lost count. Could the “recall budget” have been better spent?
Pardon my naivety, but whenever I hear millions and billions, I always think about potholes and boreholes. I spend days and nights thinking about hospitals and schools. I am always fascinated by laboratories and libraries. It’s an obsession. Each time I go round Nigeria and I see the afflictions of the lowly and the vulnerable, I am overwhelmed with sadness. Is this the best we can give to these people? Go to the primary healthcare centre nearest to you, go to the nearest general hospital, go to the nearest public school. Kindly tell me if this is what the people of this country deserve. Kindly let me know if this is how civilised societies are run.
And that is why, today, I am joining the ongoing campaign for the restructuring of Nigeria. It has become urgent, inevitable and non-negotiable. I have said, time after time, that the current structure is not working for the masses of the people. A structure that breeds unemployment and insecurity will only continue to ruin us. I show you a doomed system: a system where ex-governors are on million-naira pension for life, and are promptly paid, while a civil servant who devoted 35 years of his life to public service is owed arrears of pension that probably come to N20,000 a month. Any society built on inequality, injustice, wickedness, waste and elite hijack is hopeless.
In 1992, Freddie McGregor, the Jamaican reggae crooner, released a song, “To be poor is a crime”, which would pass as one of his best ever. Was he describing the perfidy in Nigeria? Who gets the best healthcare today? Whose children get quality education? Who has security protection, complete with police escorts? Is it the market woman or the commissioner in Delta state? The cab driver or the special adviser in Oyo state? The cleaner or the governor’s relative in Imo? The cobbler or the lawmaker in Zamfara? The yam seller or the senator in Benue? The barber or the governor in Bauchi? Is this the structure that will make Nigeria fit for human habitation?
Maybe I am speaking Greek. In 1981, one Mrs Ukeje, a widow, launched a court case when her husband died and her in-laws took control of the husband’s assets. It took 35 years for her to get justice. Thankfully, the Supreme Court ruled in her favour. There was also the case of Mrs Mojekwu who was widowed in 1966. It was not until 1997 that she got justice. In this same system, politicians can get two Supreme Court judgments in 24 hours. Thousands of innocent people are in prison for decades awaiting trial for stealing noodles, but “big men” accused of stealing billions get bail in hours. Do we want to continue with such a perverted structure?
Maybe I’m speaking Chinese. In the last few months in Ikorodu, Lagos state, hapless Nigerians have been murdered in their sleep for ritual. The police in the community, according to accusations, often looked the other way and released suspects because the traditional rulers and their chiefs are allegedly behind the ritual. How many commissioners, special advisers, governors, ministers and lawmakers have been killed by ritualists? As at last count, a whopping none! They have dedicated police officers looking after them 24/7. Who bears the brunt? Of course, the ordinary people who are not counted as human beings in their own country.
Maybe I’m speaking Latin. Kidnappers have been operating on the Abuja-Kaduna road for ages, grabbing defenceless Nigerians at will and extorting their families. But when the Abuja international airport was shut down for the reconstruction of the runway, government suddenly realised that human beings would soon start plying the road to use the Kaduna airport in the interim. They quickly flooded the highway with security personnel, spiced with air patrol. They even repaired the road since it was now going to be used by human beings. As soon as the Abuja airport reopened, security was toned down and kidnappers have since reported for work. Is this a human society?
All said and done, the truth is that Nigeria is not working for the poor and the powerless, wherever they are, whatever state or region they come from, whatever religion they practise, and whatever language they speak. Nigeria is working only for the rich and the powerful, especially the people in power and their cronies, wherever they are, whatever state or region they come from, whatever religion they practise, and whatever language they speak. That is the real struggle going on in Nigeria today, putting aside the politically motivated heat wave. Any talk about restructuring must encompass how to correct this grievous injustice across the length and breadth of Nigeria.
I have been following the debate on restructuring Nigeria lately. As to be expected, views are divergent. There are those campaigning for a return to the 1963 constitution, said to be the most federalist ever. Restructuring, to some, is to return to regionalism. To others, it is resource control. Many think it is fiscal federalism, state police, introduction of Sharia or disintegration. If you look at the different positions objectively, maybe the campaigners have a point. But since Nigerians are frustrated with the state of the nation, the elite are capitalising on this to promote their own narrow, divisive political and economic interests under the guise of “restructuring”.
Nonetheless, my contribution to the debate is that any restructuring we are going to design must look at the pervasive social injustice. The Nigerian structure, as it stands, is skewed against the vulnerable, against the oppressed. The victims of the system cut across every nook and cranny of Nigeria. And the beneficiaries are all over the landscape: the rich, the powerful and their friends, families and associates. Therefore, if state police would mean better protection for the masses, why not adopt it? If it will stop the police from perpetrating illegal detention, carrying out extra-judicial killings and working hand-in-glove with criminals, why not?
More so, if regionalism will provide quality education — meaning primary and secondary schools can now be attended by the children of public officers — why not go for it? If fiscal federalism means the powerful people can start attending general hospitals and receiving the kind of treatment meted out to the poor, why argue against it? If it is resource control that will address corruption in high and low places, and lead to the provision of potable water to the deprived people in the creeks, what is wrong with that? If Sharia will keep cholera at bay and contain polio and meningitis, isn’t that a beautiful thing? If boundary adjustment will pay my mum’s pension, isn’t that lovely?
If restructuring Nigeria — be it in the form of 1963 constitution, regionalism, Sharia, resource control or Biafra — will not address the wickedness in high places, the repression of widows, the dehumanisation of pensioners, the bastardisation of justice, the violation of the value system and the shedding of blood in communal conflicts in various states, including Ebonyi, Taraba, Kaduna, Cross River and Delta — then we need to go back to the drawing board. We need a structure that will improve the quality of life of the Nigerian. If we return to regionalism or break up without restructuring our brains, our latter end will be worse than our current situation.
AND FOUR OTHER THINGS
BEASTS OF NO NATION
Mrs Aisha Buhari, the first lady, recently treated us to a cryptic message on Facebook. I initially thought it was a spoof because of its highly political nature, but it has not been denied. She wrote: “God has answered the prayers of the weaker animals. The Hyenas and the Jackals will soon be sent out of the kingdom. We strongly believe in the prayers and support of the weaker animals.” She was following a similar “animal talk” by Senator Shehu Sani who spoke about hyenas, wolves, jackals, lioness and tiger in Aso Rock, as well as crocodiles, cheetahs, leopards, pumas and jaguars on the outside. Are we now running an animal farm in this Federal Republic of Drama? Coded.
Nigeria’s No. 1 monopolist, Alhaji Aliko Dangote, is about to set up another monopoly: dairy farming. According to reports, his proposed farm will boast of 50,000 cows by 2019 and produce 500 million litres of milk per year. He is putting $800 million into dairy production in the next three years. Since we currently import 95% of our milk in Nigeria, the new monopoly will save us several millions of dollars in forex flight, help grow the naira, create jobs and meet nutritional needs. Meanwhile, many Nigerian billionaires have plenty monopolies waiting for their investment in agriculture, but they would rather buy penthouses in New York. I hate monopoly but I’m loving this. Opportunity.
Nigeria has become such a pathetic society that when human lives are dastardly snuffed out, our first, and often only, interest is the religion or tongue of the victims and the perpetrators. The value of human life means nothing to us, insofar as the perpetrators speak our language. This is again evident in the Mambilla killings in Taraba. One side said it was Fulani herdsmen that killed people from other ethnic groups, and the other side said it was genocide against the Fulani. In Nigeria, some people only find their voice when their kith and kin are at the receiving end. Herdsmen kill farmers, great. Farmers kill herdsmen, genocide. And vice-versa. Is ours a sane society? Sickening.
Are you following the war between Prof. Usman Yusuf, the executive secretary of the National Health Insurance Scheme (NHIS), and Prof. Isaac Adewole, the minister of health? Here’s a recap: Yusuf was accused of fraud and has been suspended by Adewole but Yusuf says the minister has no power to remove him and has vowed to disobey the directive, maintaining that he was suspended because he refused to “play ball” with the minister. I will be surprised if processes and procedures have been breached in this matter. If indeed the minister does not have the power to suspend (not sack) him, then this will be a major embarrassment to this government. Waiting…