WHEN President Muhammadu Buhari first came to power the frustrations of the average Nigerian were frighteningly similar: we already complained of state capture by a few affluent people, and we already knew the economy worked only for them. Everything that happened since then only serves to expand on this initial idea.
Our so-called democratic experience or experiment since 1999 had no social justice at its heart, we thought we were making progress because we had telecommunications and a banking industry, so the middle class went to sleep. It could always afford to cheat the system somehow, and we all chose not to focus on the continued exploitation and injustice at play.
Most people do not realize that even money or the ability to buy one’s way to safety will not save any of us when trouble comes: there are medical conditions that rule out being immediately flown abroad, situations where one would first need to be stabilized by the same local hospitals where even the best hands often lack the needed equipment.
This system encouraged us to turn against one another: North vs. South, Muslim vs. Christian, Yoruba vs. Igbo while the real agents of our shared unhappiness acted with confidence and impunity, selling off our assets, granting their friends untenable tax-waivers and monopolies, encouraging us to clap for them while they did so. The heavens will not fall if President Buhari allows the radical who was already invested in dismantling special interests, to shine once more. Nigerians are expectant.
Chinua Achebe quoted W.B Yeats’s poem, “the Second coming”, when he wrote: “things fall apart; the centre cannot hold; mere anarchy is loosed upon the world” and in the same vein during yesterday’s interview on the Nigerian Television Authority, NTA, President Muhammadu Buhari said: “the centre must hold”. Yeats described the consequences of a disintegrating centre: “the best lack all conviction while the worst are full of passionate intensity”, and this adequately describes the Nigerian society.
Debates about federalism have been reduced to squabbles over resource sharing arrangements between states and the federal government, forgetting the real people, Nigerians, who make up the states, or that the states exist to serve said people in the first place, while the fundamental issues at the heart of poverty remain unaddressed. Wealth is shared at the top and only crumbs are received by ordinary people at the bottom; whether we practice fiscal federalism or not, whether we further decentralize certain government competencies or not, funds remain in the hands of a few at the expense of the majority.
The centre must hold because this country urgently needs to enforce national rules and standards. Governors have the means to provide basic local public goods, if only they would reassess their spending, yet every so often pictures emerge of entire classrooms being taught under trees due to the unavailability of adequate school facilities. Nigerians must police their governors, make more demands of the resources at their disposal, because the President or the federal government can’t do it all alone.
Buhari pointed out the failure of community leadership, neighborhood security and traditional leaders themselves: in truth, politicians have selfishly tampered with all the institutions which once guaranteed the stability of local communities, replacing them with oppressive traditions to their benefit. It is a pity an office like the National Orientation Agency is yet to find creative leadership to support grassroots and community led dialogue and implementation of the way forward.
“Nigerians should expose kidnappers and thieves” President Buhari said, remembering a bygone era whereby when people stole, others knew what family and community the thief was from. In Nigeria we talk about people being “sharp”, savvy or shrewd, a code word for greed, materialism and predatory tendencies and celebrate such individuals as the symbols of civilization and modernity, calling everyone else “slow”, naïve or living in the past.
The second coming of Buhari, a providential return after his first time at the helm of affairs in the 1980s and now his second term in office as a democratically elected President, must be more radical to justify the trust placed in him by the very poor who overwhelmingly voted for him. Expressing his disappointment on the slow pace of justice, in a country where convictions for corruption are difficult to obtain no matter the evidence (although the EFCC has recorded some successes), he pointed out the role of certain officers in the police and judiciary whose compromising endangers the entire justice system.
He promised to uncover those responsible and accelerate judicial reform. Indeed, sanctions are needed, no matter whose ox is gored, which he acknowledged when he said he wasn’t surprised most of the elite in Nigeria were against his re-election given his pro-people orientation and the policies meant to restore the balance in a country where the desire to defend the national interest is in short supply and our socio-economic arrangement is dangerously skewed towards protecting the comforts of a very small number of people.
Contest of Wills
A contest of wills, in Nigeria, as in other democracies around the world, is re-emerging from behind the curtain of moderate philanthropy through which the needs of the poor were handled. Nigerians were so appeased by the practice of holding elections and the modernizing comforts of easily accessible imported goods, we never asked about the wellbeing of the majority who were not so fortunate. The President’s interview yesterday offered Nigerians a picture of a man re-energized by his victory at the polls; and many times his humour shone through. With a mischievous smile, he predicted those who described him as “baba go slow” are in for a shock. Asked to define who he was, President Buhari said he comes from a generation where “you had to do well to survive”. In Nigeria today, following the rules is often perceived as a hindrance to progress. A more radical second-coming must forge a new consensus about 21st-century Nigerian identity based on the active participation of grassroots communities in solving their particular needs and challenges.
National Youth policy
THE Federal Ministry of Youth and Sports Development revised the National Youth Policy, stating “the age bracket for the classification of youth from 18-35 years has been changed to 15-29 years”, according to the Minister, Solomon Dalung. “The review is informed by practical empirical analysis and the need to promote the appropriate targeting of desired beneficiaries of intervention programmes for the youth rather than adults masquerading as youth,” a statement said.
Claims by some “adults masquerading as youth” that people between the ages of 30 and 35 are being “disenfranchised” by the new policy are symptomatic of the very mainstream desire to keep things the way they are. Our society is defined by money and special interests, keeping young people and the poor dependent, ignorant of their rights and the workings of our country is a deliberate effort we must all rebel against.
Those who think they have power now and are immune to the danger of falling through the cracks of the system end up discovering that they too need help, one day, because a country without widespread access to wealth, justice and self-realisation, eats itself up and kills us all off one by one.
IT seems a number of state governors won’t attend the swearing in ceremonies of the governor-elects replacing them. Many weren’t able to impose their desired candidates as successors. In states like Oyo, Ogun, Imo, Zamfara, Bauchi, Adamawa, Gombe and Kwara, analysts claim the disagreements and existing “bad-blood” which led to electoral defeats for the APC in some cases, have also hindered successful transitions through last-minute “illegal” appointments, contracts, etc.
The lack of maturity of many of those holding office is ironic, given their disregard for the youth or those they consider “less” than them. However, Nigeria proves behaviour patterns are neither based on age nor gender. Isn’t it time we gave different sorts of people a shot at governance?