I See Change in 2017

My readers will remember that this column has been prophetic for the past decade or so. Everything I’ve predicted has almost always happened: from the failure of Obasanjo’s third term bid to Jonathan’s victory in 2011; from the collapse of oil prices to Buhari’s victory in 2015; from the emergence of economic recession in Nigeria to Donald Trump’s triumph in America.

Let me say a new thing today: Change will come to Nigeria in 2017. And I’m not being ambivalent, the stuff of clairvoyants. This is the year that Nigerians will come to their senses and remove the “oil curse”. No more false life. No throwing of parties every now and then. No dependence on government for everything.

Those who will return to the land will reap bountiful harvests. Pests and diseases will attack certain crops in certain parts of the country, but they will eventually be curtailed. In 2017, there will be less hunger than there was in 2016. Many will die and many will be born. More Nigerians will become apolitical because politics will lose its attraction. Real change in the lifestyles of many will come.

For making those predictions, I won’t request a one-eyed cock or seven pregnant goats or silver bags of cowries from those who seek to know tomorrow. It’s my New Year gift to beloved compatriots. Welcome to the year of transformation!

On a personal level, I’m considering giving up this column and engaging in eBook publishing. I may take that route because I’ve found myself repeating what I’d written many years ago. It means the leaders of Nigeria have been deaf and not receptive to bright ideas. As I once stated, we columnists have been giving away ideas that ought to be paid for on a platter for free. Smart alecks run with ideas scooped from the pages of newspapers and smile to the banks later on, while the originators of the ideas remain poor and unrecognised. Things have got to change this year.

Or is Nigeria jinxed? More than six years ago, I wrote: “It’s a tragedy for Nigeria and Nigerians that, each time an opportunity to bring change to the country comes, something happens to derail it.” We pilloried Jonathan to convene the “much-expected sovereign national conference that will write a truly people’s constitution” and not carry “the status quo – the same baggage that has stunted our development – into 2011” because, “no president can achieve much with this incredible number of elected and unelected officeholders who consume more than one-third of the nation’s resources, even though they contribute nothing to national development”.

President Jonathan yielded late in 2013. Despite the imperfections of the “National Conference”, it made recommendations that could put Nigeria in a better shape. And if Jonathan had won in 2015, he would have compulsorily implemented at least a large chunk of the conference’s prescriptions. Then, something happened “to derail it” as usual.

“Change cannot come because the same forces that have held the nation hostage since independence in 1960 have maintained their grip. Only a revolutionary can deal with them and win freedom for the people,” I wrote in November 2010. “But for the continued rise in the price of crude oil, the country’s economy would have collapsed by now. We have been able to absorb the shocks from the trillions of naira lost to corruption and unearned allowances because a barrel now goes for $87 (instead of $18 in 1999). However, except for the politicians and their collaborators, Nigerians have not felt the impact of the riches from oil. And they will not, until we get our politics right. All economic indicators point to an imminent worldwide recession, not the mild type witnessed recently. When a world power like Britain adopts austerity measures, know that trouble is ahead. But have we and Jonathan been thinking? No. The debate has dwelt on the significance of his name or the good luck he brings to Nigeria. We have been more preoccupied with celebrating Nigeria at 50, receiving other nations’ ambassadors and enjoying the perks of office.”

I yearned for a former head of state who was assassinated in office: “A transformative leader does not need one year to prove his worth. Murtala Muhammed changed the nation within six months.” The way forward then? “The leader Nigeria needs now is one that knows what to do with an estimated 40 million unemployed school leavers. Bad leadership has been our greatest problem.”

Since Murtala was no more, I looked for an alternative, though I recognised fundamental pitfalls: “No president can achieve much in a nation where there is endemic corruption, widespread poverty and the recurrent expenditure takes 70 per cent of the budget. Government agencies that thrive on corruption, sycophancy and abuse of office are the real cog in the wheel of governance in Nigeria. They contribute nothing to national development. Before any president can make appreciable progress, he must scrap or reform them…This presidential system is not sustainable, nor is the size of our governments. The whole nation needs reform. In the short term, let’s have a welfare scheme for the unemployed, the aged and the handicapped. Massive construction works – building roads, railways, houses and the like – can drastically reduce youth unemployment.”

The alternative to Murtala that I found was Muhammadu Buhari. After his victory, we reminded him of the need for reforms – political and economic. Again, something has happened “to derail it” – it’s not the Buhari I admired in 1984 that emerged in 2015. His stubbornness has been legendary.

The good news:  I see a crossroads – and I see imminent change.  Buhari will change his cabinet, and we all will change, or be forced by circumstances to change, our ways this year. Nigeria is on the brink. We either swim or sink in 2017. Happy New Year Nigeria!


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