BY ANIEBO NWAMU*
Peter Obi once compared Nigeria to a car without a brain box. The right thing to do, he said, is fix the car first before you change the driver.This metaphor for the country Obi now aspires to lead is fitting. But I believe he is even generous. If Nigeria were a car, it would be one without not just a brain box but also without a brake, an air conditioner, three tyres and a seat belt.
Why, one may ask, does the current presidential candidate of Labour Party for the 2023 election now wish to be the driver of a car without a brain box? For identifying the problem of the country well in advance, Obi deserves high marks. A problem identified is half-solved.Like the young Nigerians rooting for Obi, I’m sure his mission is to fix Nigeria and,as its driver, give it direction.Henceforth, we shouldn’t tolerate a leader who would deceive us with empty rhetoric or hire image-makers to overwhelm us with false hopes, false statistics and vile propaganda before getting to work.
While expressing optimism on Obi, I must exercise caution too. Eight years ago, a similar hopefulness led me to work for a Muhammadu Buhari presidency. My reason: I was an adult when he and Tunde Idiagbon, as military leaders, waged a successful war on corruption and indiscipline between 1984 and ‘85, and I expected a repeat performance. The Jonathan administration he succeeded had fallen short of my expectations in that respect.
But thank God I apologized to my readers in 2016, just before an undisclosed illness diminished the Buhari I knew. By 2017, he was no longer the one running the country, I believe. My star witness is first lady Aisha Buhari who, on several occasions,testified that a cabal not known to the electorate had taken over the presidency. This column became irregular from then, partly because I didn’t know the right person on whose doorsteps to lay the blame for Nigeria’s irreversible decline. Should I pillory those who were issuing statements on behalf of an unseen president almost on a daily basis? Or ministers who confessed that they too had no access to the presidency?
I’ve wondered why terrorism would grow wings and teeth on the watch of a general who disciplined troublemakers during his first coming as head of state and commander-in-chief of the armed forces.If the Gen. Buhari I knew were in charge, why would corruption walk on eight legs? Whither the discipline in the management of public funds for which the Buhari of 1984 was known? Nepotism, the kind never seen in Nigeria’s history, may have driven the final nail into the coffin of a disunited Nigeria on Buhari’s watch.
The prognosis is not comforting at all.The country is already a carcass — a bankrupt nation without funds to pay the salaries of its workforce or execute capital projects; a nation in the firm grip of terrorists that have made life traumatic and hopeless for its citizens; a nation in which the education system has been deliberately destroyed. Morality has vanished into thin air, in spite of our religiosity.
I agree with Sheikh Ahmad Gumi that the next president should be pitied. To have any chance of standing on his feet, the future president must face reality from his first day in office. He must be cool, calm and calculative. He must surround himself with men and women who will be ready to bake the national cake, not those who will feast on the little cake left. Tribe and religion should have no place in the Nigeria of this time – it’s now a matter of life and death.
What is left to be stolen by politicians anyway? External reserves are down to $15 billion, against the official figure of $36 billion. The excess crude account has been decimated, and I’m sure the fund managed by the Nigeria Sovereign Investment Authority (NSIA) must have come under attack too.The only assets spared are the gigantic buildings, private jets and private bank accounts owned by treasury looters and their collaborators.
Labour and productivity minister Chris Ngige was emphatic recently that “there is no money anywhere”. We’ve been told that government’s revenue is no longer enough to service the nation’s debts, which means that the Buhari regime now borrows money to pay idle lawmakers and other politicians humongous salaries and allowances. Fuel subsidy, we’re told, will consume N6.7 trillion next year. Meanwhile, the fear of an uprising is the only thing that has prevented removal of petrol subsidy; the subsidies on diesel, kerosene and gas are gone, prompting unprecedented inflation and misery in the land.
We have suffered so much that I now prefer to see those tribulations predicted for tomorrow start happening today.Let the subsidy on petrol be removed also, so the pump price may rise to N800 per litre. There’s no sense in letting poor Nigerians die in instalments. Let the worst happen now! Human beings must still exist in this space.
Yet, the worst may not happen: We know that perhaps 50% of subsidized fuel is smuggled to neighbouring countries. Some people are simply being enriched, and it’s not strange that Nigeria has been the destination of all manner of weapons used for nefarious activities.Ultimately, I believe that market forces — the laws of demand and supply –will eventually intervene to ameliorate all things.Our insatiable taste for foreign goods and services will be curtailed by dollar scarcity and naira devaluation.
Although the accountant-general who allegedly stole over N100 billion is standing trial, I’m not convinced that somebody is fighting corruption with objectivity. If anybody did, no presidential aspirant would have paid N100 million or N40 million for their party’s nomination form this year. No aspirant would have summoned courage to bribe a delegate with $25,000 or $20,000 openly. The ruling party is said to be budgeting more than N6 trillion for the general election. A large part of such funds will obviously be dedicated to buying votes and bribing INEC officials and security agents. Who is fooling whom?
While we wait anxiously for Nigeria’s redemption to begin in 2023, I have not hesitated to pitch my tent with the youngest of the four presidential frontrunners. Not that he will perform anything near magic. Not that he will resurrect our compatriots felled by terrorists and other criminals. But at least he promises to point Nigeria to the direction of productivity– and make us fear less. A septuagenarian or an octogenarian, even if they’re healthy, won’t be able to drive a rickety car, much less drive one that lacks a brain box. Nigeria’s state in the past seven years is an ugly reminder.
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