I don’t want to delve into guessing how many days it might have taken to record the ‘very long,’ refreshingly uncombative speech President Muhammadu Buhari delivered to us on New Year’s day.
Like me, speech-making is not one of our President’s best attributes. So, I could feel his pain as he laboured through it.
I’ll also ignore the mischief-maker, permanently resident inside my head, alluding that the speech reads like what one would get from a politician seeking political office, and not by someone who is already occupying the office.
So, I’d rather concentrate on the substance of the speech, if there’s any.
Interestingly, the speech reminds me of the drama I daily face at home with my little children. Even when caught with their hands in the cookie jar, their ready answer to the usual whodunnits is: ‘it’s not me o!’ And because of their innocence, they naively expect you to believe that.
So, fuel scarcity ruins our Yuletide, and all we hear, on New Year Day, from our Petroleum Minister (who happens to be our President) is his own version of “it’s not me o!” It’s the handiwork of our unpatriotic compatriots. Saboteurs! Even the NNPC (which runs the show, and is accountable only to itself) is blameless in Buhari’s reckoning. So too is DPR, which was unable to stop petrol stations boldly adjusting their pump prices to as high as N250 per litre in some cases.
Of course, the scarcity has nothing to do with the refineries not meeting their production quota. It has to be anybody but PMB and agents. Together, they would now begin a manhunt for the ‘saboteurs’ – who must, most likely be outside of government.
Of course, this approach is in keeping with the character of the PMB government.
Only recently, PDP people and other detractors of APC flew off the handle when they saw the names of a few of our living-dead on the list of Buhari’s newest appointees. But the critics of the list were wrong to cry foul. They totally missed the point!
What the critics were too blind to see was that the board appointments simply revalidated that age-old belief that elders do not retire in Africa; that even when they die, they continue to work as ancestors. The only difference now is that PMB decided to improve the working conditions of these ancestors. Instead of the traditional reward of Schnapps and kolanuts, our benevolent President decided to give them formal employment, with honorarium and sitting allowance. That is why I can’t understand why people want to burst their veins over this innovation.
But even if we considered this appointment of the living-dead a mistake, then we can be sure that Buhari is not responsible for it.
Similarly, if you think the government is slow in delivering on it’s campaign promises, it’s also not PMB’s fault. It’s your fault for being too impatient.
Back to the speech!
So, after more than two and a half years in the saddle, we’re still rehashing the same tired railway (and ‘mega watts’) story? Even when all that we still have functional for now is the line that was nearly 95 per cent completed by the last administration?
Meanwhile, the Lagos-Kano standard gauge railway would still be at Ibadan by the time 2019 winds up. And who says Buhari and APC would still be in power by then? And he’s even projecting into 2021, with all confidence.
The South-eastern flank of the project, which was almost an afterthought, is still in the pipeline – with only a presidential “approval” that negotiations can now go on. Until now, nobody was even allowed to talk about it. Yet, that is in the very heart of the zone most criminally neglected, in terms of federal infrastructure. And this is the area being accused of blindly sticking with PDP. This is the area where APC expects to make more inroads in 2019. Hmmm!
Meanwhile, I’m still armed with my magnifying glass, scanning the speech for where it mentioned the now-mythical Second Niger Bridge, and the progress of work so far. I’m not giving up on that yet. I still might find it.
However, I totally agree with the President on his take on agriculture. In fact, I don’t believe the speech did justice to the near-revolutionary achievements the PMB government has made in that sector of the economy. To me, agriculture (not security nor the anti-graft war) is where this government has made its biggest impact yet.
As the President also pointed out, there have been appreciable improvement in power supply. In my part of Lagos, serviced by Eko Distribution Company, for instance, I can now confidently predict when we’ll have outage and when the public power supply would likely be restored. It is nowhere near the desired, but it is gradually inching up. But I won’t interrogate this matter any further, lest I force the President into another round of buck-passing.
On restructuring, even though I’m convinced that Nigeria will only be running in circles until we restructure, I also believe that it is unfair to want to arm-twist PMB and his APC into implementing the recommendations of Goodluck Jonathan’s constitutional conference, a conference that they (as the then opposition party) opposed from start to finish, and refused to be part of.
However, if PMB is unwilling to implement the recommendations of GEJ’s conference, or convene his own conference, isn’t it time he presented us with another approach to this restructuring, which must happen, if we honestly want to preserve this country? We can’t continue like this, because it’s definitely not working! PMB must gradually begin to step out from his extreme position to meet the agitations halfway. To continue to dig in at the same point, in the face of the changing dynamics, is to court national disaster.
Finally, I feel the alleged clean-up of the Niger Delta is a national circus.
I was in Ogoniland during the last Nigerian Guild of Editors’ conference in Port Harcourt. I flew over the area in a helicopter, and the aerial view revealed rivers, rivulets and swamps covered by a thick film of crude oil spill. Only the toughest of weeds are still standing, albeit, seriously blighted.
At Bori, all I saw was the massive infrastructural development by the Governor Nyesom Wike government, roads, bridges, health care facilities and the unbelievable makeover of the erstwhile derelict local secondary school, into a modern secondary school, with boarding facilities.
The much-publicised pollution clean-up exercise had yet to take off. The humidity is endtime-like. It burns you right on the face. The roofing sheets bear witness to acids the skins of the inhabitants might have absorbed, and continue to absorb. In fact, the air there is so thin and hot that you’d think somebody mistakenly left the back door of hell open.
So, one is a bit stunned when the President says the exercise “is making satisfactory progress.” Mr. President, sir, somebody is feeding you lies.
It’s bad enough, if they lie off record, but, please, don’t let them smuggle it into your speech next time.
Of course, Mr. President, I also share your optimism that 2018 will be better than 2017. I have no empirical evidence for this optimism though, except that I just don’t want to imagine things getting any worse than they already are. So help me God!