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Famine on my mind

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Have you heard? They said there would be famine in Nigeria next year. And this is official (not technical), because it’s coming from one of the parrots in the king’s court.
What this means is that; no matter how hungry you are today, no matter how scarce and expensive you think foodstuffs are today, you still have to tighten your belt because next year would be the real famine.
And who again is to forestall this impending doom? We, the governed. Not the government we hoisted to solve our problems!
It would appear that anything we want done under this Buhari regime, we’d have to do by ourselves.
They rode to power on the promise of giving us CHANGE, only to get into office and turn round to tell us that the CHANGE begins with us. In other words, make the change, if you want change. We have since accepted our fate.
Our government is too busy with playing politics to think of adding our problems to its already overloaded platter.
Today, the economy is sinking deeper and deeper into recession; inflation has since shot through the roof and is dangerously aiming for the sky. Emefiele and his forex are doing a yoyo dance over our heads, like some little kid playing with paper kite. But none of these seems nearly as important as the task of cutting Tinubu to size, for instance.
But while they have abandoned us to our fate, they seem pretty busy with that which matters to them –  and that is playing the politics, of today and 2019.
They’re already talking about whether or not Buhari should run in 2019 – and if he is not to run, who would replace him from the North West zone. They’re already talking about new parties and fresh alliances, how to cage Buhari, how to check the Aso Rock cabal, how to sabotage Buhari, how to undermine Tinubu’s influence in the South West, how to wrest Ondo from Tinubu, while ensuring that PDP does not take, how to cage Wike in Rivers, shut up Ekiti’s Fayose, send EFCC after every possible threat to 2019 and settle old scores – some of which date as far back as 1985.
Now, they can do all these things without asking us for help. It is only when it comes to that which would benefits us, the electorate, directly that they suddenly remember that we cannot leave everything to government alone.
So, in an import-driven economy, our government is deliberately starving us of forex. I say it’s ‘deliberate’ because the same government keeps reeling out figures of billions of dollars it has recovered from Goodluck Jonathan and his ‘thieving’ cronies, yet we’re not seeing anything. In fact, they left all of the recovered billions to go asking the National Assembly to approve a bogus, ill-conceived, ill-digested $30 billion loan. Now, if the lawmakers fail to approve the loan, it would not only be a ready excuse for the PMB government to say the legislators did not let him have the money he needed to work with, but it would also offer fresh impetus to go after the lawmakers and their leaders. I’m sure there must be a file or two somewhere at the EFCC that can come to good use. For one, the legislators have already been adequately demonised – at least, we all now believe that the money for constituency projects, which is actually spent by the executive arm, is being given to respective lawmakers, who in turn, pocket the money. And that is in addition to a ‘jumbo salary’ that we have since discovered, is actually peanuts compared to what happens in the executive. But that’s not the focus of this write-up.
I’m just worried that the same government that is telling us not to look up to it for our forex needs and that we should go and earn our own forex by diversifying into agriculture and other things is also asking us not to export again. Yes, now that grain farmers are exporting their produce to earn forex, government is suddenly raising the alarm over impending famine. They’re asking traditional rulers and religious leaders to tell their people to stop exporting. In other words, the farmers should let their produce rot and waste, until such a time that government is able to put its acts together and begin to buy the excess. Can a government be more prodigal! Can a government be so confused! Somebody should please whisper into the president’s other ear that food insecurity is more deadly than anything Boko Haram has thrown at us yet.

A pensioner’s lot
I must say, in all my adult life, I cannot remember any situation that diminished my humanity as much as the encounter I had with him last week.
He was all grey. And I saw him pleading with a fufu hawker over N30. Thirty Naira!
He wanted two wraps of the dirty-looking staple, exposed to the elements in some rickety enamelware tray. It was supposed to cost him N100, but after turning out the insides of all the four pockets of his threadbare trousers, all he could come up with was N70. He was now begging the hawker (who obviously knew him) to allow him pay the balance at a later date. The young girl snatched the fufu from his age-wearied hand, threw his beggarly N70 at him and continued to heap all manner of insult on him, as she made to walk away with her wares.
It was at that point that I intervened. I called back the girl, paid for the old man’s fufu (without soup, mind you) and tried to admonish the girl for being so rude to a man old enough to be her grandfather. But the girl went on and on about how the man was a chronic debtor and all the trouble she had to go through to recover her N40 from him the last time she sold him fufu on credit. The insult didn’t seem to move the man. He was beyond shame. Humbled by poverty.
When I then gave the old man N1,600 – which was all the money I had on me at that moment, the unthinkable happened. Tears welled up in his eyes, as he made to prostrate to thank me. Thankfully, I was fast enough to catch him and stop him prostrating.
But that was not all the surprises of that day. On chatting up the old man, I discovered he spoke impeccable English. He was actually a retired teacher, who served in both Lagos and Imo states. But on retirement, his benefits literally went into voicemail. Lagos State worked out the aspect of his entitlements that was its responsibility and paid (though it didn’t come to much).
The bulk of the pension was to come from Imo. All of this year, he has only received a fraction of one month’s pension, and has lost track of the backlog, due to the staccato manner the payments are made. “Sometimes, they jump the whole of one year and pay a month or two of the previous two years. They then jump again to maybe, August of 2016, even when they have not paid for June of that same year,” he explained, throwing his hands discordantly in the air to illustrate the dizzying payment pattern.
When I told him I was a journalist, he started begging me not to put his face in the newspaper, fearing that the powers that be could pick offence and strike his name off the list of pensioners outright. He still nurses the hope that some day soon, in his lifetime, he would be paid. Incidentally, when I told him that his state government was genuinely broke, he shook his head and smiled. “Where did you ever hear that government is broke?” he asked me, restating that “they will pay whenever they want to pay.”
I obliged his request to protect his identity, but I know that his lot rings true of many of our pensioners in this country today. In fact, I also know a kinsman, who is now on the hunt for ‘any job’, more than seven years after reaching retirement age and retiring.
Of course, you’d ask: Couldn’t they plan for retirement while still working? Of course, it sounds so very easy to preach and plan on paper, but when you get down to it, you realise that we have a minimum wage that can’t buy a bag of rice. Yet, from it, the civil servant is supposed to send his children to school, pay house rent and medical bills, transport himself to an from work and, for some of the men, still squeeze out a little thing for ‘away matches’. Yes, they are all part of a man’s need! That he earns a starving wage does not make him any less a man. It’s just that the thought of school fees could sometimes kill his libido. But that’s topic for another day.
However, that pensioner could be any of us bestriding the entire political space today like super men.

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