When I went to bed last Saturday, May 28, it was with the hope of waking up to one huge story: The list of who stole what from the public till, at what time, and from what MDA.
President Muhammadu Buhari and his APC government had made so much noise about how persons, who stole money were quietly confessing and secretly making refunds to the public coffers. We were told the refunds are already in trillions of naira (enough to fund the deficit in our 2016 budget) and that, on May 29, PMB would go public with the names and the amounts returned.
In the past, the list would have been released to the media on May 28 and embargoed till May 29, after the president would have made the formal announcement. But there was no such release, as at press time on Saturday. There was none on Sunday either.
The much-anticipated presidential broadcast turned out to be a rehash of everything we had heard before. As, the late Senator Chuba Okadigbo would say, ‘no sound bites, no quotable quotes’.
We already knew the government, for some reason, wasn’t really working yet. But we were prepared to wait. We already knew the price of crude oil was down. We were already living with the incredulous tale of an empty foreign reserve balance. We already knew that the Naira had devalued itself (even as the government was playing the ostrich by saying it wasn’t going to devalue the local currency). We already watched helplessly, as they castrated Labour and modulated the price of petroleum products out of our reach (as the refineries, which had temporarily coughed back to life went comatose again). We knew Niger Delta militants had blown up every pipeline in sight and given government more reason not to supply power at all. We knew the bankers now have to ask every depositor the source of his/her money before they agree to bank it for him or her (irrespective of whether or not they report the transaction to the EFCC – if you’re in doubt, ask the embattled bank MDs). We know that there is a covert plot to ensure that the PDP does not get its act together ahead of the upcoming gubernatorial elections in Edo and Ondo states. We suspect that the system wants to ensure that there is nobody statutorily qualified in the PDP to endorse a governorship nominee to INEC and that the PDP might technically be knocked out of the elections. We have also observed the supreme irony whereby a government headed by a peerless retired General is prosecuting wars on three or four fronts at the same time – and still threatening more ‘wars’.
We knew the price of gari, rice and tomatoes have gone up, even as the states have refused to pay the stagnant slave wage they call minimum wage. We did not need the president to come and remind us all that on May 29. All we needed from him was a word of hope. I dare say, we did not get that. We also needed the excitement of naming and shaming the thieves, who stole our country blind – that too, PMB did not oblige us.
Yes, Lai Mohammed could name them today, tomorrow or next, but it would not carry the same weight, as our hearing it from the president. After all, was it not with a tablespoon of salt that we took the last figures released by the minister? And after the vague reference, who have they narrowed the looting down to? Is it not on record that the only celebrated conviction we have got so far (that of the former NIMASA boss) was a case started since 2011 by the Jonathan administration? After they exposed the padding of the budget, what was the punishment meted out to the culprits? Redeployment!
So, basically, the only thing we expected from Buhari on May 29 never happened. QED.
There was absolutely nothing that Buhari said on the morning of May 29 that we hadn’t already heard: Was it that a Chibok girl had returned (they claim two girls have returned)? Was it that Boko Haram had been appreciably decimated – so much so that its ability to launch attacks in the magnitude it used to has been greatly reduced? Can anybody honestly swear on that? How come PMB overlooked the fact that Boko Haram is gradually relocating from North East to South-East, South-South, South-West and the Middle Belt (albeit under a new alias)?
But, there is a narrative that President Muhammadu Buhari puts forward, which actually gets on my nerves. It is the story that many of those agitating for an independent state of Biafra today were not born when we fought the civil war and that they do not, therefore, appreciate the import of what they are advocating for. I fully agree with the president. Very few of those in the forefront of the agitation for Biafra were born after 1970, when the civil war ended. Painfully, however, anyone born in 1970 is 46 years old today. That is not exactly a baby. If you doubt me, check the average age of those calling the shots in the boardrooms today. Take another look at those at the commanding heights of the economy today – especially in the private sector. The only thing keeping this age bracket out of the public sector is because we have old men, who continue to reduce their ages, with fraudulent age-declaration affidavits. The result is that we see our fathers’ schoolmates still hanging on in public service – either as judges or directors and permanent secretaries – even as our fathers (their classmates) have celebrated 80. But that’s story for another day.
Incidentally, the same people who accuse the youth of not knowing what they are getting into with their agitations for Biafra and other causes were the same ones who rode on the shoulders of the same youths to electoral victory just last year.
The bulk of those who voted for Buhari (or who used the Buhari sentiment to vote for governors and lawmakers, who ordinarily could never have won any election in their constituencies) during the last presidential election were young men who were not born by 1983/85 when Buhari was head of state. They constitute the bulk of the social media Nigerians. They’re those who are no longer taught Nigerian/African history in school – and, therefore, do not know that Nana of Itshekiri, Jaja of Opobo, Queen Amina of Zaria and Mai Idris Aloma were not cartoon characters. Very soon, after those of us in our 40s and 50s are all dead and gone, our children would forget that there ever was anything called June 12.
Ahead of that 2015 election, those of us who witnessed PMB’s reign in 1983-85 remained largely divided. I’m not sure Buhari would have won that election if we shut out those born after 1985.
So, dear President, if, as history has shown, it takes about one and a half generations for an unjust society to return to war (after every devastating war), it then means that Nigeria is already over-ripe for another war – since the last one in 1970. In fact, if my calculations are right, we should have fought two more wars. The only thing that genuinely forestalls this cyclical return to war is equity and social justice.