[Opinion] What manner of men? - Sonala Olumhense

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Systematically rigged elections.  A chaotic electoral commission.  A war against corruption that is worse than the malfeasance. A floundering economy; vast unemployment.

A startling prevalence of crooks in powerful positions.  A persistent pattern of loud political promises and few delivered projects.  Security agencies that nurture insecurity.

The government of Nigeria appears to be confused, responding with subterfuge and propaganda.  I cite three prominent examples:

 

One: Babatunde Fashola, the Minister of Power, Works and Housing, has declared that some states now enjoy almost uninterrupted power supply.  He named two.

For a man who is on the record for bragging that it would take a serious government no longer than six months to fix Nigeria’s electricity troubles, it is of concern that having held his powerful office for four years, he is reporting only two states as having “almost 24 hours” of supply.

 

What is worse: the claim is false, and Nigerians have been excoriating him since he uttered the words.

But what I found the most illuminating of his posturing in the television appearance was his declaration that his government will now invest N72bn to install transformers and expand distribution.

It is the “future tense” approach: the pretence that a promise is an achievement.

 

Two: Last Monday, Rotimi Amaechi, the Minister of Transportation, expressed anger in public about what he called the “slow pace” of construction on the Lagos-Ibadan rail line by the contractor, the Chinese firm CCECC.

Nigerians paying attention would recall that the firm on February 3 did a test-run of the rail from Lagos to Abeokuta, Ogun State, promising that a two-month free service would commence for passengers on February 7.

 

And yet two months later, on April 8, the minister was saying: “To those of you who are here with me on this inspection, did you see any work going on? There is no work at all.

But what “slow pace”? CCECC clarified on February 27 during an event in China marking the award of a contract to another company for the supply of diesel locomotives to Nigeria that it does not have a 2019 possibility or even target on this job.

 

“The fleet is to be used on the…156 km standard gauge line between Lagos and Ibadan which is under construction for opening in 2020,” it said.

The question is whether Minister Amaechi has no dates on the copy of the contract he is implementing.  If he does, and they correspond to the ones CCECC is working with, his claims about the work being slow is simply show: the Muhammadu Buhari government propaganda show.

 

Three: Speaking in Dubai last week, President Buhari welcomed as a compliment his nickname of “Baba Go-Slow.”

“I may be ‘Baba Go Slow,’ he told members of the Nigerian community, “but I didn’t loot (the Nigerian treasury).”

He explained that he is going slowly in order to “survive,” as he had landed in prison as military head of state for being in a hurry.

 

This appears to be a situation where the leader of a nation is pleased that he is, in effect, holding back his country.

Remember: the people whom he refers to as having looted Nigeria are all around him as friends, confidants and governors. They are around him as party chieftains and members, campaign coordinators and board members, former governors, senators, ministers, contractors and businessmen.

 

But rather than demonstrating the courage to prosecute or jail them, he nurtures and celebrates them, and even appoints some of them to office.

And ordinary Nigerians are supposed to applaud because Buhari has “not looted”?   Or because he remembers 1985 differently?

Buhari was not detained in the 1985 coup because he was advancing Nigeria or doing something anything in a hurry. On the contrary, he was detained by his colleagues because he had betrayed the hopes of the coup that brought him to power and was exhibiting fascist tendencies.

 

In the August 1985 counter-coup statement by which Buhari was removed from office, General Ibrahim Babangida recalled that Nigerians had celebrated Buhari’s coming two years earlier because Nigeria had been “at the mercy of political misdirection and on the brink of economic collapse.”

But under Buhari, he noted, Nigerians immediately suffered “systematic denigration of that hope,” so that the reasons which justified the military termination of the Second Republic persisted.

 

“Regrettably, it turned out that Major-General Muhammadu Buhari was too rigid and uncompromising in his attitudes to issues of national significance,” Babangida asserted.

“Efforts to make him understand that a diverse polity like Nigeria required recognition and appreciation of differences in both cultural and individual perceptions, only served to aggravate these attitudes.”

Sadly, but fairly, that description captures the Buhari character and mindset in 2019: 34 years later. Revisionist posturing cannot change that.

 

He was not detained because he was somehow positively changing Nigeria, but because he was dragging her backwards and sideways; revisionist history cannot change that.  Bragging and wasting time about fragments of “integrity” while Nigeria drifts and other nations streak by us will not change that.

Buhari II is no leader if he insists on the failed mindset and methods of Buhari I.  Indeed, it may be argued that the failure of Buhari II to make any impact in his first term is attributable to his inability, perhaps refusal, to change.

 

Buhari returned in 2015 saying he would fix the economy, and fight insecurity and corruption, but promptly surrounded himself with praise-singers and loyalists.

Four years later, Nigeria is only a land of regrets, and he won re-election only because the opposition was abysmal, not because he “did not loot”?

This chaos of values at the heart of governance in Nigeria is multiplying our woes.  There are people who did not loot but who are thriving from proceeds of looting.

 

Nonetheless, Buhari’s performance does not suggest either genuine outrage or competence, and he is digging Nigeria deeper into infamy as the poverty capital of the world, the country appearing as a negative example in every international study.

Only last week, the Word Bank warned that the Nigerian economy is “falling behind” and “slipping,” while the IMF ranked Nigeria as the second worst country in the use of sovereign wealth funds.

 

“Countries should develop frameworks that limit discretion, given the high risk of abuse, and allow for heavy scrutiny,” the IMF said, warning that natural resources should be channeled properly to the people that needed them.

Sadly, in the era of Buhari II, as it was in I, these principles are treated with contempt.  We watch as businesses and foreign investment flee Nigeria, as do disgusted and capable Nigerians who go out to enrich other economies. We watch poverty grow, ignoring its relationship with—and consequences for—insecurity and development.

 

Consider: 10 days ago, this hungry nation shamelessly awarded a $4m contract for the architectural design of a 12-floor building. One week later, she awarded another, of over $8.3m, allegedly for “a digital web-based integrated system to aid prisons decongestion.”

And consider that Nigeria has only 240 prisons (2015 population of about 57,000).

I would have described this as Nollywood, not governance, but I’d have to apologise to Nollywood.

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