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Tuesday, 29 August 2023 06:21

[OPINION] Trip To Kigali, Lagdo Dam and Other Tales - Reuben Abati


“So now that President Bola Tinubu has held his first Federal Executive Council (FEC) meeting with his Ministers, what do you think?”

“When was that? You know, sometimes, I try to select what I pay attention to in this country. This place is so bad enough it can affect your mental health. You have to struggle with your own mental health even when you worry about the complex country called Nigeria.”

“Okay, for you to ask when confirms your point. For your information, President Tinubu’s inaugural FEC meeting was held yesterday at the Presidential Villa.”

“On a Monday? I thought the traditional day for FEC meetings is Wednesday of every week.”

“Traditional yes, but not statutory. There is nowhere in the Nigerian Constitution that it is written that the President must meet with his Cabinet on a Wednesday. Ministers are the President’s advisers and aides, he can meet with them as he deems fit, and because the Federal Cabinet represents voices from across the Federation, it is endowed with the toga of inclusivity and representation.”

“You have started again. You think these Ministers see themselves as representing anybody? You people just like to quote theory and sound bites from persons whose job is simply propaganda, and they are masters at it. When Minister Nyesom Wike declared that he would demolish any structure that could be in violation of the Abuja Master Plan, was he doing that in the people’s interest?”

“Master plans are meant to be respected. He is defending the rule of law. In fact, if you ask me, I would say that of all the Ministers, it is only Wike who has hit the ground running. Apart from his statement about illegal structures, he also inspected the Abuja mass rail transit system and openly declared that it is in a dysfunctional state.”

“What do you expect him to say? Was his arch-enemy Rotimi Amaechi, former Governor, former Minister, former Presidential aspirant not the man in charge of railways matters with the Chinese under the Buhari administration? Wike knows how to play the game of cutting your rival under the belly. I always tell people that he is a deft politician, whatever you may think of his style”

“Maybe you are right. After all, more than any other Minister, particularly any former Governor turned Minister, he has been able to capture the attention of the President. The other day, at the on-going Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) Annual Conference in Abuja, the President publicly told Wike: “If I ask for free land in Abuja, don’t give me”

“Yes. The President said so. That is the Jagaban for you.”

“My friend, stop. Nobody gives anybody land free of charge. I put it to you that Wike will reserve choice plots of land for President Tinubu and his associates, and for anyone that the President approves of. Tinubu was talking about giving out free land, not the individual’s legitimate right to acquire and own land. Always learn to read between the lines before you run with the headlines.”

“What I know is that President Tinubu has fixed performance targets for his Ministers, and he has made it clear that any Minister that is surplus to requirement would be asked to leave.”

“When that happens, we ‘d see, we’d see.”

“You don’t believe him?”

“Of course, I do. But we’d see. After all, the same President has said that his administration will not service debt with 90% of the country’s revenue. We all know that such a revenue to debt ratio is unsustainable. But the question is how? How? How? The Buhari people may not know enough theory, but these new guys know the theory and they mouth the received wisdoms from IMF and World Bank so well, but the question is: to what effect?”

“What do you mean to what effect? This administration has rolled out robust cost-cutting strategies to reduce the cost of governance. The President has just directed ahead of the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) in September that any government official that has no business in New York should not be attended to by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs”.

‘You know what the Presidency has just done with that statement? They have just provided work for Omoyele Sowore and Sahara Reporters.”

“How? The President wants to cut costs”

“Is that how a government cuts costs? Stop supporting our leaders blindly. Try and have a critical mind of your own. You are already jubilating and inventing panegyrics because you don’t know. You should wait till some research journalists publish the list of the President’s entourage to New York in September, and the additional list of accompanying Ministers and their own aides. Don’t forget that at the next UNGA, Tinubu’s first, we have been told that he would be having a meeting with President Joe Biden on the sidelines. And it is not only President Biden that he would meet. He would need many government officials around him from the Nigerian Mission to the US and the UN, and a retinue of officials from home. You don’t think there would be Ministers who are scrambling to accompany the President just to take a photo with President Biden? I have my suspicions, but let’s wait and see, and please stop committing everything government says to heart. Learn to separate the wheat from the chaff.”

“I always do. I do, if you want to be fair to me, and in any case, I don’t have to see things as you see them. The problem with people like you is that you think you know it all.”

“I always tell you the truth”

“You sound like you are the only one with a monopoly of the truth. Truth is relative. If I tell you I stand on Asiwaju’s mandate, then that is where I stand, and that is the truth for me”

“And that is why you were saying the other day that Nigeria reporting a 4.1% unemployment rate in the first quarter of 2023 is a good sign, and I told you that’s nonsense.”

“And how is that the president’s problem? It was the office of the Statistician-General and the National Bureau of Statics that gave that report. They said they have adopted a new methodology in calculating Nigeria’s unemployment figures in line with best international practices. You need accurate data to plan.”

“What new methodology? Lying with data. Do you need to be a statistician to know that things are getting worse in Nigeria? And why would anyone quote Q1 figures in the light of present realities? The National Bureau of Statistics must begin to talk to us in the kind of simple language that we can understand. Now they say new methodology: how do we measure the effect in terms of the quotidian reality of our lives? Are you aware that any parents have slipped into depression because all the children they trained through university are all at home without work? Are you aware also that many of the Nigerians who have abandoned the country in search of greener pastures did so and are doing so because life elsewhere provides them with greater meaning?”

“This is the age of globalization. No government can legitimately stop its citizens from going anywhere. Those who want to live abroad will leave, those of us who are determined to remain here, will remain, life without end. People must learn to make sacrifices for the good of their country. Nigerians are always trying to compete with their leaders. Our Money, Our Money. People should know their place in the ultimate equation of things.”

“Are you alright?”

“Yes, I am”

“People tell you to make sacrifice for Nigeria, the same sacrifice that they are not willing to make. Are you aware…?”

“I am aware of everything. Stop asking me if I am aware. Are we not in this same…?

“Let me finish.”

“Okay finish.

“Are you aware that members of the House of Representatives in the 10th National Assembly have only recently agreed to give themselves N150 million each as constituency allowance, coming up to a total of about N54 billion. House of Reps members in the 9th National Assembly took N100 million each. Nobody ever knows what they do with the money these lawmakers continue to collect as allowances. Most of the time, a lawmaker would dig bore holes. At the height of COVID-19, many of them bought water buckets and called them constituency projects. Besides, investment in infrastructure is the job of the Executive not the Legislature.”

“Rome was not built in a day. Democracy is a learning curve. We will learn”

“After 24 years of return to civilian rule? We are still learning. Perhaps, you could be right you know? The Nigeria Governors Forum (NGF) has only just taken some Nigerian Governors on a three-day retreat to learn about how to re-imagine leadership in a fast-changing world. But does anyone need to go to Rwanda to learn that leadership is a major challenge in Africa and that there is a trust crisis between the leaders and the people they claim to lead?”

“The programme was in collaboration with the UNDP, and on the personal invitation of President of Rwanda, Paul Kagame. One of the subjects that they deliberated upon was how to promote inclusivity. There can never be any end to learning.”

“Except that Nigerian leaders going to Rwanda to learn about leadership is an indication of how low we have sunk as a country.”

“President Paul Kagame is a fine example of how to be a leader.”

“Give it to him. He is at best a benevolent dictator, and he has been able to re-write his country’s narrative. As for being a fine example, please. And all these your Governors that went for the retreat, the only thing they probably came back home with is a copy of the communique and may be cartons of Akabanga.”

“Akabanga. What is that?”

“Banga. Banga. Go and find out. It is a Rwandan national treasure, the kind of thing that would interest your Nigerian Governors.

“This is my problem with you. We will be discussing serious things your mind will be wandering here and there.”

“What I am saying is that those Governors had no business going on a retreat in Rwanda and packaging it as a major expedition of discovery. Governor Babajide Sanwoolu of Lagos State that should stay at home making sure his rejected 17 nominees are accepted by the Lagos State House of Assembly goes on a frolic in Rwanda at a critical moment. I don’t get it.”

“You don’t get it because you are not a politician. It is a political game. The Governor must carry people along when he makes his choices. He cannot assume that because Tinubu has made him the leader of the party and the state in Lagos, he can do what he likes and disconnect with other stakeholders. This is the mistake most people make. He must learn to listen to the other side. He is trying to fight people who know his political history. They have just told him that he is not Tinubu, and that there are forces in Lagos that can insist on their own preferences.”

“But what does he want to do with 39 Commissioners and his mentor is talking about cutting the cost of governance? Do these people connect the threads at all?”

“If Sanwoolu gets the politics right, he can have 100 commissioners if he wants and all of them will be approved. But to think he can dictate to the Lagos State House of Assembly, they will show him that there are powers behind the throne occupied by Tinubu in Lagos.”

“But how about technocratic competence? Professor Akin Abayomi did well as Commissioner of Health. Has anyone forgotten how he provided professional leadership during the COVID pandemic in Lagos? Gbenga Omotoso also served diligently as a sound technocrat. At least I know those two.”

“You don’t know politics. When Professor Akin Abayomi was setting up COVID centres and conducting money-guzzling research, how many of the stakeholders did he carry along? Technocrats. Many of you guys hide under that title to project an annoying image of hypocrisy. But technocrats know how to spend money and enjoy. But they don’t know party Chairman, Ward chairman and party members. They don’t even want to collect party membership cards. It is an open cinema. Let us all wait for the end. After all, THE END is what ends a film in the cinema.”

“I sense envy in your voice.”

“You must give me credit that I also know one or two things about politics. It is like Shaibu, the Deputy Governor of Edo State saying he wants to also become Governor of Edo State, and he remains loyal to his boss. Answer me, have they not shown him yesterday what his Governor thinks of his loyalty? His media aides were all blocked from attending a state event. When he expressed his anger, all his media aides were sacked on the authority of the Governor. The game of power can take any dimension. Babajide Sanwoolu no fit”

“What if Tinubu intervenes? This is clearly a case of the cat going on a journey and all kinds of mice and other rodents are flexing muscles in the kingdom. Who would dare carry a lantern to look at the face of the lion?”

“I don’t think Baba is going to get involved in Lagos politics for a while. He has more urgent issues at hand. Nigeria, ECOWAS, and now he is going to the UN in New York. He is where he wants to be, his place of dream. If he gets involved in Lagos matters, it is you people that will still accuse him of greed. People should learn to live without going through life as the parasite in a Godfather’s compound.”

“I just hope that someone will do something about the announcement by the Republic of Cameroon that water will soon be released from the Lagdo Dam which as we know would result in big floods on the Benue plains and 13 other states”

“The Minister of State for Environment, Ishaq Salako has said people have nothing to fear. The Lagos State Government says they have everything covered.”

“Okay. Okay. We’d see. What does the Minister know? The story of Nigeria is this: the more things are, the more they remain the same. Pathetic.”

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