Ken Tadaferua is not just my friend, he was my senior while we both worked for Thisweek Magazine. Ken is jovial but very intelligent, a fine writer who wrote many cover stories for the magazine in those days. It is my honour to have Ken as my guest writer today. Happy reading!
President Muhammadu Buhari gave his Independence Day Speech on Sunday, October 1, 2017, the occasion of the 57th year since our country wrested freedom from British colonialists in 1960. He looked stronger and healthier even if frail still. We are happy that the resources and prayers of we the people contributed in no small measure to getting our President back on his feet. We also praise God Almighty for His multiple mercies and loving kindness. However, I write here today, not about Buhari’s health but of the country’s wellbeing in the past 57 years of Independence and to ask the question: What are we celebrating today as a country? Buhari gave us some answers in what I distilled as three key parts of his Independence speech, which we shall proceed pronto to examine.
Bellyaching: There were only three references in his speech to some parts of the past 57 years. The first was a terse bellyache: “the country has gone through trials and tribulations.” The second is his persistent wail that he inherited a country which revenues from 2.1 million barrels a day at average oil price of $100 per barrel from 1999 was squandered with social and physical infrastructure neglected. So he says for the umpteenth time and after two years as President that: “We were left with no savings and huge infrastructure deficit.” The third is yet another usual recourse to his civil war experience, an emotional blackmail as is the wont of our ex-military generals, to deter groups seeking to secede from the country. There was no word on achievements, if any, over the past 57 years to celebrate.
Aggrandizement: This part took no less than 90 per cent of the President’s speech. It was a litany of supposed achievements by his party and government to restore security, re-diversify the economy and fight corruption. Boko Haram’s terrorism has been reduced, he said, to “cowardly attacks on soft and vulnerable targets.” But not immediately wiped out as the All Progressives Congress (APC) promised during the presidential campaigns, even with controlled reports on attacks and carnage. He adds that his government supports security agencies to deal with kidnapping, robberies as well as herdsmen/farmers violence. Despite bloody attacks and killings over the years not one herdsman is being tried for murder.
It is interesting that in crowing over his government’s fight against corruption, he listed the processes and reforms undertaken in the war but no mention of convictions and nothing about total value of stolen loot recovered so far. Perhaps those hard facts and core statistics of the fight need to be shrouded in opaque mists. But in rolling out his administration’s economic scorecard, the President waxed in figures and specifics. His agricultural Anchor Borrowers Program released N43.92 billion through the Central Bank to 17 participating institutions, 223,000 hectares of farmland cultivated and it has 200,000 small farm holders in 29 states. Also the price of 50kg bag has dropped to N5, 500 from N13, 000.
A minimum of 10,000 jobs hav been created. Inflation has dropped. Electric power has surged to 7000 megawatts. Foreign exchange is down from N525 to N360 per dollar. The government has supported states with N1.641 trillion to pay salaries, among others. But I do recall the government’s wrongheaded FOREX control policy that caused rates to balloon and the buckets of dollars now being thrown at the FOREX market to keep rates down. I also recall ballooning national debts. As for the 10,000 jobs reportedly created, if even true, we must admit that we haven’t gotten started in an economy of millions of unemployed and corporations still downsizing and offloading employees in their thousands. On the matter of food prices and electric power, I leave that to Nigerians. We know the drill.
It is of great note that the speech made no mention of the grinding problems of the majority of citizens 57 years after independence: of harrowing poverty, terrible healthcare and lack of basic social amenities. Over 100 million living below poverty line and not one kind word for them in the speech! There is no mention of industry or of industrial growth and the impact of the capital votes in the budgets for past two years.
Freedoms: It was such an irony that as the military sweeps across the country with armored tanks and automatic weapons, jackboots, dancing pythons and smiling crocodiles, in a civilian democracy, our President is talking about freedoms. He said: “Nigeria has recorded appreciable gains in political freedom, complete freedom to associate, to hold and disseminate opinions.” Really?
But in the same breath he thunders against “highly irresponsible groups that call for dismemberment of the country” while curiously declaring that calls for restructuring is proper in a legitimate debate. If folks can call for restructuring why must calls to secede (read as morbid dismemberment) be highly irresponsible? Is it not even more grossly irresponsible that calls for restructuring by discontented sections of the country has, for decades, been ignored and dismissed with open contempt? When the President declares: “We cannot and we will not allow such advocacy,” are we still talking about democratic freedoms? I doubt.
But then our President also declares that in spite of our trials and tribulations: “October 1st is always a day for celebrations.” I beg to strenuously disagree. I will return shortly to explain why. But first, let us do a brief detour.
I doubt many Nigerians realize the country is on a nonstop psychedelic roller coaster from professionally administered cocktails of hallucinogenic drugs by our leaders. Such is the consistent potency of the drugs that we in our highs, even with our wings brutally ripped off, still touch the sky.