At a time, as we were growing up, there was this story and later an illustration, especially on the front pages of some brands of exercise books, of a man virtually being crushed to the ground by the weight of the universe that was hoisted on his shoulders. Part of the message l gleaned from that grotesque and frightening illustration of the person we commonly then referred to as the Atlas Man was that we, even as kids, should be mindful of how much of the world’s worries we should carry on our shoulders. And it also included being careful about our ambitions and how much of the sky we aspire to conquer. So, the fact that man is finite in what can be accomplished had been ingrained in the subconscious since the formative years.
With maturity and further exposure, learning veered into diverse fields, including psychology, mysticism and philosophy and yet much more. We began to learn about ancient kingdoms and empires and the myths and the gods that men created, gave to themselves and then turned around to fear them and to ultimately worship them. It was at this stage that we encountered afresh the Atlas Man in Greek mythology. It was here that we learnt that Atlas was a titan god of ‘endurance and astronomy’, who was ‘condemned to hold up the sky for eternity…’ In spite of maturity, still the prospects of condemning a man [god] to hold up the sky for eternity was no less troubling.
The image of the Atlas Man that was ingrained in my mind as a child decades ago has kept recurring in the last several weeks in the wake of the controversies and expectations from the President Muhammadu Buhari/Senate President Bukola Saraki/House of Representatives Speaker Yakubu Dogara 2016 National Budget of Nigeria. From Buhari to his spokesmen to ministers to other appointees in the MDAs [ministries, departments and agencies], the refrain we get to hear these days is that the prevailing CHAIN shackling Nigerians will be replaced by the promised CHANGE once the 2016 Budget bill is signed into law. For now, nobody knows about the fate of the Appropriation Bill. It must be somewhere between the presidential palace and the National Assembly complex in Abuja, the nation’s capital. And in the context of the uncertain relationship between the president and the leadership of NASS, particularly the Senate president, the budget might as well be said to be in no man’s land.
For me the 2016 budget marks the return of the Atlas Man. It’s the new beast of burden. At every turn what you hear now is that once the budget is signed into law all our troubles will go away. And our problems are many. For a start, the country has been enveloped in perpetual darkness for as long as anybody can remember. Certainly, for much of the life of this administration, which turns one in the next one month, darkness has been our companion. It must be said that darkness was a carry-over from preceding regimes of the PDP. But the situation became acute soon after we celebrated the generation of a little over 5,000 megawatts of electricity in March. In the typical Nigerian story, we moved from 5,000mw to zero; yes, zero megawatts of electricity within just a few days in March. The celebration turned sour in our mouth. The other day, our super minister, Babatunde Fashola, who superintends ministries of power, works and housing, claimed that less than one third of the about 150 electricity turbines of the national grid are functional. He has served us notice that the end is not in sight for blackouts. The same minister has also said we should virtually forget improved federal roads when he declared that barely N500 billion was voted for the three ministries under him in the 2016 budget while to recover federal roads alone would require in excess of N2 trillion. And we are still being assured that once the budget is signed our pains will go away.
The signing of the budget is also expected to end the nightmare Nigerians have been suffering in the area of the steady supply and ready availability of petrol.
When the Minister of State for Petroleum Resources, Ibe Kachikwu, said in March that the problem will only abate by May, Asiwaju Bola Ahmed, national leader of the ruling All Progressives Congress [APC], savaged him to no end. Kachikwu was forced to recant. He was stampeded to revise the timeline to two weeks. The two weeks have since come and gone. We are virtually in May and the petrol queues are still with us. It is safe to believe that petrol queues will outlive the month of May. And probably 2016 until Buhari musters the courage to do the needful.
Early this week, Minister Kachikwu traced the scarcity to diversion of petrol from Nigeria to Chad and Cameroon just about the same time that the Ekiti State chapter of the APC was heaping the blame on the opposition Peoples Democratic Party [PDP] governor of that state, Ayo Fayose, who has been a fierce critic of Buhari. The APC said that the governor was diverting petrol trucks to neighbouring states and ghost fuel stations. The problem with the claim is that no state, bordering Ekiti is in a better standing on the issue of availability of petrol. I had thought that the issue of cabal has gone with the PDP. If petrol is diverted, it is because there is a premium for the product across the border.
In addition to the signing of the budget, bringing respite in the petrol supply sector, Kachikwu has created a new oath of allegiance akin to Hitler’s, which he now administers on Nigerians at the so-called town hall meetings organised and delivered by this government. Our situation is now so desperate that we will say Amen to anything. A few weeks ago, Kachikwu had told Nigerians that magic was not part of the training he received in the course of his education. But you certainly need some magical skills to craft an oath, put a spell on your listeners, administer the oath on them and get them to chorus Amen. So, on the issue of not having training in magic, Kachikwu lied.
The N5, 000 to be paid to the poorest of the poorest of Nigerians is also awaiting the signing of the budget. Nobody has publicly apprised Nigerians with the modalities of identifying the poorest of the poorest one million Nigerians, who would benefit from the handout. We just have to accept that it cannot come on stream because the budget has not been signed. The same applies to the 500,000 Nigerian graduates, who will be recruited and deployed to teach. Again it is the budget. One meal or snack per day per primary school pupil, a promise of candidate Buhari during the 2015 campaign, which has not yet been denied or declared non-priority, cannot commence because of the non signing of the budget. Everything that was promised and that has not been delivered has been heaped on the delayed 2016 budget. Fortunately, we have been told that the budget will be signed by the president next week. Hallelujah! But let us not forget that this same fiscal document was ab initio “contaminated, compromised and ultimately corrupted”, to borrow the words of Johnnie Cochran, the forensic defence lawyer of American football legend, O.J Simpson, who was accused of murdering his ex-wife and her boyfriend about 21 years ago.
They have done it again, this time in Enugu. Their signature of blood and sorrow is written all over Nimbo community in Enugu State. The governor, Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi, was reported to have wept when he saw the carnage. Somebody should, please, tell the governor that crying does not solve any problem. If crying is the solution, the governor should call a solemn assembly of all Enugu indigenes and their friends at Michael Okpara Square where everybody will cry from sun up to sun down to will the merchants of death away. Where the federal government has willfully abdicated securing the people [and indeed appears to be sympathetic to the marauding murderers], then resort to self-help becomes legitimate before man and God. We have example in the Civilian JTF [the citizen-soldiers] in the North East. Eternal vigilance is the price for liberty. Ndigbo should not willfully offer themselves to be victims of the 97%/5% treatment.