After weeks of research, the federal government has finally found an anchor for the $1 billion slush fund that it has withdrawn from the Excess Crude Account. The announcement from a representative of the Nigerian Governors’ Forum has been an issue of controversy. No one has been able to understand why a war that Alhaji Lai Mohammed declared as having been won and lost should still enjoy the luxury of $1 billion expenditure, apart from the usual budgetary allocations to defence.
Before now, government was caught in a web of doublespeak. From the earlier declaration that the fund was meant for the war against terrorism in the North East, Vice President Yemi Osinbajo extended the frontiers of the fund to cover the restiveness in the Niger Delta and other security issues across the country. Osinbajo’s afterthought did not make the right impact. So, Lai Mohammed had to step in. He has emerged from his poorly equipped research room with a load of boring tirades. He has dismissed those who are truly desirous of understanding what the fund is meant for as unpatriotic and uninformed. In telling his story, Mohammed also appealed copiously to the sentiments of the military.
In his bid to find substance for his defence, Mohammed had to take us on a roller coaster. He had to become an emergency expert on arms and ammunition. He gave names of war planes and other military hardware. He provided details about their fuel consumption. He talked about their spare parts and maintenance. He even talked about the cost of their plugs. He went into details that clearly showed that he took a lecture or read a manual on fighter jets and helicopters. But at the end of the day, his presentation was boring and laborious. The details were ridiculous. The story did not flow. But Mohammed believes that he has informed us.
When he was done with his blow-by-blow expenditure profile on fighter jets and military hardware, Mohammed tried to force us into entertaining a feeling of guilt. He said the military does everything for us, yet we are quick to raise eyebrows whenever money is allocated to the sector. As an accustomed hand in propaganda, the man knows that he must appeal to someone’s sentiment. Here, he found an ally in the military. He said it is one institution that usually comes to our rescue when the going gets tough but we complain when fund is being approved for it. Can you now understand the hang of Mohammed’s tirade? It is only an unpatriotic citizenry that will query any allocation to the military. Cheap blackmail.
But if the lecture on the military and militarism did not convince, Mohammed was not done yet. He wandered further afield to dredge up issues such as cattle rustling, pipeline vandalism, separatism and the like as further justification for the slush fund. He has informed the uninformed. That is a breakthrough. He has explained what the vice president and the governors’ forum could not explain. That is vintage Mohammed.
However, if we move away from the lecture circuit, we will still be faced with a number of unsettled issues. Why did Mohammed suddenly stop laying emphasis on the defeat of Boko Haram? How did he lose the gusto and the triumphalism that attended his earlier declaration that we have defeated Boko Haram? Rather than dwell on what he thought was going to be the government’s selling point, he has become an overnight convert of those who have been making a distinction between conventional and asymmetric warfares. Like them, Mohammed is now saying that defeating Boko Haram is an uphill task because of the nature of the warfare. Mohammed has clearly recanted. He has eaten his words. Yet, he wants us to believe otherwise. He is still putting up a bold face. He wants to lead us by the nose. But he is not succeeding at the venture. After the rigmarole, the issue remains largely unsettled.
A major sore point of the claim of defeating Boko Haram is the unsettled Chibok issue. A good number of the Chibok girls are still in captivity, more than two years into the life of an administration that made the rescue of the schoolgirls a campaign issue. After the initial effort, government has slumped into inactivity. No mention is being made of Chibok anymore. The matter appears to have been consigned to the ash heap of history. We are being led into wilful forgetfulness. They want us to treat Chibok as settled. But we know it is far from that. It was this disposition to see Chibok as a non-issue that led Mohammed into announcing that “we have defeated Boko Haram.” How could we say so with over 100 girls still missing? To say so as government did was indicative of its seriousness, or lack of it, over Chibok. In fact, what appears to have muddled up issues for government in this matter was the premature declaration over the defeat of Boko Haram. Government, after its campaign hype on Boko Haram, was impatient with itself. It wanted to score a point. It wanted to tell the whole world that it had delivered on its promise. Now, the entire story has gone awry. Government would have us believe that Boko Haram is no longer a threat to national security. Yet, its actions and inactions indicate otherwise.
To make sense, the need has arisen for this government to go back to the drawing board. The starting point would be for government to be humble. It must own up to its errors or miscalculations. As it is grappling with its lies over Boko Haram, it has the all-important issue of petroleum products supply to deal with. Nigerians are going through excruciating difficulties at the moment over the scarcity of fuel. This year’s Christmas was a bleak one. Government made it so with its policy somersaults. Again, petrol was a campaign issue. We will not worry so much about Buhari’s promise that he would sell fuel for N40 a litre. We have since forgiven his ignorance. But he must save us from some pain. He moved the pump price of fuel from N87 to N145 without discussing with anybody. When this happened, Ibe Kachikwu, the minister of state, petroleum, told us that the pump price would reduce in no time. Now, that time has not come. Instead, something stranger than fiction has crept into the mix. Today, Nigerians are buying a litre of petrol for N250. It is not easy for the citizenry. The people are moaning and groaning. Yet government continues to play hide and seek. It has not come out to tell the people why things are the way they are. What is really the problem with our petroleum products supply chain? Is appropriate pricing still an issue in the sector? What about the unsettled and unsettling issue of subsidy? Government needs to answer these questions. It has a responsibility to tell Nigerians the true state of affairs. As an opposition party, the All Progressives Congress was interested in these issues. It spoke vociferously about them. Now that it has formed government, it must continue to show interest in them. Treating them as if they do not matter is contemptuous and, therefore, unacceptable.