By Tony Abolo
COVID19 and its handling by those in authority has brought to the fore an element of analysis of the quality of leadership so desired and needed to make Nigeria function and function better. We have through our sixty years angled from those with oratorical prowess, to demagogues, to money bags, to better educated, to highly educated, to former military persons, and now to moral integrity. None has proven satisfactory. We must clearly begin to look for INTELLIGENCE – an ingredient so sorely missing in those who rush out of the pack and claim to want to lead. It is lack of the evidence of intelligence that when the ordinary Nigerian throws up his or her arms and asks rhetorically, “who do us this?”. This is the fuller meaning of the expression. And when some people accuse the Governments ,at all levels of knee-jerk approaches, it captures in essence the kind of and level of intelligence of those who say they are leaders.
When I read in the Newspapers that the Federal Government or State governments in the face of the lockdowns want to expand the palliatives of “2 cups of Rice and Indomie“ and finances to more persons, beyond the 1 million plus at present, anyone with a measured intelligence would merely laugh. In the heat of the moment, it seems that, that is all that occurs in the minds of those who call themselves “elected leaders”. It finally has dawned on them that there is a wide gulf created “deliberately” between themselves and those they govern. The privileges they have been accumulating and enjoying in the last sixty years are unwarranted, and unmerited. How could we in a country of 200 million persons, have a bunch of senators and members of the House of Representatives have to themselves a budget of N120b annually. The Presidency enjoys more humongous inexplicable billions to feed, travel, maintain a public house, called Aso Villa, have 2 to 3 billion naira appropriated to State House clinic, a sum which till today, no body exactly knows if it is ever released or if released, who are the beneficiaries as Buhari, Kyari(when alive) and Aisha Buhari seek alternative venues for medicare. The governors have a monthly “back pocket” allowance styled, “security vote” of N 500 million – another open sesame for a shameful privilege of access to wealth. Till date, no one knows the “security vote” of the President or the Vice President. There must be, but always, shrouded in secrecy. This is aside Ministers estacodes, allowances and other perquisites in unknown millions.
READ ALSO: Opinion: The Reign Of Abba Kyari
The riots around the lockdowns in Gwagwalada, Oshogbo, Asaba, Lagos Suburbs, Kwali, Warri and Bomadi, have suddenly woken the sleepy privileged class to realize that what has been going on and condoned are not privileges but “robbing the people” in subtle terms. It is because the people have never rioted nor shown any anger on the streets, hence this nonsense of dipping hands inside the Nation’s Treasury in the name of “budget approved” allowances and expenses. In a sudden change of heart, Senator Omo Agege goes dispensing N85m to his constituents at a time, he may never have planned for it.
In the same vein, the Minister of Humanitarian Affairs, Disaster Management and Social Development, Hajia Sadiya Umar Farouq. Hurried through some Northern states with “ghana must go” bags of billions of naira, in tow, to scatter to those, we hear, she claims are the “poorest of the poor” and the vulnerable in Nigeria, the Northerners – an obvious lie, and an unfounded fabrication. It is bad enough that the North out of its negligence and defense of an arcane culture, allows many such untrained and unskilled millions to roam everywhere in the North. And now she could claim that it is the fault of the South hence “they are the poorest of the poor” in Nigeria. Are we now to be rewarding “irresponsible parenting” and encourage promiscuity of ill-equipped persons to procreate. Of course, we will keep selling more oil from the South to support the North’s “poorest of the poor”!!. Little wonder in an exercise that smacks of nepotism, from an infographic published in the national dailies, Katsina State has been observed to have the poorest of the poor such that out of the 1,126,211 mandatory cash transfers, Katsina with their exalted “son of the soil” who has not lifted a finger in a personal way, to help his State indigenes out of poverty, the state got the highest allocation of cash transfers.
And come to think of it, it is unconscionable to be distributing public money as if it were loaves of bread and strangely without documentation, no signatures of receipt, and we are to take the Minister’s word for it that, for example, N1.6billion has been distributed to 84,000 “poor and vulnerable” in one day in Kano. Is this a due process country or a village setting? Is Nigeria a fiefdom to be run from a “village square” and without proper accountability? Little wonder, last week, Kwali vulnerable indigenes, in the Abuja area, rioted having only received N2000 each, instead of the N20,000 palliative amounts they heard announced for each person. They rightly rioted to demand for their balance N18,000:00. So much for rule of the thumb approach to governance issues, and the ethnic supremacy doctrine which makes a Minister to act as to say, “our people are in charge and we set the rules”.
This knee-jerk response approach of both the Federal and State governments to their epiphany of realizing that there is entrenched poverty in Nigeria, due to years of misrule, injustice, over allocation of privileges to only a tiny few, plain “greed” in the name of privileged collection of “budgeted perquisites” has made it abundantly plain that – what all governments are doing, is neither wise, clever or sustainable. Government cannot and does not have the capacity to be feeding its populace in a lock down – and as is now being done, in a not-all inclusive manner. Governance as a responsibility has to be thought through. These palliative releases cannot and will not address the inequity in the system. Increasing the so called Social Register to 3.6million households is nonsensical. In any case, we hope that it is not another, towards the poorest of the poor in the North? In a country of 200 million and where nearly 100 million are poor and vulnerable, according to NBS statistics. it is merely irresponsible of any government to be talking of 3.6 million households to remedy. What we need now is a NATIONAL SOCIAL WELFARE REGISTER. We should cut down all the wastages and undue and unnecessary privileges in the system. We need to have a political class that acts with concern, compassion and humility. Now is the right time during and post COVID-19, to enact – A National SOCIAL WELFARE SCHEME – a programme that would count, capture and take care of the millions of the poorest of the poor and the unemployed Nigerians instead of this skewed Social Investment programme of the APC. This programme should have a legislative backing in line with the thinking of Speaker Femi Gbajabiamila, unlike the SIP which seem an ethnicised, regional and a supremacist skewed project. We should act, like what the Chinese would say, in a manner that would be like the tide – which lifts ALL THE BOATS. It is this, that would save the over privileged political class. Otherwise, as in the book title of James Baldwin, it will be FIRE THE NEXT TIME!!!!.
A tough call though, at a time the world is predicted to have a worst recession since 1930s and when the world economy is predicted by the IMF to contract by 3% and Nigeria’s economy, predicted to contract by -3.4% with an inflation rise to as high as 13.4%. But then our governments never ever think in a future wise sense in Nigeria, ever. So, we will get our comeuppance as it comes, for we never ever know how to plan for tomorrow as we always like to use the cultural and religious platform of “Oh well, God will provide”. In any case, no one can stop the steaming anger and riots that could erupt post – COVID-19, with the way we are handling the Nigerian aspect of the pandemic.
I end this article with a quote from Onikepo Braithwaite in her article titled Nigeria Post Covid -19 of 19-4-2020 published in This Day- as it shares my thoughts:
The pertinent question to ask at this juncture is, do we love our country and want it to survive or not? It is patently clear that if the answer is in the affirmative, this is as good a time to do away with many of our worthless structures, systems and frivolous expenditure as the cost of governance is way too high and unsustainable……Are we going to continue to have States which are not viable or allow them to harness their own resources to generate IGR? What kind of restructuring are we going to undertake, in order to rebuild our country and make it better? There are so many unanswered questions and matters which require urgent attention.
Tony Abolo is a vetrave journalist, Doyen of broadcast journalism, journalism instructor, public speaker, and writer.