Yes, matters miscellaneous. This is how our inimitable columnist and teacher of mass communication, Professor Olatunji Dare, would put it if confronted by weighty issues, numerous, compelling and urgent enough, all competing for his attention, and in his fair minded disposition, he decided to take all of them in one fell swoop. Today, I am confronted by numerous issues, urgent and compelling enough and I have no choice but to borrow the art patented by the aforementioned Dare.
The economy, yes the economy. A hitherto scary and complicated subject better left severely alone in the hands of the egg heads in the academia and their soul mates trumping the corridors of power as advisers on sabbatical, has now been forced down our throats. Today, all of us, both the laymen and the initiated have claimed some expertise in the matter.
We now know well enough to know that it all boils down to using available resources to meet our numerous and almost insatiable demands. But the resources, where available, have continued to dwindle. And the signs and the forecasts are still far from promising. The economic problem, as every house wife and every primary school going pupil now knows full well, gives no sign of abating yet. In fact, all prognoses suggest we are in for a long haul.
This week, the Daily Trust reported the analysis from the Ministry of Finance and what the report had to say was not different from what we thought we knew all along. From year 2014 to 2015, what the federal government, the state governments and the local government councils had to share had been reduced drastically from N8.6 trillion in 2014 to N5.8 trillion in 2015. And the slide continues unabated because of the global fall in crude oil prices. The impact of this slide in oil price is dramatic. The state governments cannot make ends meet; they are unable to pay salaries of workers and they have had to cry to the federal government for bailout. But what many of them have failed to do so far is curb their own profligacy.
In the ordinary man’s home the story is the same; it is the story of near- starvation. Parents are unable to pay their children’s school fees, and other bills are piling up.
And it is at this time, this moment, that the National Electricity Regulation Commission deemed it fit to increase the electricity tariff by a whopping 45 per cent. The Nigerian Labour congress, NLC and the Trade Union Congress, TUC, as well as other consumers are out on streets protesting the increase in tariffs, saying loudly that “we cannot pay for darkness.”
But Power, Works and Housing Minister, Babatunde Raji Fashola says there is no better time to do so and blamed past governments for neglecting the power sector. He urged consumers to bear patiently with him and swallow the bitter pill that the increased tariffs represent. “It is a painful pill that I must appeal that we swallow. It is like quinine and malaria. It is painful; it is not sweet. I know that, but I do it because we are not left with many choices,” says the minister. If the consumers take the pills and they are cured of chronic darkness, Fashola’s exhortations will be sweet music to the ears, but will the bitter pill do the magic?
The story of electricity supply in this country has been a story of woe from the days of ECN, the Electricity Corporation of Nigeria, to National Electric Power Authority, NEPA and then to Power Holding Company of Nigeria. The latter, through its unbundling process, gave birth to DISCOS, which can be mistaken for an entertainment company given to jollity in a perpetual atmosphere of conviviality. But even at a disco party, there must be light, not lights out. Will Fashola’s bitter pill give us light to enjoy our disco party? And to boot, revive some industries that have closed down because of epileptic power supply? I guess Nigerians can take the pill if it will eventually enable them to kick the generators and the fuel they guzzle, not to talk of the lethal fumes they emit. At the time of writing this piece, I am on generator. And I cannot be the only one. Nigerians are going through hell in the hands of the new electricity companies.
And as they say, it does not just rain, it pours. As we thought that we are winning the war against the Boko Haram insurgency – Lai Mohammed says the war has been technically won – and as we prepare to celebrate the well-deserved victory, Senator Baba Kaka Bashir Garbai, representing Borno Central, came out last weekend to say that only three local government areas in Borno are safe from Boko Haram insurgents. Meaning that of the 27 local government areas in the state, only Maiduguri, the state capital, Metropolitan Council, Bayo and Kwaya Kusar local government areas were free of the militant’s nuisance. The rest of the 24 local government areas are fully or partially under the control of the militants.
For emphasis he says: “There is this assumption that most of the local government areas in Borno State have been recaptured. In reality, it is not true.” Something is amiss. Obviously it is not possible to get rid of these insurgents overnight, but Nigerians deserve to know the correct situation, the truth and nothing but the truth. The military denied what the senator said in one breath and in another it says some bad eggs in uniform were responsible for the latest onslaught by the militants. So what is it? Are the Boko Haram there in control or they are not there and have been vanquished?
And if truly all is now well in the war front, what, I may ask, happens to the Chibok girls? Where are the girls? To date, these girls have spent 668 days in captivity through no fault of theirs. Nigerians and their parents in particular have gone through trauma and endless anguish lamenting the fate of these innocent girls. Despite the collaborative efforts of the international community to locate and free them, their fate and their whereabouts have remained a mystery.
President Muhammad Buhari admitted on national television during his maiden media chat that intelligent reports had not indicated the whereabouts of the girls.
Do we take the chilling conclusion of former President Olusegun Obasanjo at the weekend to mean that all hopes are lost as far as the Chibok are girls are concerned? He said that the girls were far too gone to be rescued and gave a lie to whoever says the girls could be rescued. In his words: “They cannot be released intact”
He put the blame for the fate of the girls squarely on former President Goodluck Jonathan who lived in denial and failed to do anything (apart from his wife’s callous theatrics) until almost three days after. And whatever he did thereafter was tepid, too little and grossly too late.
Good news: Chief of Air Staff, Air Marshall Sadique Baba Abubakar is optimistic that the Chibok girls will be located and rescued. Speaking in Makurdi at the weekend, the Air Force chief assured the nation that not only the kidnapped Chibok girls but all Nigerians kidnapped by the Boko Haram insurgents would be rescued.
If that happens, and we pray it happens, it will be kudos for the Air Force. Obviously that will signal the return of normalcy. It will also free the government from all sorts of distractions so it can concentrate almost solely on revamping the economy and save the county from the current misery and a certain apocalypse.
This country survived the scourge of Ebola in 2014 mercifully, with a few fatalities. This year it is Lassa fever. Though not a stranger to Nigeria, it is in fact named after Lassa town in Borno State where it first broke out in 1969, but it is spreading here again like the Harmattan fire as if the nation’s health infrastructure never planned for it. Since we seemed not to have planned for the devil we know, are the ministries of health planning for Zika?
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