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Memo to Buhari on poverty

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President Muhammadu Buhari. / AFP PHOTO / Mandel NGAN


My dearest President! I do appreciate the pressure on you at this moment and definitely not time to bother your Excellency with side talks. You have an election to win in another six months or so. Very soon, the Independent Electoral Commission (INEC) will sound the whistle for the start of campaigns for the elections and you shall be afield again to tell Nigerians to vote for you. In the last election, your campaign was anchored on “CHANGE” on the strength of which Nigerians voted to change the poor performing President Goodluck Jonathan.

For freshness, the ‘change’ mantra has to change for something else to drive the 2019 campaigns. You surely need time to develop another captivating key word or phrase to electrify voters and get them once more on your side. In fact, it is the reason I am doing you this letter. Your media team is failing big time and you need help urgently. They do not seem to have the right things to say about you.

My friend called Mallam Shehu Garba is particularly annoying. Everything he says is to fundamentally and permanently connect you with poverty. Why? Is he your account officer? Or did you by any chance tell him that the Allah you serve is a God of poverty? It was he who posted a photograph depicting you as an economy class passenger struggling to stow away your carry-on luggage in the overhead compartment of a British Airways plane. Then, you had been elected President but not sworn-in and you were visiting the United Kingdom for some personal business.

The photograph primarily was used to proclaim well ahead: ‘uhuru to Nigerians; here comes a president with exceptionally simple attitudes that will not steal but defend the common wealth which has suffered unceasing abuse under successive governments since Independence.’ At another time, the same Garba posted a photograph of a whole you sitting in an uninspiring ante-room in your house in Daura and watching the national football team play on a 32-inch television. It was made to look as if you could not afford something more enhancing.

Sir, at 76, you are old enough to be my father. Tell me Your Excellency; is there anything fundamentally wrong with being rich like Aliko Dangote? Question number two sir; are you actually a poor man as Mallam Garba would want us to accept? I seek clarification because I am truly confused. Take myself for instance. I left university 31 years ago and I have worked for about 30 years now after my compulsory one year National Youth Service, which I did in a secondary school in Lagos.

I didn’t actually mean to mention the aspect of my youth service to the nation but for recent happenings regarding that subject matter. I am therefore sorry Your Excellency if I sound as if I am bragging about a monumental achievement, which even ministers in your cabinet have not been able to accomplish. The point though is that, I am not among poor Nigerians by whatever classification. And so, if a small boy like me who started working only yesterday, I am not poor, how come that a whole you who started working the year I was born in 1963, is said to be poor, so much so that you are unable to afford a big screen TV to watch football matches?

For all I know, this is not a fair assessment and Mallam Garba should be stopped from continuing in that trajectory. He even said that you have only 150 heads of cattle since you started farming in 1985 following your forced exit from the military. Haba! What is he trying to say? That your bulls, like eunuchs, are incapable of impregnating the cows? People like Obasanjo, T.Y Danjuma, Babangida, Abdulsalami Abubakar and even latter day small, small boys like Marwa and David Mark with whom you did soldiering together have so much to show. Why is your case different?
The latest by Mallam Garba was your celebrated 800-metre trek from the praying ground in Daura where you had gone to pray. Maybe he has forgotten who you are. I mean, what is walking a distance of 800 metres, a fifth less than a kilometre, to a retired army general like you? See, my real father who is 104 years old and the oldest man in my community walks for kilometres. His walking around is a normative and does not attract any attention or publicity back in my village. For Mallam Garba to make your trekking 800 metres only look like the killing of a lion with bare hands diminishes your martial credentials Your Excellency.

Question number three Your Excellency! Do children of poor Nigerians enjoy the privilege of schooling abroad? Don’t be angry at me sir. I am genuinely concerned about terminating this sustained misinformation by Mallam Garba. As at the close of trading last Friday, the naira stood at 363 to the US dollar. The cheapest tuition in an East London University for instance is about $15,000. Since the naira is still not at par with the dollar as promised by you in the build-up to the 2015 elections, it will take about N5.5million to service that bill from a naira-denominated economy. I also know that no poor man in Nigeria earns N5.5 million to pay on the education of just one child. If a man has as many as seven as you probably have and three happen to be in the university abroad at the same time, the cost comes to N16.5million per annum on tuition alone. At the current minimum wage of N18,000, it would take about 76 years for a level 4 officer in a government establishment to save that much from his entire salary.

I do not have any more questions for you sir. But your sincere responses to the questions asked above should in the end explain why to be rich is not a crime, just as it is not a virtue to be poor. Rather, what is appalling is the equation of absolute lack of creativity that breeds poverty with integrity. Or, the equation of genuine creativity at wealth and value creation with thievery.

In the 2015 outing when the APC presidential nomination form was a paltry N25 million, the story that you pushed out was you procured the form with bank loan. One account claimed it wasn’t a bank loan that you used but a donation by former governor of Bayelsa State, who saw in your presidency an excellent opportunity to sow a seed. Whichever that applied, both theories underscored your continued financial incapacitation amid wonderful life opportunities that you have had.

The stakes are even higher this time around. The APC’s nomination form is selling for about N45 million. And the seemingly high price is absolutely justified. When it was N27 million, the naira was 170 to the dollar and now at N363 to the dollar which is more than double what it was four years ago, it is only proper that a few market forces are allowed onto the political space to even up the calculus so that no side is hurt.
Again, you have started pleading your signature poverty. You have been reported as saying the cost is high for you to scale. Well that is neither here nor there. It cannot be ascertained if a bank has graciously granted the N45 million loan without collateral, or another rich fan of yours has offered to pick up the bill this time. What is clear however is that your name and the name of your party, the APC, are on the INEC card to contest the 2019 presidential election. And so, anyhow, the frog must jump.

It brings me to the real purpose of writing you this letter Your Excellency. Mallam Garba and others should be ordered to stop advertising your poverty. I have not seen where poverty is recorded as an advantage in political competition in the world. Poor people don’t win elections in Nigeria. They lose and woefully too. If you are in doubt, do kindly ask Asiwaju Ahmed Bola Tinubu or Rotimi Amaechi. I am saying therefore that your people should shut-up if they do not have anything more useful than poverty to advertise about you.

I can help them with what to say. They should say for instance that you have squarely lived up to your electoral promise of delivering change in Nigeria. They should say the naira has changed from 170 to 363 to the dollar. They should say that the war against corruption has changed and two former governors who are party members are in jail for stealing public funds. They should say Fulani herdsmen have changed from carrying sticks to AK47 to shepherd their cattle. They should say Federal Character has changed to Northern Nigeria Character. They should say that the petrol pump price changed from N86 per litre to N145.

They should say the immigration rules have changed and access to the homeland by all and sundry including criminal elements from the Maghreb is no longer a big deal. They should say that the Nigeria National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) under the watch of the substantive petroleum minister has changed to a very efficient national oil company that is bringing so much money to the national coffers. They should say that the rules generally have changed and non-participation in the National Youth Service scheme is not a disadvantage in the quest for national rights and privileges.

Under the same changed rules, they can quickly add that a smart thief in the civil service who knows where to invest his stolen money can be pardoned and rewarded with promotion and enhanced emoluments. They should not forget to add that national security has been redefined and everything in Nigeria including freedom and right to life is subordinate to national security.

Your Excellency, the foregoing sounds more like a progressive and incremental campaign content than this fixation on poverty as a tool for winning a presidential election by your handlers. If I have reasons to write again to advise on the way forward before the election, I shall not hesitate to do so. Thanks and God bless you sir.


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