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Despair, Nigerian style


Whether or not our current leaders consider it a cruel fate that threw them up in these times that contrast with the heady days of oil boom, they must not keep on ruing their arrival on the political scene only when the party is over. For, great leaders, with redoubtable transformational savvy, have often emerged in the times of depressing national crises like war and economic collapse. The times of crises are not when leaders who have been weaned on a diet of ease and are imbued with the delusive notion that public office is a voyage into uncharted territories of splurging should remain in the cocoon of comfort, untouched by the afflictions of their people. Thus before our leaders is placed the uncommon opportunity of demonstrating their capability for navigating the nation through the treacherous trajectory of a myriad of emergencies.

But even if they were willing, our leaders cannot make a headway until they really appreciate the character of the tragedy that has befallen the citizens. In our nation’s case, it may only be in the period of the civil war that the people suffered more than they are doing now. Every other crisis with its attendant immiseration may pale into insignificance before the one the citizens are currently confronted with. The economic crisis has thrown many  people out of jobs and they can no longer  pay their rents. But just recently in Lagos, for instance, such people could still have found shelter if they were thrown out by their landlords or landladies.  Those whose pallid economic condition  rendered them homeless would have had the bridges  to save them from the elements. But urban development in contemporary times has made these bridges inaccessible to them. And even if they were still available, ritual killers  and rapists would have made them danger zones for the homeless to shelter under. And in the past, the hungry citizens ate from dustbins. But such culinary havens are fast disappearing.

Indeed, signposting their attainment of apotheosis, the dustbins and dumping grounds have increasingly become the dining tables of the poor . The scramble cannot go unnoticed as those who ought to throw the remnants of their food in those dustbins do not even have what to eat.  These are workers whose companies have collapsed because of their inability to procure the foreign exchange they needed for their operations. Others are workers who, though are engaged in their jobs, are being owed for months by their private or public employers. These hobbled employees are even looking for who to borrow from. Some of them who never went to religious places of worship like churches before now frequent there with the hope that help could come from there. But from who do they beg or borrow when all the workers are suffering the same fate? Those that may be in a position to be borrowed or begged from should be the members of the political class who are invulnerable to the crushing  economic crisis . Even the little the salary-starved worker has cannot buy so much since the prices of goods have tripled due to the widening disparity between the naira and the dollar.

However, there is only a very thin line between those who eat from the dustbins and the dumping grounds and beg and the rest of the citizens, except the political and business classes who feed off the citizens. In other words, we are all beggars in our current economic situation. Standing in the queue for hours, we all beg for fuel. We all beg for electricity. We all beg for water which cannot be supplied through our boreholes because there is neither electricity nor fuel for the generator to pump it. We all beg for our salaries to be paid. It is the same incubus of begging that drives our government outside the shores of the nation to seek loans. It is tragic that this is the fate of citizens of a nation that is supposed to be one of the most prosperous in the world on account of its mineral resources and human endowment.

But we must not blame our benighted lot on the crash in oil prices. We must recognise our  leadership as the blight on our existence . It is the political class that has wasted the opportunities to put the nation on the path of development. Despite all their avowals, the current political leaders may end their tenures and leave the nation’s problems as they have met them. Our leaders do not realise that governance is more serious than just erecting some streetlights and getting the praise of some deluded citizens. It is easy for a leader who is operating in a local community with a broad  base of  grovelling supporters to render such a marginal service and be valourised. But once such a leader is given higher responsibilities at the national level  he or she  flounders. This is the problem with Raji Fashola who got many accolades as a high-performing governor in Lagos State only to fail to  find his bearing in the electricity sector he has been given to manage.  It was the same way that Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala failed to use her much-touted  experience at the World Bank to improve the economy.

If the political class violates its pact with the citizens, the latter cannot seek redress from the law courts. The credentials of the arbiters of justice are equally smeared with the grime of greed and corruption . Now, justice is for the highest bidder  and  the political class would only appropriate  the judiciary as its vassal. Yet, we cannot look up to those outside government for succour. It is the  business people  in the private sector  who connive  with the  political class to empty  the treasury. What  the business class  is only interested in is to increase its capital as though the essence of their existence is  the material disparity between them and the poor citizens. This is why, as the Panama Papers have revealed while the rich businesspeople  declare their companies to be burdened by an inauspicious economic climate and deny their employees their well-deserved improved welfare , they divert billions from the same companies to fund  their illicit businesses overseas.

The Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) which ought to be a bulwark for their members against their oppressive employers and a government that lives in a blithe denial of the plight of the people is threatening to begin a mass protest if senators do not return their newly acquired expensive sport utility vehicles . But having been emasculated by the same economic crisis and corruption, nothing is likely to come out of the threat of the NLC . The workers are left on their own to suffer their grim fate. Our leaders must realise that the citizens have passed the stage of being fed false hopes. They do not see hope on the horizon and  when  their despair takes a turn for the worse, it is not only them who would suffer. The political leaders who seem impregnably protected now may suffer a grimmer fate.

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