The more things change
The ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) and the main opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) are two sides of a political coin; this is no longer news. If anyone still harbours misgivings about this, let such a one consider the leadership challenges that now threaten both parties. Those challenges border on a tragic lack of concrete principles and visions on which political parties thrive elsewhere. The visions of Nigerian political parties seldom go beyond wresting power from an incumbent party; after which they spend a better part of their time in office playing the copy-cat; or worse still, when borrowed ideas that had worked in foreign climes fail to yield good results in Nigeria, they lament about the failings of their predecessors. These are the essentials of Nigeria’s succession of leaderships over the years.
As we may well recall, whenever the challenges of his high office came to a head, then President Goodluck Jonathan was wont to casually remind Nigerians that the problems of the country didn’t start in his administration (And probably wouldn’t end with it; as indeed it didn’t). President Umaru Yar’ Adua’s early glimpses of creative leadership was sadly cut short by ill-health and premature death. Before those dark clouds took the brief shine from Nigeria’s skies, President Olusegun Obasanjo had never tired of lamenting how, “when I left office in 1979 Nigeria had X number of ships and X number of aircraft…” etc. President Muhammadu Buhari in his turn has spent a better part of his 18 months in office lamenting “PDP’s 16 locust years.” This certainly leaves so much to be desired in a president who had promised to bring a remarkable change in the polity. Indeed, as they say, the more things change, the more they remain the same.
Nigerian political parties also have an unflattering reputation for mouthing poorly distilled ideas, which more often than not are remembered for their propaganda value than for their positive impact on the citizenry. Thus we readily recall Shagari’s “Green Revolution;” Obasanjo’s “Operation Feed the Nation;” Buhari/Idiagbon’s “Essential Commodity/War Against Indiscipline;” Babangida’s “Structural Adjustment Programme;” Abacha’s “Vision 2010;” etc. The latest of these highfalutin programmes is the PDP conceived “Vision 20:2020,” which purports to enlist Nigeria in that exclusive club of the world’s 20 most industrialised countries in the year 2020. Quite an ambition, that, having regard to Nigeria’s infrastructural deficit mere four years to the target year! Nigeria relocated her political capital city from the congested twin-seaports city of Lagos to the fast-growing new city of Abuja in 1992; about a quarter-century after in 2016, no dedicated network of roads exist between Abuja and Lagos. Thus, the 700-odd kilometre distance between the two most important cities in Nigeria is traversed in over 12 grueling hours by road. Meanwhile, Nigeria, a nation of over 160 million people, struggles to generate 5,000MW of electricity; while over 80 per cent of her petroleum products are imported; yet Nigerian politicians could bring themselves to adumbrate about a “Vision 20:2020” on public platforms.
It is very comical. Indeed, not too long ago, an accomplished Niger Delta comedian remarked that our contemporary politicians have unwittingly traded places with members of his profession; a decidedly comical, but regrettably not-so-off-the mark commentary. It is understandable if some exuberant politicians fancy themselves as stage entertainers, what with the ever-present multiple camera lenses and blinding lights that cover most of their official activities, both the routine and the one-offs, and the accompanying ceremonies, inclusive of drama, songs and dance. Indeed, as we regularly observe in both the Green and Red chambers of the National Assembly, most Nigerian politicians apparently delight in the act of “performing on stage.” And the ongoing debate on how to get Nigeria out of “technical economic recession,” has again provided an ample opportunity for unbridled performance.
Rather comically, the legislators have adroitly, if in impressive spoken English, navigated around the all too evident low-hanging-fruits of drastic reductions in government recurrent expenditure and reached out for the unrealistic options of recovering squandered oil windfall revenues; probing and recovering unremitted revenues into NNPC’s accounts; sales of government’s high-performing assets; probing uncompleted projects for which full disbursements have been made; and “borrowing to spend ourselves out of recession.” (I have yet to visualise how an economy with decrepit infrastructure can spend its way out of recession).
Comedy certainly has its place and time, but our dire economic situation enjoins grim soberness. It is not a laughing matter that millions of Nigerian workers have not received their salaries for close to 12 months (!) It is not a laughing matter either that everyone in Nigeria, both young and old, runs the risk of being kidnapped for ransom. It is not a laughing matter that Nigerians now take their own lives at will due to economic challenges. It is also not a laughing matter that parents now sell their new born babies to make ends meet; and the soul-rending list goes on and on. Recession is much more than a mere word. These times call for deep sober reflections on the plight of our dear country, Nigeria.
Methinks the recurrent cost of governance ought to be cut by at least 60 per cent. The government should Issue massive concessions on road, rail networks, and power infrastructure projects to friendly trading partners. The value of the naira should be administratively reviewed upwards to effectively stimulate local productivity. We should develop a multi-party 50-year Economic model for Nigeria with specific performance targets on skilled and educated manpower; housing; healthcare; and power. These constitute the low-hanging-fruits in our present circumstances; President Buhari should reach out to them now; else, his “change” mantra will sooner than later morph into “The more things change, the more they remain the same.”
• Afam, a consulting engineer, wrote from Abuja.