President Buhari is missing out on yet another golden opportunity. May it not be said that his 8-years regime is all about missed opportunities. In the year 2007 when President Yar’Adua came into government, Nigeria had problems with the boys in the Niger Delta who crippled oil production and took up arms against the state. I recall that in 2008, Yar’Adua paid a courtesy visit to Prime Minister Gordon Brown of the United Kingdom.
As usual, Brown put on his salesman cap and tried to schmooze Umaru into a $300million arms deal to ‘secure the Niger Delta and protect the flow of crude oil’. See remnants of that news here Nigerian activists reject UK plan. Yar’Adua stylishly rejected the deal by speaking about how the European and American governments should help us track stolen crude oil. Brown and his folks were not happy with Yar’Adua, who came back home and instead embraced a peaceful way out of that insurgency; a deal which has somehow held up till today, warts and all.
I recall those boys the day they went to Aso Villa. It was probably their first times there, and certainly the first time they shook hands with a sitting president. Tears streamed down the faces of some of them. Boyloaf. Tom Polo, Ateke Tom, Farah Dagogo. These guys couldn’t believe their eyes. The word on the streets was that they never believed a ‘Fulani’ president could refuse the military option in the Niger Delta but take the difficult and risky approach of even inviting them to his house in Abuja, despite the fact that they were bombing different locations. A new lesson was learnt. A new precedence was set. Note that before Yar’Adua, Obasanjo had sent the military boys to ‘level’ a few of the small towns down in the Delta. Odi is one of them.
Today, we hear the presidential spokesman Garba Shehu comparing the agitations of Mr Omoyele Sowore with the activities of Boko Haram. We know how government has handled the Boko Haram problem. Shekau has been killed 5 times but still gives broadcasts. Perhaps if the kind of resources deployed against an armless Sowore was used to sincerely track Shekau, the story will be different tofay. Well, nothing surprises anymore, and we had better try to reach Buhari directly, skirting the shylock, negative and sometimes bloodthirsty aides he has surrounded himself with. I know that one’s aides reflect one’s mindset but we still have to try somehow. Sowore hasn’t taken arms against the Nigerian state. He hasn’t used many incendiary words apart from once when he said Nigerians need to remove Buhari from government. He is pro-Nigerian and for that reason, many Yoruba/Igbo and other ‘ethnic nationalists’ who believe that we are better working for the disintegration of Nigeria hate his guts and believe he deserves what he gets. If government should step back and reconsider its actions, they probably will realize that they are merely bullying Sowore as well as the other 22 years old captive, Mandate. So, government can sometimes run scared of people who take action to bring down Nigeria, but will pursue a housefly with sledgehammer? The amount of state resources that have been deployed to ‘teach Sowore a lesson’ is inordinate, extremely unjustified and totally wasteful. But some support this government even as it writes its name in the book of infamy. Many government supporters on this matter are interested in ‘teaching him a lesson’ when there are higher ideals to aspire to.
Buhari’s government is great at missing opportunities. After the 2019 elections, many people expected the government to work with people from other political parties. Some of them showed competence and pedigree. That was not to be. Not a single attempt was made. For a country where presidencies appointed people from opposition parties in 2003, 2007 and 2011, in 2019 Buhari did not believe reaching out to the opposition would add any value. Nigeria has since stopped trying to unite her people or pretending that we could ever be one. Our collective vision became more tunnelized and narrowed. The government has watched as the fissions between our people along tribal and religious lines continue to expand. The sense of nationalism has disappeared. All that matters is loyalty to Muhammadu Buhari. The point is whether the president has advisers who could prod him to do things that are broadminded in nature, or if they know he is not interested and will not listen to them. What we hear from his Vice, a very enlightened legal luminary and academician, Yemi Osinbajo, is how Buhari has shown much tolerance such that he allowed a Christian chapel to be built some metres away from his kitchen. What I read from that is that the Vice President is totally cowed; he feels so grateful that a chapel was allowed at all (that may mean they have shifted from the previous location), he almost sounds as if the Christian prayers were contaminating the president’s food and that Buhari ate the food all the same!
Imagine what could have happened to all the noise from opposition if the president had interested someone like Kingsley Moghalu or Obadiah Mailafia in ministerial positions? What is wrong in getting a couple of competent people for ambassadorship positions from say PDP? Is the president of Nigeria not supposed to be making some serious inroads into our natural divides, blasting the myths of hausa-igbo-yoruba-igala-ibibio etc tribal wars? Is he not meant to be proving to all of us that these are mere bogeymen? What about the youth divide? At 78 years or so, why has he refused to appoint into his cabinet some very youthful people such as to silence a lot of the social media criticisms? The president has jurisdiction and purview over the entire nation. He is our CEO. And a CEO knows well enough that the organization he leads can only reflect his personality, his beliefs, his philosophy. Is this current Nigeria the best Buhari can do? To make matters worse, in being taciturn, the President has shut himself out, often leaving the country to drift, or allowing interlopers to hijack our emotions for their own selfish ends.
As it pertains to Sowore’s Revolution Now, and the mounting global pressure, the point is that we don’t need this noise for now. A civilian, democratic government cannot be conducting itself like a military dictatorship, allowing foreign governments to make statements suggesting that its intentions are dictatorial in nature. Nigeria last had such situation in the 80s and 90s. But what does anyone expect? Sowore’s mother is seen in distress weeping. The optics are bad. Opeyemi, his wife, is doing the right thing meeting her senator and now the Department of State has stepped in. Trump does not care about Nigeria. He thinks we are wild animals and he detests Buhari ab initio. If he is pushed to make a statement, we will not like what he will utter. Thus far, these western countries have got everything they want from Buhari who is ready to offer anything to be in their good books. Our careening debt profile is enough evidence. This government is hoping that the western world will treat the Sowore affair as insignificant. They are right. But only up to an extent.
I have two solutions for the government to deescalate this matter which may not turn out the way they expect. God forbid something happens and Sowore’s blood stains Buhari’s government. From all I know the crisis that will ensue will not be easy to manage. I think the government has taken enough risk with the Sowore matter. Now is time to roll back a little and use other approaches.
- Why can Buhari not adopt an approach of inviting Sowore to a private meeting? So even if Sowore merely wants some prominence/visibility as some people suggest, what is the big deal about granting the young man what he wants? Will that kill Nigeria? Or make Buhari look small? I think it will achieve the opposite. Buhari needs to occupy his father-figure position not run away from that responsibility as he has been all this while. After all, elders are supposed to see further than youngsters and be able to navigate the follies of young people? If private meetings are arranged, Buhari can personally hear out Sowore and even grant some of the concessions that he wants. I believe Sowore is fighting for a better country and for a better deal for the most oppressed amongst us. The president should know, that given what is going on in France, Egypt, Iraq, Britain, Hong Kong, Bolivia, Venezuela and other places, the younger generation are demanding for better governance across the board. Nigeria will not be an exception. Where necessary and if he accepts, create an agency that can drive some of what Sowore wants and make him the head. Let him (Sowore) also see that it is tough to run government. He may just mess himself up too. Checkmate.
- If I could advise Buhari, I will say he should buy, rebrand and own the RevolutionNow rhetoric. Revolution is not a swear word. In fact, I believe it was what we need in Nigeria presently. The word cannot be outlawed as is being done presently. Nigeria needs revolutions, which means a new way of doing things; turning things inside-out, revolving. We need an ethical revolution, a revolution against corruption, a cultural revolution like China had, an economic revolution that will boost our per capita productivity. We need a Revolution of Ideas, which is my campaign theme when I ran for presidency in February. Actually, as a long-time supporter of Buhari I thought he will bring some revolutionary action into governance in 2015, but he has acted so far like another civil servant protecting status quo. Can the president find himself? Or will his hangers-on allow him to do something radical for this country? Those are the questions. I repeat, a sitting government can brand all its actions as ‘revolution’ especially where it is ready to do something right for the vulnerable. For example, there is no better way to drive a policy that proposes to tackle corruption, or bridge the income gap, or even extract more taxes and double tax revenue, than to tag it revolution. It will distance the leader from the usual suspects – bourgeoisie classists who are building dynasties, but history/posterity will never forget such a leader. Revolution! Buhari, buy into it.
A WORD TO SOME BUHARISTS ON HISTORY
For me the most painful part of this saga is to notice that many Nigerians have lost mental bearing. Many people write on social media, saying that no one should agitate for a better government and people should wait for election cycles to express their grievance, by running for office or voting for someone who is. The lack of a sense of history is appalling. Gani ran for presidency, but also criticized bad government policies till he died. Fela Kuti did the same. He ran for president too. Some people in government and their supporters want to compartmentalize people’s thoughts into some binary position. They cannot reconcile why someone is in politics and also in activism. First of all, we are in the age where people can multitask. A Goldman Sachs CEO I read somewhere yesterday, is also a DJ over the weekend.
But more importantly, it amounts to dancing and spitting on the graves of the great people who have struggled and died so that we may ‘blow our grammar’ today. There is always a space for agitation in a society of fairly intelligent people. But for Rosa Parks, or Araminta Ross (Harriet Tubman) where would black people all over the world be even today? Perhaps we would have found independence all the same, but have to sit at the back of aeroplanes and buses no matter how much money we have. Martin Luther King Jr. was told not to march from Selma to Montgomery but he defied, and later marched on Washington. He died at 39 but the world has a bit more respect for black people today because of his efforts. Obama became president because of those actions. Without these agitations, the black man would have remained as conceived in the first American constitution; a human being but not fully. Just about 70% human. Back home we have had the Aba Women who rioted against oppressive taxes in 1929. If they hadn’t laid their lives on the line, who knows which oppressive taxes we could still be paying today. I see Margaret Ekpo, born in 1914, who played a great role in fighting for women’s rights and involvement in politics. With the firebrand Funmilayo Ransome-Kuti, she staged protests against the killings that happened at the Enugu coal mines in the 1950s. Much more recently, we have Gani Fawehinmi who went to jail so many times, Beko Ransome-Kuti and his brother, Fela Anikulapo-Kuti, a legendary fighter who risked everything for the common man.
Today, some people are trying to convince us that history has ended. Like Francis Fukuyama they make the mistake that all that is left is for people to pursue selfish ends and glorify the acquisition of money. No need for protests and agitations in their books. Just parley with government, or do deals, run yahoo-yahoo, get your thieving father to secure you a job in some nice parastatals, get hooked on sports betting, and go show off your stash at the night club every night. It is those with this shallow mindset that are trying to hijack our narratives as a people, to create an even shallower, more disconnected, selfish, visionless, narrow-minded new generation who know nothing about history and do not care about anyone but themselves! The war on ground is a big one. Let’s even leave Buhari aside for a minute (even though his government is unfortunately funding these bad guys and therefore actively destroying Nigeria’s future), the issue with Sowore is about how to rescue Nigeria’s future from Shallow Hals and absolute idiots who have no sense of collective development. We must never lose that war. By Jove, even one citizen called Muhammadu Buhari was an agitator. 3 times he lost elections but never gave up. He may have been more focused on getting into position, than advocacy for a better Nigeria, but I still have clips where he criticized subsidies, lambasted sitting governments, and even one where he asked the ailing Yar’Adua to bugger off if he was too sick to lead. He never asked Nigerians to pray for Yar’Adua.
To close, let us remind ourselves of our problems. 800,000 French people are on the streets protesting the attempt by Macron to tamper with pension laws. Perhaps more people are on the streets of Hong Kong today protesting the attempt by China to bring in some of their laws to their city. Egyptians rioted over the price of bread. French people had rioted about increases in petrol prices. All over the world, people are asking for better deals from their government. For some it is about transportation, water, health, what have you. These are countries where our people emigrate to, where our big men train their children and treat their illnesses. We have 20 times the problems these people have. So if we need any reminder, I have listed what I know below; good reasons for us to be on the streets:
1. 13million children out of school
2. 90% of Nigerian homes do not have pipe-borne water
3. Nigeria is now open-defecation capital of the world. Over 60million Nigerians do this daily
4. Shambolic energy sector. Many rural communities have not had electricity for 10 years
5. Unprecedented levels of corruption and impunity – of late we have seen one or two convictions of former politicians but hundreds are running wild
6. Governors and state assembly officials awarding themselves hundreds of billions of taxpayers’ money as pension for their pleasure
7. Senate insisting on luxury car purchase while ignoring the reality of the people’s suffering
8. Terrible state of our roads and general infrastructure. The government is fixing some but they usually last less than a year
9. Highest levels of malnutrition among our children
10. Highest maternal and infant mortality rates in the world
11. Over 90million people in abject poverty. Nigeria is global headquarters of poverty
12. Collapsed public school system with some left in totallly decrepit states.
13. Youth unemployment approaching 50%
14. Debt servicing gulping 50% of our revenues
15. Debt burden has more than doubled in the last three years and we want to borrow $30billion more, thereby finally mortgaging the future of our unborn children for the next 200 years. Not like they are not in deep trouble already as a result of existing borrowing
16. Worst levels of inequality in the world according to Oxfam
17. Lack of unity among our own people, leading to the inefficacy of government policies
18. Massive insecurity in the land as seen in kidnapping, robberies, terrorism etc
19. Despicable state of our environment. Desertification. Air, water, physical and visual pollution everywhere.
20. Doubling of fuel prices which we acquiesced to, but now they say subsidies have gone up 2000%
21. Inadequate budgeting for the Nigerian people. And most of the little budget ends up in people’s pockets. (our budget per capita is the lowest in the world, after DR Congo)
22. Shambolic state of our health sector leading every Nigeria to head to tertiary health facilities like teaching hospitals for illnesses that should be treated at primary health centres
23. Despicable state of our judiciary where we get no justice but which is being beaten down some more by the ongoing cowing process
24. Zero plans for public housing for our poorest in Nigeria. A UN rapporteur on housing wrote a report that we had the worst scenario in the world as 70% of Nigerians live in ghettos while we have hundreds of thousands of unoccupied or underused luxury housing
25. A totally damaged image abroad whereby even the children of the rich get branded as criminals until proven innocent. It doesn’t matter that all of them attend foreign schools. It is however a big shame that those leading Nigeria today have NO FAITH in this country.
Many more exists. Add your own. Just know that if any country is meant to be protesting, or needs a revolution, that country is Nigeria. Acquiescing to any and everything government does, never lifts a society. Ditto we are not meant to criticize every step of government. When they get some right, let us acknowledge and encourage. It isn’t easy to lead and govern. It is however worse if you struggle to get there and then disappoint everyone by not doing the needful.