“If your vision is one year, cultivate flowers… if it is ten, cultivate trees, but if your vision is eternity, cultivate people.” – Chinese adage
I recall using this adage to commence an article many years ago. At that time, I was writing to Mallam Nasir El Rufai, who was then FCT Minister. I believed his demolition policy was too harsh. As a matter of fact, he had displaced 500,000 people, according to the United Nations High Commission for Refugees. He may not know, or care. Today, he has moved higher in the echelon, doubling as a state governor and adviser to the president. I saw the need for El-Rufai to clean up Abuja, but I believed he treated people with much contempt, and promptly lost whatever goodwill he may have had. Maybe Nigeria’s leaders know more than I do, and from what they know, they are certain that Nigerians are hopeless and need to be oppressed. In my own naivety, I believe there is still hope and value in Nigerians.
I lately decided to write the same thing to President Buhari, who has towed the line of alienating the people with his policies, much to the shock of most of us who could have sworn by his name that he was a people’s man. I could never have imagined – for all I thought I knew – that Baba Buhari will be so dismissive of the people, to the extent that he is now getting very negative feedback like never before. Where do we start from? How can you spike the price of petrol on people, and then supervene over increases in interest rates, and electricity bills, and the devaluation of the naira, and the sacking of workers, rises in inflation and the rest. There is just nowhere else for the average Nigerian to run.
What is the way forward? The government says it is going to fix Nigeria through the provision of infrastructure. I listened to Minister Fashola recently speak about their many power plants. The eloquent man mentioned that over N300 billion has been released in this year’s budget and that his three ministries received N102 billion out of that. He mentioned that he inherited 206 roads under construction from Jonathan’s government, upon which he is spending this money. He naturally dovetailed into the fall in the price of crude oil, which is the ready excuse by government for everything that is wrong with us. Fashola believes that the ONLY WAY out of our current recession is for us to keep spending on infrastructure. By paying contractors, more people will be employed, seems to be his logic. He is right, but only up to an extent.
Then Garba Shehu, the president’s spokesman wrote an article titled “Is This The Change We Voted For? Yes It Is!”, in which he articulates the ‘achievements’ of the president. He started in typical fashion, bragging about how the international community is hailing Buhari – in the same way Doyin Okupe and Reuben Abati bragged. But he goes ahead to talk about the anti-corruption and anti-insurgency fights about which we are making progress. Shehu states that so much money has been recovered from looters, but in another breath, he reechoes President Buhari’s statement that people will suffer more before his policies come to fruition. Shehu closed his writeup by mentioning that the government’s hope is on agriculture and solid minerals.
This is where I depart. First off, the thinking of government has not evolved despite 15 months of being at the driver’s seat. Agric and solid minerals? Solid minerals will not bring the required reprieve for years. And Agric really is for a country to feed itself. Most countries that we are fantasising on exporting raw farm products to, have better species of what we hope to sell. These are countries that planned a long time ago, and their priority was food sufficiency for their people. I think our policymakers should visit the Harvard Global Economic Complexity Index to see the volumes of exports that countries are moving around on different products and who produces what. Perhaps they will be humbled.
The other issue is the flaw in Fashola’s argument. Buhari’s government is prioritising big money contractors. Most of the huge releases have gone to these big guys, like Julius Berger. Who could have imagined that the Talakawa presidential candidate will become so elitist so soon? For every N100 they dole out to Julius Berger and co, N70 goes abroad to shareholders and equipment suppliers. Only a tiny fraction remains here or is paid to workers. More importantly, we are spending money on cement and coal tar, at best, and neglecting the people to their sorry fates. The people are being told to come another day.
Furthermore, Minister Fashola should get in touch with reality. Our ministers and entire government are not thinking outside the box. In his calculation on how employment will be generated by paying contractors, Fashola has not reckoned with technology and how that is reducing the number of people that can be impacted even in the face of a growing youth population. At best, we will underachieve in this area; create a handful of jobs, pay out so much and remain hostage to big contractors. I can bet him on that. Whereas it is absolutely important to continue to build infrastructure, it is far too risky to do that in total neglect of the burgeoning masses!
To Shehu Garba we can only direct a question meant really for the president. If so much money has been recovered, why are the people still made to wait for Godot? I don’t believe in handouts, but see how long it took this government to launch a War Against Indiscipline that should have been its flagship mobilisation programme that should touch the youth, recruit them for a national rebirth and put money in their pockets? See the half-hearted approach at the launch, which is merely a footnote in some NOA afterthought? We thought that is what Baba will do the moment he came in, but we were oh so wrong. Truly, many of us can no longer recognise the man we campaigned and voted for. The WAI launch left it too late anyway. Not only have Nigerians become much more unruly under the leadership of Buhari, they have become angry, antagonistic and entitled. Totally uncontrollable. We lost paradise. This new WAI is stillborn.
On Friday August 12, 2016, I was assaulted by one slightly mentally unbalanced guy at the traffic lights at Jabi Park. The guy first peered intently inside the car, went and studied the plate number then came to my side of the car to start screaming something about ‘my brother’ Dangote and something about Buhari. I was dressed as a Northerner that day, complete with Hula. The guy kept banging the top of the car and almost broke my car window as he screamed at the top of his lungs. Welcome to Buhari’ angry, disillusioned and uncontrollable new Nigeria. In Abuja, the rate of burglary has spiked.
Back to the adage. Our people say if you build a house and refuse to build your children, those children will end up selling your house. The government should continue to be academic and ignore the people problem that is getting out of control. The minister of Finance should continue dazzling us with her beautiful accent. But what shall it profit a government, to gain a lot of infrastructure – if it could – and lose the people’s hearts?