Some Hope, In a Time of Depression in Nigeria

November 9, 2015by Tope Fasua0

As I type this, on the November 5, 2015, it seems the whole of working Nigeria is yet to collect salaries for October at least. The financial situation for most people is so parlous. Otherwise self-respecting Nigerians have been turned to beggars all over the place. The number of distress calls and text messages one receives have hit an all-time high. Even the most careful persons have found themselves in a state of embarrassment. Perhaps the only ones whose heads are above water are those who were ‘smart’ enough to have stashed a tidy sum in the days of Jonathan, and especially the ones who have made a neat crossover into the good books of the new regime. Some have received, or are about to receive, new posts under Buhari, whose team already looks like a who-is-who in Nigeria – the same names we’ve always known, the super-connected. Well, ‘dia ris God’ as Patience Jonathan would say.

These are stressful times, and one keeps wondering if this would be the legacy of the hawkish president whom we voted in many months ago. One had hoped for a reprieve from financial stress, or at least some beginning of income redistribution that enables many who had been beaten down under Jonathan to get some breathing space. But, save for a few who are ‘extremely’ close to Buhari, what is on ground is that times are even tougher for most of Buhari’s anonymous supporters. Those who have ‘steady’ employment, i.e. in the civil service have little to worry about – save for the fact that even the best-favoured parastatals are yet to pay October salaries as I write. Those who work for less-favoured agencies have been owed sometimes for 6 to 12 months now, whether at state or federal level.

The rhetoric from the president is ‘Nigeria is broke’. He has assured us that he is unafraid, and unashamed to say it like it is, even abroad. He believes this honesty is what the world wants to hear about Nigeria. Granted. But the only problem is, for those of us lesser mortals, Buhari’s words are stripping away hope from us. Imagine a hungry man being told that he will even be hungrier? What a hungry man wants to hear is that there is hope around the corner, else hunger can transmogrify into ulcer, and ulcer into cancer. Those of us who supported Buhari, and have been asked to keep holding our breaths, or to keep quiet – sometimes very harshly and without consideration, respect or compassion – are wondering whether this is how this regime will be till the end. We sometimes feel conned, robbed and taken for granted. Femi Adesina, like Abati before him, invented an insultive tag for anyone opposing his Oga. For Reuben, we were ‘Collective Children of Anger’ (who wasted their lives on social media). For Brother Femi, we (whoever is complaining), are ‘Wailing Wailers’. These people who invent these sobriquets seem not to see, that the real joke is on them. Ask Fani-Kayode, Abati, Okupe and even Nweke.

Nigeria is – technically – presently in a time of depression. All the symptoms are here – perhaps a little more than what obtained in 1930s USA.

Now, Nigeria is presently bathed in filth and ugliness. From Abuja to Lagos, Calabar to Aba to Nasarawa, filth takes over Nigeria like never before, sometimes because the administrators say PDP spent all the money and so there is none to pay contractors. Inertia sets in. Even Kaduna reeks under filth today – action governor and all. Infrastructure all across the country is fast decaying further. Massive road projects have been abandoned, with the people equally abandoned to their respective fates. There is absolutely no maintenance going on, and I daresay we shall not be able to overcome the ongoing decay and decomposition of our environment even when the government eventually wakes up. I have seen the new green areas that our people have converted into massive dumpsites, even in Abuja, and I feel sorry for my country. It’s a shameful situation, but it reminds one of what obtained in the time of the Great Depression when western countries were in dire straits, having been sucked dry by a few powerful financiers who took advantage of the ignorance of the masses.

The time of the Great Depression (circa 1930-1942) was one of hopelessness. It was a time when fortunes disappeared and men who were relatively comfortable found themselves in embarrassing situations. It was a time when able-bodied men became vagabonds, walking around street corners looking for who to rob – or some stray food to steal. It was a time when rats became delicacies to some, and others were not afraid to eat human beings. It was a time when preachers of the Word by day, turned into armed bandits by night. It was a time of religious overdrive when it was said that ‘people were looking for answers’ to their misfortune. For when a man tries everything and all fails, he starts to seek answers from the spiritual and becomes fair game for deceivers. The time of the Great Depression was a time of extremism. In the case of the USA, it was the time of the Ku Klux Klan, parading as nationalists and roasting black people live at the stakes each evening for fun. It was the time of the great robberies, of John Dillinger, “Bonnie and Clyde”, and George “Babyface’ Nelson. The Depression Era saw the rise of the Chicago Gangsters; Al Capone, Bugsy Siegel, Meyer Lansky, Lucky Luciano and the entire Sicilian-American Mafia. It was a time for smugglers and bootleggers. Criminals became the defacto government, dispensing patronage to extremely corrupt politicians, policemen and FBI Agents.

Again I will repeat. The government should not be quick to remind us of the four dark horsemen – electricity tariff upward review, VAT increase, upcoming fuel price increase, high likelihood of devaluation – but should think hard and fast an save itself from ruin.

Nigeria is – technically – presently in a time of depression. All the symptoms are here – perhaps a little more than what obtained in 1930s USA. What one wonders about is how the PDP did it and ensured that at least their own half of the country ‘prospered’ under them, and what is happening now, that almost the entire country is gnashing our teeth. What exactly is going on? Are we on a forced savings regime; a period of more belt-tightening for those whose waists are disappearing? Why is Buhari constantly reminding Nigerians of the bad times ahead? Is there nothing that can be ingeniously done for the most vulnerable? For things to turn around positively soon, one wonders why most of the team that Buhari has chosen to work with are the same people who have been around while PDP ran the nation aground (former office holders in one capacity or the other)? Where will new ideas appear from? What are most of Jonathan’s appointees still doing in office? Isn’t Buhari punishing the victims who are still waiting to exhale after five months of leadership? Just how long does it take a man to die?

What should irk me specifically is that I warned. I wrote and recommended things that could be embarked upon immediately. I suggested that the youth be engaged for environmental work, and could be paid through ‘ways and means’ where necessary. I mean the government could print and pay. There is work to be done and only the youth can do it. All of that advise – and millions more from other Nigerians – went unnoticed, unacknowledged, and probably unappreciated. 150 days is gone by officially since inauguration, and almost 210 days since the election was won. Four years contain 1,461 days only. All the emotions we invested into the elections now seem regrettable.

Again I will repeat. The government should not be quick to remind us of the four dark horsemen – electricity tariff upward review, VAT increase, upcoming fuel price increase, high likelihood of devaluation – but should think hard and fast an save itself from ruin. Someone reminded us that Abacha ran this country on $10 per barrel price of crude oil – and still appointed Buhari to head the PTF, which did so well in infrastructure. Buhari should not punish us poor people.

Perhaps, even more frightening is the disposition of this government, which abhors any criticism and even shows disdain to the people. How else can they have lost supporters so quickly? And the mind games… Imagine the VP repeating at all fora that the government will pay N5,000 to 25 million people monthly, only for APC Sin-ators to be the ones to shoot down the proposal at the National Assembly because the APC either kept speaking and doing nothing for too long, and allowed the PDP guys put them in a spot? Why are our big men doing this to us? Do they think that hunger, poverty, and joblessness are funny for people suffering in them? Or are they just a cynical bunch who not only love the suffering people are in – because it makes them feel important, lucky and smart – but are now ready to poke fun at our emotions?

The government must be reminded to communicate better, to desist from being combative at all occasions, to call its waiting troops – the youth – to action, to adopt a system approach to problem-solving that will entail solving many problems by pulling the right strings, to be responsible because we can.

The rash of inconsistencies, double-speaks, miscues, denials of promises, prevarication in asset declaration, half-truths, integrity issues, diplomatic gaffes, aggressive harassment of innocent critics, being shown already, under a government that we sweated to install, is already embarrassing. We are being laughed at already by those who are saying ‘we told you so’. Still, we can claim ownership of this government and tell them to wake up. Because they owe us a debt. And they need to repay – in performance, integrity, communication, inclusiveness… and some gratitude.

In all of this a hopeful news emerged. The government is planning a budget of N8trillion for 2016. It is still in the realm of rumours – making one wonder why only the bad news gets amplified even by the government. This rumour – if it comes true – will be a great thing. Nigeria has the capacity to come up with such a national budget, now that the excesses of some of the revenue-generating agencies are being curbed through the TSA – Treasury Single Account – and other anti-corruption initiatives. Nigeria’s national budget has always been sub-par, compared to even our neighbours and we have written on that in the past.

The way forward for us now, is to try what FD Roosevelt tried in the USA, in the time of the Great Depression – public works. For a country that is yet so far behind in infrastructure and ambience, a whole lot of work is there to be done and it is criminal that this is not ongoing already. As noted in my earlier writings, a new class of spenders are waiting to be created. A third of the civil service – containing many redundant workers – can be found gainful employment in public works and a whole lot more can be employed from the teeming army of Nigerian youth.

The government must be reminded to communicate better, to desist from being combative at all occasions, to call its waiting troops – the youth – to action, to adopt a system approach to problem-solving that will entail solving many problems by pulling the right strings, to be responsible because we can. The government should not be standoffish, aloof and elitist. It should engage and mobilise the Nigerian people. And give us some hope. Because it cannot do the job of emancipating Nigeria alone.

 

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