Separating the wheat from the chaff






You knew there would be serious trouble when Lagos state had to be shut down – apparently for security reasons – to allow President Muhammadu Buhari visit. Life was made unbearable for millions of Lagosians whose livelihoods were put on hold for the visit. It needs to be said that Lagos is a city where there are real economic activities and where real people make real money doing real business. If Nigeria was a country that appreciates productivity, we would have calculated the losses to the economy before the lockdown. And for Lagos state that is preaching fiscal federalism and what-not, the government needs to know that people have to work extra hard to be able to pay the taxes being piled on them.

In the end, the Lagos fiasco was totally avoidable. Day by day, Buhari is handing out well-sharpened daggers to his opponents. Sycophants, paid and unpaid, will tell the president to ignore his critics. They will tell him it is corruption that is fighting back. That is the first line of defence/attack usually thrown around by some out-of-control Buhari supporters. But those who wish the president well will be honest enough to tell him something is not connecting properly. With the state of play, every single step of the president is under intense scrutiny. Although much of it is political and influenced by 2019 calculations, that should take nothing away from the substance of the message.

There is an argument I always make: politicians must politick. That is what they do for a living. So if the PDP and its sympathisers are nitpicking over every move of the president, that is to be expected. Lest we forget, that was how APC came into power. President Goodluck Jonathan could do nothing right. If he laughed a little, he laughed too much. If he cried hard, he cried too little. If he laughed a bit and cried a bit, it was an unacceptable mixture and evidence that he was clueless. After making Aso Rock too hot for Jonathan and taking over power, APC has no right to grumble that they are now being paid back in their own coin as PDP and their supporters become pedantic over Buhari’s steps and missteps.

I always believe there is some value in opposition criticism – even if the motive is malicious. However, it would be unwise to lump all critics together. Recent issues raised by General TY Danjuma and Mr. Bill Gates should not be downplayed. We need to separate the wheat from the chaff. Danjuma, to the best of my knowledge, is not an enemy of Buhari. Gates, from what we know, is not an enemy of Nigeria. He is a well wisher. You can accuse former President Olusegun Obasanjo of being highly political or pursuing personal agenda; you can say General Ibrahim Babangida is gloating, having been portrayed as a devil, but even at that you can’t ignore their views, much less the opinions of Danjuma and Gates.

As a matter of fact, I was shocked by what Danjuma said about Nigerians having to defend themselves because of a loss of faith in the security agencies. I was not just shocked, I was frightened. For Danjuma, a retired general, former chief of army staff and former minister of defence, to make such a pronouncement so openly, there is serious trouble. Something is not right somewhere. My worry also stemmed from the fact that he has direct access to Buhari. If he chose to vent his anger and misgivings publicly, then Buhari needs to take another look at the issues. To lump Danjuma with Buhari’s enemies, as the sycophants are struggling to do, is very unhelpful.

Let’s not play games – the security agencies have not really endeared themselves to Nigerians. The pronouncements by security chiefs tend to suggest they have taken sides in the violent clashes ravaging Nigeria. When a minister of defence addresses the press and blames one side to the conflicts, when the police spokesman describes a governor as a drowning man, it is very difficult for even neutral observers to assume that the security agencies are disinterested in these conflicts. And when the Supreme Council for Shariah comes out to attack Danjuma and praise the army, it can only play into the narrative that the security agencies have been favouring one side above the other. Just saying.

For all you care, though, the security agencies may not be taking sides in the conflicts. It may just be a lack of capacity to effectively tackle these conflicts and a case of pure incompetence in managing public information. Our intelligence gathering, to me as a layman, is either too weak or the security hierarchy is clueless on what to do. The average Nigerian in conflict-prone zones does not feel safe and secure. That is a fact. When people do not feel that the state can protect them fairly and assuredly, they resort to self-help. At the height of the Badoo killings in Ikorodu, Lagos, residents resorted to self-help. They formed vigilantes. They lynched and burnt suspects at will.

But Danjuma’s self-help solution is no solution. It is a recipe for anarchy. The herdsmen killings, from what I can see, are not unconnected to the fact that when their cattle were being rustled, the police did nothing. They ended up buying guns to protect their assets, and the consequence is that we now have a militia with multi-purpose functions beyond protecting their cattle. A state government, with little or no control over the security agencies, tries to counter them by setting up its own militia. That is self-defence at another level. By the time everybody forms militias for self-defence, Nigeria will become Somalia or Libya. I would rather we tackle the security problem holistically and systemically.

When the state does not seem neutral or competent in the management of conflicts, it is only natural for us to say: what else can we do but protect ourselves? Self-help sounds logical. Survival is a basic instinct. But there are consequences. We used to have OPC and Bakassi boys doing self-help by offering “security services” in southern Nigeria because of the failure of the system. The result was anarchy. Only God knows how many innocent Nigerians lost their lives under that arrangement. I remember vividly how people were being burnt alive in Onitsha in the early 2000s in broad daylight over flimsy allegations. It was not pretty. But then, we were only paying the price for a shambolic security system.

Meanwhile, I am also uncomfortable with the way the Buhari administration is joining issues with Gates over his comments that the Economic Recovery and Growth Programme (ERGP) is lacking in human capital development. The government is very right to defend itself and project its programme as positively as it can, more so because Gates’ comments can give ammunition to the opposition (ahead of 2019, what else?) But what Gates was campaigning for was “inclusion” of the vulnerable groups in the government agenda. Build the human being, he was saying, and the human being will build the country. That is why he emphasised education and healthcare.

Agreed, Gates missed a point by making it look like health and education are exclusive to the federal government. That apparently made him conclude that the ERGP does not adequately address these two areas. Mallam Nasir el-Rufai, the governor of Kaduna state, rightly pointed this out and said the state governments have a role to play. But el-Rufai too was being technical: Gates was addressing the National Economic Council (NEC) of which the 36 state governors are members. For practical purposes, therefore, are the states addressing health and education adequately? Do government policies outside ERGP prioritise health and education? That is the crux of the matter.

As someone who has taken keen interest in public schools and public hospitals, I can say for free that no governor or commissioner or minister or any public servant for that matter can confidently send their children to a public primary or secondary school in Nigeria. It does not matter if it is state or federal. I can also say for free that no government official can confidently take a treatment bed at any government-owned hospital, except it is a case of extreme emergency after which they will be airlifted to some European country for “further” treatment. And that is the point Gates was making. The quality of healthcare and education in Nigeria is not up to scratch. The ordinary people deserve attention.

If I were Buhari, I would be thinking: what would be my legacy? We are still celebrating the exploits of Chief Obafemi Awolowo, Chief Michael Okpara and Sir Ahmadu Bello decades after their tenures as premiers. Buhari should pick the things he wants as his legacies and focus all his calories on them. He can never go wrong focusing on health and education. Everything cannot be treated as politics. Although Vice-President Yemi Osinbajo has threatened to keep talking about Jonathan till thy kingdom come, he would soon realise that people remember Awolowo, his grandfather-in-law, more for his legacies in health and education than his obsession with Chief SL Akintola. Fact.

AND FOUR OTHER THINGS…

MANTU THE RIGGER

Remember Senator Ibrahim Mantu? He was the deputy senate president accused by Mallam Nasir el-Rufai of demanding N50 million to facilitate his clearance as ministerial nominee in 2003. He was the man who grounded a British Airways flight from Abuja to London because they couldn’t get him a first class seat. He was the chairman of the constitution review committee that tried to gift President Olusegun Obasanjo a third term in 2007. He has now confessed, on video, how he helped the PDP to rig elections in the past. If not that Nigeria is the way it is, he should be in police net by now; rigging, according to our electoral laws, is a criminal offence. But it is not Nigeria? Disgusting.

WHAT THE HELL!

Did Pope Francis just say there is no hell? Well, the Vatican has said he was misinterpreted or misquoted. When I first heard the news, I laughed. There must be hell. Otherwise, you mean the troublers of Nigeria will go scot-free after all the damage they have done to this country? I don’t believe that those who have piled misery on the poor people of this country should get away with it just like that. Africa, in any case, is a foretaste of hell. Just take a look around you and you will understand my drift. Poverty and diseases everywhere because of misrule and greed! In 2018, Africans are still fighting tribal wars and butchering one another like there would be no tomorrow. No, there must be hell. Please.

FORGOTTEN HEROES

At the burial of the French police officer who died fighting terrorists, the whole country stood still to honour his gallantry. Tears welled up in my eyes as French President Emmanuel Macron put his hands on the coffin of the slain officer in agony. Let’s now come home to Nigeria. Eleven young soldiers were killed by a gang of bandits in Kaduna. They were buried on Thursday. Their commander-in-chief was in Lagos to inaugurate a bus station. The chief of army staff was nowhere to be seen. If it was a wedding party, all the governors and ministers would chatter flights to attend. Our soldiers would be asking themselves: Is Nigeria really worth dying for? Pathetic.

POTS AND KETTLES

Are you seeing what I’m seeing? The PDP and APC are engaged in a dirty street fight over who can loot better. PDP is a party of looters, APC said. We have offloaded our looters to you, PDP fought back. Release the list of looters, PDP demanded. Here is the shortlist, APC fired back. We will expose your own looters too, PDP replied. It reminded me of Fela’s song – you be thief/I no be thief/You be rogue/I no be rouge/You be armu robber/I no be armu robber. I am secretly praying that one day, Nigerians will come to adopt a common position that most of these characters called politicians in Nigeria are not better than motor park touts. Wallahi.





TheCable