One thing I pride myself in, if I have to say so myself, is the ability to be realistic. I always have big dreams, some of them Utopian, but I also always proceed with realistic expectations. For instance — and I have said this so often that I myself am getting bored — no president can transform or change Nigeria dramatically in four years. I have said this a million times. I dream of a Nigeria where clean water flows in every nook and cranny, where electricity shines bright round the clock, where healthcare is top-class and adequate, where the roads are smooth, where most people have jobs, and where crime rate is negligible — but I am realistic enough to know that these things take time.
I would not expect any president to wean Nigeria off petrodollars in four years. We rely on oil revenue for over 90% of our forex earnings and as much as 70% of national expenditure. It would be nothing short of magic to reduce dependency on petrodollars to 49% within four years. I am realistic enough to know that it would take consistency in planning and implementing sound policies over a period of time for us to be able to grow the alternatives to oil and diversify our sources of revenue. Let us not argue about that. But some things can be achieved within four years — the minimum length of tenure of Nigerian presidents and governors.
Indeed, some things are so straightforward — they can be tackled significantly by any leader in the short run. It is all in the mind. It is about commitment and determination, driven by vision and passion. My intention today is to list four of such things, with specific focus on how they can impact on the lives of the ordinary Nigerians — not the obese elite. With a population of nearly 200 million, Nigeria offers a tragic example of a country where the elite enjoy all the goodies and the massive majority of the people are left to wallow in stinking poverty. It is one country where citizens are presented with budgets of billions of dollars every year yet their lives are not less wretched.
What can be done in four years? One, we can remarkably revive, revamp and expand our medical facilities within that period. What are the major problems? I would say insufficient bed space, lack of basic drugs, inadequate equipment, poor emergency response and overworked and under-motivated personnel, particularly doctors. How long will it take to create additional bed space? How long will it take to provide drugs? How long will it take to buy equipment? You may find this hard to believe, but it won’t take up to one thousand years. Any president or governor can significantly expand and equip general hospitals within one year. It’s the passion that is often missing.
We can’t produce all the doctors and specialists we need in four years, I know that very much. It takes an average of six years to train a doctor. So it takes time. But what are we doing to train enough doctors to meet our needs? Have we come up with any policies to fill the personnel gap? Are we offering enough incentives, in form of scholarships and enhanced working conditions, to attract more hands to the medical field? Even if we are short-staffed, we can bring in doctors from India, Pakistan and Cuba while we work hard at filling the gaps and producing our own doctors and specialists for the future. I can’t see any serious policy in that direction. I may be wrong.
Two, will it take a thousand years to reform and modernise the police force and make it more efficient to tackle common crimes and secure our communities? As things stand, only the rich are fairly safe. I use those words deliberately because, in truth, even the rich are not that safe in Nigeria, just that they are safer than the poor because they have the means to purchase security. They have siren and bullet-proof vehicles and fortresses and police escorts for personal safety, but they live in an unsafe society and are constantly looking over their shoulders. They feel safer in their mansions in Europe where there is neither fence nor police escort. That’s true security.
I again concede that common crimes are best tackled with economic prosperity. When the human being can meet basic needs and is gainfully engaged in earning an income, the pull of criminal activities is not as appealing as when the individual is idle. And to banish poverty is not a four-year job. It takes much longer. I wouldn’t argue otherwise. However, what would it take to reform the police for better performance within the circumstances that we have found ourselves? What would it take to equip major cities with CCTV cameras, provide the police with modern logistical backbone, and incentivise them to be proud of wearing the uniform?
Will it cost an eye and a leg to set up a world-class forensic lab for the police so that they can solve crimes in modern ways? In Nigeria today, the fingerprints and passport-size photographs of most criminals have been captured several times — through driver’s licence, BVN, international passport, national ID, SIM registration, population census, permanent voter cards and so on and so forth. Yet these data are meaningless as far as fighting and resolving crimes is concerned. I do not think it will take a million years to put these basic tools in place to help the police combat crimes in a country where population is exploding by the minute. We are too archaic in our policing.
Three, the average Nigerian citizen feels voiceless and powerless — and it would not take a million years to put basic processes and procedures in place to make them have a sense of belonging. Democracy is nothing if it does not serve the majority of the people who troop out to vote every four years. A police officer will slap a bus conductor and that is the end of the matter. People do not have a realistic way of seeking redress. A soldier will whiplash a defenceless citizen and that is it. Most Nigerians do not even believe they have a right to complain or seek redress. I have not spoken about unlawful arrests and detentions and extrajudicial killings. That one is a long thing.
What would it take to energise the necessary government bodies to tackle human rights infractions? How can Nigerians easily lodge complaints with independent bodies and get justice? Why should citizens feel so helpless in their own country? If anarchy was more fanciful, why then should we have a government? I am utterly saddened whenever I see the torture security agencies visit upon lowly Nigerians daily. Any president that is going to touch the lives of Nigerians and make them feel like human beings must pay attention to promoting and protecting their rights. It can happen within four years. The government must protect the people’s right to dignity.
Four, and this pertains to governors in particular, we can address the water and sanitation problems with short-term measures. Every year, we experience cholera outbreaks in rural communities simply because there is no clean water. The unsanitary conditions also make poor people vulnerable to infections and diseases, although Governor Abdulaziz Yari of Zamfara would rather blame it on fornication. Will it take more than four years for a governor to sink boreholes and save poor citizens from drinking from polluted streams? When I was a kid, there were sanitary inspectors that made sure even our pots were hygienic. Will it take a thousand years to bring this back? My answer is no.
Someone is reading this and saying “it is easier said than done” — and this is how we mystify things in Nigeria. We make simple things look intricate, as if painting classrooms is as tasking as performing brain surgery. What is the big deal? Is it rocket science to erect extra buildings for general hospitals and buy equipment from Germany and the US? What is so special about sinking boreholes in rural communities to tackle yearly cholera outbreaks? What is extraordinary about setting up a forensic lab for the police and installing CCTV cameras at strategic locations? We mystify no-brainers. That is why governors get chieftaincy titles for building a culvert.
I can list at least 50 things that can be achieved by any determined president or governor within four years. I am not saying Nigeria would not become South Korea in four years, or eight years, or even 16 years. I am not preaching magic here. But if we cannot do the “complicated” things — such as assembling cars and mobile phones and getting the refineries to work (we’ve been burning forex on fuel importation since 1996, I reckon) — what is so sophisticated about buying drugs for the hospitals? I repeat: there are a million and one things a governor or president can do to make life less miserable for the ordinary Nigerians with four years. It is about vision, passion and priority.
AND FOUR OTHER THINGS…
An ad-hoc committee of the house of representatives has indicted Vice-President Yemi Osinbajo for “illegally” approving N5.8 billion north-east intervention fund for the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA). It also recommended the dismissal and prosecution of Mr. Mustapha Yunusa Maihaja, the NEMA DG, over allegations of “corruption and embezzlement of N33 billion emergency intervention fund”. Osinbajo had in June 2017, while acting as president, approved the N5.8 billion under emergency, but there are processes to invoke such powers before spending public funds. Were the processes followed in line with the relevant laws? Worrisome.
And so, fellow Nigerians, we need N242 billion to fund the 2019 general election — according to the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) and the security agencies — and the best way to do this is to cut budgets for power, education and health, among others. The senate says that was the agreement that was reached with the executive, and so we should not complain. I am not saying we should not fund elections — the other option is not to hold the polls at all, which is not an option — but we had four years to prepare for the 2019 elections and now education and health have to suffer the consequences of our last-minute way of doing things. Disheartening.
FOOD FOR THOUGHT
Sheikh Ebraheem El Zakzaky, leader of the naughty Islamic Movement of Nigeria (IMN) who has been in detention since 2015, has been consuming food worth N3.5 million a month, according to Alhaji Lai Mohammed, the information minister. Although the information was not for public consumption (no pun intended), I find it interesting that the feeding programme of the federal government could cost an average of N100,000 a day for someone who could be feeding himself at home after being granted bails several times by the courts. Something tells me the feeding cost covers his wives and children. There is the price we pay for disobeying the courts. Costly.
Is your father a famous opposition politician but nobody knows you? Do you want to embarrass your father in exchange for two minutes of fame? Do you need to be fast-tracked to Aso Rock for a presidential handshake? Your worries are over. Simply send an email to the President Muhammadu Buhari’s campaign spokesman, Mr. Festus Keyamo, and you will find yourself on national TV in a jiffy. Olajuwon Obasanjo and Ditan Okupe have been successfully signed on for this embarrass-your-father initiative. Tafawa Balewa, son of Nigeria’s late prime minister, also joined President Jonathan’s campaign in 2015 although for a different game. Bloodline.