Prayer, faith and we-will-do government

By Casmir Igbokwe

 Published: Sunday, 5 Oct 2008

The situation in Nigeria today could be likened to the pranks some teenagers play. It‘s usually during communal meals. A mischievous fellow could say, ”close your eyes and let us pray.” Of course, some people will close their eyes. But by the time they open them after the prayers, there may not be any meat remaining in the soup.

At every occasion or anniversary, our leaders usually urge us to pray and commit our nation to the lord. We have been praying and will continue to pray. But while we close our eyes in total obeisance to God, some of these leaders, who even lead us in prayers, pinch the meat in our collective soup.

Last week, we had long holidays. Monday and Tuesday were for the Eid-el-Fitri celebrations. It was a joyous occasion as our Muslim brothers and sisters, who had been fasting and praying for themselves and for Nigeria, broke their Ramadan fast. As usual, it was a moment for sober reflections; a moment leaders of different hue sent messages of goodwill to Nigerians.

Our dear President, Umaru Yar‘Adua, used the happy occasion to reaffirm his commitment to giving our nation ”the able leadership it requires to successfully overcome the present challenges and move forward at greater speed towards the attainment of our collective aspirations as a people.”

Greater speed? Yes, greater speed! With Almighty Allah as his guide, the President says he is already taking steps to restructure and strengthen the machinery of government. As he put it, “This process of revitalising and repositioning our administration for enhanced efficiency and effectiveness in service delivery will be carried forward in the coming days to ensure that more positive developments occur rapidly in critical sectors of our national life.”

What are these processes for enhanced efficiency and effectiveness in service delivery, you may ask? Perhaps, the sacking of Babagana Kingibe last month is one. The cabinet reshuffle that has been in the news for almost one month now is another. The creation of Niger Delta ministry is the third. The fourth one, perhaps, is faith in the Almighty Allah whom the President prayed to reward our pious observance of the Holy month of Ramadan with greater blessings.

The third day of the holidays, Independence Anniversary, came with more supplications and promises. Again, the President led the pack. But unlike Eid-el-Fitri message, which promised greater speed towards the attainment of our collective aspirations, the independence day message highlighted the resolve of this administration not to resort to quick-fix methods and short-cuts in approaching fundamental problems which require methodical and sustainable solutions.

Yar’Adua also told us that our economy was on a strong footing with an average growth rate of 6.9 per cent, a single digit inflation rate and external reserves of $63bn. The government has also realised over N400bn from unspent capital releases to ministries, departments and agencies. The government has also evolved a holistic strategy for the development and rehabilitation of the nation‘s transport system.

According to Mr. President, “We intend to concession the most economically viable roads across the country, while aggressively pursuing a road sector development and maintenance programme estimated to cover 5, 700km.” On the whole, the major objective of this government is to totally transform this country into a strong, stable, democratic and progressive major player on the global stage by the year 2020.

These are lofty goals. But for now, we seem to be moving round and round a particular spot. This government is fast becoming a we-will-do government. What we hear these days are, “Yar’Adua will reshuffle cabinet; Presidency to tackle job, food crises; FG plans to rehabilitate Benin-Ore Road; Transport minister promises to repair Niger Bridge; Nigeria to generate 6, 000 megawatts of electricity in 2011; National Assembly will pass Freedom of Information Bill” and so on.

This we-will-do attitude should have gone with the first few months of assumption of office. Now, Nigerians want more of action. We want to hear more of “Yar’Adua commissions state-of-the-art hospital in Enugu; Alao-Akala repairs Iwo Road, Ibadan; Obasanjo kisses Gbenga Daniel for building well-equipped libraries in all the secondary schools in Ogun State; Yar’Adua signs the FOI Bill into law…”

By the way, what politics are our lawmakers playing with the FOI Bill? Speaker of the House of Representatives, Dimeji Bankole, asked people in power to be accountable to the electorate to ensure faster growth of the country. Senate President, David Mark, in his Independence Day message, promised (this same promise) that the Senate would speed up (remember Yar’Adua’s greater speed?) the passage of bills that would take the country out of the woods.

But feelers from the Senate do not indicate that our lawmakers are serious with transparency and accountability. For instance, the Senate Committee on Media and Information has recommended some amendments to the FOI Bill. One of such is that an information requester will first apply to a High Court and must be ready to prove that such information will not compromise national security.

I don’t see how this type of clause will ensure accountability. Our lawmakers should shame their detractors by speedily passing the FOI Bill and other bills that will ensure a speedy growth of our country.

President Yar’Adua should also shame his detractors by fulfilling his promise to move this country forward speedily. Somebody like Pastor Tunde Bakare of the Latter Rain Assembly, in his Independence Day sermon, said a sick leader cannot deliver a dying nation. Mr. President should disappoint such people by giving us ministers who will transform this nation in a transparent manner without the encumbrances of any secrecy oath.

Generally, Nigerians of all classes should always think of practical ways of salvaging the country. Prayer is good. Having faith is also good. But faith without good works is dead. As Sam Harris said in his Letter to a Christian Nation, “Faith is nothing more than the licence religious people give to one another to keep believing when reasons fail.”

May our own faith not be like that! We must guard against praying with closed eyes, as some of our leaders admonish, while they keep stealing and putting our common meat into their own pot of soup.

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