Archive for February 2009

State of the nation address

February 23, 2009

By Casmir Igbokwe

Published: Sunday, 22 Feb 2009

 LAST Thursday, February 19, 2009, the Senate passed a bill which, if signed into law, makes it mandatory for the President to present a ‘State of the Nation Address’ annually. The bill stipulates that the President must deliver the address personally to a joint session of the National Assembly. Among the issues he shall address are national security, the economy, external debt situation, defence, poverty eradication, education, agricultural policy, and federal character. Considering the busy schedule of the Commander-in-Chief, I have decided to help him with the first draft of the address free of charge. He is free to add or subtract from this draft. Mr. President, here is the address:

Fellow countrymen! I am compelled to address you again a few months after my budget speech in which I itemised my vision for this nation. I have a great need to visit Saudi Arabia. But I postponed it just to respect our distinguished legislators. This is another testimony to the commitment of this administration to the rule of law.

Since our government assumed office in May 2007, a lot has happened. But because we don’t blow our trumpet, critics and some opposition elements say we have not done anything for the country. Some even call me Baba go-slow.

 But our achievements are there for everybody to see. In the area of security, for instance, we have done a lot. Our gallant policemen have engaged armed robbers fire for fire. The heat on the robbers is so much now that some of them have decided to turn into goats to escape arrest. But we shall not be deceived. Even if they turn to snakes, our agile officers will arrest them and deal decisively with them. And for assassins and those plotting to cause mayhem in the next elections, your days are numbered. By the time the armoured vehicles ordered by some government functionaries and top politicians arrive, you will realise that we mean business.

 Closely related to this is our defence policy. Distinguished senators, you know that our beloved nation is not fighting any external war at the moment. Our major headache is internal insurrection in different parts of the country, especially in the Niger Delta and Jos. I can assure you that the situation is under control. In Jos, we have instituted a panel to probe the crisis there and bring the culprits to book. Our soldiers are also on top of the situation in the Niger Delta. In fact, we have pushed the so-called militants into Equatorial Guinea and we shall help the government of that country to crush whatever is remaining of the criminals. Let me also use this opportunity to appeal to the oil companies to return to their bases in the Niger Delta. We are intensifying efforts to beef up security in that region.

The activities of these criminals may have affected our oil output and revenue, but our economy is not down yet. You know there is a global economic recession, but the merciful Allah has continued to sustain us. We have fat external reserves to deal with any emergency situation. In order to avoid jealousy from other countries, we have instructed the Central Bank of Nigeria to remove any information about the reserves from its official website. As part of our efforts to achieve Vision 2020, we have constituted the Vision 2020 Business Support Group made up of eminent Nigerians. By 2020, insha Allah, life expectancy in Nigeria will be 70 years as opposed to the current 46.5 years. We will eradicate most infectious diseases and make our public hospitals the pride of all Nigerians. By then, Germans and Saudi Arabians will be the ones coming to our hospitals to attend to their health.

 Our children and children’s children will not die unnecessarily anymore. Each child of primary school age will have access to computers and will never have cause to sit on the bare floor during classes.

 Fellow Nigerians, we have resolved to eradicate poverty from every corner of Nigeria. Our target is a per capita income of $4,000. Realising that agriculture is a key factor to this vision, we have decided to start by importing tonnes of rice from India. This will keep us going pending when we gather enough resources to import implements for mechanised farming.

 By 2020, we will have reduced our penchant for importation. Our strategy is to empower our manufacturers and industrialists to produce cheap and quality goods. We are already partnering with the private sector to embark on a massive importation of generators as a stopgap measure pending when the House of Representatives comes up with a report of its power sector probe. That probe report is also what is holding back my promise to declare an emergency in the power sector.

 Those who doubt our capability to fulfil our promises should look at our banks as a guide. The state of the banking industry gives a clue to the state of any nation’s economy. If our economy is in danger as some alarmists want us to believe, why do you think some of our bank executives are acquiring private jets?

 Distinguished lawmakers, fellow Nigerians, the task ahead is enormous. But with the guidance of Almighty Allah, we shall succeed. We need your cooperation, especially as 2011 approaches. One term of four years is not enough to accomplish the task. We need a second term to finish what we have started. With your unflinching support, we shall be among the 20 developed economies in 2020.

Long live distinguished senators!

 Long live distinguished Reps!

 Long live the Federal Republic of Nigeria!

 God bless Nigeria!

 Conmen will never repent

 It has come to my notice that some criminally-minded elements use my name to attempt to defraud people. One of their tactics is to place a call, especially to some of those they find their numbers on the Readers‘ Court page, and make some demands claiming to be Casmir Igbokwe, Editor of SUNDAY PUNCH. In one of such instances, a conman called one of my readers last Tuesday via 08022589626 and said he would send his account number wherein the reader should pay a certain sum of money to ensure his reactions were published regularly. Please note that I have not and will never ask you to give me money to publish anything. As for those whose only trade is to destroy people‘s reputation just for pecuniary gains, nemesis will catch up with them one day.

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Financial crunch, salary cut and sponsored bride price

February 16, 2009

Casmir Igbokwe

First published Sunday, Feb. 15, 2009

 By now, bachelors in Yobe State must be full of smiles. Global financial crunch notwithstanding, the governor of that state, Ibrahim Geidam, has promised to pay the bride price of any young man from that state who wishes to marry. Media reports yesterday indicated that the only condition attached was that the eligible bachelor should fix the solemnisation of the marriage at Damaturu Central Mosque. For this singular gesture, aimed at discouraging immoral acts by single men, the congregation reportedly chanted “Allahu Akbar.”

 I guess the mosque will not accommodate the number of bachelors who will throng there soonest to solemnise their marriages. If you think the governor is not serious, consider what one of my readers sent to me last week as his own way of tackling the current recession.

 He says, “Casmir, in this period of economic recession, financial prudence is the watchword. I’m considering dropping my Igbo girlfriend; it will be silly to go ahead, knowing what chunk of money I must willy-nilly cough up as bride price. I want to advise young girls to go on a protest, demanding the abolition of bride price. This way, many of them will find husbands in no time.”

Assuming Geidam helps people like this young man with the bride price, will that solve their problems? Or will the governor, as they say in Igbo, give them wives and also buy mats for them? Will the settlement of the bride price bring food on their table? Or take care of the children that will definitely come?

Whatever, this bride price sponsorship equals the salary cut the Federal Government has proposed as part of its response to the global credit crisis. Recall that President Umaru Yar’Adua, last week, directed the Revenue Mobilisation, Allocation and Fiscal Commission to review downwards the salaries and allowances of all political office-holders in the country. The President believes that the present remunerations are untenable and unjustifiable.

For instance, the current annual basic salary of the President is N3, 514, 705.00. That of a governor is N2, 223, 705.00. A local government chairman takes home N908, 312.00. The Chief Justice of Nigeria, on his part, earns N3, 363, 972.50 as annual basic while a state Chief Judge earns N1, 940, 095.55.

On the face of it, the President’s action looks noble. It is no small sacrifice for someone to cut his own pay to please his people. It is also disturbing that out of the N2.9tn budgeted for 2009, salaries and allowances of political office-holders are to gulp N1.13tn. This is unacceptable and the President deserves commendation for his courage.

However, he needs to go deeper than salary cut. He needs to study how the advanced nations are grappling with the situation. The United States government, for instance, gave a loan of $4bn to carmaker, Chrysler, last month to save it from collapse. This is said to be part of a $13.4bn rescue package approved by the government for Chrysler and America’s largest car manufacturer, General Motors. There are other rescue packages for the entire economy.

In the United Kingdom, the government plans to guarantee loans to small and medium-sized enterprises. According to the plan, the government will reportedly secure up to £20bn of short-term loans to companies with a turnover of up to £500m; and £1.3bn loan guarantee to small firms with about £25m turnover. There is an additional £50bn from the government and £25bn from banks for small enterprises that need cash. This is to help them survive the downturn.

Nevertheless, some critics do not think the government is doing enough. Shadow Secretary of State for Business, Alan Duncan, reportedly dismissed the measure as “a small bandage on a massive wound.”

 Due to the peculiarities of our own environment, it may not be feasible for the government to guarantee loans to all companies. It is already trying to revive the textile industry, which is good. It will also be good if it could do some other things to help our sick economy.

For instance, let the government compel its functionaries to be sincere in tackling corruption. Last Wednesday, the House of Representatives alleged that a $45.65m World Bank grant meant for the procurement of 10 fire tenders and navigational equipment was misapplied. Also allegedly misapplied was a $6.2m grant by the same body for the provision of some infrastructure at the Port Harcourt Airport. With this type of culture, a cut in salary will make no meaning.

 Besides, for the greater part of last year, we were full of smiles because of the high price of crude oil in the international market. We made enough money to fix our decaying infrastructure. But some political office-holders looted some and returned over N400bn as unspent funds.

 From the federal down to the local governments, all we see is sleaze everywhere. But rather than identify, punish and isolate those milking us dry, the Federal Government tends to be hobnobbing with some of them.

The problem did not start today. It has been with us over the years. Forget former Transport Minister, Umaru Dikko, who presented a saintly mien last week. He was reported to have accused current office holders of corrupt enrichment and urged them to focus more on the socio-economic development of their people. It will be interesting if Dikko could tell us how he helped fight this corruption in the Second Republic.

The earlier we tell ourselves the home truth; the earlier we stop providing cosmetic solutions to our problems, the better for us.

 Mr President, cutting your salary is wonderful. But it is like promising to pay the bride price of somebody who cannot feed himself. It is only a step in the journey of a thousand miles.

Prayer for Nigerians in housing distress

February 9, 2009

By Casmir Igbokwe
Published: Sunday, 8 Feb 2009
SOME three years ago, I attended a seminar where we were urged to sack our landlords. This simply means acquiring our own houses and putting a stop to the overt and covert harassment most tenants suffer in the hands of landlords. The facilitator, a good friend of mine, first prepared our minds by advising us not to regard any land anywhere as bush. In real estate, he noted, the land you regarded as bush today might turn out to be a hot cake tomorrow.

And so, not less than 10 of us set out to inspect some plots of land at Mowe, Ogun State. I was in front. Each time I turned back, I would notice that the number of cars following us had reduced. Being a patient dog, I kept on moving. At a point, what kept us company were goats, birds and whistling trees. By the time we got to the end point, I was left with only the agents and some lizards dancing about in readiness for copulation.

I didn‘t buy the land. The major reason was that dealers in building materials would not reduce the price of cement or rod because I wanted to build in a remote part of Ogun. What it costs to build in Ikoyi, for instance, is what it will cost to build at Mowe or Ofada in Ogun State. My real estate friend advised that I could still buy the land at Mowe, develop it and rent it out.

This sounded good. But then, I had reason to sample the cost of renting a three-bedroom flat in some areas of Lagos. That was when the difference between owning a house in a “first world” like Ikoyi and a “third world” like Iyana Ipaja or Igando in Lagos and Mowe in Ogun dawned on me.

Let’s look at the rent in some areas of Lagos. In a place like Ikeja GRA, a three-bedroom flat goes for between N3.5m and N4m per annum. In Ikoyi/Victoria Island, it is between N4m and N8m per annum. Some landlords even collect the rent in dollars. In a place like Ojodu, it is between N500,000 and N800,000. The same type of accommodation in some estates within Ojodu goes for not less than N1m. In Maryland, Anthony and Apapa, it is between N500,000 and N900,000. In Ogba area, it is between N350,000 and N550,000. The same type of accommodation in suburbs I call third world is between N100,000 and N250,000.

Even with this low rent, most tenants in these third world suburbs default in payment after the expiration of their initial payment. Sometimes, the landlord increases the rent to either make more money or force the old tenants out. Serious fighting usually follows this action. And in some cases, some landlords adopt unorthodox means to achieve their aims.

Last week, there was a report in the SUNDAY SUN about a landlady who allegedly brought down the roof, ceiling, and smashed the windows and doors of her tenant at Ojodu area of Lagos just to force them out. The lady reportedly increased the house rent, but the tenant was not favourably disposed to paying the new rent.

Some Nigerians have also had cause to condemn advance rent payment. Some landlords ask for as much as three-year rent from prospective tenants. The Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project, last week, called on the Federal Government to make laws that would criminalise such an idea. The group believes the practice infringes on the right of poor and vulnerable people to adequate housing.

SERAP’s call is great. But I think Nigerians should look beyond asking government to criminalise advance rent payment. Housing is among the tree basic needs of man. Rather than the government initiating laws to harass landlords over how much they collect on their houses, why can’t it initiate plans that will make it possible for the majority of Nigerians to own their houses under a good mortgage system as it obtains in advanced countries?

In this period of global economic recession, every Nigerian needs to be more careful and more prudent in managing their finances. Some companies are sacking their workers. I understand that even some banks now do not pay full salaries to their members of staff anymore. About 75 per cent is paid as salary and 25 per cent is based on performance.

Nigerians may not think of committing suicide as some European multimillionaires have done. But since the downturn in the stock market looks like it will not be over soon, there is every need for all to think more of survival strategies. Investing in real estate, for instance, may be a wise move this period. Unlike stocks, land is known to appreciate with time. One should buy what one can afford for now. If it‘s Mowe land you can afford, please buy. It may be N400,000 today. In the near future, the same land may go for N4m.

The problem is that some middle income earners want to prove that they have crossed the poverty line. And so, there is some sort of competition to acquire the latest automobile in town. The banks have different schemes luring people to buy different brands of cars and spread the payment over some years. There is even a new jeep that is selling for about N2.7m, although the price seems to have changed to about N3.5m of recent.

Perhaps, this is why the number of cars plying Lagos roads seems to almost outnumber that of human beings in the state. Now that Governor Tunde Fashola is going on a massive tax drive in Lagos, it will not surprise me if he wakes up one morning to introduce tax on cars.

These are not the best of times for Nigerians, especially those in need of accommodation. Those who are desperate are at the mercy of agents some of who dupe them in the process. Some of the agents take different people to different houses and collect transport fares of about N1,000 each from them.

My prayer for Nigerians in housing distress is that they should think more of how to own their own houses. With that, they can plant flowers or do anything they like in the house. With that, nobody will have the audacity to remove the roof of their apartment.

Assessing our brand of rule of law

February 5, 2009

Casmir Igbokwe

 Published Feb. 1, 2009

Recent developments in the country as regards the raping of the rule of law call for great vigilance among Nigerians. Law enforcement agents have begun to assume the character of mad dogs again. The executive and legislative arms of government have continued to disregard court orders. And to worsen it all, the judiciary, in some cases, seems incapacitated and helpless.

 

Let’s examine some of the disturbing breaches. Yesterday, SATURDAY PUNCH reported the death of 50-year-old Enilari Suraju after a fight with soldiers in Lagos. According to the report, the man had warned the soldiers to drive carefully because they almost knocked him down with their vehicle. Apparently angered that a bloody civilian could talk to them boldly, they allegedly descended on the father of four children and gave him the carpenter’s treatment. The incident happened last Wednesday. By Friday morning, the man, who reportedly went to Apapa to transact some business, had died. The soldiers are said to have come from Arakan Barracks.

 

A correspondent of THE GUARDIAN, Mr David Ogah, reportedly had a similar raw deal in the hands of security agents in Lagos. The reporter was trying to drive away after an assignment at Lylipond Container Terminal when a female naval officer allegedly blocked him with her car. All entreaties to the woman to remove the vehicle were rebuffed. As Ogah confronted her to find out what was wrong, the lady officer, together with her orderly, purportedly assaulted him. Penultimate week, a female member of staff of THE PUNCH got the same treatment from naval personnel in Lagos.

 

The same scenario exists in different parts of the country. Lucky victims escape with minor injuries. The not-so-lucky ones are maimed for life. The most unfortunate ones pay the supreme sacrifice.

 

Soldiers are not the only ones who abuse our human rights and the rule of law. Public office holders routinely flout court orders. And the refrain has always been, nothing will happen. The erstwhile Chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission went to court to challenge his maltreatment in the police force. His case is still pending but he now contends with overt and covert harassment from different quarters.

 

What of Mallam Nasir el Rufai? To the best of my knowledge, he went to court in August last year to challenge the probe instituted against him by the Senate Committee on the FCT and Housing. His grouse was that he was not given fair hearing. The matter is yet to be disposed of, but the Senators are already passing judgement and calling for the head of the former minister. On January 21, 2009, the Senate Joint Committee recommended, among others, the withdrawal of all allocations made by el-Rufai in May 2007. They said he was not a fit and proper person to hold public office in a democratic setting in the future.

 

The way the senators are going about this case leaves much to be desired. The National Assembly embarked on some other probes last year: Power probe, transport sector probe, aviation sector probe and so on. Reports of some of these probes are gathering dust somewhere. So, what is so special about the FCT probe that the Abubakar Sodangi-led committee can’t wait until the court determines the substantive suit? Or do they have any special interest in that case?

 

We have remained perpetually underdeveloped largely because we don’t respect our laws. If the law says no one should dump refuse on the road or inside the gutter, that is where some Nigerians will prefer to dump their refuse. If the law says don’t drive against the traffic, some motorists will prefer to test the will of law enforcement agents by breaking that law. They believe they can always sort things out with their money.

 

The international community see us as a nation of fraudsters because we don’t strictly enforce our laws on financial crimes. They see us as a nation of drug pushers because we are good in circumventing laws even when we find ourselves in foreign lands. They see us as a people who are incapable of ruling themselves because we only mouth the rule of law but implement the rule of godfathers and sacred cows.

 

Rules and regulations differentiate man from other animals. They differentiate advanced nations from developing ones. No nation is crime free. That Western nations seem to be enjoying relative freedom and orderliness is because there is respect for the rule of law. If anybody commits any crime, the law takes care of the person. If a riot breaks out, the police use protective shield, baton and, in some cases, tear gas to restore order. Gun is rarely used. If a policeman manhandles anybody, if the victim does not sue, somebody else will do that on his behalf.

 

The truth is that Nigerians are ready to respect the laws of the land if only the lawmakers and enforcers are ready to observe the rule of law. This could be attested to by the fact that commercial motorists who misbehave on Lagos roads, for instance, always caution themselves whenever they notice that law enforcement agents are lurking around.

 

When General Muhammadu Buhari and Tunde Idiagbon instituted the war against indiscipline, Nigerians gradually began to change their unruly behaviour. It was when the gap-toothed general took over power that indiscipline gradually resurfaced.

 

Now that we are in a democratic dispensation, law enforcement agents should realise that they are not paid to brutalise those they are supposed to protect. Even if Ribadu, el-Rufai or any other person went beyond their briefs in the execution of their duties, the law should be allowed to take its course. Let us at all times respect the fundamental rights of our citizens.       

  

Embarrassed governor and Citizen Bakari

February 5, 2009

By Casmir Igbokwe

Published: Sunday, 25 Jan 2009

IN June 1984, the former British Prime Minister, Mrs. Margaret Thatcher, got a raw deal from some of her subjects. She was on a visit to Wales. As she was addressing a Conservative Party rally, someone threw an egg, which hit her and splattered over her face and dress.

More eggs and other items such as tomato, a packet of butter and ice cream also flew towards the then Prime Minister. But a detective reportedly rushed towards her with an umbrella to protect her. No arrests were made even as Thatcher left the place calmly in a limousine.

The Iron Lady was even lucky that it was a fragile object like an egg that hit her. Recently in Iraq, the immediate past president of the United States, George Bush, escaped unhurt when an Iraqi journalist threw shoes at him. The man threw the first one. Bush ducked. He threw the second one, which the erstwhile president also ducked from before security operatives apprehended the missile thrower.

In many countries of the world, citizens ventilate their feelings about their leaders in different ways. Some indulge in protests. Some are good in petition writing. Some take up arms against the government of the day.

In Nigeria, many of these forms of protests are not in short supply. You can beat a Nigerian silly, but you cannot stop him from crying. And this is why the press and some individuals sometimes run into trouble with the powers that be.

This is what one Shuaibu Bakari, a 25-year-old man from Taraba State, is suffering at the moment. According to The Guardian of Wednesday, January 21, 2009, Bakari was remanded in prison custody last Tuesday for embarrassing Taraba State Governor, Danbaba Suntai, at a public function.

The man had earlier been detained on December 16, 2008 for publicly challenging the governor while he (the governor) was inaugurating some projects the Jalingo Council chairman reportedly executed. The prosecution accused him of breaching Section 114 of the Penal Code.

But what exactly did Bakari do? He threw neither eggs nor shoes. He reportedly shouted in Hausa language, Karye ne, karye ne (It‘s not true, it‘s not true). In other words, the man had the audacity to challenge the veracity of His Excellency‘s claims as regards some projects purportedly executed by his administration.

The trial judge even reportedly rejected the plea for bail by the accused, saying he might breach Section 341 (2) of the Criminal Procedure Code.

Without prejudice to whatever judgement the court may deliver later in this case, it is important to commend the governor, at least for taking the legal option. Some other people may have done something worse.

For instance, for writing what the erstwhile governor of old Rivers State, Alfred Diete-Spiff, considered a blasphemy, Minere Amakiri (a correspondent with the Observer Newspaper then) suffered terrible torture in the cell. Agents of Diete-Spiff flogged him mercilessly and shaved him with broken bottles.

Similarly, the Muhammadu Buhari regime jailed two frontline journalists, Tunde Thompson and Nduka Irabor, for publishing a list of ambassadorial nominees. Their crime was that they published it before the government made a pronouncement on it. Other top journalists like Dele Giwa and Bagauda Kaltho paid the supreme sacrifice for pursuing truth in their magazines.

Many other Nigerians had suffered different deprivations for peacefully challenging the authorities. Even some of the leaders who take the legal option do not have patience to allow the rule of law to take its full course.

For instance, Section 35 (4) of the 1999 Constitution stipulates that any person arrested or detained for committing a criminal offence, shall be brought before a court of law within a reasonable time. Subsection 5 of the same section explains that a reasonable time means ”in the case of an arrest or detention in any place where there is a court of competent jurisdiction within a radius of forty kilometres, a period of one day…”

The question is, was Bakari arraigned within one or two days after his arrest and detention? Governor Suntai and his agents can explain better. But it is time our public officers learnt to put criticisms in their strides. It is time they learnt to make friends rather than enemies of the people they govern. It is time they emulated leaders of civilised societies who do not surround themselves with much air of importance.

Anybody who watched the inauguration of President Barack Obama of the US can’t but be marvelled at the level of interaction between leaders and their followers in that country. Tight security notwithstanding, Obama mingled with his people, shaking hands with some and kissing some others. Some even cornered Secretary of State, Hilary Clinton, to take photographs with her.

Nigerian leaders should know that their citizens are not happy with them. This is largely because truth is on sale here. Some promise fresh fish and pounded yam during campaigns, but give scorpion and stones when they assume power. Some claim to have built gas turbines, roads, state-of-the-art hospitals, and well-equipped schools.

On closer scrutiny, however, citizens may discover that such gas turbines are no better than a dilapidated transformer next door; that the hospitals are equipped with wall geckos; and that school buildings are made of mud bricks, but plastered with cement. And for any N1m project executed, some of the governors mount N5m billboards or self-portraits at strategic places to advertise their “feat.”

Our public officers should come down from their high horse and identify with their people. They should know that it is better for their citizens to express themselves than to bottle up their anger. A bottled-up anger has a more catastrophic effect. Rather than swearing to an oath of secrecy, let us swear to an oath of openness. Rather than upholding the tenets of the Official Secret Act, let us observe more of the Freedom of Information Act.

It is only those who have skeletons in their cupboards that fret when criticisms come their way. Governor Suntai may have been insulted. He has a right to be angry. But one major way to shame his detractors is not to detain them, but to embark on the massive development and empowerment of his people. Let him wear Thatcher‘s dress and ask himself, “What if Bakari had thrown eggs at me?”

 

New ministers, VIPs and our lost manhood

February 5, 2009

Casmir Igbokwe

First published Jan 18, 2009

 

Someone close to me called from Minna last week with a laughable message. According to her, I should be wary of how I receive phone calls these days. Her explanation was that about four people lost their penises recently in the Niger State capital and the cause was a mysterious phone call they allegedly received from some unknown people. She warned me not to dismiss her message as one of those superstitious nonsense prevalent in Nigeria. 

 

If Nigeria were an animate being, one could safely say that he has lost his own manhood. Like a castrated he-goat, the nation looks big and intimidating. But when it comes to the real test of its virility; when it comes to showing that which differentiates a male from a female, it buckles and looks pitiable.

 

Last Wednesday, President Umaru Yar’Adua charged his ministers to literally prove their manhood. It was at the first Federal Executive Council meeting for the New Year and the first outing for his new ministers. According to the President, “We are saddled with the twin task of maintaining macro-economic stability in an environment of global economic meltdown, thus delivering shared prosperity to our citizens in the face of dwindling national revenues…The challenges of  the moment come with opportunity to prove ourselves, dig deep into ourselves for the best we can offer and give full vent to our creative energies to lay a lasting foundation for the transformation of our country and for the well-being of the generality of our people.”

 

The President had similarly made some inspiring statements in his New Year message to Nigerians. He had promised that this year would be a year of abundant blessings, a year he would engage the speed gear in his efforts to transform Nigeria.

 

These promises and renewed mandate to ministers, perhaps, stemmed from the perception among many Nigerians that this administration is weak. Since inception in May 2007, it has done little to improve the lives of the people who witness more of untimely deaths, soaring unemployment, abject poverty, decaying infrastructure and so on.

 

Besides, not a few Nigerians see some of the new ministers appointed by Yar’Adua as uninspiring, old, tired and recycled beings. Some see some of them as round pegs in square holes who lack the pedigree to achieve what is expected of them.

 

Whichever way you see the new ministers, it will be too early in the day to assess them. Some of them like the Minister of Information and Communications, Prof. Dora Akunyili, are already making some pronouncements, which tend to indicate that they mean business. In this country, however, people have lost faith in the polity. And this is because of the widening gap between promises and reality.

 

Nevertheless, Nigerians are not difficult people to govern. Once you show them that you care, they will give you their full support. For a few roads he constructed and the civil servants salaries he paid while in office, Anambra people have not forgotten former governor Chris Ngige. Chief Obafemi Awolowo is an idol in the South-West because of the legacies he left behind. People are praising Governor Raji Fashola of Lagos State today because of the visible things they see him doing in Lagos.

 

For the present government to win the confidence of the people, the new ministers, and indeed every government official, should do what is necessary to salvage Nigeria. President Yar’Adua should take the lead. Beyond pursuing his seven-point agenda, he should try as much as possible to curtail the arrogance and dictatorial tendencies that characterised the immediate past administration.

 

One instance will suffice here. Yesterday, THE NATION  reported that a Bellview Airlines aircraft was held up for about two hours after it departed the Murtala Muhammed Airport Lagos last Friday. This created panic among the relatives of the 100 passengers of the Abuja-bound plane. The pilot of the aircraft reportedly said that the movement of very important persons otherwise called presidential movement caused the delay.

 

What if the aircraft had run out of fuel in this circumstance? What if the aircraft had developed some other problems while waiting in the air? It is good that our very important persons enjoy some comfort and privilege. But it will be better if they reserve some modicum of respect for the not-so-important persons. In this era of high cost of aviation fuel; in this period of bad radar and high cost of operation, the least airline operators want is artificial delays that make their operations more expensive.

 

 

No doubt, if the President and other important persons live by example, others will emulate them. If his salaries and allowances and those of other political office holders could increase courtesy of the Revenue Mobilisation, Allocation and Fiscal Commission, equity demands that the salaries of other not-so-important persons be increased a little. If those in the bedroom of power could siphon about $16bn without providing us electricity, justice demands that the price of petrol and kerosene be reduced so that the not-so-important persons could use either their lanterns or toy-like generators whose fumes have continued to kill people.

 

If those in authority could fly abroad for tummy tuck, ankle injury or skin infections treatment; or go anywhere in Nigeria (they fly to remote areas in helicopters), at least common sense demands that they should fix the roads to prevent unnecessary deaths of the commoners. If some ministries could return about N350bn as unspent funds from 2008 budget, wisdom demands that such funds should be ploughed back into whatever they were meant for.

 

I remember some years back when the issue of missing genitals first surfaced in Nigeria. What the angry mob did then was to close in on the suspects, lynch them or force them to “restore” the thing back to the original owner. As mundane as this phenomenon sounds, I cannot but figuratively use it to warn our very important persons in the corridors of power to beware of the Nigerian mob. No rich man sleeps well when the majority of the people are suffering.

 

It is either they restore our manhood by providing dividends of democracy or risk some mob attacks when they least expect.