Farewell to the year of the mad pig

Casmir Igbokwe

Published in SUNDAY PUNCH, Dec. 27, 2009 

On Christmas Eve this year, a Swiss-Italian woman reportedly jumped a barricade and lunged at Pope Benedict XVI. The Pontiff was processing down the aisle towards the altar to celebrate Mass at St. Peter’s Basilica. But Susanna Maiolo, 25, with psychiatric problems, grabbed his vestments and pulled him down.

 The other day, it was the Italian Premier, Silvio Berlusconi, who suffered attacks at a political rally. His attacker, a man with a history of psychological problems, hurled a souvenir statuette at him, leaving him with a fractured nose and two broken teeth.  

 Nobody has knocked our own President, Umaru Yar’Adua, down. His nose and teeth are also intact. But for now, he is wrestling with acute pericarditis which has kept him in a Saudi hospital for the past 34 days. As the year ends in a few days time, Yar’Adua looks like he will not celebrate the New Year with us. 

 On the hospital bed with him is a nation that has witnessed 10 years of disjointed democracy; a nation going into a new year and a new decade with uncertainties and misfortunes.  

 Chinese people have a unique way of describing such misfortunes or fortunes of their New Year, which begins on Sunday, February 14, 2010. To them, next year is Year of the White Tiger. The outgoing year is Year of the Brown Cow. Last year was Year of the Brown Rat. Though this is not about Chinese Horoscope or New Year, I have chosen to adapt the country’s use of animals to depict the fortunes or misfortunes of any particular year for our own use here.

 For Nigeria, 2009 is a year of the mad pig. It is a year many Nigerians would wish to forget forever; a year that brought many misfortunes for them; a year that has shown the characteristics of a pig that is inherently dirty and mentally sick.

 Or is acute poverty not a manifestation of some form of sickness? Some even say it is a sin. To me, it smells. It nauseates. And it is embarrassing. This is a year 70 per cent of Nigerians are classified to be poor. In a recent report, the African Peer Review Mechanism notes that six per cent of all poor people in the world reside in Nigeria. I believe the percentage is higher because many hitherto middle-income earners have become very poor on account of the loss of their investment in the capital market.

  The problem is worsening with the sacking of many breadwinners by some companies. The banking sector appears to be the worst hit. This month alone, some banks like Intercontinental and Oceanic sacked thousands of their workers. Many more will likely go in the next few months.

 The main cause of this poverty in the midst of plenty, according to the APRM report, is corruption. In political circles, corruption thrives. Many of the people parading the corridors of power at the three levels of government are not supposed to be there. They rigged themselves into office. They continue the rigging while in office with our common resources as the main launch pad.

 It is quite disheartening, for instance, that the Federal Government could not complete any road project in 2009. The Ministry of Works had a budget of N240bn for 2009. For 2010, the ministry has requested N249bn to continue the same projects it couldn’t complete.

 The Minister of Works, Lawan Hassan, tried to rationalise this cardinal sin by telling us that most Nigerian roads deteriorated before this administration came on board. And even when they awarded the contracts for their repairs in April this year, rainy season could not allow contractors to mobilise to sites. So, he wants another N249bn “to sustain the momentum.”

 Which momentum, you may ask? The momentum of corruption, excuses, lies and failed promises. At the advent of this democracy in 1999, the Olusegun Obasanjo’s government promised Nigerians heaven on earth. It awarded billions of naira contracts for the repair of roads. Ten years after, contracts are still being awarded for the same roads. And the ministers who were responsible for the past failures still walk the streets and direct political affairs overtly and covertly in the country.

 Besides, other infrastructural facilities are not better. Public water supply is non-existent in many parts of the country. Electric power supply has remained abysmal. And the promise of 6000 megawatts by the end of this year has become what a public commentator called 6000 mega lies.

 The victims of our mega failures reside in Libya, Angola, Mozambique and many other better-run countries. This year, Libya deported the highest number of Nigerians. Note that I have not mentioned any European country.

 Our image has not only plummeted, it stinks. The civilised world sees us as a nation of scammers, kidnappers and killers. Three former American Ambassadors to Nigeria, Princeton Lyman, Walter Carrington and John Campbell did not mince words in telling us recently about our worthlessness in the comity of nations today. Carrington reportedly said Nigeria had become the butt of jokes and comedians at drama shows.

 There is every need to cleanse the system; to bathe the dirty pig. First of all, all the evil deeds that give us bad name and bad image, we should resolve to do away with in the coming year.

 My suggestion to the President whenever he comes back to his seat is to start the cleansing process with his ministers and aides. Whoever is not doing their work well should be shown the way out. The number one on this list should be the Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Michael Aondoakaa. He has brought so much confusion in the discharge of his duties just to protect some interests and his job.  

 The number two should be Rilwan Lukman. Here is a petroleum minister who has chosen to relax in Austria while his house is on fire. This is a clear violation of the directive of the Vice-President, Goodluck Jonathan, that he should stay back to solve the current fuel crisis in the country. Is there another name for insubordination?

 Those who call themselves our leaders should just be very careful in the New Year. That is if they don’t want to end up with bruised and bloodied noses.

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