The Insight by Lateef Adewole
The legendary juju music maestro, King Sunny Ade, MFR, in one of his evergreen album, sang a song in an album he waxed in 80’s. There was a part of the lyrics that goes thus: “esubiribiri e bo mi o, b’iwaju loloko n wa mi lo, b’eyin sa loloko n wa mi lo, mi o mo…” (all should surround me, if it is forward that the driver of my vehicle is moving me or backward, I don’t know). That lyrics must have raised some concerns to his music lovers at the time because of what it connoted. That was a part that seemed to expose a ‘confused’ person who did not know the direction in which his life or career journey was heading.
Ironically, that was a period that KSA, as he is popularly and fondly called, was very “hot”, as we say in local parlance. His music career was on upward trend and his profile was rising. I did not know what must have inspired that track till date. However, in a subsequent album he released, not long after, he revealed another slant that seemed to be directed at those who were concerned about the previous lyrics. It went thus: “esubiribiri e bo mi o, iwaju loloko n wa mi lo, eyin ko loloko n wa mi, mo ti mo…”(all should surround me, it is forward that the driver is moving me, it isn’t backward, I have known). That was a conviction about where he was heading.
In Nigeria today, the first lyrics is how majority of Nigerians feel. The coming of the new administration, with its news policies, that seem to have upset the lives of the people, which on one hand, were applauded because they were elephants in the room. They were headwinds around the neck of the country that threatened to strangle it. While on the other hands, these policies have serious negative consequences on the lives of the people. This has thrown many, including those who supported the president, into a state of confusion. People keep asking what’s really going on? Where are we heading as a country?
Someone like me has nearly become a ‘spokesman’ for the government. As a public commentator and analyst, who looks at happenings in the country and give my opinions about them based on my knowledge and understanding, and particularly as a staunch supporter and promoter of the candidacy of Tinubu while aspiring and contesting, and who has also been defending his policies and actions taken by the administration so far, I am constantly bombarded with questions, from people with genuine concerns and those who do so for mockery.
One thing I know or found out is that, majority of the citizens don’t understand governance. They also cannot comprehend the far reaching implications of many government policies and actions. Majority are just mundane in their interests. They are unconcerned with the intricacies of running the government, beyond them being able to feed themselves, feel secured, have shelter on their heads and meet basic needs of their family. Shikena! Remove subsidy or not, unify exchange rates or not, it is not their business. Rightly so, this is the reason why they have governments in place at different levels. These are the first constitutional responsibilities of government.
However, my fundamental explanation to all is that, what Nigeria and Nigerians are experiencing can be likened to having children which is usually the desire of every human being, especially in marriage. It is needless to go into the details of the arduous journey of finding the right partner, long process of courtship, the cost in emotion, finance, energy and time, of getting married, and then the activities in “za oza room” for conception. All these might not be too difficult, until pregnancy comes in. “Na women sabi wetin their eyes dey see during pregnancy”. Then comes, the ultimate. The journey between life and death, during labour for child birth. That is unparalleled pain in human anatomy.
After a successful delivery, the baby becomes the joy of everyone, not just that of the parents. Everyone adores him or her, party is thrown to celebrate their arrival. At that point, no one will be bothered about all the rigours and pains that preceded that moment. So, like the Yorubas would say: “eni ma j’eyin inu apata, ko ni w’enu aake” (no pain, no gain). For every good thing that one intends to enjoy, there is always sacrifice that must be made to achieve it. This is exactly the point we are now.
It is understandable that, “ebi ki wonu, koro mi wo be” (an hungry man is an angry man). But, for enduring developments, something must give. Right now, Nigerians are faced with multiple difficulties occasioned by the removal of petrol subsidy. As a result, cost of living has gone through the roof. Trekking has become fashionable as many cannot afford to pay for high transport fares for their complete journey. So, they adopt to trek for a certain distance and board vehicle for the rest, as a way of saving money. Many workers’ salaries are not even enough to take care of their transportation to and from work on daily basis. All these are enough to evoke a feeling of hopelessness.
However, the situation is not an uncontrollable downward spiral as it seems to look like. It is actually a transition period which we, as a people, must pass through, if we genuinely want transformational development, and not tokenism, as we often see in the past, that’s where there was any at all. Historically, no nation on earth has moved from less developed country to developing and eventually, developed one, without passing through such a phase in their national life as this.
All these countries we admire from afar, embedded in their history were similar situations. To start from our fellow African country, Rwanda, which has now become the model for others, can Nigerians pass through and endure what the Rwandans went through? I don’t need to begin writing about the so dark a past of that country, which the citizens would never wished for their enemies. Also, the current democratic leader, President Paul Kagame has been in office for 29 years, both in military capacity, before transiting to a civilian president. Yet, we are already complaining of a government that is just about two month old, which is trying to redirect our national trajectory.
In other parts of the world, especially those countries that shared historical similarities with us decades ago, which have now become globally recognised force; China, India, Singapore and so on, each of these countries had experiences which are better read in books than experienced personally. The huge sacrifices that their citizens had to make, the pains they had to endure, and the commitment they had to give, are better imagined.
In Nigeria, we are a people who want to enter paradise, but don’t want to die. We like comfort and everything to be easy, smooth, and free. But, do I blame the people alone? No, ofcourse. What does leadership exhibit to the public? What image do they cut and show to the people? It is not that of people who are making or ready to make sacrifices. So, how could such leaders ask the people to do the things they themselves are not ready to do?
All of these countries I mentioned had few things in common, the leaders, who made the revolutionary transformation possible, were also ready to sacrifice to make it happen. Another common factor was that they didn’t do it under the type of democracy we have here and now. Those leaders had autocratic power that afforded them to take actions which they deemed necessary for their goals to be achieved, without minding the consequences or care about what the people would say or how they felt about it. There were no legislative arm to armtwist them or political interests they need to please. They were not walking on egg shells as it is the case here.
On the other hand, under a presidential democracy which we practice, the kind of bureaucracy that could encumbered an action will not get anything done, except by the extreme force of will and gut of the leader. There are too many entrenched interests that are profiteering from all the anomalies plaguing Nigeria. Apart from the electoral politics that a president has to constantly be mindful of, especially when in their first term and hoping for another term, the possibility of tearing power tussle from other arms, whose interests would have to be considered too, are there. Not to talk of other segmentation of the entire landscape into multiple strata driven by regional, tribal, economic, sociocultural and religious interests.
All these are burdensome to any leader of Nigeria who wants to make the desired drastic change happen. These are centrifugal forces pulling him and constituting impediments on his journey. This is a critical factor that has kept Nigeria aground for a very long time, in fact, since existence. The only time we had a brief respite was before independence and shortly after, when parliamentary regional government operated. That was a time we had a modicum of genuine progress, in proportion to our potentials because, they were driven at regional levels among three regions, later four. This engendered healthy rivalry and competition. Since we lost that in January 1966, Nigeria has crawled at its best, and was stagnant or retrogressed sometimes. Nigeria has never recovered.
I have heard arguments against the manner in which the president removed the subsidy as being the grouse of some even when they believe that subsidy should go. The often repeated position is that Tinubu should have waited first and not say “subsidy is gone” in his first speech on the first day as the president of Nigeria. They said the structures, palliatives and some other things should have been put in place first. This sounds reasonable, but only apply where reasons prevail in national governance.
My argument has been that, what has kept the subsidy for that long was exactly what they proposed. If Tinubu had waited a day longer or until that end of June, it could have been more difficult, if not impossible, to still remove the subsidy. That was how past presidents were bogged down all through their tenures and they couldn’t do anything. So, I completely supported how he removed it. Imagine a highly anticipated new administration of Tinubu, got into power, settled down and everything was going smoothly, people are relaxed, happy and suddenly, boom! He removes subsidy. The reaction would have been more painful. It is like a newly born baby who is fed on breast milk. Weaning him or her will be more difficult and very painful to the baby than if the baby was not breastfed at all from birth.
Had the president waited longer before taking actions to begin implementation of those policies, which he promised during the campaigns, he could have been ‘highjacked’ by the cabals running the petrol subsidy and that of forex arbitrtage. These people are powerful. They would have got close to the president pretending to love and support his administration, so much so he could find it difficult to hurt their interests, hence, takes no action. This has been the trap that previous presidents fell into, which kept us here. So, I support the strategy that Tinubu adopted. Attack is the best form of defence. Now that we have been experiencing these difficulties thrown up by the policies, and with the focused actions that governments are taking to mitigate them, we can only expect relief.
President Tinubu, in his broadcast on Monday, reeled out many plans of government in more comprehensive manner. This was considered a preemptive action to prevent the proposed strike and mass protests planned by the NLC, TUC, CSO and other unions. To some extent, it doused the tension with many mouth-watering promises made by the president. They sounded genuine, though, that did not stop the labour unions from going ahead with the protests. However, they shelved the proposed strike and also discontinued the protests subsequently.
Yes, things are hard. Yes, a lot of people are in distress. But for the first time, we have a pragmatic leadership and government who listen to the public complaints and respond to them immediately. Just last week, I wrote in my article, where I advised that government should stop all increments in all school fees, tuition or any other, to be paid by students in all levels of education, whether elementary, secondary or tertiary. The president has directed that all increments should be halted immediately.
Same thing as the proposed student loans. In my interactions with many people, there were complaints about many conditions attached that could debar a lot of indigent deserving students from accessing it. I wrote same in that article and this week, all the complicated conditions have been removed. These are few of the actions that President Tinubu has taken to display his sensitivity to public feelings. I remember reading about how his yet to relocate to Aso Rock always caused pains to Abuja residents on his routes to work due to the gridlock that his trips caused. On Sunday, in response to that, President Tinubu moved to Aso Rock even when the renovations have not been completed. He has to stay in Glass House, a temporary abode, for now while the renovation of his resident continues. All these to please the citizens.
Sincerely, in many decades, no president has been as attentive and paid attention to details as Tinubu. Similar example is the attention that the labour unions and their leaders have been getting from the highest office in the land since the beginning of this fuel subsidy palava, it has been unparalleled in our history. Few times, the president has personally met with them, to explain his actions to them and avail them his plans about palliatives for short term, as well as other medium and long term plans. This was different from multiple meetings with top government officials with direct mandate from the president. Labour leaders stroll in and out of Aso Rock now as they wish. This wasn’t how it used to be. Tinubu is making the seat of power looks appealing to everyone with his open-door policy.
Putting all these, and many things that the government is ‘cooking’, together, I cannot but be grateful to God for giving us a president like Tinubu at this time when Nigeria was at the precipice. A visionary, competent, sagacious and courageous leader. It is a matter of time before Nigerians will begin to appreciate what they have in this administration. If not jealousy, or grandstanding from his antagonists, very few of his appointees so far could be cast away today.
Also, with the complete list of ministerial nominees of 47 in all, which is all encompassing. It has many brilliant technocrats, mixed with astute politicians who are qualify as technocrats in their own right too. Women and youths are not left out. We now have a 36 year old woman, Dr. Betta Edu, nominated for that top office. Over 90% of the nominees can be said to have what it takes to hold their own anywhere. This is one critical factor that made me to support Tinubu. He always assembles formidable team. Nigerians are anxiously waiting for them to be assigned portfolios and hit the ground running. We are in a hurry. No time to waste. I, personally, am looking forward to a firecracking Federal Executive Council (FEC) and FG as a whole.
A tree does not not make a forest. While Nigerians focus on Tinubu and FG, similar attention should be given to the state governors and their administrations. We have started seeing all kinds of funny appointments at state level, like a governor who appointed his daughter, his elder brother’s wife, his nephew, who just finished NYSC some months ago in 2022, to hold critical office in charge of chieftancy and local government affairs, and so on. What manner of government is expected from such incompetent and nepotistic appointments? Time will tell.
Therefore, citizens should scrutinise what’s happening in their various states and hold their governors accountable, especially now that they will be receiving jumbo allocations from FAAC. These are monies saved from subsidy removal and the unification of the exchange rates. It’s our pains, sweat and blood, we should not allow them to squander it.
With many comprehensive programmes that the government has been rolling out and many more that will come as time goes on, I am very sure that it won’t be long before the people will be able to sing the second version of the King Sunny Ade’s lyrics that “esubiribiri e bo mi o, iwaju loloko n wa mi lo, eyin ko loloko n wa mi lo, mo ti mo…” The people would have realised that they, and their country, are on the progressively upward mobility. Nigeria will start moving forward. Nigeria shall be great!
May God continue to protect us and guide us aright.
God Bless Nigeria.
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August 5, 2023.
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