By Tope Fasua
First let me ask Garba Shehu; at what point did presidential communication become all about pugilism? From the day this government was inaugurated in 2015, it has been all about brickbats and that was how the government became alienated from all its reasonable supporters. I recall writing to Garba Shehu, when Buhari clocked 100 days in office and he had written an article in which he concluded that Buhari was better (greater) than Lee Kuan Yew and Narendra Modi (perhaps put together), because – in his words – Buhari doesn’t micromanage. In other words Yew and Modi are small-minded micromanagers! I told Shehu that his language in his article which gushed about his Messiah, was grossly undiplomatic, insensitive, and insulting to the peoples of India and Singapore. Let us keep our nonsense amongst ourselves. When we start to export stupidity someone needs to call for caution.
The latest umbrage against Pastor Adeboye by Shehu, and by extension Buhari’s presidency, I find most-distasteful, childish and as usual, very unintelligent. An old man gave a very patriotic and balanced view, and all he gets are attack dogs calling him names and dismissing his deeply-pained view as unwarranted, unpatriotic and the rantings of some ‘factions’. He came short of using the old military language of threatening to ‘deal ruthlessly’ with Adeboye and his likes, and that may well be the sentiments of the presidency which he represents. The question is, why is Buhari and his friends in government so afraid of the word ‘restructuring’ in any form in which it comes, to the extent that it almost gets violent at the mention of it? Why is the government unable to separate constructive suggestions and belligerent calls for disintegration? For in my view Adeboye’s call was constructive and I will analyse his speech shortly. It is also pertinent to note that VP Osinbajo and Governor Fayemi, among others have called for restructuring in one way or another in recent times, so maybe the ‘factions’ that Shehu refers to, refers to some certain geopolitical zones in Nigeria. I see the views of some of these people (Fayemi and co) as being opportunistic though. They promised to work on the structure of Nigeria before getting into government only for them to get lost in the allure of power. They are only just waking up, but our people say it is when you wake up that you should be greeted ‘good morning’.
I am not one of those who live and breathe RESTRUCTURING. I have analysed the issue in the past, and concluded that perhaps if the economy was better run, and if people had more opportunities to be lifted out of poverty, an economic restructuring would have occurred, and so the angst surrounding the topic will reduce so that we can have a more reasonable discussion about how best to run the country. Even Plato and Socrates, old Greek philosophers, and the earlier-mentioned Kuan Yew, expressed their suspicions about democracy, believing truly that it only works in societies where people have food to eat and are comfortable. Restructuring is about governance, in my view. I had even suggested in past articles, see https://opinion.premiumtimesng.com/…/a-short-history-of…, https://opinion.premiumtimesng.com/…/the…/and https://www.thecable.ng/restructuring-first-jettison… RESTRUCTURING BE BUILT INTO OUR CONSTITUTION, so that we can reappraise governance structure every three or four years, after all, no constitution is perfect. I also called attention to the fact that nobody should just believe that a better constitution will simply fix Nigeria’s problem, or buy into the idea that other tribes are the problem with Nigeria without deep self-introspection. The people who have wrecked Nigeria have come from every part of, and every village in Nigeria. What is more, I posited that this restructuring problem and clamour is a result of our inertia since ‘democracy’ returned in 1999.
Yes, before 1999 and under the military, we had several tweaks with governance. It could now be debated whether the military is the problem, or whether we are not yet matured for party democracy, or whether we will never be. For these politicians came and it has been all about entrenching their interests, stealing and gathering money, expanding offices, creating useless parastatals, and generally burdening the nation’s meagre finances. Today, we are owing 3 times what we owed before our debts were canceled in 2006 (I am coming shortly with a reply to Fashola’s idea that we oughtn’t have repaid $12bn in order to get out of that debt trap). The politicians have proliferated political offices. It is among them we find randy people who feed and sponsor their 40 children and 10 wives mercilessly on the purse of Nigeria. The military was lithe and nimble; there were no legislators and all sorts of hangers on. There were few parastatals and no one deceived themselves with all this ‘constituency’ fraud going on. They were corrupt no doubt, but these politicians have taken corruption to wuthering heights. I recall that President Buhari himself fully supported and almost applauded David Cameron’s claim that his (Buhari’s) government was ‘fantastically corrupt’. If anything has changed since then they may have only got worse. So, nothing I have said here indicts this government and previous ones since 1999 than a presidential admission to mindless, irresponsible and genocidal corruption. This is however not to say the military should come back into government in Nigeria. It is however apt, for us to do a quick comparison and wake up from this inexorable drift into the canyon.
The military used to have a finance edicts every year where taxes were tweaked – from personal and company income taxes to petroleum taxes. Every year! They announced budgets unfailingly every 1st of January (sometimes 31st of December). They not only tweaked taxes, they also tweaked things like derivation formula and federal allocations from time to time. It was by military fiat. We complained to high heavens, but we saw some dynamism. It is sad, and a great failure of we the civilians, that one will write about the military era with such nostalgia and positive reminiscence. We thought then that we had the worst deal ever. But look at us now. Things are so bad, and yet sitting governments will not want to hear the world ‘change’, howsoever it may be suggested. The military even toyed around with our governance structure. Of course they created states and local governments (sometimes under pressure from their girlfriends, wives and relatives), and sometimes, they decided to experiment by sending ‘sons of the soil’ to be governor over a state, while at other times, they sent total strangers; the idea being that sometimes someone who knows a state inside-out would better govern the space, but also sometimes what is needed for unbiased decisions is someone who knows nothing about a state. And so I grew up in an Ondo State governed at some point by son-of-the-soil Bamidele Otiko, and at other times, Ahmed Usman, Michael Akhigbe, Raji Rasaki, Opaleye and co. I served in Calabar when the governor was a Benue man, Ernest Kizito Attah. There was change. There were experiments. There was dynamism.
Therefore, a lot of the clamour for restructuring today is because politicians have been greedy and selfish and have since gone to sleep. They only wake up when there is Ghana-must-go to be shared, when there are budgets to be padded, or when it is time to lean on some parastatal for illegal benefits and kickbacks. They are adept at cornering all the contracts in any MDA as we have seen in the cases where people like James Manager, Nicholas Mutu, Peter Nwaoboshi and their likes have allegedly sat on NDDC contracts and deprived their very own kin the goodness of good governance. Nothing has happened since Akpabio spilled the beans. The politicians have not got anybody’s backs. Neither have they even bothered to tweak governance a little. Nothing has changed. Not the allocation formula. Not the derivation formula. No new states have been created. No new local governments. None have been merged as well. This is what Adeboye is saying. It is commonsense. When you remain at the same spot, you decay, you whittle, you dilapidate, your bone structure weakens and contorts, your muscles totally atrophy. Then you stand the risk of an external force hitting you out of your somnambulation or being run over altogether by a moving truck or train. That is Nigeria. That is the message someone is trying to give the Buhari government and the best they can do is pull out their daggers! I don’t understand why this government is the most-scared of the lot when it comes to matters of dynamism. They cannot claim to be doing everything right, can they? Or is it just the fear of intellectualism? They don’t just want to entertain deep thinking? They cannot see any low-hanging fruits in this restructuring debate? I just don’t get them. Enough of Garba Shehu.
AN ANALYSIS OF ADEBOYE’S ADVICE
Anyone who wants to speak about this issue should first sit through the 13 minutes video of Pastor Adeboye addressing some of his church members through an online platform on Independence Day. He was called to come and speak and pray for them. He started out by saying he may not want to pray for the entire 10 minutes, but instead reminisced about some of his worries about Nigeria. He stated matter-of-factly that Nigeria is headed for the rocks the way it is and that it is hard to imagine this nation still being intact in 60 years with all the challenges we have and our mismanagement of our issues. These are facts as I had explained above. I too cannot imagine that we will still be like this in 60 years. Not even 10.
I very much align with the Pastor’s perspective on this especially as he echoed my thoughts that Nigeria’s problem is not a linear equation. Like the good pastor, I have a mathematical mind as an Economist/Statistician and I have always told the rabid proponents of disintegration this fact. Nigeria’s problems are rather quadratic, trinomial in nature if reduced to a mathematical problem, and indeed there are a few lemmas here and there (lemmas are half-solved equations or formulas meaning that there are many fuzzy aspects to the debate). Nationhood is therefore a problem that must constantly be attempted. What is unacceptable is to crawl into a cocoon, like some snail, hibernate and shut out every opinion because you see everyone as an enemy – as Buhari is trying to do. Whether you see everyone as an enemy or not does not even matter. We all are citizens of Nigeria and no one under a democracy can or should attempt to stop people airing their views. Come to think of it, Nigerians were more vocal under the military than we are today. In the military days, students demonstrated, ASUU went on strike often and for good causes, the labour unions were a bit more sincere. Today, under a so-called civilian regime, we all lay prostrate, serfs and minions in our own dying nation where debts are sky-high, the currency value heading towards that of tissue paper, official poverty nearing 80%, and inequality the worst in the world. And someone thinks the state of the union should not be discussed at all, or that there is no need to shift the furniture around?
Adeboye was clear that those calling for disintegration were being naïve, and that is where he mentioned that ours is not a linear equation problem. I thought the government should commend him for that. See, the best Buhari government can expect is for people to assist in keeping the nation together. All else should be seen as icing on the cake. The ranks of those calling for disintegration is getting stronger daily, and even some of us who would caution them strongly before are beginning to think that maybe they are right. Nothing convinces us more than the recalcitrance, the nonchalance, the attempt at totalitarianism, the anti-intellectual stance of the government of the day. So, I align with Adeboye, that disintegration will only create intractable problems and I believe I am doing the Buhari government a big favour with this stance. Or perhaps the Buhari governments hopes to keep patching up the nation one way or another until it escapes in 2023? That would be grossly irresponsible, but it is not unimaginable given the mien, the aura, and the public stance of this government. We will therefore keep dragging this government until it leaves, to do the right thing, to wake up, to become responsible. When you step out and say you want to lead a nation, you inherit its assets and liabilities, its past, present and its future prospects. You don’t only inherit Aso Rock Villa and the many enjoyments of office – presidential jets, untold access to her wealth, political offices and patronage and all that. I think Garba Shehu and his colleagues may think that is what this is all about. We have the right to correct them.
In Adeboye’s humble and non-combative (in fact reconciliatory) talk, I saw a man who wants his country to succeed. I may not subscribe to all the ethos and practice of Pentecostal Christianity which he champions in Nigeria, but on this one, I saw sincerity. I even saw guilelessness, for example when he suggested that Nigeria could have a president and prime minister at the same time, with power shared between the two. Baba Adeboye has never been in party politics (despite the RCCG being a vast entity with its own politics), so he may not know that nobody shares any power in politics. If you give the president control of the army but give the prime minister the control of finance, the prime minister will certainly frustrate the president, and the president may have to send the army after the PM. It will be hilarious chaos. Same goes for the suggestion of having a state governor and maybe a state prime minister. None of our state governors can stand their deputies at present. Their quarrels often get very messy. The idea of a United States of Nigeria could however be explored. The way these things work is for everyone to table their perspectives. There are always nuggets to pick from everyone, but no perspective is perfect.
I was also enthused by Pastor Adeboye’s suggestion that Nigeria should have a House of Chiefs. This was present in Nigeria’s First Republic but a lot happened that saw to the collapse of the idea. The south west experience was very instructive in this regards as some of the powerful chiefs had clashes with the premier, Chief Obafemi Awolowo. The idea can be revived, but historical contexts must be incorporated. What went wrong then? What developments have happened since then that may affect success or otherwise? How will the Chiefs know their limits in governance? The very high likelihood is that some powerful ‘kings’ will refuse to bow to government. As of now, they have been subjugated especially with the power of money as they have to receive salaries from someone. They have even been trampled – as Adeboye noted – under local government Chairmen, most of whom don’t exist as state governors hardly conduct elections but give the office to their bag boys. Imagine that insult! Before, they were so powerful they enacted and collected their own taxes after all that was the reality before colonial rulers showed up. Also today, many anomalies have happened. There are many towns in Nigeria with two or more sovereign chiefs. There are places where these sovereigns are always at war. There are also instances where members of different tribes have crowned their own ‘king’ in other people’s lands, like the Eze Ndigbos of every town in Nigeria, or the increasing occurrences of Oba Yoruba of Sokoto, Kano and all that jive. The Sarkin Fulani or Hausas are also present everywhere. Nigeria is truly a beautiful mess but Adeboye deserves commendation for being quite open minded as to suggest that traditional chiefs have a bigger role, and that Imams and Bishops be incorporated. Other people in his shoes would have called these other leaders evil and sons of the devil.
Adeboye does not deserve the usual insults of Garba Shehu and deserves a profuse apology immediately. And the Buhari government had better wake up and smelled the coffee. Listen. Do something. Show some dynamism. Do not be anti-intellectual. No one is perfect. Acting the ostrich has never helped nationhood.
Anyway, Baba Adeboye, pray for me.