Another Independence Day is here… By Tolu Ogunlesi
Tomorrow, Nigeria will celebrate its 53rd independence anniversary. Fifty three years since the Union Jack was lowered for the final time; since that moving speech in which Prime Minister Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa declared the start of “a new chapter in the history of Nigeria, and of the Commonwealth, and indeed of the world.”
Incidentally too, tomorrow, the Academic Staff Union of Universities will “thank” God for the grace to add yet another day to a strike that has now entered its third month. Their Polytechnic counterparts will continue the countdown to the resumption of a strike they “suspended” in July.
Up in the North-Eastern corner of the country, the Nigerian military will, as news reports have hinted, continue analysing the video clip allegedly released by the supposedly dead leader of Boko Haram, Abubakar Shekau. They will also prepare to kill him for the seventh, or perhaps seventeenth, time.
President Goodluck Jonathan, himself, will celebrate the day, not in Eagle Square, but in the comfort of his home, because the fear of Boko Haram is the beginning of wisdom.
In Lagos, the residents of Oke Ilu-Eri and parts of Ajeromi communities of Badia East will celebrate the first Independence Day since their homes and shops were demolished (last February) by the Lagos State Government.
The potholes along the Lagos-Ibadan Expressway will celebrate their independence from government interference.
Across the country, diesel and petrol generators will offer up smoke offerings to God, for sparing their burdened lives to see yet another October 1.
State governors will issue goodwill messages chockablock with words such as “nascent democracy”, “polity”, “dividends of democracy”, and “committed”, and “Uncommon Transformation”. And of course, “God’s Grace”, because this is one country in which the name of God has to be invoked upon everything.
And tomorrow will probably be that one day in 365 on which we can guarantee that our 36 governors will all be at home in their respective state capitals, not gallivanting across the country attending peace meetings that really have nothing to do with actual peace; not haunting any of the country’s international airports like bored ghosts.
And not to forget this quite important one: that the lucky beneficiaries of the 53 gold-plated Independence iPhones will receive their golden handshakes tomorrow.
I could go on, but I’ll stop here and allow you to add your own ideas about what tomorrow might symbolise or present in this deeply dysfunctional country we call home.
While you think about that, I’d like to get a bit positive, and, in the spirit of Independence, direct a few requests to President Jonathan – my idea of what I think would make excellent Independence Day gifts for the harassed citizens of a harassed country.
One. Please put an end to the ASUU Strike. It’s easy to get the sense that the President doesn’t really give a damn, as he would say. For someone who spent a good part of his life teaching at the Rivers State College of Education and studying for postgraduate degrees at the University of Port Harcourt, and who’s also the first Nigerian Head of State to possess a doctorate, this crisis demands more from the President than what we’re currently seeing. I seriously think that the direct intervention of the President will count for something. In a country that tolerates the stealing of hundreds of thousands of valuable barrels of crude oil daily, and that is preparing for a lavish centenary anniversary, it is disingenuous to pretend that the government is unable to “bend over backwards” to a degree that will make ASUU call off, or at least suspend, the strike.
Two. Let merit play a part in deciding the re-composition of your cabinet. I’m not saying that politics should not play a part. If there’s one mistake that public commentators and arm-chair activists always make, it is to discount the extent to which politics is necessarily a part of governance and public service. I totally understand that there are all sorts of constituencies and interests to be satisfied. What is not justifiable is allowing selfish political interests to utterly override every other consideration. I think the best leaders are those who know how to attain that delicate balance between political expediency (aka self-interest) and national interest. On Sunday, this paper’s sister publication, quoted a Lagos State Peoples Democratic Party chief as saying that the state party chapter is “not comfortable with the idea of having a female minister (nominee) because nobody that wants success for the PDP can say that a woman can lead the war against the All Progressives Congress in Lagos.”
That has to count as one of the most disgraceful statements I’ve come across this year, from a Nigerian politician. And it’s one of those “political interests” that should be treated with disdain by a serious President.
Three. Please fix the Lagos-Ibadan Expressway. It is arguably the busiest highway in Nigeria, and the state it’s in now is a disgrace. I drove along it over the weekend, amazed by the number of billboards proclaiming a transformation of the road, while nothing happens. Which is the story of Nigeria! It is normal in this country to spend more money publicising transformation than on actually ensuring that the transformation happens. Whenever you see a billboard declaring “Taxpayers money in action”, you’re not sure whether the “action” is not in fact the award of the contract for the construction of the billboard. Fifteen years after the return of democracy, it is impossible to understand why that road has not been fixed. And yet, it continues to consume billions of naira annually in repair works. I don’t want to believe that the nonchalance from the government is because Lagos State is an opposition state. The road has elevated itself into the scourge of successive governments, defying all the half-hearted attempts at fixing it. Mr. President should seize the opportunity to be the first to break the jinx.
Four. Don’t let the power sector reforms fall apart. It recently occurred to me that in the post-1999 history of power sector reforms, we’ve never come this far in the bid to conquer darkness in Nigeria. The current government’s commitment to the reforms is no doubt impressive. Of course, there’s still a long way to go, and this is not the time to start focusing on celebrating. Knowing how Nigeria is, there’s no amount of progress that cannot be rolled back. This country is full of individuals and cabals who specialise in “unscoring” already scored goals. The power sector reform programme demands the highest levels of transparency. The sort of controversy that attended the Manitoba transaction must not be allowed to happen again. In the spirit of enlightened self-interest, the best thing the President can achieve by mid-2014 is to guarantee a minimum number of hours of electricity per day, across the country. Nigerians are quite forgetful and forgiving people; if you give them a visible improvement in power, there’s nothing to say they won’t forgive and forget the misstep that was the attempt at removing the fuel subsidy. They might even be the ones to plead with you to contest for a third term in 2019.
Five. Nigerians should know where the President stands regarding 2015. The elections are at the most a year and half away, so there’s no longer any point in pretending to be waiting for God to decide for him, as one former president delighted in doing. Letting us know what the President has decided will be useful, for this significant reason. First it will force all other intending aspirants to show their hands. And then, Nigerians can begin to scrutinise all our potential Presidents, and ask the questions that we should be asking. The story of Nigeria’s Fourth Republic is one of last-minute Presidents – close to the blowing of the final whistle, we see a scrambling. Amidst the dust and chaos, the people don’t really get a chance to scrutinise all the persons intending to rule them. And regarding Jonathan’s ambition, I believe that he has the absolute right to run for office in 2015. I don’t want to believe that the opposition thinks it can get away with trying to blackmail him into not running; asking him to sacrifice his ambition in the interest of party peace and unity. I think that everyone who wants to run for President should be allowed to run; the entire essence of democracy is that the people get a chance to choose who they want, and then “enjoy” four years of living with their choice. As we’re currently doing.
Do not hesitate to leave your opinion in the comment section below.
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