By Owei Lakemfa
A MAJOR news item on the Federal Radio Corporation of Nigeria, FRCN, 7.00 a.m. Network News on Thursday, September 19 was that President Muhammadu Buhari had approved the programme for the 59th Independence Day. The radio reported that the programme included a lecture and prayers at the National Mosque and Church.
I was sad that the President of over 180 million people with serious economic challenges, an unviable record of being the world poverty capital, and beset with seemingly unending terrorism, widespread banditry and brazen kidnappings even in the posh areas of Abuja, can be portrayed as being so jobless as to sit down over the usual programme of an annual ritual.
I put it down as one of the antics of grovelling, overfed aides who want to show the President as being so hardworking that he goes through even routine things a clerk in a ministry can pass. This is part of what amazes me about governance: a display of indolence. Actually, a lot of action and inaction by the Nigerian elites do not make sense because even a prodigal person should know his limits. Let us examine a handful.
In the 1960s and 1970s, most roads in the country were built through direct labour which provided mass jobs in the Ministry of Works. Those roads, including the one running from Lagos to Cotonou in the Benin Republic, were well built. Then the elites switched to contractors, some of them foreign, and building roads became like rocket science with some built over various administrations, yet remaining uncompleted. For instance, the repairs and part reconstruction of the 117-kilometre Lagos-Ibadan Expressway which began during the Obasanjo administration has spanned the Yar’Adua, Jonathan and Buhari administrations, yet, remains uncompleted.
As I write, parts of that road are blocked for repairs resulting in so much traffic jam that a passenger taking the Lagos-London flight, would have gone through British immigration before the motorist on that stretch of the road would wade through it. The Lagos-Badagry Road which leads to the Seme Border has been under reconstruction since 2010 with parts submerged whenever it rains. The 162-kilometre Abuja-Lokoja Expressway which began under the Obasanjo administration remains uncompleted despite the contract sum being reviewed upwards from N42 billion to N116 billion. The 657–kilometre East-West Road from Warri to Calabar has been under construction since 2006 despite the upward review of the contract from N211 billion to N726 billion.
Let us take the elites and the importation of fuel products. Despite being an oil-producing country, the leadership insists on importing our petroleum product needs and paying fraudulent subsidy claims. I recall that during the Civil War, Biafra refined its petroleum needs internally even as the bombs rained. Until today, the petrol and diesel used in many riverine communities in the Niger Delta are refined by the locals. Rather than learn from them and develop local refining capacity, the government sends young naval ratings to destroy the refining centres, burst and spill refined petrol and diesel, and harass the locals. The result is more oil pollution and the perception of the Nigerian Armed Forces as an army of occupation.
If we have a thinking elite class, what it needs to do is get technicians or engineering students to study and modify the crude refining system to make the process efficient, safe and environmentally-friendly. Secondly, it would have evolved a system of supplying them with crude oil, so they do not need to burst pipelines or steal crude. That is how countries develop. If we refine locally, we will create jobs, retain foreign exchange and pay far lower for the products. A situation where kerosene sells for N500 per litre is a poverty-engendering one that leaves many people with no choice but to fell trees and contribute to climate change.
An issue I cannot get over is why a country with over 180 million people and a coastline of 853 kilometres bordering the Atlantic Ocean, would rely only on the Lagos Port Complex and the Tin Can Port in Lagos. This over the years has resulted in endless congestion and unprecedented traffic jams on roads leading in and out of the Lagos ports. Most times, port-bound trailers and fuel tanks stretch several kilometres and it can take a trailer within Lagos, weeks to get to the ports.
Part of the fallout is that many agricultural products meant for export get rotten. Only a sick elite would make Africa’s most populous country, and supposedly largest economy, rely on only the Lagos ports. For reasons that cannot be economic or logical, other seaports in the country including the Calabar, Port Harcourt, Onne, Sapele, Burutu, Koko and Warri ports, are practically abandoned.
Another matter that is perplexing is electricity. We had an epileptic power supply. Rather than increase generation which stood at 4,000KW and improve transmission and supply, government portioned out the Power Holding Company of Nigeria, PHCN, into 18 companies and sold 17. So rather than a single bureaucracy, the sector now has 18, all sharing the same 4,000KW and being paid for by the same government and consumers that were paying before privatisation.
While none of the privatised generating companies has in six years added a megawatt, the distributing companies even refuse to pick the little generated. As of August 25, 2019, what the 27 power stations in the country were generating was below 3,000 megawatts; at least one thousand megawatts below pre-privatisation levels. Despite consumers paying more for poorer services, government giving the private companies over N1.5 trillion bailout funds and the companies showing gross incompetence, the country’s leadership has not thought it fit to review the electricity privatisation process as some Western countries and the state of California in the United States have done.
My conclusion is that we have a sick ruling elite that is utterly unreliable and incapable of leading our country. In a sense, we are on autopilot and need to get the control levers of the country and pilot her safely. In practice, we do not have the answer to the insecurity, greed, prodigal and poverty-inducing misrule of our elites across all the major parties down to the local government level. Therefore, conscientious Nigerians need to develop a programme of action with buy-in from the mass of our people which we can sell to the populace. This will also form the basis of our organisation and political movement to take back our country.
I do not have any doubt that the old, rotten order will fight back, but nothing good comes easy; freedom does not come without a fight. We need to organise and mobilise to chase out those causing us pain and suffering from the temple, as Jesus Christ did.