Featured Notes Owei Lakemfa

Nigeria’s pyramids of promise, like London Bridge, are falling down

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By Owei Lakemfa.

It is common in social media these days for people to do a countdown to the end of the President Muhammadu Buhari government. They seem in so much hurry to see its back, that they cannot hide their excitement.

Their main grouse is that the retired general made lots of promises, especially of a secured, peaceful, prosperous and happy Nigeria, if only they would vote for him.

The wailers liken the old general’s promises to those of Old Major in George Orwell’s 1945 classic Animal Farm. In mobilising them to throw out the old government, Old Major had told the populace: “Beasts of England, Beasts of Ireland, Beasts of every land and clime, Hearken to my joyful tidings, Of the Golden future time…Riches more than the mind can picture, Wheat and barley, oats and hay, Clover, beans, and mangel-wurzels, Shall be ours upon that day.”

For them, Nigeria under our beloved President has become one big animal farm with privileges for a handful while the mass of the populace faces an uncertain future. They point to the myriad of promises he made on which they claim he has failed to deliver. The long list of unfulfilled promises they reel out includes that to cut waste by, for instance, reducing the presidential air fleet and its maintenance costs. It is true that rather than cut costs, Buhari had within a year, increased the allocation for the fleet from N3.652bn in 2016 to N4.37 billion (19.6 per cent) then to N7.260bn (98.7 per cent) in 2018, and N7.297bn (99.6 per-cent) in 2019. But he must have cogent reasons for the increases.

The reduction in 2020 to N6.793 billion was commendable but that does not mean the steep increase in 2021 to N12.550bn (243.6 per cent) is condemnable. The sharp increases might be due to the President’s frequent medical visits to Britain, and his family members like his daughter, Hanan, borrowing part of the fleet for private social engagements.

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I also do not blame him for increasing the number of Ministries, Departments and Agencies rather than his vow to reduce them in accordance with the Oronsanye Report; those working very hard around him cannot be expected to do so on empty stomachs.

It is true that rather than plenty, Nigerians have become hungrier and inflation is ever rising to lead to a bag of rice which in the pre-Buhari presidency, cost N7,500 now going for N32,000. But he has more than compensated for this by unveiling pyramids of rice, some as shown in the social media, stacked on huge pyramid-like wooden frames. The problem of wailers is rather than believe, they are demanding the nexus between the rice pyramids and the dining tables in the homes of Nigerians.

Another failed promise pointed out was his vow to battle corruption because ‘if Nigeria does not kill corruption, corruption will kill Nigeria.’ Poor Buhari might have found out that it is far easier for the proverbial camel to pass through the eye of the needle than for his government to fight corruption. As his government discovered, ‘Corruption fights back.’

Critics are angry that the Buhari team which promised to reduce fuel price from N87 to N40, actually increased it to an average of N165 per litre with an announced intention to move it to N302 per litre.

How did we expect our President to bring down the price of a litre to N40 when none of the four refineries was working – and today, seven years later, are still not working? How did we expect PMS to be cheaper when no new refineries are built and the modular refineries promised since 2017 are still in the pyramids of our imagination? How do we expect fuel prices to remain static when we import all our petroleum product needs and the Naira has since the advent of this government been devalued 300 per cent? In any case, why take on face value the administration’s promise to stop fuel subsidies because they are fraudulent when it has become a largesse running to trillions of Naira?

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There are those wailing that Buhari promised to make the Naira at par with the dollar. How could this have been taken seriously when Buhari is an ol’ soldier, not a magician? How can any serious-minded person have taken this joke seriously? You mean a politician cannot tease the electorate? In any case, why do people who like to be fooled, turn round to complain?

If Nigerians elevate the nursery rhymes of the Buhari government promises to the level of seriousness, that cannot be the trusted President’s fault. When as adults, we teach our children nursery rhymes like: “I remember when I was a soldier, I remember when I was a soldier, I remember when I was a soldier, I remember when I was a soldier.” Are we not aware they are all lies? Do we not know that nursery children could never have been soldiers, so there is nothing for them to remember? Or do we assume these children are reincarnates who were soldiers in their earlier life?

On insecurity, as a general and Commander-in-Chief, President Buhari had expertly x-rayed some major security challenges like banditry and the land grab euphemistically called ‘farmers-herders clashes.’ In January 2019, he had informed Nigerians that many of the bandits are remnants of the Ghadaffi regime masquerading as herders. After giving such a piece of useful information, do we expect the President to go do the actual fighting? Must the radiographer who carries out an x-ray also be the doctor to carry out the operation?

In any case, promises are debts to be paid; the Buhari government still has fifteen whole months to the end of its tenure, I believe that he would still fulfil all the promises he made seven years ago including bringing the Naira to par with the Dollar. Those shouting that Buhari’s pyramids of promises have fallen down are noisemakers; this is fake news and they need to do some fact-checking.

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If they do, they will find out that it sounds like the creepy, dark English nursery rhyme ‘London Bridge’. In it, innocent kindergarten is taught by adults to sing loudly: “London Bridge is falling down, Falling down, falling down, London Bridge is falling down, My fair lady.”

The truth is that despite ice partly damaging the London Bridge in 1281 and the Great Fire of London also partly damaging it in 1666, the bridge survived for six centuries and never fell! So, the pyramids of promises Buhari constructed in 2014 which elevated him to the Presidency a year later, are like his rice pyramids, still standing, and the Almighty keeping us alive and well, we will witness them standing hundreds of years from today.

  • Owei Lakemfa is a journalist and social activist.

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