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Saturday, May 15, 2010

Discourse 109 Ige on the Run

Ige on the Run

No. As a political satirist, I won’t let this bonus offered by the president to pass uncollected and used judiciously. The sign of a good citizen is that he does not decline a gift. He accepts it and hopes that he would one day reciprocate the gesture in a better way. I am soliciting to be considered a good citizen. I hope the President believes me.
I received the news of Ige’s ‘transfer’ from the Ministry of Power and Steel to Justice with mixed feelings. First, it was the obvious, laughter. I was on a dinner table when I heard the BBC Hausa Service breaking the news that evening. I immediately burst into laughter. Every body around was asking, “what is it, what is it?” I could not find my voice. But when I managed to repossess it, I replied, “Ya gudu. Ige. Ya gudu.” (Ige has run away).
But the following morning, I felt it was wrong to rejoice at the calamity of others. Yes, it was a calamity of enormous political and moral capacity that visited Ige in Power and Steel. Putting aside the theory that I narrated in Ige in Charcoal, the minister accepted the portfolio because he believed in the confidence that the President had in him. He told us over the NTA that the president told him that he is specifically posting him to Power and Steel because he knew that he (Ige) was up to the task. Ige believed the flattery so much so that he recounted it in public. However, in less than a year Ige himself has a second thought about his ability to run that ministry while at the same time the President has a different opinion about his potential.
A year ago, Ige believed that Mines and Power would be a work over. He was said to be a successful governor during the Second Republic. In addition he is a SAN and his kinsmen call him ‘Cicero.’ Ige has been a social critic for decades. He declined to be a member of Babangida’s cabinet. So they said. He has more than once dreamt of becoming the President of Nigeria. The last time such a dream was aborted was when ‘Awwalu Falalu’ outplayed him in the AD power game. So there was no doubt that appointing him a Minister was not a big deal. After all, no other minister could boast of being better than Ige academically. These were Ige’s assumptions, which he was glad to share with many others.
Therefore the President and other Nigerians had every reason to go to sleep with both eyes closed once Ige was charged with Power and Steel portfolio, hoping that by the time they wake up light will be everywhere. The pomposity displayed by Ige upon assumption of office helped to blow the balloon of that hope. He immediately set out for the two most important parastatals under the Ministry, namely NEPA and Ajakouta steel project. We were delighted with his action plans, particularly for NEPA, even though we did not know the details of how he arrived at them or how he will manage to achieve them. Nigeria will brighten once more with the light of NEPA. Our industries will run at full capacity. Prices of everything will fall as a result of enhanced energy supply. Ige kept on inflating the balloon for months. But it did not take long before it went pfffffffff.
Ige’s dream was over. With that also our hopes were shattered. Finally, the whole episode transformed into a drama that saw Ige fleeing to take refuge in the Ministry of Justice. Recently, he made a mockery of his performance when he said that Agabi has done a good job in the Ministry of Justice just as he (Ige) did in Power and Steel.
But we are much more interested into probing the cause of his failure than making a mockery of it. It will serve as a good lesson for critics like me that think governance is a joke. But is it not? Yes, when the going is good I think governance could be taken for granted. Take for example the much-touted performance of Ige by the southern press during the Second Republic. I have always held the view that it was possible for three reasons. One, the Naira was strong; two Nigerians then did not know as much ‘business’ then as they know today; three, it was easy to get loans from overseas because they were interested in crippling our economy. If we investigate the performance of other governors at that time, we will find that each has performed better than his successors, though with a legacy of debts that will never be settled.
Now, after twenty years, Nigerians will agree with me that a lot of water has passed under the bridge. The Naira that could fetch well more than a dollar twenty years ago has been infinitely devalued to a point where it cannot fetch a cent today. The collapse of the infrastructure and governance has given rise to the ascendancy of some bourgeois groups that will exploit the situation. From NEPA officials and its contractors to generator and cable ‘dealers’, a whole industry of parasites has grown, which was unknown twenty years ago.
Added to this is the political polarization of administration and politics which Ige and his kinsmen helped to institutionalize. The southwest politicians have come to believe that the downward trend in affairs of the nation was caused, not by the inefficiency and selfishness of the ‘race’ that controls over 70% of the civil service and economy, but by the ‘backward and lazy oligarchy’, meaning the Hausa-Fulani. So there is that immediate belief that settled in their subconscious, a self-deception that once you are not a Hausa-Fulani you are entitled to be naturally educated, efficient and progressive. And certainly Ige was not, is not and will never be a Hausa-Fulani! So he was bound to succeed.
Nevertheless, Ige has failed by all standards. His flop is a testimony that ‘failure’ is not a monopoly of Hausa-Fulani. At least it is a characteristic he shares with other races, sometimes even with the best among them, like Ige. There were frantic efforts to save Ige from the embarrassment of failure. The master and his cohorts attempted to shift blame, to whom else but NEPA management headed by Engineer Bello Suleiman, who, by no coincidence, is a Hausa-Fulani. NEPA management was disbanded but the President, who knew the real cause of Ige’s failure, let only a small room that was too tight for the ‘Cicero’ to maneuver. His functions were transferred to a committee on which he had no choice but to accept to be a member.
Then there is this destructive overconfidence that pervades us. We often forget that we are small, infinitesimal and weak in all respects. Our inability to see beyond our nose or know what will happen tomorrow has always served as a check on our hopes and aspirations, no matter how genuine and they might be. Thus on the story of As’hab al Kahf, the holy Prophet was instructed to refer the future to its owner, God the Almighty. “And say not of anything; I shall do that tomorrow, except if God will. And remember thy Lord when thou forgettest..” I wish Ige had known this.
Finally comes the issue of specialization. I disagree with the claim of Ige and Agabi, not withstanding my position as a student of law, that as members of the learned profession, they can fit into any role. Specialization in scholarship and practice today has made such claims wishful. The earlier we realize this the better for this country. Who can serve in the ministry of Justice better than the ‘learned’?
The same argument is more plausible when applied to engineering . Ige was therefore not the best Nigerian to manage Power and Steel. The contribution of this factor to his failure cannot be ignored. We were shocked to learn that Ige did not even confirm his action plan with NEPA management before making his promises. They were largely based on layman assumption, as far as power engineering is concerned. Their failure to materialize was therefore not surprising.
May God bless His servant who knows the limits of his ability and abided by them! I believe Ige, as we reliably heard, did not find membership of the presidential committee constituted to oversee the affairs of NEPA funny. In addition to the embarrassment of being reduced to a mere committee member, there was little contribution he could make among the hot brain professionals. The only option for him was to run away.
We had wished that Ige had quit on his accord. However, recent reports on details of the last cabinet reshuffle has left us with no choice but to assume that he was kicked out. Ayu and Balat are already denying a forehand knowledge of the drop. One of them was on a hospital bed while the other was inspecting a project in Lagos when the news broke out. The posting of Ige to Justice must have been without his prior knowledge too.
Well, with or without a prior knowledge, Ige has left Power and Steel without fulfilling one single promise, not even one. Electricity is more epileptic now than before. Some weeks ago when I visited Bauchi I witnessed a regular supply of electricity. I thought Ige has finally succeeded. But I was told that it was due to the Vice-President’s visit. True, it lasted only three days after the visit. We are left now in a perpetual darkness and a prayer that, as a strategy to enjoy regular electricity, the state Governor should always find one thing or another to attract the Vice-President to the Pearl Tourism. I hope the prayer is not returned unanswered.
To swallow a whole Ige, NEPA must have been a capacious monster. The President should watch out and remain on the alert. With this we have closed on Ige and NEPA. Let us turn to his new appointment in the Ministry of Justice.
The president might have thought that Justice would be a better place for Ige. However, I foresee a greater danger in giving him this portfolio than the failure that he experienced in Mines and Power. The President is presently clouded with political troubles that have a lot of legal implications. The Sharia is not yet done with. There is also his dispute with the legislature over his failure to adhere to the democratic principles of separation of powers and rule of law. And now, there is a fresh crisis with labor in his effort to auction the country to the IMF. From the look of thing, all the three will be tenacious.
Now, Ige, with his strong bend to acrimony, should best serve as a courtroom lawyer, not as an attorney general and minister of justice, a post that requires a delicate blend of law and politics. Perhaps to derive my point home, the President and the public in general need to sit back and imagine: what would have been the reaction of Ige if he were the attorney general when the shariah issue broke out?
There is another problem that I hope the PDP should take seriously as far as the new portfolio of Ige is concerned. I am a cynic when it comes to politics. I very much doubt that Ige will join the party before the next election. So, how beneficial would a person of his penchant for crisis and presidential ambition be to the PDP government presently and to its fate in 2003 or beyond? But think about it Tilde, does the PDP or the President care about 2003, given the ‘transparency’ they exhibited in the last PDP elections and the ongoing loggerhead at which the administration enjoys to be with everybody?
We do not expect that the president will bother about our cynicism, for three reasons. One, I share the idea that keeping Ige outside on the street portends a greater danger that is immediate; 2003 is remote, at least for now. Two, Ige is a scared cow, a favorite of this administration. He will resign at will whenever he likes. For the disfavored like my ‘middle belt’ in-laws – Ayu and Balat, they were made to submit letters of resignation in advance of their assumption of office. That made it possible for the President to drop them without notice.
In conclusion, we shall tell the President that there are always a number of problems with, or say prophecies about a favorite child. One, he does not live up to expectation. Give him a task, one after the other, he will consistently fail. It isn’t because he is inherently incapable, but he feels that he is a favorite, beyond punishment. Two, he is notorious for courting trouble for the master. That is why Khidr, as narrated in Kahf was instructed to kill a boy prematurely, who if left would have destroyed his parents. We have seen the fulfillment of the first. Ige has failed to perform in Mines and Steel; but instead of being dropped, he is now allowed to take refuge in the Ministry of Justice. But that ministry prepares the ground for the fulfillment of the second prophecy, courting trouble for the master. But as there is no Khidr to check the excesses of the favored child, we only hope that the master will keep vigil.

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