By Dr. Aliyu Tilde
The Three Liabilities of 2009
The year 2009 will soon start its long journey into the darkness of history. Its fate will shift from the certainty which it greeted our days and nights to the uncertainty of how it will be remembered by our frail memories. It is in its last moments. It will soon die and forfeit the control it had over us. Its suns will never rise again nor would its moons shine our nights. It was our master. Now its existence will be defined by us. We will cut its coat and allocate it its space. As judges of its fate, we will decide whether it was good or bad.
But I do not intend to cry over its ruins as the old Arabian poet would do over the remains of Leila or Saudah, for the year has not craved such indulgence from the image it painted itself. It was like any other to me and to the ordinary Nigerian. So it is neither the prescription of its position nor the revision of its days that I elect to scribble about today. Rather, it is the liability it bequeaths its successor, 2010, that preoccupies me. The progress of man lies in lending his concern to the future and relegating his regrets to the past.
Next year, which is exactly just a week ahead, will be welcomed by perennial problems which this nation has carried over from past years. We must expect that it has its own in stock waiting to unleash them on us. I will not be surprised if it hands over more problems than it inherited. To my knowledge, there has never been in the past twenty-five years when we solved any national problem, social, political or economic. Every year comes in with fresh problems which it comfortably piles on those it inherited. In this piece, I will select only three, leaving my readers to ponder over the dozens of others which space will not allow us dwell on.
The first liability, undoubtedly, is the sickness of the President, to put it mildly, avoiding using the term "sick president" which I find less optimistic. Though we cannot say we do not have a sitting President, we cannot deny that 2010 is handed over an inactive one. There have been developments about the effect of his sickness since I wrote my two essays about the matter some weeks ago.
The nation is in undeserved quiet. The President is not able to carry out any of his functions and he has not assigned his Vice to do so, so far. This gives us a grim picture of either he was gravely sick when he was rushed to the Jeddah so much so that he could not sign the "deed of assignment" or the nature of his sickness was grossly underestimated. The account of his handlers in the early days of his trip suggests the latter but the reality on ground now points at the former. If indeed the President's physician would underestimate the sickness of the President, then we are entitled to disbelieve his later pronouncements on the matter especially the diagnosis and the progress of his recovery.
Now there are suggestions in the press indicating that the President may sometime this week officially deliver his assignments to his Vice who will be expected to carry out the full functions of the President pending when the latter will regain full health. This will be a welcome development because the nation will get moving once more. But this suggestion is not credible on basis of logic. If the President's sickness does prevent him from signing the supplementary budget and other important matters awaiting his approval, how would it allow him sign the letter formally permitting his Vice to act on his behalf? It defies reason and may just be our mere concoction in the press.
Beyond these speculations, there are, however, some facts that are really disturbing about the Presidents illness. People who should supposedly visit the President are not visiting him and those who are supposed to be with him are not there. I cannot find any reason why important dignitaries are not visiting him especially now when we are told that he has recovered a lot of his health. What type of nation are we? We expect at least a visit by the Vice President, Senate President, Governors, high ranking traditional rulers – not least the Emir of Katsina or Sultan – to pay him visits. Of course, initially we heard that Yuguda, Tanimu, Dangote, Mark, etc, visited Jeddah at the early days of his admission but none of these people was reported by the press to have returned to Jeddah since they came back. And the presence of Turai in the country raises more questions than answers because she is expected to be there with him twenty-four hours until he returns to the country. He is her primary concern as a husband and the source of her status as the First Lady.
These days, I just wonder why we find it difficult to extend our African tradition of courtesy to our President. Honestly, I regret saying that I feel we are abandoning him. It is saddening. Rather, daily we are deafened by the debate about his succession, as if we have lost hope of his recovery. In fact, the nation tends to believe more in his succession than in his recovery to the extent that every Nigerian is now educated on sections 144 and 145 of the constitution.
More surprising is the failure of the President's public relations officers who, in my assessment, have scored very low in their assignment. They have not dismissed our fears but compounded them. They are not giving us a daily – kai not even weekly – updates on his health. They have not even contemplated the idea of broadcasting a live video speech of the President greeting us from his hospital bed in Jeddah and assuring us that he is recuperating fast. That would instantly silence the "death wishers" among us and give us the hope that he will return soon. This magic strategy would work especially if they adopt the Hamas practice of making their captive hold a newspaper of the day to prove that the video was genuinely current. Why would not, Dora Akunyili, the Minister of Information, arrange for something like this despite the acumen which she marvelously employed to sanitize our pharmaceutical and food industry, despite the hundreds of video cameras in NTA? Or can't she?
In any case, we hope for the President and all our sick quick recovery just as we hope the Presidency and the Ministry of information will be more transparent about his illness.
The second issue is that of electricity. There have been serious attempts by the Yar'adua administration to solve this perennial problem in a manner much more serious than the mean effort of Obasanjo. The regime did in fact attained 3,000 MW as early as March 2008. It was surprising how in those days we were getting about 18hrs of electricity in my village. Always ready to acknowledge the good effort of people in power for I know every little success in this country can only be attained through enormous tears and sweat, I sent a congratulatory SMS to the Chief Economic Adviser to the President. In his reply he raised the possibility that, "unless something gives way", non-availability of sufficient gas could hamper the realization of higher goals. So when the 6,000MW December 2009 target was set, I had little doubt that it would be met, if the gas does not become limiting.
To be fair, the Chief Economic Adviser is not given to frivolity. So I believed him when he recently said that though it is not possible to realize the 6,000MW target in December, it will be attained during the first three months or so of next year. We hope that the efforts will be sustained such that the higher target of 15,000MW by 2011 could be realized. However, I have my reservations about that because the administration is not making that something to give way. If it is true that Obasanjo has consigned our entire gas output for the next twenty years to foreigners there is the need to urgently revoke that agreement. Unless this is done, even the 6,000MW cannot be sustained after it is attained.
Finally, the twenty year old scarcity of petroleum products has worsened recently. It is one of the baggage of 2009 which it inherited and will handover to 2010. I do not intend to waste time discussing this but I must express the pessimism that the new strategy will solve the problem. This is one area that the Yar'adua administration has got it totally wrong. We have seen it takeover many filling stations and converting them to "megastations", which are owned by government and which will be selling the products at official rates. Other filling stations, the private ones, will be allowed to sell at any price they chose to, literally. In fact, that is what is happening now with the permission of the government. So Nigerians are given a choice to patronize either the megastations or the private ones.
From experience this is downright silly. Though petroleum scarcity was started by the breakdown of our three refineries, it has been sustained over the years by the differential between the price of major marketers and the higher black-market price of independent marketers. This led to the constant diversion of the products from the major marketers to the black-marketers. Seeing how the industry is given to corruption, one can easily discern what will happen, or is indeed happening already. There are long queues at all the mega and private stations. This will certainly continue. While we thought we were making progress, there are indications that the market has once again relapsed into the dark days of 1993 when we used to spend the nights on fuel queues in Kaduna and other cities. Yar'adua here got it totally wrong. This sort of deregulation is the least we expect from a person who spent his youth as a socialist. Our leaders just do not want to confront corruption of government officials head on. They think they can get around it through deregulation. It will not work. What then makes Yar'adua different from other leaders before him?
Other things will remain the same. We will continue to live amidst perpetual corruption, poor infrastructure and social services, political manipulations that will ensure the continuity of the status quo beyond 2011… Nothing will change. Only one figure indicating the debut of another decade of hardship. 2010.
25 December 2009