Isn’t it peculiar that the Nigerian President admitted putting the cart before the horse? His government first rounded and hauled into prisons those it adjudged guilty – even without trial. Then it proceeded with “getting the documents corrected in a way” to guarantee that the stamp of guilt already affixed is fancifully decorated with the letters of the law
“Are you see what I’m saw?” Chief Zebrudaya Okoroigwe Nwogbo, alias 4.30, often asked his co-actors this question in Masquerade, the soap opera that held millions, especially east of the Niger River, spellbound during the 1970s and 1980s. Each time he put that question, there was something astonishing or peculiar. Often that peculiar or astonishing “something” formed the bedrock upon which a specific offering of the episodic sitcom was developed.
In borrowing from Chief Zebrudaya’s lingo, to ask whether or not readers of this column are in awareness of certain things all too obvious to this columnist, the intention is simply to point to confounding and bizarre happenings that are plenteous in the entity today.
A few of these developments deserve a mention, and possible exploration, here. British Prime Minister David Cameron pronounced Nigeria “fantastically corrupt”. A leaked document showed that Minister of Information Lai Mohammed had transgressed the antiseptic integrity of the Change Administration to seek a loan in excess of N13 million from a parastatal under his Ministry, and for an international junket. The government, after months of insistence to the contrary, devalued the Naira. Or did it? The government, after a prolonged stretch of inchoation in the petroleum sector of the economy, inflicted an upward spiral of over a hundred percent in the pump price of Premium Motor Spirit (PMS) or petrol.
All these happened at such a dizzying speed as to impel the weary and unwary to demand a stoppage of the world so they could hop off. All these happened, predictably, when the Steersman of the Ship of State, was blissfully abroad, attending yet another one of his innumerable conferences across the length and breadth of the globe. All these, predictably again, prompted reactions as numerous as they were conflicting.
It may be easiest to start from an astonishing development, one that incongruously escaped critical examination, despite its underlying ominous implications. CNN’s Christiane Amanpour cornered President Buhari in London, where he was busily attending the anti-corruption summit put together by the one who had cheekily pronounced his country “fantastically corrupt”, and prized from him an interview slightly in excess of six minutes.
As the short interview progressed, Ms Amanpour asked how the Nigerian government was killing corruption in order that corruption doesn’t kill the country. Buhari responded by discussing those he claimed had pocketed billions meant for the fight against terrorism. The interviewer’s follow-up was inevitable:
Amanpour: “And what do you do with these people who do that? Do heads roll in terms of losing their jobs, getting fired?”
Buhari: “Well, most of them are now behind bars. We’re getting the documents corrected in a way so that we can secure successful prosecution.”
Isn’t the above exchange peculiar? In democracies, isn’t it due process for trial and conviction to precede incarceration? Isn’t it peculiar that the Nigerian President admitted putting the cart before the horse? His government first rounded and hauled into prisons those it adjudged guilty – even without trial. Then it proceeded with “getting the documents corrected in a way” to guarantee that the stamp of guilt already affixed is fancifully decorated with the letters of the law. In the books of the democratically minded, this would pass as preposterous. Isn’t it strange that this negation of justice failed to attract even the flimsiest of outrage from a normally critical populace?
The situation is different in the matter of the hike in the price of petrol. And for obvious reasons! Of all oil exploiting and exporting countries, Nigeria pays the least minimum wage and boasts the highest pump price of petrol. Even with the derisory minimum wage, most states are unable to meet their salary commitments. Still petrol prices are officially permitted to soar uncontrollably, forcing every other service and commodity reaching up to the skies of the extremely expensive.
Venezuela in Latin America has a minimum wage of N95,639; the country sells a litre of petrol for a paltry N3.61! War-torn Iraq’s minimum wage is N25,813. A litre of fuel in that country goes for N59:66. In Qatar, the minimum wage is N101,250. A litre of fuel there is N34:54. Iran is the only country among oil-producing nations whose pump price of petrol is over N100 a litre. It sells for N102. But its minimum wage is N86,585.
Nigeria’s minimum wage is N18,000. About two thirds of Nigerian states can’t pay it. There is no transport infrastructure by that name. No trams. No tubes. No organized commuter infrastructure in the urban centres. Yet, a government at whose inception the cost of fuel was touted to plummet to N40 a litre has officially raised it to N145 a litre. This means that Nigerian petrol costs its citizens more than double what obtains in almost all the OPEC countries. Yet, it is an acknowledged fact that, save for Abuja and Lagos, official pump prices of petroleum products are meaningless. In many states since the alarming hike, petrol now sells at an average of N165 a litre.
Lai Mohammed was spokesman for the APC from the Party of Change’s inception until his appointment as Information Minister. Thus, he’s been, more than any other APC apparatchik, the barometer for gauging the government’s anti-corruption posture. But Alhaji Lai goes and asks officials under him to wangle a loan that breaches all the rules. He is to lead a five-man delegation to China for five days. But those conversant with the methodology for calculating these things swear that even if five Ministers were on the trip, their financial requirement would still round up to a third of the sum Lai Mohammed asked for.
How did the Honourable Minister react to this? He reportedly took exception to raised eyebrows, telling online media organizations that he owed Nigerians no explanations. Instead, his subordinates delved into the far more important national duty of smoking out the mole that exposed the malfeasance. That’s the way it goes for the Government of Infallibles. They said Buhari would, within a year of becoming President, equalize the values of the Naira and the Dollar. The Naira has since been in a free fall. The President was going to do this and this and that and all those! But he still hasn’t done a thing to justify the hoopla that propelled him to Aso Rock.
So, “Are you see what I’m saw?” Probably not. Well, joblessness, insecurity, terrorism, inflation, dwindling value of the Naira and centrifugal pressures are serious challenges. But they are not the most threatening. That prize goes, fairly and squarely, to political intolerance. People are remorselessly hit and beaten. And they are denied the right to scream and writhe. The emasculation of alternative opinion leaves the king strutting around the village square, little realizing that his robes are soiled by ordure.