By Dele Momodu
Fellow Nigerians, let me begin by sending you all the traditional Happy New Year greeting, and the very best wishes, even if I already know in my true heart that our happiness in 2013 has started on a shaky footing. Seriously speaking, our government established a strange trend last year when on January 1, 2012, of all days, it virtually removed its controversial subsidy on petroleum products, and instantly succeeded in throwing our country into a quandary and conundrum of dangerous proportions. It was as if tomorrow would never arrive unless that ill-thought, fiendish, selfish, irresponsible decision was accepted and sustained by hapless Nigerians.
A blistering media campaign was launched by government apologists who embarked on a merry-go-round of media houses to justify their mass murder of the citizens finances as well as to rain insults and cast aspersions on “miscreants” who asked pertinent questions or challenge their incoherent explanations. We were told the air we breathe depended on the workability of that new economic regime. They planned to assuage us with kindergarten palliatives, like buses to be distributed nationwide.
They invited distinguished, reputable and respected Nigerians who never know how to say no to government appointments to build a pyramid of credibility around their nonsensical jargon. We watched in utter dismay as otherwise brilliant men and women actively participated in a charade that was noticeable even from the distant heavens. If they had thought Nigerians were the daftest souls on our planet they were soon confounded by an unprecedented eruption of protests which threatened to bring the government down on its knees had it continued for much longer. But for the short-sightedness of organised labour that could not endure and sustain its new-found influence and relevance, Nigeria was closest to a people’s revolution.
Kudos must go to the organisers and the brains behind the Occupy Nigeria protests who magnificently presented a common platform for the rich and the poor for the first time in the history of the struggle to liberate Nigeria from the daredevil cabal that has held this well endowed nation by its jugular for too long. Unfortunately, this amazing group made a tactical error when it decided to take a short break to replenish its strength and return to the streets later. That move would be recorded in the history books as naïve and unfortunate. The Jonathan administration wasted no time in drafting soldiers and its dreaded military arsenal and might unto the streets of Lagos and the Gani Fawehimi Freedom Square in Ojota was desecrated by those determined to terminate the spirit of the epic but peaceful battle.
In a most dramatic and almost magical fashion, the Federal Government of Nigeria managed to wriggle its way out of a monumental cul-de-sac and tactically when it combined force with baits and hurriedly reduced the contentious and controversial petroleum prices which the populace accepted with hisses and equanimity. That was how Doomsday was postponed but not permanently extinguished. Not long after, unimaginable events began to unfold before our very eyes and we were treated to a classic theatre of the absurd which would have made the works of Samuel Beckett look so inferior. The absurdist play had its setting inside the hallowed chambers of Nigeria’s National Assembly.
At the upper chamber of the Senate, Senator Bukola Saraki had touched the tiger by the tail when he raised a motion that exposed the atrocious fraud in the subsidy scheme. This move nearly brought the roofs down and a hurriedly packaged committee sat without any visible conviction to save the country from being gang-raped by government and its over-pampered cronies. Dr Bukola Saraki himself soon became the hunted as charges that had been laid against him several times in the past were exhumed from where government anatomists had embalmed and kept it fresh in their cadaverous vaults for easy display and use whenever necessary. The Senate has since moved on to tackle more innocuous assignments at home and abroad for which it gets paid more than any other Parliament in the world.
Another drama of a completely different nature was showing on the Broadway of the House of Representatives where a sanctimonious actor, by the name Farouk Lawan, was pontificating before a bewildered nation about how Nigeria’s ambidextrous cartel connived with corrupt government agents to claim and collect stupendous payments for invisible shipments of rarefied petroleum cargos to Nigeria. We were all enjoying this compelling drama live on national television when a banal plot and mysterious intrigue was introduced as interlude. Within a twinkle of an eye, the narrator told us the play could no longer continue at resumption because the lead actor had taken the play to a higher level. As spectators, we had our mouths wide agape when we were regaled with the twists and turns in the new saga.
Thus from a stage play we were upgraded to a home movie as one of Nigeria’s oil tsars, Mr Femi Otedola, the diesel merchant, entertained us with how Alhaji Farouk Lawan piously invited him to a deal that would cleanly expunge his name from the Black Book of oil thieves. Otedola, aka Otedollar, told the nation how he paid huge sums in cash and by dollar denomination to both Farouk and his obedient representative who contradicted themselves on the actual figures when matters came to crunch. We were promised the episodes were actually filmed by the State Security Service, who are obviously the best Nollywood producers in town. Till this day the private production has remained the exclusive viewing of premium ticket holders if any. Sadly, that signalled the death knell of the subsidy probe after all the hocus-pocus and Red Carpet razzmatazz.
If we thought 2012 was the year of poor drama, and prayed to God to spare us such crudity again, this New Year has already started on a sour note. I’m only hoping that by the time we touch down from the long flight on which I’m writing this, President Goodluck Jonathan, or one of his numerous aides would have denied the horrible news in circulation. But if it is ever confirmed that the President is going ahead to purchase ten million mobile phones for the supposed ten million farmers, no matter how much they claim it would cost, I will urgently recommend the services of world renown psychiatrists for our leaders. For Christ’s sake, this is definitely carrying our political madness too far and we must stop it before these prodigal children wreck our nation terminally.
I’m off the plane now and I have just read the reaction of Dr Akinwumi Adesina, the Minister of Agriculture, and, incidentally, one of my favourite Ministers in Jonathan’s cabinet, and he has actually thrown me into more confusion. While denying the amount to be spent on this nebulous mobile phone bonanza for Nigerian farmers, he went on to say the idea behind the project is to link farmers to government, or vice versa, and be able to monitor their progress as well as pass useful information to them. I really wish I could buy this cock-and-bull story but I just can’t.
There are just too many questions to be answered. Let’s take them one by one. Why is it assumed that of all problems facing Nigerian farmers, the most acute is treatable by merely buy mobile phones for them? That suggests all the so-called ten million farmers are poor and need government to help their poverty with mobile phones. It is a great insult on these hardworking Nigerians and the height of arrogant condescension on the part of the Federal Government.
Who’s a farmer? By my own elementary definition, he or she is supposed to be gainfully engaged and employed in the business of food production in various ways and degrees. It could be in growing crops, animal husbandry, harvesting, preservation, processing, distribution, and all sorts. Unless there’s a new meaning and status ascribed to a farmer, he’s not expected to be as poor as not to be able to buy a common phone at this time and age. And if indeed he’s that poor, then he would never be able to charge the phone nor top up his units ever. So what is the point.
How did Jonathan, or Adesina, and company arrive at the data that gave the figure of ten million farmers in a country where we lack data on the commonest of things? Does this figure include big time farmers like General Olusegun Obasanjo who got us into this Jonathan debacle in the first instance? Will Obasanjo Farms get only one phone or will the Santa Claus largesse extend to the many chicken handlers and egg-pickers on the massive poultry in Ota? Will all the other retired Army Generals turned farmers be given the cheap mobile phones government intends to distribute like bread and akara since Adesina says he’s not planning to spend N60 billion on ten million phones? It means the cost unit must be under N6,000 per handset.
Where will these phones be manufactured now that Adesina has said he would not take jobs abroad but create jobs here in Nigeria? Is he building a Nokia or Samsung factory in Nigeria or a wholly Nigerian fabrication yard in Aba to kick-start our own Silicon Valley? In that case is this his remit as Minister of Agriculture or has he now become a super Minister combining various ministries.
What would be the mode of distribution when the handsets arrive from wherever they are coming from? Will the farmers have to queue endlessly for it like our aged and long-suffering pensioners? Will government supply them top-up cards regularly and electrify the farms, villages and far-flung creeks? From which budget is this free manna coming? Can we have an idea of the cost implications? Who’s the genius behind this never unheard of useless gratification for farmers? Let’s assume for argument sake that only N30 billion would be expended on this project. Would it not be better to create 30,000 millionaire farmers from our frustrated army of unemployed but highly talented youths? Of what concrete use is a miserable phone to farmers?
Let us take it further by quoting from a Basketmouth broadcast when the sad news first broke out: “The Federal Government is to procure 10 million telephone handsets worth about N60 billion from China and the US for free distribution to rural farmers across the country. Questions: Are they buying blackberry Porsche for these farmers? Are they going to preload the President’s number in all the phones? As the reason for the purchase is because they want the farmers to have direct contact with the Government?… Did the farmers complain that their problem is a mobile phone?
Maybe Obama will distribute the phones himself Maybe the phones have inbuilt and fertiliser in them Maybe the phones have inbuilt tractors…”
This country is a big joke, a comedy of errors, the butt of quips and even tantrums by accomplished comedians like Basketmouth.
We can’t continue like this. I believe some FIFTH COLUMNISTS have programmed President Jonathan for failure and he’s playing along. He wobbles and fumbles like a victim of hypnotism and Black Magic. I was hoping he would prove his detractors wrong. From all evidence, it is obvious that our hopes were misplaced.
No miracle is about to happen. Not in Jonathan’s time.