“By doubting we come to question, and by questioning, we perceive the truth.” (Peter Abelard, 1079-1142)
Four Questions on … the Presidential Response to Global Economic Meltdown
Perceptor is starting to worry that it doesn’t always pay to believe everything that government tells us, despite strenuous efforts by our new Information and Communications Minister (at the recent 5th Gani Fawehinmi Lecture organised by the Ikeja Branch of the Nigerian Bar Association, for example) to convince us that Nigeria’s main problem is not – as Perceptor had so foolishly imagined, our decayed and crumbling infrastructure, collapsing public schools and hospitals, comatose power supply, corruption, cronyism and nepotism, greater and greater insecurity of life and property, or even that we are being governed by the victors of fraudulent elections – but rather, our main problem is … that we don’t believe in ourselves.
Now Perceptor thinks that it is irrelevant whether you believe in yourself if you still have to provide your own light, water, housing, education, transport, medical care and so on. You may not believe in yourself, but you sure do have to RELY on yourself!
But even if Perceptor wanted to believe the Honourable Minister (Perceptor is not too big to observe ‘protocol’ from time to time), when Perceptor’s thoughts turn to the worldwide economic collapse, some questions still arise …
1. Is it wise to believe the Government of which the Honourable Minister is a member?
Last year, the Governor of the Central Bank, the Minister of Finance and all of them, were busy assuring us that Nigeria would not be affected by the global economic meltdown. They kept this line up even while the price of oil crashed from $150 to less than $40 per barrel. The collapse of our own stock market was due to … other factors, nothing to do with the worldwide credit crunch. Or so we were told.
You can imagine Perceptor’s surprise therefore, when it was announced that President Umaru Yar’Adua was setting up a Presidential Steering Committee to be headed, we were told as if this was the sure factor that would sweep away any doubts we might have that this (yet aNOTHER Committee) would make any difference, by ‘the President himself’!!! This ‘Steering COMMITTEE’ is to oversee the work of the ‘newly invigorated Economic Management TEAM’. This FRAMEWORK will provide a ‘more holistic and well-coordinated’ response to the effects of the global economic recession on Nigeria … (This ‘FRAMEWORK’ of Steering COMMITTEE and Economic Management TEAM is not to be confused with the National Economic COUNCIL, which consists of the Vice President as Chair, all the State Governors and the Governor of the CBN. THAT – the National Economic Council – is only the body established under the CONSTITUTION, so obviously it doesn’t cut much ice with Mr. Rule-of-Law President.)
2. In fact, how many of these Committees, Teams, Frameworks and so on are there going to be? And what exactly are they going to do?
The Yar’Adua administration’s mantra is supposed to be ‘the Rule of Law’, but Perceptor suspects that really, it is ‘whenever you are faced with a problem that you don’t want to do anything about, set up a committee’. Though Perceptor would like to have a lot of faith in all this economic ‘framework’ stuff, Perceptor is apprehensive about what Yar’Adua does once he gets the reports of these committees. For example, last December, he set up a six-member PRESIDENTIAL COMMITTEE to REVIEW the report and recommendations of the TECHNICAL COMMITTEE on the restructuring of federal ministries for POSSIBLE implementation early in the New Year.
Forgive Perceptor for seeming skeptical, but that doesn’t sound like a recipe for speedy action. Let’s not forget that he got the Electoral Reform COMMITTEE Report a month ago, but … nothing has been done. He got the Report of the Technical COMMITTEE on the Niger Delta on the 1st of December, and Ledum Mitee, the Chairman of that Committee, is also complaining that … nothing has been done. (That Mitee’s Committee of course, was reviewing other Reports of other Committees …)
So the President’s record when it comes to actually DOING something, rather than just setting up more and more COMMITTEES, is DISMAL!
3. If we are supposed to draw confidence from the fact that the President himself is going to Chair the Steering Committee, how much confidence is left after the petulant response of the President’s Special Adviser on Communication that he wasn’t going to say whether or not the President was going abroad for eight weeks’ worth of medical treatment?
Perceptor is aware that some commentators have rather cheekily started referring to ‘Madam Co-President’, but is that going to be a good enough substitute even if Madam CP does not in fact accompany Mr. P on this trip that we don’t know whether he’s taking or not?
It’s all very well for the Honourable Minister (yes, the same one) to say that we should believe in ourselves, but shouldn’t we at least know whether this Steering Committee is going to be able to actually DO anything in the next eight weeks?
4. Where are the Women?
In the absence of late Professor Jadesola Akande, Perceptor is obliged to put this question as she might have done. In Perceptor’s experience, when times are hard and budgets are tight, women are usually better economic managers than men. But President Yar’Adua has put together a Steering Committee composed entirely of MEN!
Perceptor doesn’t want to believe that this is due to Madam CP, or any ‘Queen Bee’ syndrome in Aso Rock, but the anti-women look of so much that Mr. President does is beginning to raise doubts in Perceptor’s mind. Surely Mr. President isn’t claiming that there are no qualified women? That might be something that he could have got away with in Katsina State, but come ON! This is Nigeria!
Much Ado About … Ghana’s Elections
Perceptor rejoices with the people of Ghana on the successful outcome of their presidential elections, particularly how – despite the razor-thin closeness of the vote, the defeated candidate accepted the result and congratulated the winner.
But Perceptor is getting a BIT TIRED of comparisons between Ghana and Nigeria’s political and electoral development.
Of course Nigeria’s electoral system is very very bad, lacking in credibility and hostage to all manner of electoral frauds and violence. Definitely it needs a complete overhaul, but as far as Perceptor is concerned, wagging Ghana in Nigeria’s face isn’t going to bring it about.
Americans (the US variety) are good at this false bafflement: ‘Oh dear! WHY can’t Nigerians be as organised/mature/civilised/honest etc. as Ghanaians?’ (Subtext: they’re the same aren’t they? You know? Africans? Former British colonies? So what’s WRONG with Nigerians?) Perceptor thinks that this line of thinking is just about as helpful as if Perceptor were to ‘wonder’ why the United States has so many more gun deaths than Canada. Or why it has to lock up so many more of its citizens than Canada (or any other country for that matter). (Subtext: they’re the same aren’t they? You know? North Americans? Former British colonies? So what’s WRONG with Americans?) Etc. etc.
Perceptor hopes that Americans who feel irritated by that comparison, and the implication that they are less worthy than their Canadian counterparts will understand the irritation Perceptor feels when the same is done in the Ghana/Nigeria context. They know they have a problem, and would probably like to solve it. But they won’t solve it by becoming Canadians, however worthy they may be, and Nigeria won’t solve ITS problems by becoming Ghanaians, however worthy THEY may be.
Because the fact is that we ARE different: just as in the US/Canada gun deaths comparison, the similarities between the two countries are more apparent than real. It goes beyond the ‘Ghana? How many are they anyway?’ riposte that is all that a Naija (in this case, Sule Lamido) can usually throw up in these circumstances. But not only are there more of us than there are of THEM, but there are more different SORTS of us than there are of them. Also, unlike us, when they started their return to civil rule (with J.J. Rawlings’ transformation from military dictator to elected civilian President), there weren’t any hangovers like former Heads of State, refusing to leave the stage, still looking for relevance, meddling and interfering in the democratic process. Why? Because ‘Junior Jesus’ had killed them all!
What’s more, our oil wealth came on stream when we were under military dictators. They only had to pretend to be accountable. But who could question them? So the tradition of stealing what was after all, not really anybody’s money, got entrenched well before the feeble Shagari administration occupied the stage for a brief four years. After that, itchy military fingers had to get their hands on the national treasury again. Ghana’s oil wealth will come onstream when there is at least the pretence of an accountable government, and one that is democratically elected.
The great thing about Ghana’s elections is that everybody can find something in them to support their particular position. For example, we can expect the Maurice Iwus and winners of his own fraudulent elections to harp on about the way that the loser gracefully conceded defeat and congratulated the winner, and how sad it is Naijas are such ‘bad losers’. But others will regret that unlike Ghana, fraudulent election management bodies make it impossible for losers to believe that they have been defeated ‘fair and square’.
Much Ado About … Ghana’s Elections (2)
Actually, there are only two things that Perceptor takes away from Ghana’s elections as a Nigerian. First, that all those Naijas who hoped to reap where they had sown with OUR money, ex governors and others contributing to the campaign of defeated NPP candidate Nana Akufo-Addo, will have lost their money. They should have taken a leaf out of OBJ’s book – he knew enough to contribute to both sides! Still, they will find that backing the wrong horse doesn’t kill them. It’s an experience they should get ready to repeat back home.
Second, that with his razor thin majority, Ghanaians won’t have to listen to any nonsense about John Atta Mills taking a year and a half to ‘study the situation’ before getting down to business, or setting up COMMITTEES and creating FRAMEWORKS to avoid doing any work. He’ll be doing his best to do the best for the Ghanaian people because he knows how close behind him his opponent is. When you are running a race and can feel the breath of the next contestant at your neck, you don’t have time to waste. You run as if victory depends on how you run. Yar’Adua knows of course, that ‘victory’ for him does NOT depend on how he runs the race. So he doesn’t really bother to run it.
More Ado About … Nuhu Ribadu
Perceptor wonders whether the new Minister of Police Affairs, Dr. Ibrahim Lame, is fully on board with the ‘Rule of Law’ mantra that the Yar’Adua government has been touting as one of its major contributions to the advancement of Nigeria and Nigerians. How else do we explain his belligerent assertion that former EFCC boss Nuhu Ribadu’s dismissal from the Nigeria Police Force is final, and that the case would not be revisited? He must know that Ribadu is challenging his demotion and his dismissal in court. So why make a statement that is so contemptuous of the courts?
Well, Perceptor has always believed that what Yar’Adua means by the ‘Rule of Law’ is that he and his government can do what they like, including disobeying clear legal principles, but that if those affected go to court, and IF they finally win in court, then – and only then – will his government obey the court order. But they are really banking on the fact that most people won’t go to court, and that of those who do, the courts will take so long that any victory will be almost meaningless. For example, since the general policy of the police is that once you have been out of service (for whatever reason) for more than three years, you can almost never be fully reabsorbed into the force, so that even if you get a court order setting aside your dismissal, or suspension, or whatever it was, the best you can hope for is reinstatement and almost immediate retirement! So basically, it’s curtains, Nuhu.
In the Spirit of ‘Aunty’ Dora
Perceptor was among the crowd who turned up for the 5th Gani Fawehinmi lecture and, as noted above, ‘Professor’ ‘Aunty’ (St.) Dr. Dora Akunyili was on hand to give a keynote address. Perceptor has had the privilege of watching the Honourable Minister on campaign and on TV when she was the Director-General of NAFDAC. Then, she was a joy to watch. To be sure, it was a professionally presented package. But you couldn’t miss the passion and the conviction beneath it all, the confidence in the rightness of what she had to say.
All the greater then, the contrast between the D-G of NAFDAC, and the Hon. Minister selling the Federal Government of Nigeria. Actually, Perceptor had anticipated this, but still, it was quite something to see the flatness in the delivery, as the Hon. Min strove to persuade the audience that her boss, President Yar’Adua, had ‘already begun the process of re-inventing the country’ through his mysterious seven point agenda, and that he was ‘repositioning Nigeria with a view to making it one of the strongest economies … by 2020’. In fact, at one point, the audience burst into laughter! Poor Aunty D!
Although Perceptor has no patience with government people pretending that they welcome ‘constructive’ criticism (as if anyone with their head puffed up by adoring civil servants can ever conceive of any criticism at all, let alone constructive criticism), the Hon. Min. did try to work a bit more passion into her presentation when she complained that acknowledgement of positive steps by government is either belated or completely missing. So in response to this.
Perceptor wants to acknowledge:
1. Lagos State Government (oops, not the Fed. Gov., but still …) for brightening up the Christmas/New Year period for Lagosians – with some pretty fancy illuminations and free bus rides on the BRT system. Well done.
2. Minister of Aviation Babatunde Omotoba (that’s more like it!) for opening the second runway at Lagos Airport. OK, it wasn’t as if fresh work was done before he declared it open, and it’s only for daylight operations (still haven’t got those pesky lights fixed eh?) but still … it’s something. Also, he called British Airways’ bluff about its late departures from London (which always seemed to have to leave more than an hour late, allegedly because some passenger hadn’t turned up and their luggage had to be offloaded). Omotoba told them they either got to Lagos at the agreed time by 26th December, or they stop flying into Lagos full stop. Why, the Hon. Min. wanted to know, should BA bring passengers into Lagos at ungodly hours of the night. Well, this did involve – in a way – saying that it isn’t safe to fly into Lagos late at night which may not exactly be the message he wants to deliver, but on the whole, Perceptor can still squeeze out another Well done.
3. Indomie Noodles. No, not the Fed. Gov. again, but wait! The Federal Road Safety Corps has been enforcing the rule requiring motor cyclists and their passengers to wear crash helmets. Of course, it’s not popular, and everything from building site hats to painted calabashes have been used instead of proper crash helmets. So what has Indomie got to do with this? Perceptor has seen a few proper crash helmets decorated with the Indomie Noodles logo. What a good idea! They get the mobile advertising, and also perform a public service.
Let’s just hope that the Lagos State Signage people (or whatever they are called) don’t start sticking contravention notices on the okada riders’ heads …