Sad times. All of a sudden nothing is working. The high hopes, the lofty expectations, with which we welcomed President Muhammadu Buhari (PMB) to power less than a year ago, have turned into a mirage, something illusory.
It is the fact of our modern age that electricity is the largest determinant of the development of a nation. The degree by which a country is technologically developed is directly proportional to the country’s ability to generate, supply, and meet the power needs of its sundry publics sufficiently and uninterrupted.
When, therefore, PMB came to power (no pun intended) in May 2015 and within a few weeks the country almost in its entirety began to experience something totally different in their lives, going to bed at night with power on and waking up in the morning to still have power, the only new variable the people could associate the change to was PMB and his electoral promise of changi!
I was no less persuaded. I began my column of 5th July 2015 lauding PMB thus:
“I’m not alone in observing the sudden and dramatic upswing in power supply in the country in the last few weeks, precisely since (retired General) Muhammadu Buhari took over the reins of power as Nigeria’s president. Many Nigerians have equally noted this ‘phenomenon’ especially in the social media and in group talks. It is the talk in homes; it is the talk in schools; it is the talk in market places.
“The power supply has not only been reasonably regular; it has not come with any of the old fluctuations. Ay, in my home. For the first time in perhaps years we have had power steadily for two days-and-nights at a go; and when it went in the last three weeks, it has been for no more than a few hours before getting back! Alas, the generator and inverter – utilities of forced capital investment – have been alarmingly idle.”
The column then pointed out that since the new government had not settled down enough to have added one bit of human or material resource to what it met on the ground the conclusion to be reached is “sheer attitudinal change by the same people who have over the years without compunction frequently thrown us into darkness” arising from ‘fear’ of the new Sheriff! And that, as the piece was titled, ‘Nigerians are Nigeria’s worst enemy.’ “The mere thought that ‘a new Sheriff is in town’ whose government will not tolerate the corruption and negligence of the past and would only in a matter of time call your ineptitude to question was enough to make the same people act differently,” it added.
The last line read: “For now, I can sit back and enjoy the unfailing and non-fluctuating electricity that means I can do this column for the hours it may take without the panic of ‘NEPA!’ striking, as my kids still insist on declaiming the power authority. Hurray!”
And that is part of the sadness right now. A couple of months ago I was amused to hear the new ‘branding’ given to power when the shout of “Fashola ti de” rent the air as soon as the light was restored after a brief absence. Fashola ti de ke? I wondered rubber-necking, hoping to catch a glimpse of my brother, Tunde Fashola, the former action governor of Lagos now Minister of Power and cetera! Alas, that is the new identifier of that bane of our development. In the last few weeks, it has been more of “Fashola ti lo,” than “Fashola ti de.” Less amusing for me, curses that were rained on NEPA in the past were now coming to the name of someone I hold in high esteem.
Now seeing how quickly our hope of improved even steady power supply has been dashed, the frustration on the faces of the people is palpable. The “I told you so” look of cynics who had forecast doom for the new government and gloom for the country hurts by the day. A friend of mine, quoted in my column soon after Fashola’s appointment was announced, who had said loading Fashola with three portfolios, each big enough in its own right, was a ploy to set him up for failure now laughs in my face. Nigeria’s power sector is the graveyard of the brave. No one has forgotten the bravado of the late Bola Ige when he was brought in by President Obasanjo to sort out the intractable power problem. Six months, not years, was all that Uncle Bola said he needed to slay the dragon! Alas, it was he that ended up in its belly.
Though Fashola, perhaps learning from Bola Ige’s nasty example, made no such claim, his acclaimed success in steering the ship of Lagos spoke for him and gave people hope. False hope, as it turns out. The DICOS (the unbundled distribution arm of the power configuration), presumably with Fashola’s backing, have increased tariffs more than twice with no commensurate increase in power supply or reliability. Excuses excuses. Why charge people more when you are offering less, is the question. And to muddle it all up, the power sector’s labor union have embarked on industrial strike to protest what they consider the unnecessary and unfair sacking of hundreds of their colleagues.
Our woes are multiplying by the day. There is the disconcerting, questioning, look on many a face of what is happening, where are we headed? The old stock excuse of having met a ruined economy left by the departed government of Jonathan has become stale and boring in the ears of the people. And that is more from seeing no real action, no systemic dislocation of seismic proportion observed in the status quo ante, than it is from expecting any manna from PMB. Slowly but surely the wave of goodwill PMB rode into power has subsided into a doleful grime. It cannot be smooth sailing anymore.
Another friend on a radio interview a couple of days ago analogized that the fearsome dog (PMB) of months ago is now nothing but a tame, lame dog that no one fears anymore and can be safely patted on its head even by strangers! Very clearly PMB seems overwhelmed by the enormity and complexity of the problems at hand.
But the problem of Nigeria is not Buhari. The problem of Nigeria is Nigeria. The country is systemically unworkable, and its monster is hydra-headed. Unfortunately, President Buhari appears not the “Messiah” the country is waiting for, to quote Obasanjo in one of his mean hideous opinions of MKO Abiola. Whereas the country needs a young radical as a leader, Buhari is of the old conservative mold.
Whereas the country needs someone visionary and ready to sacrifice self or group interest for the larger good, Buhari’s tunnel vision is sadly fixed and fixated on his damnable military view of ‘what’s good for the country.’ Much like Obasanjo, Buhari has not come to rejig the country, he has come merely to deal with an aspect, crucial aspect I admit, he considers the key to all of the nation’s woes – corruption! And, as it is with Obasanjo, nothing anyone says about the need to restructure the country would mean a thing to him.
There’s this father of a friend to one of my daughters. He is from Hong Kong. I guess that makes him Chinese in common view. He is a wealthy businessman but also an intellectual. We got talking about Nigeria, Africa and the rest of the world. He was in no doubt that a country like Nigeria has no business aping America’s expensive and cumbersome presidential democratic system. He went on analyzing the experiences of many countries of the world, from Singapore to Malaysia, to different countries of Europe and the Americas. He is sure even the United States is groaning under the yoke of a system totally unwieldy and corrupt, euphemistically termed ‘lobbying.’ Unless and until Nigeria wakes up to the political will to change its political system and structure, the country is going nowhere, he concludes. He wonders what is it with Nigerians that they cannot see that!
Which brings us back to the starting point that Nigerians are Nigeria’s worst enemy. Not long ago, I started a Whatsapp group with the sole purpose of clamoring for a unicameral legislature and possibly part-time to boot. Eminent Nigerians in different walks of life were brought in. It all went seemingly smooth sailing for only a short while when the Nigerian factor of all talk and no action set in with its obfuscating tendency. Now, the group has lost its bearing and is anything but a group set out to galvanize Nigerians to demanding for a more manageable, more sustainable, and more efficient National Assembly.
I am lost at this point. I am (was) for Buhari. But Nigeria is tottering and Buhari is looking less and less the man to bring the sort of changi that would change our lives for good – so help us God.
And that’s saying it the way it is!