It was not really President Jonathan’s fault in the beginning. He inherited a structure, a mental attitude of congenital national laziness which reduced the essence of the Nigerian state to food that he must distribute to sustain a mad system of patronage and prebends. In fact, credit must be given to President Jonathan for dealing a deadly blow to our elitist and alienating national metaphor of food. Whereas the elitist owners of Nigeria before him had gone into the ajebutter registers of Western culinary and consumption culture to define our national essence as a national cake – cake is elitist; that is what oyinbo people have for dessert – President Jonathan opted for an ajepako approach to issues by ditching the metaphor of the national cake and replacing it with the more people-friendly metaphor of goats and yams.
There is a logic to President Jonathan’s populism that Nigerians do not understand. The Americans agree that they are about the American dream; the Japanese agree that they are about work ethic and technological advancement; the Germans agree that they about efficiency; the French agree that impossible is not French; the Chinese agree that they are about mass invention and production of anything. Every nation agrees that she is about something; that she is about a transcendental ideal. In Nigeria, we agree that we are about food; that we are food. The way President Jonathan sees it, if we are about food, why should we be about an elitist Oyinbo food that can be accessed by only those with Maitama, Lekki, and Ikoyi backgrounds?
Why not make our food essence something that tuale baba area boys in Okokomaiko, kpale boys in Warri, creek boys in Bayelsa, Tokyo’s boys in Ibadan motor parks, and almajiris in Kano could relate to? This explains why the President went for the metaphor of goats and yams to define us. Whereas the national cake was the exclusive preserve of privileged Nigerians with exclusive and posh home addresses and backgrounds, national yams were more people-friendly. With national yams as our operating metaphor, you could now come from Warri or Moniya in Ibadan, speak horrible English but check into a Presidential suite at Transcorp Hilton, and spend weeks therein, receiving guests as one of the President’s men. You were enjoying your own share of the national yam.
President Jonathan killed our ajebutter national cake and replaced it with an ajepako national yam. By expanding and making our national essence as food more accessible, he created serious problems for himself. So long as we were a national cake, access was limited, high-class, and genteel. Those gorging on that national cake did so listening to Beethoven and Mozart and speaking in affected, exaggerated British and American accents. Suddenly, you changed the menu from cake to yam and opened up access to folks who listen to Obesere and Pasuma and watch Mr. Ibu dancing sekem sekem while drinking Sapele water. What do you imagine would happen?
Suddenly, there were too many goats than there were yams. President Jonathan faced a crisis. Goats and goats and goats everywhere and the poor fellow didn’t have enough yams to go around. He found a solution in committees. He found a committee for every goat who came around asking for its share of the national yam. The more committees he created to share the yams, the more goats came around knocking on his door.
At first I thought I could perform a civic duty by keeping a roaster of the committees that the man was creating like a wildfire in the harmattan. By the end of his first year in office, I gave up. Not even a supercomputer could have kept up with President Jonathan’s pace of committee creation. He set up a committee to look into the immediate, intermediate, and remote causes of everything. Because those committees were mostly set up to find yams for the alarmingly increasing number of goats disturbing the president for their share of things, he forgot about them as soon as he gave them their mobilization yams. Thus, hundreds of committees have pretty much been left to their own devices since 2011. Many are still running on public yams.
Many have asked me what I think President Buhari should do with the hundreds of committees he will inherit from President Jonathan. We don’t even know how many committees there are because the man is still hiring and firing people left, right, and centre. He is still making key appointments. Who knows how many committees he is still setting up to define the immediate, intermediate, and remote functions of every new appointment he is now making?
So, here is what President Buhari must do. Do not be in a hurry to ask President Jonathan to take the committees with him to Otuoke. Many of those committees actually have solid terms of reference. What is wrong with them is not the task they were assigned to do. It is the motivation, their raison d’etre, which is so faulty. They exist only to pass on yams to the goats serving on such committees. What we must now do is to make the goats actually work for the yams they have been gorging on since 2011. We must identify which committees have been constituted since 2011 and which goats have been eating yams on such committees without doing a single hour of work for the Nigerian people. They cannot just be dissolved and asked to go after eating yams and doing nothing for four years. They owe Nigeria hundreds of hours of work and we must collect on it.
To President Buhari, I say this therefore: do not dissolve these committees, especially those with pertinent terms of reference. Those who have been serving on those committees and collecting money without working since 2011 must now be made to work for free until they have delivered on their terms of reference. Let them stay in Abuja at their own expense and do the work for which they have been paid by the Nigerian people. Since we have no way of making these goats vomit the yams, let them kuku work for and earn the yams they have already eaten.
And please, President Buhari, do not set up a committee to identify the goats that must be made to earn yams already eaten. There should be relevant staff in a relevant Ministry who could do undertake this task as part of their regular job.