Politics in Nigeria is like a relay race where athletes from the same country identify their running mates once a lap is over until the finish line is crossed. When the military handed the baton to democratic control, everyone was in high spirits. They thought the change would be characterized by the involvement of the masses in decisions that affected them. It came as a shocker when the elected president continued running the race of his predecessors. In the midst of corruption and unilateral actions carried out in the supposed interest of the people, one phrase became prevalent at the time. ‘E go better’ was on the lips of everyone who was suffering from the effects of the continuous rise in fuel prices, goods, services and the permutation played by those on the power table.
The major sectors in the economy began a slow and steady decline into unconsciousness. Education was constantly plagued by strikes - both internal and external. Festive seasons experienced inflation of services that rarely collapsed. Roads became death traps because of poor maintenance. Electricity supply became a play tool in the hands of its officials. Meters were seldom calculated and bills ended up classifying twelve separately from a dozen. A lot of persons had to make do with the use of generators as alternative power sources due to the frequent electricity outages. Industries either closed down or produced mass products with low quality. Undergraduates struggled in highly un-conducive learning environments with dilapidated structures and the fear of strike to earn a degree.
Out of the half-baked graduates who were thrown into the crowded labour force, several would remain unemployed, some usually ended up in vocations they didn’t study while the remaining few might just be lucky to get a job by chance or craft. Politics seemed to be the only lucrative place where quick money could be gotten. Positions sold like hot cake and had to be attained at all costs. That marked the beginning of an era where it paid to be morally wrong. Patriotism took the back seat. Individuals fought for the stability of family as far as the future sixth generation. Officials filled their coffers with the monies slaved for by the sweat of the masses, neglecting the jobs they were elected to do. Fingers continued pointing at the top and whoever couldn’t beat the system rushed to partake in sharing the national cake.
As babes, members of the general public felt that was the way things were run in the people’s government. When fraudulent acts were eventually exposed by a vindictive move in the game, the bodies responsible for apprehending such individuals made light of the situation. Political thieves ended up walking freely when those who had stolen the tiniest fraction of the crumbs on the street got jungle justice. Still, the average Nigerian is very trusting. Even when the people’s choice for elections became a process of selection by the powers that rule, the masses complied for peace to reign. Studies actually revealed they were the happiest people on earth irrespective of the fact that they belonged to the list of the world’s poorest nations. Oil spillages, gas flaring, polluted water, deforestation, hunger, malnourishment, high infant and maternal mortality kept sweeping the populace. Yet, they remained hopeful.
Like every stage of growth, babies must learn to sit, and then crawl before standing. A bid for a third tenure pushed the citizens to crawl albeit uncomfortably. The baton was passed on again by selection. Things started taking a turn for good because the new president seemed to have a plan. For the first time, the people got a glimpse of a transparent government. In the wake of trouble by militants who claimed to be fighting for the cause of their fellow statesman, initiatives were implemented to curb the situation. Unfortunately, good people don’t last. The country was thrown into another process of elections. Despite the usual selection, people encouraged themselves to make a change by participating actively in the votes.
Some sang songs; people filled campaign sites and lives were lost due the crises that followed. Votes were cast based on optimism and solidarity. At the long run, a minority finally came out triumphant, promising the masses transformation. When billions of naira was pumped into the nation’s golden independence anniversary, eyebrows were raised because the average family couldn’t boast of a complete square meal. Terrorism took a face that day as bombs were detonated on defenseless citizen.
As innocent lives dropped like flies due to orchestrated attacks, the President felt it was more important to increase the salaries of his ministers than look for a solution to control the poisonous rise of terrorism. The motion hit a brick wall. In the midst of gross insecurity, single tenure elongation was proposed. These acts made the people question if they had made the right choice. The increase in the nation’s budget had not proffered solution to fight unemployment, revive comatose industries or the failing health care and prison systems. In a bid to survive, faith became the only thread that kept the nearly defeated spirits of the people. The bombings continued with little intervention from security agents. Demands were made; negotiations were contemplated when the rumour concerning the removal of fuel subsidy began circulating.
Debates sprung from every corner, deciding if it would be the right decision to make for such a frail economy that was barely held together by the glues of the civil war. Media houses were having a field day, properly dissecting all angles of its implementation. Eight out of ten people said it was a wrong move while some others supported the idea with the notion that the money would be invested and open the market for investors. The people thought little of the issue. They were appreciative for crossing into a New Year after experiencing a black Christmas, only to wake up on the very first day of the year to hear that the government had removed the subsidy on premium motor spirit. Without dialogue and proper orientation, a unilateral decision was made again. The ripple effect was more than a100% inflation. Fuel stations sold petrol for thrice the initial price. Goods and services followed suit, leaving several persons stranded.
The reaction from the masses was unexpected. It was a case of once beaten, twice shy. On countless occasions, fuel prices were increased in the past and they watched the gains been pocketed by the ruling elite. Gas flaring was yet to be stopped, maternal mortality rate continued increasing, and fewer babies got immunized as the years passed. Employment, literacy, good transport network, constant electricity supply etc. are on a flight to never land. Prisoners serve jail terms without fair trial and many more problems plague the people. The Federal Capital Territory (FCT) and her parastatals are treated preferentially like the goose that lays the golden egg. The local fishermen whose source of livelihood are cut off as a result of polluted rivers from oil spillages or the children who die from bronchitis due to the acid rains caused by gas flaring hold no significance because the decisions of the executives is not carved from populism.
The total deregulation of the downstream sector may be ineffective because of the conspiracy, untimely palliatives and lack of sensitization. The executives would have faced the power generating sector squarely or reformed the oil sector, then watch the economy kick-off. Sycophantic advisers and technocrats keep trying to persuade the populace to accept the policy by using an alarmist theory. If Nigeria were to become a failed nation, it won’t be the fault of her poor masses who feed below a dollar per day. If comparisons are to be made with other oil producing countries that succeeded in removing subsidy on fuel, a wide margin is evident from their methods. Infrastructures such as constant electricity supply and well-organized transportation networks were already in motion. Where it took two or three years to build a refinery from scratch and sell fuel for pittance among citizens, the guess work made by officials handling the sector stated that it will take two years to repair existing refineries in the country and four to five years before the masses reaped the benefits. Interestingly, fuel subsidy was the only benefit the masses were getting from her government because all other sectors – except politics - were failing. If a whole orange could not fill a glass, how is it possible that the glass can be filled with one quarter of the same fruit?
The cry for better leaders will one day be heard and acted upon because bad governance, lack of vision and mismanagement of power are gradually wearing out the people’s elasticity. Dictatorship and monocracy should no longer take a bold stance where freedom is meant to be exercised. The time for solidarity, sentiments and the bribing of ones rights by corrupt leaders like the proverbial rat which blows the feet to bite it later has to pass. It is time the people understood their fundamental rights as citizens and make democracy take its true form as a government for the people, by the people and from the people.
Written by Timi Federick