By Sunny Awhefeada
That Nigeria is in a lamentable situation is no longer in doubt. Nigeria is in dire straits. This point is not lost on anybody. Not anymore! Our situation has become so compellingly harsh and stark that most Nigerians not only lament our plight, but have also become the encoders of our woes. The truth is that our burden suffers a duality of our not just being the encoders of Nigeria’s excruciating condition, but we are also its prime victims. We are the embodiment of the suffering arising from many decades of grossly inept leadership. We were led by blind men and women into a blind alley. And we deserve plenty of blame as we never remonstrated against their taking us in the wrong direction. We were complicit in silence.
There is no longer anybody for whom all is well. We have become a perennially weeping nation. This much was exhibited by a housekeeper in my neighbourhood last Friday. What triggered her lament was the news that the price of petrol has been increased to N212 per litre. I was taking a walk in my neighbourhood wanting to view flying birds, breathe in fresh air and enjoy the warmth of the morning sun before settling down to the day’s work when our paths crossed. She was grumbling, no, ranting actually. Then I primed my ears to hear what provoked her so. The increment in the price of fuel was the trigger that fired her verbal quills.
I asked her where she got her information and told her I bought petrol for N170 per litre around 7am when I was on school runs. She frowned and retorted oga you no know wetin dey happen. But I insisted madam I dey tell you say na now now this morning naim I buy fuel for N170. She stuck to her guns pointing out that the motorcycle rider that brought her to the neighbourhood that morning collected N100 as fare instead of the hitherto N50. She told me oga make you check your facebook abi na whatsapp my pikin say e dey there. I smiled as I walked on then a neighbor called out to me not to say good morning as we were wont to do, but to greet me with “happy fuel price increase” with a wry smile. When I expressed surprise about where they got their story he quickly scrolled up his phone and showed me streams of news and reactions to the new reality that petrol had become N212 per litre. I merely smiled and went back to work.
As usual there was power outage and I needed power to work on a pressing assignment. The other source of power available at that time of the day, morning, was the one provided by the generator which must run on fuel. To the petrol station I went. And the price of the petrol I bought around 7am barely an hour ago at N170 per litre had been adjusted to not N212, but N220 for the same quantity. The petrol station had buyers who were mouthing imprecations against government. Everybody was lamenting and saying one thing or the other all pointing to the unbearably parlous economic condition.
I saw desperation, pain, anger and frustration among our people. Their anguish derives from the centrality of petrol in all our daily activities. In the perpetual absence of public power supply, everybody turns to petrol as a means of running generators which power all our activities. The vehicles and motorcycles that facilitate our movements also depend solely on petrol. Thus whenever there was increase in the price of petrol it usually affects the people badly.
The housekeeper knew what was in the offing with the new increase. Life would be more severe and more unbearable than it already was and she requested sardonically, make government come just kill us. Make Okowa and Buhari come kill us make we just die. Which kain tin be dis? Work no dey. Money no dey. To see food chop na wahala. House rent na problem. For children to go school too e no easy. Wetin government want make we do. Make dem come kill us ooo. Okowa and Buhari. Make dem come kill us. She reeled out a litany of the suffering that has become not just her lot, but that of the majority of Nigerians who live in abject poverty in the midst of plenty. A people undone by a selfish political class that has lost every sense of what it means to be human.
The housekeeper’s lament speaks to the experience of most Nigerians in the last ten years as the country steadily degenerated into being the poorest nation in the world. To make matters worse acute insecurity was added to our economic woes and our experience became an ordeal. I have always argued that in spite of the hoity-toity submissions of economists about how to run a government and have a stable polity, to do so does not really require rocket science. What was needed is a dose of patriotism and the right mindset that is bolstered by a humane attitude. That was what Lee Kun Yew did for Singapore and Obafemi Awolowo did for Western Nigeria.
Nigeria is blessed by many brilliant men and women who while not directly in power as governors or presidents all the same are prominent in the corridors of power. Yet, these so called brilliant fellows have not been able to turn our fortune around. As the housekeeper was lamenting in the neighbourhood and millions of other Nigerians are groaning under the crushing burden of poverty, hunger and disease, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala was being feted around the world as the new Director General of the World Trade Organization. She is being shown off as this and that and so much hypocritical and puerile things were said about her and Nigeria in the typical big man and big woman manner. How is Okonjo-Iweala’s headship of the WTO going to help the housekeeper and other uncountable Nigerians that the ruling class has sentenced to penury?
Okonjo-Iweala also came to town to talk about how to improve Nigeria’s economy. Most people shook their heads and let out hisses.
This was the same fellow who was twice given the opportunity to run the economy with absolute powers. Her years as the nation’s finance minister were disasters. The politics and policy of petroleum subsidy she initiated were fraudulently controversial and the initial steps to our current poverty index were taken under her supercilious watch. In the twilight days of the Jonathan regime when she was the nation’s economic “mama put” she tongue lashed those who raised alarm over the North-East crisis and called them alarmists saying that Nigeria was not at war. In spite of the present crushing poverty, she was gushing with kudos to Buhari and how he has managed the economy so well in gratitude to the latter’s support for her WTO aspiration. The housekeeper’s lament is an indictment on Okonjo-Iweala and the class she represents. No amount of official propaganda and whitewashing will erase the fact that our nation has been run aground. By the evening of that same day, the price of petrol reverted to N170 per liter. Nigeria my Nigeria!