By Pius Mordi
When Lt. Gen. Abdurahman Dambazzau (rtd), Minister of Interior, issued the press release announcing the extension of the Id el Fitri holiday by an additional day, he cleverly attributed it to a “directive” by the Sultan of Sokoto that the Ramadan fast should continue till Tuesday since the moon was not sighted on Monday. He saw it as smart move based on the level religion has been used to play politics in Nigeria and how every manner of indiscretion is excused on the alter of religion.
It is the way we are and how successive leaderships have defined our national ethos. Laziness, incompetence, lack of initiative and outright mischief have all been dressed in religious garb, the one platform that enjoys absolute immunity from scrutiny and rational evaluation. Any embittered business person may be forgiven to assume that the government is again playing politics with religion. But that is definitely not the case here. In directing the Moslem faithful to continue the fasting for an additional day, the Sultan did not express any concern that they may be unable to fulfill the religious obligations associated with the end of the fast. That had already been accommodated by the two-day holiday.
The Muhammadu Buhari administration of which Dambazzau is a distinguished member of the powerful kitchen cabinet had the “misfortune” of taking the reins of power as the oil crisis deepened. It admonished Nigerians to gird their loins for tough times ahead that can only be overcome with hard work and sacrifice. The call was not misplaced. Up to 27 states are now technically bankrupt and unable to meet the basic responsibility of paying workers’ salaries. More than 30 percent of the 2016 budget, its signature document for charting a new course for the country, is deficit based. The naira has taken an unprecedented bashing, making the take home pay of the lucky few still with paid jobs almost worthless.
These and more are the indices of an economy on an emergency. If the minister was conscious of the fact that Nigeria’s economy is on a cliff hanger and needed drastic measures to turn things around, he has not shown it. On the contrary, by his bizzare decision to extend the holiday, he gave the impression we are a nation of contented people.
The average Nigerian has never depended on government for hand outs. Apart from roads which he cannot handle on his own, every businessman has to provide his own electricity, water as well as the entire take-off capital. All he wants is to be left alone to do his business by government and its agents. That – the freedom to cater for the well being of his family – is precisely what Dambazzau denied him by shutting down the economy for one week. As a commentator on one of the social networks stated, if workers, including civil servants were paid on hourly basis, would the minister had taken his bizzare decision for a ceremony that holds on just one day?
Some may be tempted to dismiss the action of the minister as a one off. Not so. It is more a pointer to the mentality of the men President Buhari has trusted to help him stem the steep decline of the economy. At a time like this, Nigerians needed signals and leadership from government that things can be turned around. Dambazzau’s attitude is the antithesis of the body language the people were looking for.
Apparently, he sees the power within his grasp as an end, a tool to actualise primordial sentiments. If he was inclined towards nation building, he would probably have thought twice about filling all the leadership positions in the agencies under his ministry with only people of his stock and faith.
After undergoing the most divisive election in Nigeria’s democratic history in 2015, this administration had the unique opportunity of giving us a fresh start. The country needed healing. It was a matter of leading by example and motivating the people. This is the major cause for concern on the president’s cabinet. President Buhari has stridently spoken of his desire to give Nigerians a new beginning, but he does not have people who earnestly share his vision around him. Nigerians are not indolent people. From the unskilled who daily stands by the road side to await builders and contractors that could use his service to the average trader, farmer and professionals, they do not wait on government.
The words of Chief Yinka Odumakin of Afenifere encapsulate the harm of the shut down on the country: “It only shows how unserious we are about nation building. We cannot afford such indolent disposition if this were an economy based on productivity. But because all we need to do is to hold the calculator multiply the price of crude in the international market and multiply the number of barrels of crude we are able to extract from the Niger Delta, we can be living irresponsibly”.
If any segment of the population is lazy, it is the leaders – elected and appointed – who assured of unrestricted access to stupendous wealth, mainly illegally take the fortunes of the people for granted. It is amazing how they still manage to unabashedly pass the responsibility of making things better to the hard working Nigerian. Dambazzau’s call on the people is as hollow as it is meaningless. He called on Nigerians “to use this period [of the forced shut down of the economy] for sober reflections to ensure harmony, unity and peaceful co-existence, while giving full support to the administered of President Buhari”. Really?