Home Opinion 2023: Can we get sperious? By Kazeem Akintunde

2023: Can we get sperious? By Kazeem Akintunde

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We have roughly seven months to next year’s general elections, yet we don’t know the policies and directions those who want to lead us will take when they get to power. We are at a critical junction in our national life that we can’t afford not to get it right next year. Up till now, we don’t know how they intend to tackle the challenges we are currently having with the Academic Staff Union of Universities, ASUU, and other unions in the ivory towers. Since February 14, ASUU has been on strike over sundry issues and we have not been able to resolve those issues. The life and careers of some of the students have been ruined already. 

Some of the girls have become ‘emergency’ mothers while the boys are now fully into Yahoo business and may never return to school. With the way both parties – ASUU and the Federal Government – are handling the crisis, students will be at home much longer than necessary. A whole academic session may be lost forever. Yet none of our presidential candidates is talking to us about how they intend to find a permanent solution to the yearly problem. We are also not asking them questions.

It was the late General Sani Abacha that described our teaching and general hospitals as mere consulting clinics in his 1983 coup speech. Are they better now? Do we have world-class teaching hospitals across the country with equipment that can rival those in the developed world? Can our hospitals boast of first class surgeons that can hold their own anywhere in the world? How many primary health care centres can we boast of? What is the number of health care professionals that can be found in such centres? Have we succeeded in tackling the brain drain that is a common feature in the sector? Do our leaders have confidence in our healthcare system, and will they be ready to seek treatment within the shores of the country rather than embarking on medical tourism outside of it? What are those vying to lead us saying about how they intend to turn the health care sector around for the better? Nobody is saying anything about this and no one is asking questions? How sad.

Nigeria, shamefully, has been ranked as the country with the highest number of out-of-school children in the whole world. With over 12 million youths not receiving any form of education, are you still surprised why there are easy and ready-made recruits for insurgents and terrorists in the country? Are the politicians telling us how they intend to address this anomaly? Are we asking questions?

In the last one year, inflation has completely eroded the purchasing power of average Nigerians. While the eating formula used to be 1-0-1 or 0-1-1 in the past, that is have breakfast, forgo lunch and have dinner in the evening or forgo breakfast, have lunch and dinner later in the day, it has now been reworked to 0-1-0 or 0-0-1 as the case may be. You need to be on the streets to know that hunger is ravaging quite a number of Nigerians now. Attend a social event anywhere in Nigeria and you will be shocked by the number of well-dressed Nigerians with cellophane bags openly packing left over food, not for their dogs and cats at home, but for themselves and their families. 

There is serious hunger in the land as those that are working can no longer feed themselves adequately not to talk of the unemployed as well as the under-employed. Price of foodstuffs have risen by over 100 percent since the Buhari administration came on board. A kilogramme of chicken that sold for N1,000 in 2015 when Buhari assumed office is now sold at N2,200, an increase of over 100 per cent. Also, the price of a 50kg measure of white gari that went for N6,000 in 2015 has more than doubled to N17,000 in 2022. A 50kg of rice sold for N10,000 in 2015, is now selling for N30,000, while a 50kg measure of beans that sold for N21,500 in 2015 is now selling for N34,000. A litre of oil that could be purchased at N250 in 2015 now costs N800. A big basket of fresh pepper, which sold at N11,000 in 2015 is now selling for N17,000. Also, a big basket of tomatoes, which was sold for N10,000 in 2015, now costs N17,000. Also up from N100 in 2015 to N170 in 2022 is 120 grammes of noodles. A crate of eggs, which sold for N600 in 2015, now sells for N2, 200 in 2022, while a litre of vegetable oil, which cost N300 in 2015 now goes for N1,700. 

The federal government’s interventions in vital sectors of the economy through the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) have not been helpful, as impeding forces interplay to push up the rates and, consequently, also push up food prices. The interventions, including the Anchor Borrowers programme, in which the CBN has been sinking billions of naira on loans to farmers with a view to integrating backward on crops like rice and tomato, and conserve dollars the country had been spending on importing the items, doesn’t seem to be making visible impact, as, unfortunately, attacks on farmers by bandits and Boko Haram insurgents have truncated the success level of the initiative. The bandits have either killed or kidnapped many farmers, destroyed farms, and displaced their owners and entire communities.

Supporters of the regime may also tell you that the increase being witnessed is global as a result of the ongoing war in Ukraine but you should let them know that the Ukraine war started in April this year, while the steady rise in inflation in Nigeria has been gradual. The systemic fall in the value of the naira has been the major culprit that most traders latch on as being responsible for the rise in most essential commodities. None of those struggling to lead us has come out to articulate how they intend to tackle the rot in the economy and Nigerians are sheepishly not asking questions.

Since 2009, the federal government has been spending billions of naira every year in tackling insecurity pervading the land due to the activities of the Boko Haram and other terrorist sects, who kidnap individuals and their loved ones on a daily basis and force them to part with several millions of naira to secure their release. Travelling within Nigeria by road or even the train has become a deadly venture. Money that could have been allocated to other sectors is now been sunk into prosecuting a needless war with attendant loss of lives and limbs by military officers. Yet, the ‘emilokans’ of this world are not reeling out plans on how they intend to permanently defeat the terrorists that are bent on carving a portion of Nigeria as their enclave. Yet, Nigerians are not asking questions. 

A nation with over 200 million citizens that generates below 10,000 megawatts of electricity cannot by any stretch of the imagination be regarded as a developed country. That is the sorry state of our power sector despite the fact that over $20 billion has been spent by the previous administrations on the sector. And if we don’t get it right in this all-important sector, there is no way Nigeria can develop. We need to be able to generate and distribute a minimum of 50,000 megawatts of electricity for Nigeria to be on the path towards sustainable development. Our politicians are not talking about this and we, the people, are not asking the tough questions.

A nation blessed by God with crude oil has been a major importer of refined petroleum products and our leaders see nothing wrong with it. In the last couple of weeks, queues have returned to petrol filling stations across the country despite the fact that the Federal Government has allocated humongous amounts of money to subsidize petrol for its citizens. We are happy importing refined products from smaller African countries. Some of our leaders have also allegedly established refineries outside the shores of Nigeria after crippling the four local refineries we have at home. We don’t even know the amount of fuel we consume as a nation, daily. Those angling to rule us for another four years are not telling us what they intend to do to revive the sector and we, the docile Nigerians, are not asking questions.

You may well ask, why are we not asking the tough questions? It is simply due to the fact that politicians understand what inflames our passions and they are giving it to us in full dose – religion and ethnicity. What has been on the lips of most Nigerians in the last couple of weeks is which party intends to fly a Muslim-Muslim ticket and which ethnic group must produce the president. While the twin evil of religion and ethnicity has continued to divide us, politicians will always use it to manipulate and enslave Nigerians.

What did I, as a Yoruba man, benefit from the regime of Olusegun Obasanjo when the Lagos-Abeokuta Expressway, that leads to his backyard in Ota-Sango, was not given the right attention during his eight-year tenure of office. That road is now a no-go area for most motorists although the contract for its upgrade has now been awarded by a President from the north. 

As a Muslim from the southwest, has there been any special favours or privileges that I have derived from the government of President Muhammadu Buhari other than the satisfaction that my fellow Muslim is in power? Has his being the number one citizen stopped the mindless killing of Nigerians in the Northern parts of the country where he hails from and where majority are Muslims? 

Has the emergence of Yemi Osinbajo, a pastor as the Vice President of Nigeria prevented terrorists from kidnapping Catholic bishops across the length and breadth of Nigeria? Has his handling of the economy in the last seven years reduced the price of bread in the market for Christians and even for Muslims? It is high time we do away with issues that divide us; issues being exploited by politicians to perpetually keep us subjugated. 

I will like to end this week’s discourse with a quote from my brother, Jiti Ogunye, who wrote: “For us, unless there is clear evidence or strong inferences that the said choice (of Muslim-Muslim) is meant to foster Islam as a state religion in Nigeria, promote political Islam and empower Boko Haram and ISWAP in such a way as to deny, abuse and abridge the enjoyment or religious rights and liberties, this loud debate is not important.” I agree with him.

We have had Muslim-Muslim tickets in the past as well as Christian-Christian politicians as governors and deputy governors. Most of the states in the South-south and South-east and even in the South-West have such. 

It is time for us Nigerians to start asking critical questions about the plan these politicians have for us that could turn our country around for the better and not mundane issues like religion and ethnicity which will always inflame unhealthy passions that will continue to divide, rather than unite us as a country.

See you next week.

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